“Imagine the most depressing, paranoid, delusional person possible. Are you doing that?”
“Give them a megaphone. Make their pay directly dependent on how depressed, paranoid and delusional they can make other people. Call them the media and boot them out the door to go get on with it.”
”Yeah. I guess that would indeed result in societal problems.”
Reden nodded. “It does.”
“Are you actually trying to sell me this planet?”
“I am, yes. But you are a highly intelligent, intuitive individual. I could see that right away. My experience tells me that highlighting the curiosities of Earth is the best way to make you want to relocate there. Not just the good, and certainly not the bad. But the curious. Nothing piques interest like the curious, I find!”
“What else, if I dare to ask, is curious there?”
“You only get one wife!”
Plingo recoiled in shock, like a fired gun. “That’s ridiculous! Why I have 23 wives and I’ve long considered taking a 24th!”
“Well, that could work if we relocated you to a place on Earth called Utah,” Reden said, his voice thoughtful. “But it’s not without risk. There’s one sect from there whose king had 78 wives but he was just imprisoned for this.” Reden shook his head.
“Don’t think it’s a very good idea.”
Imprisoned for having too many wives? Plingo stood aghast at the mere suggestion. Who had ever heard of such a thing? He collected up all 23 of his wives in his mind, arranging them in a row, like a police line-up. He thought about which he’d be able to do without, should it be required of him. He was surprised at his inability to let go of even one of these fine Quadrups. Like a perfectly balanced football team, he felt each contributed different, yet vital attributes to his life. Plus, the taking of many wives was not uncommon on Quadrup, he had friends with vastly more wives than he. At the very least, since scheduling time together had its difficulties, due to it being unmeasurable, so the easiest way of making sure your wife would be available when you wanted one, was to have multiple.
“What if I get bored with just one wife?” Plingo asked.
“Then you can take a new one”, said Reden airily. “Just not at the same time.”
“Oh. Swapping is as easy as that?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Well, you have to sign some forms first and give her half your stuff though.”
“Half my stuff!”
“Half your stuff.”
“But then I can take a new one?”
“What if get bored of that one?”
“Then, naturally, you can take another new one.” Reden exhaled deeply, his impatience beginning to grow. “But you’ll have to give this second one half your stuff, too.” At Plingo’s aghast look, Reden quickly added, “Really only a quarter of your stuff when you think about it.”
“Can I just do without a wife instead?”
“Sure”, nodded Reden “that would work, but, once you get over 30 years old — and we’ll get to years later — everyone else will have one and they’ll start making children together. You’ll be considered personality defective should you choose to do neither wife-taking nor child-producing. You’ll become socially ostracized.”
While not music to his ears exactly, social ostracism didn’t sound that bad either.
“But I’d get to keep all my stuff?”
“You sure would. Which might be a wise decision when you consider that babies, unlike wives, cost more than half your stuff! In fact they cost 150 per cent of your stuff. So by taking neither, you’ll be in a pretty fortuitous financial position, I’d say.”
“How can babies take 150 per cent? Per cents stop at 100 don’t they, or do they have an entirely different method of mathematics than we do here on Quadrup?”
“No, it’s the same as here. Only babies are so frighteningly expensive that they actually cost more than you have and so you have to make more in order to give it to them. Well not directly to them, at least not at first, but, instead, you pay it on their behalf for all sort of things like plush toys, branded trainers, days out, schools, weddings, etc.”
“But then once I’m making more money, I’ll have enough money, right?”
“No, and this another interesting point. Children on Earth contain within them a sort of self-regulating device. It ensures their wants stay fixed at exactly 150 per cent of what their parents can offer. If you have more money, they’ll want bigger plush toys, better brands on their trainers, to go to a more expensive private school, to have a more elaborate day out, a more lavish wedding, etc., etc.” Plingo looked alarmed and his hand dropped immediately to his pocket, where it clutched tightly upon his wallet.
“What happens if you don’t have enough money?”
“Well, of course you don’t have pay it out all at once! You’ll pay for your child slowly but every day for about, oh, I don’t know, probably 25 years and then quite possibly a few more. Depends a little on the child.”
“Whoa,” stuttered Plingo in disbelief, “that’s quite an investment. But the child pays you back right? That’s the retirement part?”
“Er-r-r-r, no. Although they might visit you occasionally once you have retired.”
“That’s it? Doesn’t seem all that fair.”
