Posts Tagged ‘Alex Shvartsman’

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Cast of Wonders 282: Dreidel Of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah

Dreidel Of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah

by Alex Shvartsman

Twas the night before Chanukah, and all through the planet, not a creature was stirring except for the Elder God Cthulhu who was waking up from his eons-long slumber. And as the terrible creature awakened in the city of R’lyeh, deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, and wiped drool from his face-tentacles, all the usual signs heralded the upcoming apocalypse in the outside world: mass hysteria, cats and dogs living together, and cable repairmen arriving to their appointments within the designated three-hour window.

“This will not do,” said Chanukah Henry. “I will not have the world ending on my watch, not during the Festival of Lights.” (Continue Reading…)

Episode 247: The Golem of Deneb Seven by Alex Shvartsman

• Narrated by Rachel Swirsky
• Audio production by Jeremy Carter
• Originally published in InterGalactic Medicine Show Issue 40 (July 2014)
Read along with the text of the story.
• Discuss this story on our forum
• For a list of all our stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia page
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Listen above or download here.

Show Notes

Alex Shvartsman is a writer, translator and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 90 of his short stories have appeared in Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and many other magazines and anthologies. He won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2015 and 2017 Canopus Awards for Excellence in Interstellar Fiction (more about this later). He is the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories and his steampunk humor novella H. G. Wells, Secret Agent were both published in 2015. Follow his work online or on Twitter.



Rachel Swirsky holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and she graduated from Clarion West in 2005. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy and Sturgeon Awards. She’s twice won the Nebula Award: for her 2010 novella, The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window and her 2014 short story If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love. You can read or listen to her free online fiction, or buy her collections, singles and anthologies. Find her on Twitter, and follow what she’s up to in her monthly newsletter. You can also support her on Patreon.



Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at

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Cast of Wonders 138: Things We Leave Behind by Alex Shvartsman

Show Notes

Welcome, everyone, to our Banned Book Week special. Banned Book Week is an annual event every September that aims to raise awareness about censorship and to celebrate the right to read. Many local libraries and bookshops hold events to highlight and discuss the social, political and legal issues around literature. You can find out a lot more at the Banned Book Week website, or at another of my personal favorite websites, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, where you’ll find lots of resources including free posters for holding your own event.

To celebrate, Cast of Wonders is proud to present Things We Leave Behind, written and narrated by one of our veteran authors, Alex Shvartsman. You’ve heard Alex’s work previously in The Field Trip; You Bet, and our short Christmas tale Nuclear Family. Excellent stories, each.

Things We Leave Behind

by Alex Shvartsman

Some of my earliest memories are of books. They were everywhere in our apartment back in the Soviet Union; shelves stacked as high as the ceiling in the corridor and the living room, piles of them encroaching upon every nook and available surface like some benign infestation.

Strangers came by often, sometimes several times a day, and browsed the shelves. They spoke to my father, always quietly, as though they were in a library. Cash and books exchanged hands in either direction but there was little haggling, both parties reluctant to insult the books by arguing over their price like they might with a sack of potatoes.

I learned to read at the age of three. My parents showed off this talent proudly, bribing me with candy to sound out long, complicated words like “automobile” and “refrigerator” in front of their friends. I found it more difficult to pronounce the harsh Russian R’s than to put together the words written in Cyrillic block letters on scraps of paper.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 109: Nuclear Family by Alex Shvartsman

Show Notes

Today we present Alex Shvartsman’s story, Nuclear Family. Alex has been here several times before — welcome back Alex! Thanks for gracing us with an inventive seasonal story.

Nuclear Family

by Alex Shvartsman

Daddy said we couldn’t have a real tree this Christmas.

At first I was sad, but then Mommy said we would im-pro-vise.  I liked learning a big new word. It means use things we have in the house. Mommy and Daddy improvise all the time, ever since we couldn’t go outside anymore.

Daddy went upstairs to find some things to improvise with. I wanted to help, but Daddy said we all have to stay in the basement for a very long time, so we don’t get sick. I hate the basement. There’s nothing to do here. Mommy or Daddy go upstairs once every few days and bring things back down with them. Usually it is food and toilet paper and things, but sometimes they get a few books and toys and games from my room.  They run up and down the stairs as quickly as they can, because when they are upstairs they can get sick too.

