The Button at the End of the Universe

Sak was exactly the sort of man you’d want to have his finger on the big, red button in the control room of the Omnilator, the Empire’s moon-sized death-ray that drifted in and out of hyperspace to annihilate entire planets at a whim. Sak was shortish, baldish, ever so slightly round around the middle, and perfectly boring. It was widely rumored that he had once talked an eternal stone tree on Naraloos Seven to death. It was also widely known that he was the best paid finger in seven galaxies. For that was Sak’s only task: to wait for the order of Commander Martock, confirm it, and push the button that would open a black hole at the planet’s center, sucking it away into infinite nothingness.

But the nights are long in space, especially in a tri-star system in a galaxy billions of light-years from home where there is no day nor night, just a constant, neverending noon, and eventually ways must be thought of to pass the time.

And over the course of several deployments, and a score of worlds evaporated away into the gaping void, a contest was concocted by the crew: get Sak to push the button early, and win a reprieve from all duties for the space of a full galactic month.

The Omnilator loomed in deadly orbit around a tiny, peace-loving planet named Pardala. The coordinates of its horrible assault had long been programmed into the targeting computer. Peace talks dragged on for months as dignitaries of the Empire wheedled with the elders of Pardala, and day by day, Sak’s finger floated over the button that would make Pardala into nothing more than a memory.

Lieutenant Loda thought to catch Sak unawares by sounding the alarm in the middle of the night and haranguing him into pushing the button on Martock’s authority, but it turned out that Sak didn’t even respond to an alarm, such was the power of his monotonous routine. The klaxon sounded for a full five minutes before Commander Martock caught Loda and sent him for a week of latrine duty.

Engineer Elara, she of the flowing hair and generous assets stuffed into a too-tight Empire-issued space skirt, wagered she could distract him with her wiles while Deckmaster Dervin imitated M’s voice to give the command. But Sak paid no more attention to her bouncing personality than to the flavorless sandwiches he lunched on, and Dervin’s voice broke in a way that Martock’s never would, and she swayed away, dejected, to cozy up with Dervin in a closet instead.

Navigator Norr decided that perhaps the way to Sak’s finger was through his heart, and invented all manner of truly horrible insults that the poor fated planet was purported to have leveled against Sak’s mother and sisters and any other women who happened to be in his life. But Sak, he informed Norr sadly, was adopted by a happy single man and had never had use for any women, and besides he wouldn’t feel right murdering an entire planet just because of some hasty words.

Dozens of schemes were hatched to try and budge Sak’s finger, but he shot them all down, deftly and without much interest. They finally admitted that Sak was, after all, the perfect man to man the switch.

And then, finally, the call came down from Martock himself. Peace talks had failed, and the Pardalans were doomed, by order of the Emperor. Martock’s voice barked out, rattling the far reaches of the ship, the order: destroy them.

But Sak’s finger did not budge.

Lieutenant Loda thought he must not have heard properly, and urged Sak to push the button, but his finger would not budge.

Engineer Elara thought perhaps Sak suspected another prank, and shook him and insisted that he push the button, but his finger would not budge.

Navigator Norr knew that Martock’s wrath would be terrible if his order was not followed, and pleaded for Sak to push the button, but his finger would not budge.

Then the door exploded in from the hallway, blasted to pieces by Commander Martock’s custom-made multi-phasing disruptor rifle. It smoldered with menace as Martock stalked into the control room, his face red and twisted with fury.

He saw Sak sitting by the button, his finger poised but still not pressing. Without a word of explanation, he shouldered his rifle and fired. Sak caught the red bolt of plasmic death in the shoulder, whirled, and fell from his chair, the bloodless wound hissing with smoke.

Who’s going to push the button?” Commander Martock’s voice rang in the silence like the calamity of two planets crashing together.

As one, they dove toward the big red button, clawing across Sak’s still smoldering corpse. Norr, through luck and lanky arms, was the first to touch it.

As the button clicked home and the wicked machinery of the Omnilator began to hum, Sak hopped up from the floor, throwing off the smoking, hissing trick jacket and howling with laughter. He and Martock flung their arms around each other in hysterics, pointing and cackling like madmen at the horrified expressions on the faces of the crew.

Their joy was short-lived, however; the black hole yawned open in the heart of Pardala and, with no more fanfare than an Arquillian Flea emerging from its egg, swallowed the planet, the Omnilator, and half of the surrounding galaxy in an infinite mass of inescapable gravity.

It had, Sak decided, been worth it.


Chuck’s challenge this week is a Space Opera. I wrote a truly epic, philosophical piece of utter tripe before scrapping it entirely and writing this bit of fluff instead. Not exactly my usual style, but a fun time nonetheless.

This work was inspired more than a little bit by the collective works of Douglas Adams and the steady diet of Doctor Seuss I’ve been reading with my son of late.

What’s Your Weird? (Or: Coffee Snobs, I Hate You)

We all want our stuff a certain way.

Well, let me back up.

We all want certain things a certain way.

