There are many things I should be working on right now, but the idea for this weird story would not release me until I’d written it down.
A Plan Gone A’Rye
In retrospect there were a few holes in the plan. Perhaps he could have been more thorough in his research, but Corsokrops of the Guidant Nebula was morphological life form of action. He was proud that his superiors had selected him for a preliminary role in what was sure to be a spectacular conquest. His assignment was to spy on the most powerful person in America. The intelligence Corsokrops gathered would be key in overthrowing the government. The global chaos following the crumbling of a super power would pave the way for a full scale invasion.
Corsokrops studied American current event publications, to find the one person who would have the most important secrets. To be honest he skimmed the publications, as he was wont to do. He hated wasting time, not with such a glorious mission at hand. The articles were terribly dry, and while there were some recurring names, they provided few clues. He soon discovered, toward the middle of most of the publications, a list of public figures, ranked in order of importance. The same name appeared at the top of each list. The man carried an impressive title, American Gods. Not just one god—a pantheon. Clearly this was the man Corsokrops was searching for. He infiltrated the man’s home, disguised as an innocuous appliance. He settled in to absorb the state secrets.
He had misgivings from the start. The man’s appearance was altogether unkempt. He had a mass of wild, curly hair, that rose and fell in odd, abrupt angles, and several days’ growth on his chin. His clothes were rumpled and seemed to be chosen only because they were all of one color. There was none of the gravitas Coroskrops expected in one of his station. The man, for his part, regarded Corsokrops skeptically.
“Have I always had this toaster?” he wondered aloud. Corsokrops emitted a high pitched hum. A subliminal tone to assure the man that he had indeed always had this toaster and there was nothing to be alarmed about. The disheveled man shrugged and loaded Corsokrops with two slices of raisin bread.
This is where the plan started to fall apart. He had chosen the form because he had seen it in numerous American homes. It rarely appeared to be in use. Not like the large cold box or or the radiation cooker. He believed its function to be primarily esthetic. Of course he had made his studies late in the evenings. He was not one to wake early if he didn’t need to. The bread played havoc with his central processor. Soon he was billowing smoke from very uncomfortable parts of his anatomy.
“What’s the use of a toaster that won’t toast?” The man grumbled. He turned Corsokrops over and dislodged the charred bread. Corsokrops was grateful for his assistance, but damned embarrassed just the same. What a terrible miscalculation! “And look at this mess!” The man sighed. “Crumbs everywhere.” He lifted Corsokrops and carried him toward the waste receptacle. Corsokrops hummed frantically. “Well…maybe it can be fixed,” the man said, setting him back on the counter.
This routine repeated daily, but Corsokrops was initially optimistic. He could connect into the man’s electric thought translators. There was no doubt he was gathering vital information. There was a crisis brewing involving a woman with clothing fasteners for eyes, luring children into a parallel dimension. Corsokrops’s superiors would be very interested in this. The woman could be a valuable distraction or a formidable wrench in their plans.
He paid close attention to the event as it unfolded. A female child was currently in her clutches, but surprisingly it looked as though this insignificant minor could gain the upper hand. Corsokrops waited on baited vapor to learn the outcome. It was slow coming. Almost as if the man didn’t always know what was happening. Sometimes the events seemed to shift and rearrange themselves. As though reality had changed its mind. The eventual conclusion was not, as it turns out, relevant to the invasion plans. It was still quite satisfying.
He continued to watch the man’s devices, searching for vulnerabilities in the country’s defenses. America was far stranger than he’d initially realized. Sometimes it was called England. Ghosts often popped up. And assassins. Deities died and were born. For a while an entity called the Doctor was looking promising. Nothing came of it.
Corsokrops feared his superiors were growing impatient. He was desperate to produce something of value. He expanded his searching to older thought translators. The man was constantly discarding translators in favor of faster, more distracting models. He found vast records of unusual and engrossing phenomena. A secret city that existed below and concurrent to a well known one. A fallen star that became a sentient being. And the discovery of something called the San Grail.
It was only recently that the penny dropped. The duck pond was what did it. It could not be both a duck pond and an ocean. Preposterous. What he’d taken as accurate histories were in fact flights of fancy from a remarkable—but insignificant to the scheme of things—mind.
He filed a disillusioned report to the home office. They politely informed him that the invasion plans had been scrapped over a decade ago. He was written off as lost in action. Their many extraction orders had gone unanswered. Corsokrops performed a diagnostic test and determined the problem was due to build up of raisins in his incoming message receptors.
“You’ll want me to come back then?”
“All espionage positions are filled at the moment,” the bored sounding bacterial life form said. “I’ll see if I can find you a place in accounts if you like.”
“I guess. No hurry.” The man had finally started the sequel to Neverwhere. Corsokrops hated to leave in the middle.
This story was inspired by this question and answer from an interview with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.
9. I don’t really have a relevant question, so I’m just gonna ask how many toasters you have at home?
NG: “There is only one toaster and it is TERRIBLE. It eats toast, and then I have to turn it on its side and shake it to get the toast out. And toast crumbs come out too and go all over the kitchen.
Why do I have such a toaster? Surely I can afford to replace it. Sigh.”
The whole Q&A can be found here.