This time Daddy was gone for almost five minutes, but he brought down a whole bunch of stuff. He put a tall coat rack in the middle of the basement to make the tree trunk and taped on some unwound wire hangers to make branches.  He gave me a green tablecloth and said to cut it into long, thin strips. Then we glued the strips on to the wire and put up a few ornaments. It didn’t really look like a tree, but Mommy said to use our imagination. I didn’t mind. Decorating the coat rack gave us something fun to do.

Then all of us had to take our radiation pills. I dropped mine and Daddy got really mad. He said that we already didn’t have enough to last us until it was safe to go outside and that we couldn’t waste any. He made me pick it up and eat it off the floor. Eww.

On Christmas Eve we moved the table next to the pretend tree and ate a holiday meal. Mommy made a big pot of spam stew and everyone was allowed to have seconds because it was such a special day. We even had sliced peaches for dessert. Mommy and Daddy didn’t eat very many, saying that it was a special treat for me. But they did try some because it was the last can and Daddy said he wasn’t sure when we would ever taste peaches again. Mommy shushed him. Then we sang every holiday song we could remember.

When I woke up in the morning Daddy was gone. Mommy said that he had to leave for a while but the way she was crying I didn’t think he was coming back. I got scared and Mommy told me to go open my presents.

There was some stuff under the pretend Christmas tree, but it was all toys from upstairs that I had from before. There was also a little box with Daddy’s share of the radiation medicine. Daddy is silly. Who wants pills for a present?

Episode 95: You Bet by Alex Shvartsman

You Bet

by Alex Shvartsman

Joe stepped through the door and found himself in a cramped, smoke-filled card room. The players paused their game and turned toward him, five and a half pairs of eyes studying the newcomer.

Seated around the green felt table were a robot, a witch, a vampire, an alien Grey, and a fairy. And looming behind them was a pink mass of scales and tentacles topped off with a bowler hat. It regarded Joe thoughtfully with a single bulging eye the size of a dinner plate.

“Hey there, new guy,” said the fairy. Despite her two-foot frame her voice was sultry rather than tinny. “And what are you supposed to be?”

Joe tried to answer and realized that he couldn’t. He remembered nothing of who – or what – he was, except his first name. He felt strange, empty, as if someone had sucked everything out of his head through a straw.

“I know that look,” said the witch. “Everyone has trouble with their memory in the first few hours. It’ll go away. Unless you’re an amnesiac spy, that is. But we already had one of those.”

His memory problems were selective, Joe discovered. He recognized the sounds of a Frank Sinatra recording crooning in the background, yet couldn’t recall a reason for arriving at this place.

“You aren’t anything obvious,” said the fairy. “If you figure it out quickly, don’t say! I’d rather guess.”

“Well I’d rather play poker,” said the Grey, the kind they usually depict abducting cattle and probing things indiscriminately. This one was dressed in a three-piece suit, and his almond-shaped head was topped off with a cowboy hat. He caressed a large stack of chips with his three long fingers. “It’s your turn to deal,” the alien said to the fairy.

The fairy pouted.

“We do nothing but play cards,” said the witch. “Let her have her fun.”

The fairy fluttered her wings and displayed a huge grin. Her mood changed so quickly, Joe couldn’t help but wonder if Little Folk were susceptible to bipolar disorder.

“Are you a superhero out of costume? A serial killer? A werewolf, perhaps?”

“Mangy curs,” the tall, striking brunette with fangs sniffed the air. “I can smell those a mile away. He isn’t lupine.” She looked Joe up and down. “This one may be a tasty morsel, even if he’s a bit ordinary looking.”

“Watch out, friend,” announced the robot in a stage whisper. “She means that literally.”

“Your guesses are as good as mine,” said Joe to the fairy. “My name’s Joe. Beyond that I can’t remember… well… anything.”

“I don’t need to learn your name,” said the alien. “You won’t be here long enough.”

“Grey makes a terrible first impression,” said the witch, with a sideways glance at the alien. “And it doesn’t improve much once you get to know him, either.”

“I’m sure that underneath the fifty shades of his cranky gray exterior beats a heart of gold,” said Joe. “Or hearts. However his physiology works.”

The alien stared at Joe down his pair of flat holes that passed for a nose and went back to counting his chips.