For example, somehow, some way, I’ve come up against this thing several times in the past few months:

This is a Chemex, and if you haven’t heard about it, BOY OH BOY it’s time to buckle up. A Chemex is a coffee pot. But it’s not your ordinary coffee pot. Well, yeah, it’s an ordinary coffee pot, but it also has MAGICAL POWERS. The power to transform an otherwise ordinary human being into an absolutely insufferable coffee snob. The power to infuse said human’s vocabulary with nonsensical coffee jargon like “brewology.” The ability to cause friends and acquaintances of that person to, in tiny, almost unnoticeable ways, hate that person.

There are videos dedicated to the Chemex and how to best use it. There are detailed, multi-step guides with entire nested webpages devoted to it. In particular, one of my favorite authors of late and one of my favorite youtube channels have both written and explained in great and grating detail how much they love their Chemex.

The secret behind it (apparently, if you buy into all that neo-hippie coffee-infatuada nonsense) is: you like coffee, sure, but you’re not getting the most out of your coffee.

With that, you fall down the rabbit hole. You buy the thing. You have to get the right filters to go with the thing, filters made from recycled thousand-year-old rainforest wood. You have to get the right coffee beans for your particular demographic and unique taste. You have to hand grind the beans using stones purified in the bowels of goats. You have to boil your water in a kettle, preferably one consecrated by an aged, castrated bishop. The boiling must be done using a hand-torch crafted by the elders of unnamed tribes in the heart of Africa. The steam must not be allowed to escape; you must inhale every molecule to open up your nose for the taste explosion that’s about to happen.

And I hear about this, and I ponder on my life and the choices I’ve made, and I find myself starting to think, well, hot holy hell, maybe I should get one — I AM missing out on this vital part of the coffee experience. Except I don’t drink coffee. And I really find all this gobbledygook about filters and glass and grinding and inhaling to be utter nonsense. Not only nonsense, but wasteful and snobbish nonsense, the worst kind. If you want a cup of coffee, just make a cup of coffee and get on with your life — why do you need to devote twenty minutes of your morning to it?

So I prepare to make a scathing diatribe about exactly how foolish it is. An all-out attack, not just on users of this product, but on anybody who gets at all uptight about their coffee. IT’S JUST BEANS.

But when I pull back to let this stone fly, I pause, because I catch my own reflection in the walls of this glass house I live in.

Sure, I couldn’t give two randy Sharknados about coffee, but you’d better believe I’ve got my own series of oddities.

I could go on and on and on about the “right” running shoes and the “right” way to run. How your shoe needs to provide protection from the ground but not insulate your foot from feeling the bumps in the road. How you need to adjust your footstrike (and there I go using nonsensical jargon) to properly engage the musculature of the leg and the back. How the average runner should aim to run on trails from time to time rather than pounding pavement all the time because of the instability the body has to deal with.

I could ramble for ages about my writing process. The right music to help empty and focus my mind, the right programs to capture the draft and insulate myself from distractions. When writing longhand, I much, much, much prefer pencil to pen; the faint skritch of graphite on paper is soothing beyond words. Preferably, it’s a .7 gauge mechanical pencil: smaller and the lead breaks too easily, larger and I feel like I’m writing with a freaking crayon. But if it must be pen, then it’s got to be a Pilot g2. The ink slides out like a seal slathered in syrup, and there’s a crease in the grip that settles right into the grooves in my index finger, and let’s just leave it there before it starts getting uncomfortable in here.

Or shaving. I’ve become one of these guys about shaving recently (though not as bad as some); I use soap or cream from a tub, lather with a brush, shave with an old-school double-edged blade (1000 blades for $10, how could this not be for me?!?!).

For that matter, here’s a not-at-all-exhaustive, by-no-means-in-order-of-importance list of things I feel unnecessarily strongly about, that I have to have just so:

  • The angle at which papers should be stapled (Diagonal, about thirty degrees from horizontal)
  • The consistency of scrambled eggs (still moist but not runny)
  • The position of my hands on a steering wheel (either one resting on top while the other holds at about eight o’clock, or at 10:30 and 1:30)
  • The delay between when a traffic light changes and when I have a right to honk at you for not noticing the light has changed (three seconds; less is draconian, more and … well, we have places to be, don’t we?)
  • Shoes in general (the flatter the better, and I could very well give up on dress shoes altogether tomorrow and feel not a bit upset about it; in fact, I could almost give up on shoes as a whole altogether)

The amount of thought and mental distress I’ve experienced over these things is probably much more than I feel comfortable discussing, but suffice it to say, I have realized that humans, as a rule, are a weird bunch.

We gravitate toward others who are weird like us.

We are repelled, or at least puzzled, by others whose weird we don’t understand.

Point is, you can take your gross weird coffee snobbery and your gross weird birdwatching and your gross weird homemade macaroni replicas of famous renaissance monarchs and stay the hell away from me. Go over there. In the corner. Where it’s dark. And weird.

Of course, you can have all you like of my awesome, cool, somewhat-nerdy-but-ultimately-enviable weird.

But I’ll ask, just because I’m curious.

What’s your weird?