As a young child growing up in England, I had very little access to US format comics. We had plenty of our own publications to go at of course, but the US magazine format publications were like another world. The artwork was far more advanced, and the stories, especially the pre-code horror mags such as 'Tales of Terror', were horrifying in a way that has affected me to the present day. I absolutely could not get enough of it.
My mother tried to take them from me. That didn't work. I invented new and unique hiding places for my insidious contraband and would adopt the classic method of reading by torchlight under the bedclothes. I really wish someone would just dig out all of the pre-code publications and re-release them.
All that being said, the thing that really made the US format comics stand out were the advertisements.
The ads were aimed at people of my age (despite the fact that the vast majority of pre-code consumers were undoubtedly adults), and they promised fantastic things:
'Be a super scary 7ft ghost!'
'Learn to throw your voice. Amaze your friends, Fun at parties!'
'X-Ray specs! See through clothing and walls!'
There was always a tiny order form at the bottom of the ad.
Wow! These were like superpowers. I soaked up all of the hook lines, my captivated prepubescent mind desperately trying to imagine where I could get some American cash, and how much the postage would be. Also... What the hell is a zip code?
But the ad that really got me, the one that blew my tiny mind and sent my imagination into orbit was this one...
The pictures said it all. I could have real, actual, tiny monkeys that swam joyously around in a special Sea Monkey tank. With a castle and a Sea Monkey King and Queen, and all the other Sea Monkey people wearing snorkels and goggles and waving at me as I stared, open mouthed, through the glass. You could even train them to do tricks! Awesome!
Of course it was all complete and utter crap. They were just brine shrimp. A barely visible crustacean, completely lacking in any form of entertainment value. I dare not attempt to estimate the number of profoundly disappointed youngsters who have been viciously duped by Mr. Harold Von Braunhut, the 'inventor' of this malicious con, but really, he should be ashamed of himself. It's the equivalent of handing a modern day teenager an iPhone box containing two soup cans connected with string.
Harold also invented the aforementioned X-Ray specs by the way, and it didn't matter whether you could see through people's clothes with them, because you couldn't see through the specs.
And people wonder why I've grown up to be so cynical.
Anyway, getting to the point, fast forward to December 2011 and according to the Mayan calendar, the world is supposed to end in about four weeks, so everyone is rushing around trying to figure out what to wear. Some people think that the dark planet Nibiru will arrive, full of ancient Mayan gods who will take us all as slaves to dig for gold. Others think that a new Messiah is coming to replace all the oil we've used so that we can carry on acting like assholes, while the really clever people are organising parties and selling beer and nibbles.
I had my own skewed ideas of course, and they prompted the writing of the tale that you can read below. This was, in retrospect, a brave fusion of philosophy, religion and sci-fi, garnished with a final horrific idea. Who knows, someone may stumble upon it one day and build a nonsensical belief system around it. Hell, if it can work for L. Ron. Hubbard it can work for me.
I've taken a very loose interpretation of the Sea Monkey, flipped the perspective and scaled it up. Here we go...
The brothers Lucifer and Yahweh, both top of their class in biosynthesis and astrophysics respectively, were enjoying lunch in the school canteen and the conversation naturally turned to an old probability teaser:
If you put an infinite number of chimps together in a room with pencils and paper would they eventually, and by pure chance, produce the entire works of Shakespeare?
‘The problem is tractable,’ Lucifer stated, ‘by the proposition that if you leave an infinite amount of anything anywhere for an infinite length of time then everything that can possibly happen probably will, and thus under those conditions the answer is yes.’
Yahweh nodded his agreement, chewing his mouthful of egg sandwich with grim determination.
‘But,’ Lucifer continued, ‘proving the proposition by empirical means, there’s a real challenge.’
After a brief discussion, and bearing in mind that the school holidays began the following day, the boys decided to perform a grand experiment.
‘The rules are clear.’ Yahweh said to Lucifer later that evening in their room. ‘Once the experiment begins we cannot interfere. It must run its course and by the end of it we will either have the works of Shakespeare or all of the subjects will have died out.’
‘But this doesn’t allow for an infinite time span.’ Lucifer argued.
‘Agreed,’ Yahweh conceded, ‘ and yet we cannot permit any individual subject to live forever because this allows the accrual of significant experience, which in turn will skew the probability density, and if the probability field isn’t entirely plain the experiment is worthless.’
‘Then perhaps if one subject dies, we should simply replace it.’ Lucifer suggested.
‘That would surely count as interfering.’ Yahweh answered.
‘Then we should make them capable of replacing themselves.’ Lucifer proposed.