“Don’t you pay any mind to that meanie,” said the fairy. “Have you got any super powers? I hope you aren’t a mind reader, because we couldn’t let you play then. Telepaths only get to watch, like Howie over there.”

The pink monstrosity bobbed its head and made an assenting noise which sounded like the mewl of a tipped-over cow.

“Who are you lot? What exactly is this place?” Joe turned around, but the door he had entered through was gone. There was nothing but solid wall covered in pastel wallpaper, peeling with age. “How do I get out of here?”

“Oh, sweetie, you’re here to stay,” said the fairy. “We all are.”

They watched with varying degrees of amusement while Joe searched frantically for a way out. He circumnavigated the room, studying the ceiling, floor, and walls. There was no sign of an exit.

“This is impossible,” Joe said.

“Enough already,” said the witch. “Let’s bring the new guy up to speed and get back to the game.”

“Hard-boiled private eye? Secret agent? Mercenary?” The fairy chimed in with another flurry of wild guesses.

“What you need to understand first,” said the robot, “is that we aren’t people.”

“That’s kind of obvious,” said Joe. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t discriminate against metal-based life forms.”

“By we I mean you too, genius,” said the robot. “We’re figments of people’s imaginations. Zeitgeists of popular culture. Tropes. Avatars, brought to life by a hundred thousand dreamers reading the same novel or watching the same film. Whatever’s the flavor of the day finds its way into this room, at least temporarily.”

“Computer hacker? Terrorist? Ninja pirate?”

Joe shook his head. The fairy pouted again.

“At least he isn’t a prepubescent wizard or an emo glittering vampire,” said the witch. “We suffered a plague of those recently.”

“A terrible embarrassment to my kin,” declared the vampire. “I would have liked to kill them all and drink their blood, if it weren’t so diluted with Prozac and Cosmopolitans.”

“They were rotten card players,” said the robot.

“Their one redeeming quality,” added the alien.

“What happened to them?” Joe asked. “If there’s no exit, then where did they go?”

“They faded away,” said the vampire. “Some tropes are much longer-lasting than others. Broomhilda there,” she pointed a razor-sharp red nail at the witch, “has been around since the Roosevelt administration. And she isn’t saying which Roosevelt. Those self-pitying pretenders? Not so much.”

“I don’t much like the idea of fading away,” said Joe.

“Can’t blame you one bit,” said the witch. “But people’s fancies are beyond our control. Be content with the fact that enough of them thought you up, and that you exist at all. Even if existence around these parts is nothing but a never-ending card game.”

“Toreador? Clown? Astronaut?”

Joe shook his head again.

“Whoever you turn out to be, the important question is: do you know how to play Texas Hold’Em?” asked the alien.

“Yes,” said Joe. “I think so.”

“Pity,” said the alien. “I prefer easy opponents. It’s your turn to deal,” he reminded the fairy. “Scoot over and pass the new guy his chips.”

“Ghost whisperer? Colombian drug lord? Pet detective?”

The fairy made increasingly unlikely guesses but, in truth, Joe was no closer to figuring out his own identity than she was. So he played cards and studied the room and its inhabitants.

They played for several hours straight. Joe surprised himself and his companions by being rather good at the game. He quickly learned that the robot never bluffed, the witch fingered a large wart on her nose whenever she had a strong hand, and the vampire always over-bet low pairs pre-flop. The fairy played badly, but made up for it with copious amounts of luck – she often caught just the right card on the river. The alien was the shark of the group – his playing style was tight but aggressive, he changed his strategy all the time, and his gray, emotionless features made for a perfect poker face.

Very slowly, Joe built the modest pile of chips he started out with into an impressive stack that was second only to the alien’s. He searched for an opportunity to take the lead, but the wily extraterrestrial kept eluding his traps.

“Why is this place so run down?” he asked, noting the dilapidated carpet and patches of the green felt on the table worn so threadbare that they were practically bald spots.

“It is the nature of tropes to be well-worn,” said the robot, looking up briefly from his hand of cards.

Not long after that there was a lively round of betting which resulted in a large pile of chips building up at the center of the table. The alien placed his bet after the flop and Joe raised the stakes, sensing an opportunity. The other players groaned and folded their cards one by one.

The Grey studied Joe intently, looking for any kind of a tell.

