a thousand miles

Aug 02 2013

“next please” said the robot as John approached “next please”. it said this despite the absence of any other customer apart from John, by which he recognised that its programming was not very sophisticated. the fairy bureau, consisting of a booth down an alley and around two corners next to a dumpster where a stray cat had recently dropped its mewling litter, was a little uninviting, and perhaps did not often require a sophisticated attendant.

“Someone I know gave me this ticket to fairy land as a present, because he didn’t want it anymore. Can you tell me why he didn’t want it?” John showed his ticket, and the robot gripped it in in the primitive pincer it had instead of a hand and ogled it with a pair of marbles that John supposed were its visual sensors. the marbles dully shed a dim red light onto the ticket by which John guessed he was meant to understand that it was really “seeing”.

“you should live every day as though you were to live forever” said the robot.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked John.

“i cannot tell how this state of affairs has come to be” explained the robot “maybe your friend didn’t want to go to fairy anymore. or maybe he wanted to send you to fairy. maybe both, or maybe some other reason. i regret that it is not part of my programming to understand this matter, and it is outside the scope of my role” it finished, offering to return the ticket, and gently fluttered its wings. they were large butterfly wings, black at the edges but otherwise ranging through soft iridescent shades of blue and green, and they appeared to be genuinely organic. John thought they looked grotesque and couldnt think of anything more incredibly ridiculous than a robot with flapping butterfly wings. “Yes yes, of course,” he said impatiently “But is there anything wrong with it?”

the robot retracted its hideous arm and took another “look” at the ticket. this time its sensors flashed brightly several times as it turned the ticket over in its pincer and examined both sides again and again. “this ticket to fairy is current and valid” it concluded “there appears to be nothing wrong with this ticket, and it is good to use”. the robot turned its marbles on John and extended its arm once more, offering the ticket again.

“But it’s so damaged,” complained John, “How can I tell that it will be accepted at the boarding gate?” it was true that the ticket was no longer in the same condition it had been in immediately after it had been printed. since then it had been folded in half, and was a little crinkled at the edges. it looked like it had been in someones back pocket.

“all that is gold does not glitter” said the robot “and there will not be a problem with the ticket. the ticket is valid and good for travel”. once more the robot proffered the ticket.

“Well I can’t even see the price,” said John “It’s been scrubbed off. Can’t you even tell me what the price of it is?”

“every price has its man” said the robot. and then after a pause “ – sorry. by which i mean, the price of every ticket is different. in this case, for you, there will be no price for travel to fairy. the price that is referred to as being FREE is representative of the very best price possible”. the robot had still been holding its pincer forth, but when John made no movement, it once more withdrew the ticket slightly.

“But what I mean is,” said John carefully, “how do I know I won’t be travelling in some sort of service locker? Is this a last class ticket or what kind of ticket is it exactly?”

“its not the journey that matters but the destination” said the robot.

“You’re wasting my time,” said John “What do you know anyway? You’re just a bot. Tell me how I can speak to your botmaster, right away.”

“i may just be a bot but dont they say it is better to be hated for what you are not than to be loved for what you are?”

“No, I don’t think anyone does say that sort of thing, except you, you useless backward bot.”

the robot gave a buzz that was almost like a cough and flapped its wings a little. “i am so sorry and i offer my apologies for this situation. excuse me Sir but would you please mind holding this ticket just for a moment? so sorry” it said, and offered the ticket yet again. when the ticket was reluctantly accepted, it produced a folded plastic garbage bag from beneath its counter. the bag was the kind that has strings to pull the end open and closed, and the robot held this end, open, towards John. “would you mind Sir placing the ticket in the bag?”

“That’s a plastic garbage bag,” said John.

“it was indeed once nothing more than a humble plastic garbage bag” said the robot “but it has since been enchanted at the fairy embassy. the nature of the enchantment is to resolve complex problems with travel tickets”.

“How can it resolve this problem?” asked John.

“i have never required the bag before and i am not familiar with its operation” responded the robot “i presume that it will remove your current ticket and provide you with a fresh clean new ticket on which you will be able to read the information you require”.

“I don’t care anyway,” said John, “if I never go to your stupid fairy land, if it’s just full of idiotic bots and enchanted garbage bags.” he put the ticket in the bag, but when he did, he found that there was a magnetism that had pulled his hand in after the ticket, and that he could not pull it back. following his hand was his arm and shoulder, then his head and neck and all the rest of his body, and it all fit in there as if it were made of rags and stuffing. it happened so quickly that John didnt really know what was going on, and then the strings at the neck of the bag drew it closed behind him. the strings drew of their own accord as though by magic, the robot didnt have anything to do with it. after they closed, the bag lost its shape, and its mass, and a bit of air hissed out of the neck so that it deflated slightly. it was clear that John was no longer in there, it was just an empty garbage bag that looked like it had recently held a certain shape. the wind rustled it and picked it up out of the robots pincers and it gently floated away down the alley.

“the journey of a single step starts with a thousand miles” said the robot “next please”.

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