MJ was what Transistorians called him, which was short for Master of Jugudzi. He found himself at a junction of sorts in the middle of nowhere with a multitude of high-tech highways crossing over this way and that. He didn’t exactly know where he was, because the satellite signal to his GPS system was interrupted. Consulting his e-map was only something he would consider if the adventure turned epic.
He stood in a queue and experienced time-perception failure. His gaze roamed along the floor trying to discern patterns on the tiled floor, but alas this was in vain. There were lots of people around him, but they were not as interesting as the floor. He was aware of someone behind him and someone in front of him. Too close to him. Nobody looked at him. He looked at nobody. There was a kind of minimal stranger acknowledgement. People were just here to get phee—a beverage, bitter tasting, but addictively consumed because of the alkapheeloid content. The food was not really important.
Despite diminished neuronal activity in his cranium, he was in a unique position to contemplate life, which took the form of surveying the behaviour of the woman who took the orders and operated the cash register. He had plenty of time to decide his order and prepare his speech logistics before it became his turn. He found that this minimised the chances of being misunderstood and possibly sparing him some social agony. She was the same as everybody else and made no eye contact. He was just a number, like one of the highways. He was strangely aware of the fact that she would never see him again and that he would never see her again and nobody seemed to care about that.
The moment he could establish the group symmetry of the patterns on the floor, he knew that the phee was authentic. Other things that mattered suddenly started to occur to him, like the fact that his vehicle needed to be refuelled. He also made the conclusion that he needed to leave as soon as possible, because under no circumstances did he want to remain in this anonymous state.
MJ was different to other Transistorians, who were known to have a fetish for electronics, whereas he was dead set on learning how to do the programming of robots. And this was the reason for his mission. He spent a very productive day at a workshop and was feeling particularly pleased with himself, because he now knew how to program his robot to climb a particularly knotty kind of tree. He had had this idea to program a robot to harvest the oval-shaped fruit of a Pheetum tree. His simulation project resulted in a yield of 82.6 % of fruit harvested. Soon he would test his robot in the field on a real Pheetum tree.
Celebration was in order, he thought, and called up his friend Vortius, who he met at a local bar.
“So, which route did you take this time, MJ?” Vortius enquired curiously.
“Don’t really know the sequence of highways, but I did end up in this weird junction place.”
“Oh, the one where everybody makes no eye contact.”
MJ wriggled uncomfortably on his bar stool.
“I hope you didn’t drink any of their phee.”
MJ did not like where this was going. He considered for a while what this might mean, because there was a brand of phee that was recently taken off the shelves, because the Shuranigans put a particular cockroach poison in it to get it to look the right kind of brown (to make it look like coffee—the stuff humans used to drink thousands of years ago). This poison contained a neurotoxin, which accumulates within brain tissue, and then slowly over many years releases a weird chemical that results in irreversible neurological damage manifesting as extreme paranoia.
“I had to. There was no way out of there without the alkapheeloid. Why?”
“A lot of people died because of that pfee.”
“Fyghee joly hownosis!”
Colour drained from MJ’s face like a shocked chameleon on white paper. He worried about neurotoxins. He worried about his brain. He worried a lot about paranoia. Eventually he got paranoid about paranoia. He stared at Vortius, dreading what he would say next.
“It wasn’t fair trade pfee. That’s why.”
He gloried in his relief for a while. No neurotoxins, he thought, breathing out heavily.
“Don’t you remember? This news made it to the Galactic Times. The Golon people were colonised by the Ubanites, and they were ruthless MJ. They surgically removed their digits if they didn’t harvest enough nuts from the Pheetum trees, which the Ubanites then used to brew phee.”
“Where was I when this happened? How come I don’t know this?”
“If you thought that was bad, you should hear the rest of the story. What the Ubanites did not realise is that upon their blades were traces of a strange kind of bacteria, to which the Ubanites had no immunity whatsoever. They had no antibiotics either. Their wounds went septic, and they died a most terrible death.”
MJ started convulsing, eventually falling off his bar stool. Vortius had seen this happen before. MJ suffered an apoplectic fit, involving exclusively his conscience. Once he came round he considered what a privilege he had of a fine unadulterated brain, because he didn’t drink the stuff with the neurotoxins in it (because that time he had read the newspaper), and that he was now in the position to contemplate his complicity in the mass murder of all those Golons.
“Excuse me, Vortius, do you think it is too late for me to projectile vomit that stuff out of my liver.”