“Take your time, ET,” said Joe, staring right back at the alien, “and while you consider your move let me compliment you about the crop circles. If I traveled to some faraway planet a gazillion light years away from Earth, I would totally mess with the natives’ minds that way, too. Oh, and what’s up with the cowboy hat?” Joe grinned. He was trying his best to throw the alien off his game, but the Grey didn’t appear to be fazed.

“That was an aggressive bet,” said the alien. “But you’re being bold out of ignorance rather than skill. Your new so-called friends conveniently left out a crucial detail. The game we play is more than a mere diversion.” He leaned in toward Joe. “These chips represent your influence and relevance in the outside world. Win some, and you might stick around a lot longer. Lose it all, and…” the alien snapped his fingers. “Poof.”

“You asked about the cowboy hat earlier. Its previous owner liked to bet aggressively, too. Nice enough chap, if a bit unrefined.” The alien pushed a large stack of chips into the center of the table, almost doubling the pot. “Raise.”

Joe pursed his lips and fondled the clay chips as he processed the new information.

“Well,” he finally said. “Isn’t that an interesting tidbit? Thanks very much for omitting that factoid when you invited me to play.” He looked around the table. The other players wouldn’t meet his gaze. “The fairy has been trying to guess what trope I represent this whole time, and I’ve been mulling it over, too, and I’ve finally figured it out. I’m everyman.”

The players stared at Joe, waiting for an explanation. Even the fairy kept quiet.

“There’s a thin line between a trope and a cliché. I believe all of you have crossed that line, on occasion. I think enough people out there are tired of that. They’re interested in stories about a regular guy. No super powers. No martial arts training. No preconceived notions. A regular Joe who thinks and acts like a person, who can be cautious or reckless, malicious or kind, unpredictable, yet realistic. They want a sort of character who won’t fade away, but always remain fresh by reinventing himself.

“Cowboys and Indians make room for little green men, who get replaced by gumshoe investigators… the tropes come and go. But everyman is always going to be around, for as long as people tell stories, no matter how the cards are dealt.”

Joe shoved his entire remaining stack of chips forward, doubling the pot again. “All in,” he said.

The players reflected on his words in silence. Only Howie the Lovecraftian horror hummed along to the Sinatra tune.

“Fold,” the alien declared after a long pause. He regarded his much-diminished horde of influence chips, then got up and stomped away from the table in frustration.

Joe smiled and collected his winnings.

“What did you have,” the robot asked.

“I’m sorry,” Joe said. “I don’t remember.”

Joe discarded the two of clubs and the seven of hearts he was holding face down and shuffled them into the deck. He decided that he was going to like it here. He had finally figured out what trope he represented and was confident it would take the others a while to get up to speed.

Which was just as well, because he could use all the chips he could get out of them. Card sharp was not, on its own, a very powerful trope.

Episode 75: The Field Trip by Alex Shvartsman

The Field Trip

by Alex Shvartsman

The obelisk towered over the surrounding ruins, the strange signs carved into its sides gleaming in the afternoon sun. It was mysterious, majestic, and very, very annoying.

I walked over and joined the other students. The group waited in an uncomfortable silence, sizing each other up nervously and trying to guess if any of the others had better luck in figuring out Professor Quilp’s puzzle. The stakes were high. Professor Quilp, one of Milky Way’s most notable scholars of xenoarchaeology, had room for exactly one new intern in his department at the Academy.  We five were his top candidates, and this was the final audition.

Earlier that morning we were ordered to meet Professor Quilp at his office, and to bring whatever equipment we might need on a field trip. No additional details were provided, except that the world we’d be traveling to had an oxygen-based atmosphere, and that we’d be back at the Academy in time for lunch. The former was great news for me as an oxygen breather; it would give me a distinct advantage over Xkinth and Eetal. On the other hand, this implied a brief assignment and I always worked better when given sufficient time to thoroughly analyze the problem.

Professor Quilp was already waiting at the office, even though every single one of us took care to arrive early. Also waiting for us were information packets. The packets were brief, with details so sparse they might have been written by a Phys Ed major.

The planet in question used to be populated by tool-using bipedal mammals who learned to split the atom a little too soon for their own good, a scenario so common in this part of the galaxy that there are entire digital storage units full of examples, and they are all filed under “Boring.” Bipedal mammals account for roughly fifty percent of the intelligent species in the universe. I am one myself. And that’s counting them after almost ninety percent of mammal civilizations manage to destroy themselves somewhere along the slow crawl up the evolutionary tree. It may not be politically correct to say so, but mammal cultures do not tend to create very interesting architecture, either. It’s always “pyramid” this or “castle” that. Not like the sentient crystals on Galco III who literally dream their dwellings into being.

