Joe realized that the situation was seemingly hopeless, and that the odds of survival were virtually nil. This thought allowed him to relax. He realized that, being a hero (specifically a Typical Hero of the Future), that survival in the face of virtually insurmountable odds was not only possible, but also inevitable. Joe had survived dozens of impossible situations in the past. As a matter of fact, whenever Joe had faced any situation at all in the past, he had survived. Why should this scenario be any different?
The Hr'zafians continued firing laser bolts at Joe; one sailed just over his head, singeing the hair on his head. Another just missed his arm, and another sailed by just centimetres away from his heart. Joe didn't worry about any of these distractions, however, since if any of the bolts hit him, he would have failed at his escape. Since he was virtually fated to succeed, it would be almost impossible for that to happen.
What a disaster the visit to Hr'zaf was! While the Hr'zafians puzzled over whether the previous sentence was a statement of fact, the author's opinion, Joe's opinion, or even their own opinion, Joe dived into a conveniently-placed grove of trees and hid himself in the thick foliage near the ground. His pursuers momentarily ran past the bush but then turned around and ventured into the bush, running right past Joe's hiding spot. Joe then exited the grove and continued running towards his ship. The Hr'zafians eventually realized their mistake and resumed the pursuit, but Joe had gained some ground.
Finally Joe reached his ship. Climbing the ladder to the cockpit, he unsheathed his laser pistol and returned fire. While laser bolts were flying all around him, he hit several of the Hr'zafians. Leaping into his spaceship, Joe hit a button marked "random takeoff." While, in theory at least, hitting such a button would take you anywhere, Joe knew from experience that you would inevitably end up in the vicinity of planets with extremely high per-capita alcohol consumption. Joe pressed the button, and the scenery around him immediately blurred and turned into streaks of white light.
Joe rummaged around the console of his spaceship, looking for the small black box that was his Galactic History Brain Supplement For Space Travellers Who Quit Cyberschool By Age Sixteen from Interion Incorporated. He eventually found it and plugged it into the back of his head. Utilizing the extra knowledge provided by the supplement, he realized that if only he had attended a few more days of school, he would have learned about the problems inherent in universal translators. Most people would feel deep pangs of regret in this situation. Not a Typical Hero of the Future, however. Joe decided to investigate what his life would have been like if he had stayed in school for a few more days. Joe realized that staying in school might have had other wide-ranging effects on his life and so wanted to investigate.
Even without his Galactic History Brain Supplement For Space Travellers Who Quit Cyberschool By Age Sixteen, Joe realized that travelling backwards in time by using his Personal Time Travel machine was a silly idea. Not only would it take years to calculate where to make the jump so that he ended up somewhere inhabitable (see the previous chapter), but Joe had no memory of meeting an older version of himself in the past, so he knew it would be impossible to meet a younger version of himself. Instead, Joe decided to travel to an alternate universe.
The theory of alternate universe travel had been discovered several hundred years previously, and the idea behind it was really quite obvious. All that you had to do was to turn your spacecraft so that it was at right angles to the three spatial dimensions, and your spacecraft would then be heading in the direction of alternate universes.
The obviousness of this discovery caused people to smack their foreheads in disbelief and wonder why they didn't think of such an obvious thing first. The reason, of course, was that planetary governments had not been contributing vast sums of money towards research into obvious things. Well, this discovery changed all that. On virtually all civilised planets in the galaxy, the governments set up Ministries of the Blatantly Obvious, in order to cash in on obvious discoveries.
These ministries realized a major payback to society almost immediately. Scientists working for one of these ministries or another discovered many fabulous and blatantly obvious things. Among other things, they discovered two sure-fire ways to lose weight (by "eating less" and "exercising more"), a method for students to get higher grades in school (by "studying more"), and cures for alcoholism ("stop drinking"), depression ("be happy"), smoker's cough ("stop smoking"), spaceman's syndrome ("stop travelling in space"), and all terminal diseases ("commit suicide").
Unfortunately, years before Joe was born, all of these ministries had self-destructed. Sooner or later, the researchers tried applying blatantly obvious common sense to Quantum Mechanics, realized that neither they nor their laboratories really existed, and disappeared into thin air.