Yahweh considered this and saw that it was good.
Other trivialities were also cleared up before the experiment began, such as the matter of how to feed the chimps in a non-invasive manner. It was decided that the environment in which the chimps were placed should be designed in such a way that it catered for all of their needs in perpetuity. This was something of a challenge in itself and consumed several hours of the boys' time.
Eventually a system was agreed whereby a basic amino acid set would be entrained using self assembling molecules to form proteins which would then accrue into organisms that could convert broadcast energy form a distant source into simple sugars. The resulting organisms would then be devoured by other more complex forms and so on, providing and endless supply of self replicating biomass on which the chimps would feed, assuming that they had the wit to capture it. An unexpected bonus of this method was that all of the food remained fresh until the moment that it was eaten, thus keeping the smell to a minimum.
Once built, the chimp enclosure had to be tested.
‘Let there be light.’ Yahweh smiled and initiated several small nuclear fusion devices set at varying distances from the enclosure.
‘How very dramatic,’ Lucifer mused, ‘and pretty too!’
The boys went downstairs for a snack while the energy transients dispersed and the experiment achieved a steady state.
When they returned everything had settled down nicely. The enclosure was now lush and green and entirely pleasant.
‘How many should we create to begin with?’ Yahweh asked.
‘Two I think.’ Lucifer answered. ‘Just to see what happens.’
The two chimps self assembled by virtue of the helical bonding language protocols. They emerged from the generator whole and perfect.
The boys transferred them to their new home and watched avidly as their test subjects simply lounged around and did nothing in particular.
Lucifer was unimpressed, but Yahweh suggested that they should leave them alone to become acquainted with their surroundings. It had taken six days of work to get this far and they deserved a day off, so on the seventh day they rested.
It was on the evening of the seventh day while Yahweh was still asleep that Lucifer, on his way to the bathroom, decided to take a brief peek at the chimps.
To his great disappointment they were as they were when he’d left them. They were idle and lacking any kind of motivation. It was one thing to set up an experiment in infinite time but quite another to use it all up before even beginning.
He felt in this case that he would be justified in giving them a little push. Just to get things going. He was fully aware of the implications of so doing, having a complete understanding of chaos mathematics and its application in catastrophe theory. One can make a minor, almost imperceptible change to an event at its inception which in the fullness of time will change the fate of nations. But since this experiment had only one objective and since the nature of the chimp was relatively undefined in the project specification he felt that Yahweh would have no sound objection to him making a fine adjustment before it really got going.
Just a small tweak, Lucifer thought as he assembled a retro-virus with the specific task of inserting a few more directives into the chimp’s helical instruction set. Having finished his work, he introduced the retro-virus into the enclosure and went back to bed.
When the boys awoke, Yahweh was most displeased.
‘Look at them!’ He announced pointing to the chimps that now numbered in the thousands, ‘All their hair’s fallen out! And they’re making war with each other! We should check the figures,’ He added, ‘something has surely gone amiss.’
Lucifer said nothing. He didn’t want to upset his brother further by admitting the changes he had made.
‘We have to start again.’ Yahweh whined.
‘I would remind you of the first rule Yahweh.’ Lucifer stated. ‘We have started an ongoing process which is to decide its own outcome and the subjects are unaware of the purpose for their being. We cannot simply wipe away that which we do not like. This has to run its course.’
After some deliberation Yahweh nodded gravely.
The boys left the chimps to their own ways from then on, occasionally popping back to check up on them. Lucifer was entertained by their constant warring, bloodshed and fornication but Yahweh became concerned not only for their welfare but that the final outcome of their experiment may be delayed or even negated by the chimps many distractions.
As it happened it was their mother Ain-Soph who decided the matter.
Both boys upon looking into the enclosure one morning found that it had been washed clean. They appealed to their mother to leave their project alone and She agreed adding that the ugly little things were dirty and starting to smell and that She didn’t know what the boys saw in them.
Luckily one of the chimps had seen fit to design and build a huge boat and had gathered to itself enough food to survive the flood.
‘See how clever they are?’ Yahweh asked of his brother.
‘That would be my doing.’ Lucifer admitted in his pride. ‘I have made an adjustment in the early moments of our project. I have made them self aware.’
‘And self important.’ Yahweh scolded. ‘And this has caused their wars and their greed and their lust. Lucifer, you have interfered.’
‘But without their lust they would not multiply,’ Lucifer argued, ‘and without their greed they would have no wars and their wars have been their time of greatest invention. So you see Yahweh,’ He added, ‘I have brought our project to life. Without my intervention they would be nothing and go nowhere.’