“It is for the child. It’s not all bad news though. You do get to share in the child’s successes. Assuming they have any. Assuming after having any they tell you about them. Instead, it’s often the case that they tend to call post-failure, requesting more money to lower the chance of future failures.”
“Earth is really a messed up place,” Plingo said, shaking his head once more and exhaling deeply, like a rapidly deflating balloon.
“I know. I’ve researched it a lot for this job and I do find it endlessly fascinating. I’d be tempted to go myself were it not for all the negative…er, that is, not for all the commitments I have here to QPMP. I want to make the most of my Earth relocation training and help reduce our population time bomb here on Quadrup.” He sighed.
“Someone has to stay here and help the lucky ones relocate.”
”What else do they lucky ones have to look forward to?” Finding someone else who might make his breakfast didn’t quite seem sufficient reason for Plingo to consider relocating just yet.
“Let me think……..in England, they have a drink many people enjoy, it’s called tea.”
“That weak drink made from old, dead, brown leaves?” asked Plingo, recoiling in shock. “I tried that here once.” He made a face.
“That’s the one.”
“Okay, that’s out then.” Hum, let me think… Reden looked up towards the sky, presumably seeking divine inspiration. “Friends? Yes, friends that’s a good one. In England if one successfully completes a complex assault course of social protocol and etiquette, one may, after the required period of time and confirmation in writing, establish a friendship, much like we have here on Quadrup.”
Plingo already had friends, “How is that better than here?”
“Well, what is the name of your closest friend?” Plingo took a few seconds to confer with himself.
“Salanka9.” He said.
“When will you next see him?”
“Yes, when later, specifically?”
Plingo looked confused. “I don’t know” he shrugged. “Just later. If he is free and has the inclination, we’ll meet. If not, we won’t. We’ll meet later on in the later sometime.”“Uh, huh”, said Reden, self-satisfied, as if he’d just homed a particularly troublesome puzzle piece. “So you can’t say for certain when you will meet. Or if you will ever meet again!”
Plingo pondered whilst playing with a spring or two. “Perhaps. But then presumably, we weren’t very good friends and so the loss would not be that great”, he said, demonstrating a level-headed practicality that he was sure would invariably be welcomed by the people of Earth. Reden felt otherwise.
“Let me explain something. On Earth, as we’ve touched on already, they have measurable time. It is made up of numbers, from one to 24. Seven sets of these are something called a week. All time is measurable. They have machines that record at which point the now falls between the numbers of one and 24 and the days from one to seven. There are further time periods but I don’t want to complicate things right now. So, for example, if on Earth you had a friend just like you have here, in Salanka9, You could say to him, ‘Salanka9, how about we meet in the park on day four of seven, at hour 18 of 24?’ This is called scheduling. It ensures you’ll be able to meet your friends as often as you like. In theory” Reden added.
“Wow, that is a great innovation, as often as I like?”
“As often as you have free time.”
“How often will that be?”
“Depends on your job and your family. Some people find that their hours from 1 to 24 have been largely filled by obligations they don’t remember accepting and can’t really get out of.”
I think I get it. Numbers, things happen at certain numbers, things record which number is the now. ” said Plingo, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically. “But, then what if Salanka9 and I decide to meet on day four of seven, at hour 18 of 24, as you said, but then, at day four, at hour 16 of 24, I decide I don’t really want to meet him anymore?”
“Well, then you could tell him that. But he might be offended. He’s reserved that time slot for you and now you are saying he needn’t have bothered. He might feel that if you liked him as much as you say you do, you’d want to see him.”
“Hum…” contemplated Plingo, “but, what if I’m just not in the mood?”
“I see you are trying to keep hold of a Quadrups sense of spontaneity,” said Reden, playfully punching Plingo on the arm. “You must embrace the new possibilities offered by scheduling.” Plingo was silent.
“You could also make up an excuse and tell that to Salanka9.”
“An excuse?” Plingo rolled the word around his mouth a few times, getting a feel for it. “Excuse?”
“Excuse. It’s a reason why you haven’t or won’t do something expected of you. Don’t feel stupid.” Plingo bristled. He did not feel stupid, at least not at this particular moment. “You don’t know what it is,” Reden continued, “because we have no call for them on Quadrup. You could tell Salanka9 that your car has broken down, or that you are not feeling well or that you have to stay late at work.”
“Making up a false excuse like this is preferred to admitting that I’ve changed my mind?”