In the time that it took to relate this story, Joe had already navigated to a universe where he would have stayed in school for a few days longer. For reasons conveniently glossed over in the story, his ship ended up quite close where his other self in this alternate universe was living. Specifically, Joe's spaceship ended up in the Earth's atmosphere.
Having landed his spaceship and parking it in one of the many docking bays at the spaceport, Joe walked through the hallways of the spaceport, looking for a holophone booth. After wandering down several hallways, he eventually found one. He picked up the holophone hyperbook. Reading the entry for "Joe", he discovered that he lived at 31843 Shulrad Road, his holophone number was 23986017743, and that his credit card number was 4217-3221-9074-5513. Using the holophone book, Joe was also able to browse the other Joe's medical records, religious and political affiliations, and several embarrassing incidents in the other Joe's life. Having read up on Joe, Joe started off for one of the spaceport's exits.
The metal exit hatched slid open, and Joe walked outside. It was a dark, starry night on Earth. At any rate, it would have been, were it not for thousands of 10,000 watt bulbs illuminating the area for miles around the spaceport. As Shulrad Road had been constructed before Joe's universe diverged with this alternate one, Joe knew where to find it. He walked towards the east through the artificially lit streets. He turned one corner, then another. Finally, he reached the house he was looking for.
Joe broke a window on the ground floor of the house and climbed in. He jumped down, landing on a couch. He realised he was in a living room. There was a stairway straight in front of him that led upstairs. Joe climbed the stairs, which led to several bedrooms. Joe saw other Joe in one of the bedrooms. He ducked behind some boxes in the hallway and waited a while.
Presently, the other Joe quickly rose out of bed. Joe noticed that he was wearing pyjamas that were fluorescent green with purple polka dots and wavy pink lines. He also noticed that this blended in almost perfectly with the bedroom walls. Meanwhile, other Joe glanced at the digital clock in the room, which read 6:59. He was overjoyed that he got up before the alarm clock had gone off, especially considering how close the alarm was to ringing. He quickly leaped out of bed and hit the clock's alarm button so that the clock wouldn't ring.
He peeked his head out of the bedroom door to determine whether his wife or any of his seventeen children were in the bathroom. Noticing that the door was not closed, he raced back into the bedroom, picked some clothes off the floor apparently at random, and then raced into the bathroom, running right past Joe's poorly concealed hiding place but apparently not noticing him at all.
Other Joe shut the door and locked it. He was feeling in an incredibly adventuresome mood today, so he thought about doing something radically different. He thought about it for several minutes before coming to an incredible decision: He would put on his left sock first, instead of his right! His hand quivered as he reached for the sock labelled "left"...
Enough of that. Rather boring, isn't it? Hopefully the reader can now see that the real tragedy was not that Joe didn't stay in cyberschool, but that Joe had left his Interion Incorporated Galactic History Brain Supplement For Space Travellers Who Quit Cyberschool By Age Sixteen on his ship, instead of plugging it into his brain and taking it with him on Hr'zaf.
Joe headed back to the spaceport, and headed for the bar. As he reached the door to the bar, it opened, revealing about a dozen humanoids sitting at the bar. Joe walked up to the bar and ordered. "Twenty Rehxian Flimflams, please", Joe asked.
Visions of buying his own private planetary system stepped to the foreground of the bartender's thoughts. "Um... Sir, are you aware that Rehxian Flimflams cost 847,000 galactic credits? Each?" he asked.
"That cheap? In that case I'll order twenty for everyone else in the bar as well!"
"And how are you going to pay for all this, may I ask?" equivocated the bartender.
"With my credit card. Actually, I don't have it on me, but its number is 4217-3221-9074-5513", replied Joe.
The bartender punched these 16 digits, in addition to a large number of other digits representing the price of Joe's purchase, into a small computer. "Transaction approved", said the computer in a computeresque voice.
"Thank you, sir. Coming right up", said the bartender, mentally making plans to retire to a pleasure planet of his choice.
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