But I digress.

These particular aliens blew themselves up only a few hundred years back. That’s the sweet spot for xenoarchaeologists – the radiation has abated and nuclear winter has passed, but most of the structures were still intact. Mostly there were your typical remnants of industrial civilization – skyscrapers, suburban housing and a lot of fast-food establishments. In this case, however, there was a large area that just did not fit in. It was full of oddly-constructed buildings, with a  big obelisk right in the center. It wasn’t housing. It wasn’t a manufacturing center. Our assignment was to port over to the planet, study the obelisk and its surroundings, and come up with the best hypothesis that could explain its purpose – all in one hour.

The portal delivered us a few steps away from the obelisk, in the blistering heat of a desert afternoon. We scattered almost immediately to pursue our various lines of inquiry. There would be no possibility of cooperation – after all, only a single intern position was up for grabs.

I chose to start with the symbols carved into the sides of the obelisk. I scanned them with a portable translation device. The gadget chewed on the data longer than I’ve ever seen it take before and gave me back nothing. Modern translation machines are incredibly sophisticated, benefiting from having thousands of language structures in their database. If there is any sort of rhyme or reason to a language, the software can figure it out. Amazed, I pointed the device at some of the signage on nearby structures and it was able to translate those well enough. Pointed back at the obelisk, the gadget struggled a few moments longer and gave up once again. I’d swear there was a little embarrassment in the “No Match” beep, but this model was not programmed for emotions. Either the message on the obelisk was encoded by the most sophisticated cipher I’ve ever seen, or it wasn’t language at all, as we know it.

I spent nearly half of the allotted time meddling with various devices, measuring and analyzing the obelisk within the inch of its granite life. I wasn’t having any breakthroughs and, by the looks of them, neither was any of my competitors. At that point I realized that I wasn’t going to find whatever solution or inspiration at the obelisk and decided to port around for some additional perspective. I spent the remaining half hour examining nearby areas. As the deadline approached I was beginning to formulate a theory. I rejoined my fellow students with not a minute to spare; Professor Quilp ported in right on schedule.

“Archaeology,” he said as we gathered in a semi-circle in front of him, “is art as much as science. Any half-decent researcher will respect and study the masterpieces of past civilizations. A good explorer will figure out an occasional mystery like this one, and benefit from this knowledge. But a truly great archaeologist can count on his assistants to reliably do it for him.

“By now all of you have had an opportunity to examine the nearby ruins and see that this structure does not fit in with the rest. The question is why.

“I am now prepared to hear your theories. Eetal, please begin.”

Eetal looked uncomfortable in the bulky suit that allowed a methane breather to move around in a hostile environment. At least she wasn’t getting slowly roasted by the heat. Probably.

“In my estimation,” she began carefully, “this obelisk could not have been built by the same people who erected these other structures. Design style, materials, and even the writing on the obelisk differ from anything else in evidence. My guess is that this is an artifact of a much earlier culture that was either transported to this location as a trophy or predates them and they chose to build a settlement around it.”

I could not believe my luck. Eetal was one of the strongest contenders, and it wasn’t like her to make such a monumental gaffe. Professor Quilp frowned; he was probably thinking the same thing.

“Would any of you care to disprove this theory?” he said neutrally.

“The obelisk was built around the same time as these other structures,” Q’orr rushed to embarrass a rival, “as should be obvious to anyone who bothered to run the decay test.” He brandished the gadget that assessed an age of structures by examining the degree of weathering on their surface. I had one too, and so presumably would the other students.

Eetal looked as though she was ready to just port out of there. “I’m Atrellian,” she stammered.

The blunder made sense now. Atrellian religion claimed that the universe was only about 50,000 years old and its followers weren’t allowed to use carbon and decay dating technologies that could prove otherwise.

“Next hypothesis, please.” Professor Quilp hurried things along, a kindness of redirecting attention away from Eetal, or perhaps he was as eager to get out of the heat as I was.