“On Earth, in England, by a factor of about a thousand, yes.”
“So,” Reden said briskly, only too aware of how many nows had passed, not to mention other candidates. “Would you like to relocate your soul to Earth?” Plingo immediately shook his head. A flash of irritation crossed Reden’s face.
“Thanks anyway,” Plingo mumbled, not wanting to seem ungrateful for having been singled out from so many Quadrups to receive this special offer.
“Well,” Reden confided, his tone dropping to a near whisper. “There are two other things I haven’t told you yet. I’ve saved the best until last, you could say, until we’d covered all the basics.” Plingo continued to say nothing.
“The first!” he said, dramatically unfurling an arm towards Plingo, his fingers opening from around a packet of milk chocolate. Plingo sniffed. He had never seen chocolate before. He snatched the bar and shoved the entire thing, including the wrapper, into his mouth and crunched down through the paper, foil and into the chocolate. Reden watched Plingo’s amazed expression.“It’s called chocolate.”. He continued to watch Plingo’s face as the chocolate began to melt and overpowered the taste of the wrapper. Then, a strange thing happened. Plingo screwed his face up and had what one could only really accurately describe as a food orgasm. As they didn’t have orgasms on Quadrup, this one was all the more surprisingin the power of its pleasure.
He had to lean against the wall to stop himself from falling over. He became too distracted and flustered to do anything more than release odd little moaning sounds as he continued to devour the chocolate. He finished the whole bar, licked his lips several time and then, cheeks still flushed, demanded to know where he could get more of this, immediately! His voice having taken on the urgency of an addict.
“Earth,” said Reden, flatly.
“No...no,I mean where can I get more of this right now? Here, on Quadrup?”
“The Quadrups body is not designed to handle this type of high sugar food. It’s an earth delicacy. Much more and you risk instant and total internal combustion, and in a way that even continues cannot prolong. Did I say ‘instantly’?”
“You did. I believe I got that.” Plingo felt anxiety rising inside him and tears pricked his eyelids. He blinked them back. Reden smiled inwardly. “People of Earth, can they eat more?”
“They can eat as much as they like, whenever they like.”
“Well, that really is rather a deal sweetener, if you excuse the pun. What’s the second thing?”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“I can” smirked Reden.
“I will. Reproducing on Quadrup is very easy as you’ll know. If your gilla bumps into a lady’s ringling, even for a very short now, she might get pregnant. No biggie, right? Happens all the time. Most likely she won’t even notice. A short now later, something drops out the hatch. Easy. Painless.
“So, on Quadrup there’s never been a genetic need for something as intense as sex, at least as it exists on Earth. You see, on Earth, because of the curious reproductive hurdles we’ve already discussed – a nine-month gestation period, the selection of only one dedicated sexual partner, known as a wife or husband, the need to care for each child for approximately 25 years, the child costing at all times 150 per cent of your financial means, the lack of time devoted to reproduction due to the five-day on, two-day off working system and so on and so on. All of these factors combine to make it very hard for the inhabitants of Earth to find the time or inclination to propagate their numbers.”
“So then, really they should have died out.”
“Yes, no doubt they would have. But biology has tricks of its own. In order to overshadow all of the just discussed deficiencies offered by the rest of life on Earth, Biology has amplified and concentrated the maximum possible pleasure that can be felt into one short activity – sex. Which, when done right — or wrong depending on how you look at it — and the intended outcome of its participants, causes humans to procreate.”
“And so how does this relate to chocolate?”
“Chocolate is like a brief mouthful of mini-sex. Useful for when one is at work or in a public place and cannot engage in the other great high we just discussed.”
“You catch on fast.”
“What does sex feel like?”
“I have been informed that is most pleasurable. Think back to the feeling that chocolate gave you earlier. That’s what’s known on Earth as an orgasm.”
“Orgasm,” Plingo repeated in wonder. If they had a word for it, surely it was be something you can have again and again.
“Multiply that sensation, by a factor of one hundred. That if it can be believed, is how sex feels.” Plingo’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t help it; he began salivating. Imagine one hundred chocolate bars all at once. It was surely inconceivable! He couldn’t imagine something that felt that good. Not even climbing under a soft warm duvet after a hard day’s work, to spoon with wife number 12, his current favourite. Could it really feel that magnificent? Really? He was going to have to…..No? Really? Damn. Okay then…
“Where do I sign?”