‘But that was not the project specification.’ Yahweh reminded him.
‘We must agree to differ on that point my brother.’ Lucifer replied. ‘The school holidays will soon be over and I have other things to do.’
‘Your impatience has always been very apparent.’ Yahweh sighed.
‘So be it.’ Lucifer shrugged.
Some time later, when the chimps had recovered their population, their behaviour became worse than ever. Yahweh noticed this and was saddened. Lucifer merely smiled at his brother’s empathy for their lab rats.
The chimps made good progress in their way. They developed metallurgy which they used to fashion weapons. They cast gold into coins which they used to fuel their greed and their wars. They began to wonder in their limited way, how they had come to be there and why. They developed written communication to make account of their greedy gains and of those who owed them gold. They even began to create their own art as a means to imitate the work of their fictitious gods.
Yahweh grew to love their babbling politics and their faltering philosophies, but their wars and their greed and their cruelty made him sorrowful.
He looked around himself to ensure that Lucifer was not present and then, with great trepidation, he decided to intervene.
He fashioned for himself another chimp, a better chimp, a chimp that would carry the message from Yahweh that communion, and not war, was the way to happiness and fulfilment.
Having made this chimp, Yahweh introduced it to the enclosure. He watched carefully as the new improved chimp carried out its purpose. As it walked amongst the other chimps and told them how to be better.
He watched in dismay as the other chimps nailed it to a piece of wood and then carried on as usual.
Lucifer on his arrival immediately noticed this and laughed loudly.
‘See Yahweh!’ He sneered. ‘It is you that seeks to ruin our great work, not I!’
‘I seek only to save them from themselves.’ Yahweh pleaded.
‘They are nothing Yahweh.’ Lucifer answered. ‘They are less than nothing.’
Both boys continued to watch as after a hundred thousand years of relative time the chimps developed great nations, travelled freely, traded and otherwise explored their vast enclosure. They witnessed the rise and fall of great and fierce chimp kings and the destruction of civilisations. They watched the development of the written word into an art form and were entertained by the chimp’s efforts to describe and enact the concepts that fell limply from their dim and feeble minds.
Then one day Yahweh called frantically to his brother.
‘Lucifer! Lucifer!’ It’s happening at last!’
The boys looked on with bated breath as a single chimp sat alone in its room by candle light and with ink dipped quill in hand. It sighed deeply and began to scrawl upon the yellowed parchment page…
In the blink of an eye it seemed, the experiment was over and the hypothesis proven.
‘We should write this up as fully as possible.’ Lucifer suggested. ‘I have made copious notes. We shall include the output from this chimp for it is indeed the entire works of Shakespeare, word for word.’
But Yahweh appeared concerned.
‘But if I were to be objective about the results,’ he began, ‘I would surely leap upon the potential flaw in our method which is that our subjects have been changed by the experiment itself, and that they are in fact, no longer chimps.’
Lucifer thought deeply on this.
‘The premise merely stated that they should start as chimps it gave no stipulation that they remain that way.’ He concluded. ‘And besides, their biological deviation is less than two percent. They are close enough.’
‘And what shall we do with this?’ Yahweh asked, pointing to the enclosure. His glorious face grew dark with concern. ‘Now that our subjects are no longer required.’
Lucifer saw the sadness on his brother’s face and felt the same.
‘Would you agree that, since we have performed this feat together, half of the subjects should belong to me and the others to you?’ He asked.
Yahweh nodded his agreement.
‘Then,’ Lucifer proposed, ‘we shall go for a short stroll around their enclosure to see that all is well, by which time, if my calculations are correct their relative date should be the year two thousand and twelve, and if they have not destroyed themselves by war, eaten all the food or drowned in their own faeces their numbers should be in the region of six billion.’
Yahweh agreed with his brother’s initial estimates.
‘At which time,’ Lucifer continued, ‘you may keep yours to do with as you wish and I will have mine.’
‘I will take all the good ones and keep them as pets.’ Yahweh smiled.
‘As for myself brother,’ Lucifer sighed, ‘I will take mine away. I have analysed their protein structure and I believe that they will make a most nourishing soup.’
With that, both boys strolled off at just below the speed of light for a thorough inspection of their grand experiment.
‘You know Lucifer,’ Yahweh said, ‘I’ve heard it proposed that a tree, upon falling over in the middle of a large forest, would not make a sound if there were no-one there to hear it.’
‘Ah, but to prove it empirically.’ Lucifer smiled. ‘There is the challenge.’