Nevri, an exchange student from the Orion nebula, could not speak. Instead, it projected three dimensional images and, when absolutely necessary, written text. It showed the obelisk to be a subject of worship by the natives, arguing that its placement in the center of the settlement supports that theory. I got a distinct feeling that he had nothing to go on, and Eetal’s calamity served as inspiration for his half-baked theory.

“This does not quite work for me,” said Professor Quilp. “If such an obelisk was a standard object of worship on this planet, we would find a lot more of them scattered throughout. If, on the other hand, this one was unique, a place of pilgrimage perhaps, the entire settlement would be laid out differently to accommodate the kind of traffic it would draw.”

Next up was Xkinth, whose species are known for their knack for linguistics. If anyone could figure out the markings on the obelisk, it would be him.

“I did my best to translate the writing on the obelisk and came to a conclusion that it is nonsense,” said Xkinth to my relief. “The placing pattern and a lack of repeating characters suggest that the builders were trying to evoke an image of an unfamiliar language rather than using a real one to communicate information. Since the writing is fake, I must assume that the entire object is a work of art, created for purely aesthetic purposes and not practical ones. This would explain both its prominent placement and its singular nature.”

“Not bad,” said Professor Quilp, his expression not betraying whether he agreed with this theory or simply found the explanation plausible. It was my turn next.

“I ported around and found a number of structures that do not fit in with anything else we’ve seen on this planet,” I said. “Most of them lack any obvious utility, yet are clearly designed to look visually impressive. Therefore, I would agree with the art hypothesis but build on it to suggest that this entire area is an outdoor museum or an experimental zone of some sort, where natives would come specifically to view the unusual structures as some form of entertainment.”

“I like that you showed initiative by exploring beyond the immediate area,” nodded Professor Quilp. “What else have we got?”

Q’orr, a gray-feathered member of an avian species, was the odds on favorite. He seemed to excel at every class he took, and was the most dangerous rival by far. He confidently laid out his theory.

“There are many clues here to suggest that these aliens lived in a highly commercialized culture,” he said. “As such, I find it difficult to believe they’d produce such large and expensive works of art for aesthetic reasons alone. Financial gain had to play a major role. I found some images and other small artifacts among the ruins to suggest that these people acted out stories and recorded them for entertainment. My solution to this puzzle is that the obelisk and other outlandish structures are merely props that were used in production of these recordings.”

Both of my hearts sunk as we listened to Q’orr outline in detail the facts supporting his theory. My dream of interning for Quilp was slipping away. Q’orr finished laying out his explanation and triumphantly looked down his beak at the rest of the students.

“Your theory matches the conclusions reached by the xenoarchaeologists who discovered this planet,” said Professor Quilp. “In fact, it matches them a little too precisely.”

Professor Quilp reached into his breast pocket. “You’ve done very well on your tests, Q’orr, and while I’d like nothing better than to attribute that to my superior teaching techniques, I grew somewhat suspicious.” He took out a small device which we instantly recognized to be a telepathy detector. Its indicator was flashing yellow, activated by an illicit mind reading.

“You’ve been fishing out the answers from my thoughts, and the thoughts of other professors. We needed you to use telepathy in an area almost entirely devoid of life to prove it, and setting up this field trip presented a perfect opportunity.”

With a terrified squawk, Q’orr dashed away from the group and disappeared into his own portal. I was pretty sure we would not be seeing him again; reading thoughts isn’t just cheating, it is also a serious crime in our culture.

Professor Quilp watched him go, and then turned to the rest of us. “I apologize for the ruse,” he said, “but the truth is, there is no intern position opening in my department at the moment. I will, however, consider your performance as earning you all extra credit toward your grades this semester.” With those words he was gone, undoubtedly to report his findings to the dean.

One by one, the other students ported back to the academy. I stood there a little while longer, and stared at the obelisk. Although Professor Quilp made it clear that the official explanation of its origins was the one described by Q’orr, I still kind of liked my own theory better. Perhaps I might return to this planet someday and study it in more detail. If I can prove I am right, Professor Quilp will be very impressed.

My tentacles fondled a small metal sign I had picked up while porting around in search for clues. It depicted what must have been a face of a native: large circular ears, a pointy nose, and a big toothy smile. My translation device was able to read its text just fine, and while it did not mean anything to me yet, I thought it might eventually yield some clues.

Someone at the Academy must be able to tell me what a “Disney” was.