December 1, 2634
“Hello? Are you awake?”
The voice was definitely speaking English, but with a wet-sounding lisp and an accent I couldn’t place. It was the first voice I’d heard since The Event had left me alone to wander the lightning fields in search of food and water that hadn’t been turned to poison. For years—at least I think it was years—the sun didn’t really rise and fall as it used to, nor the seasons turn from one to the next, and I made my lonely way until, one day, while traversing the nitrogen glaciers, I fell asleep and woke up here.
Wherever here was.
I opened my eyes and beheld a man—or what I thought was a man. He was my height, but with rubbery-looking royal blue skin flecked with darker blue spots. He must’ve seen me flinch in shock, so he rested a webbed hand reassuringly on my shoulder.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, his froglike mouth twitching as he spoke. “You’re safe here.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Grand Admiral Gorox of the Mildonian Celestial Navy, commander of the Mildonian Expeditionary Fleet. You’re in the infirmary of our flagship, in orbit of your home planet—what do you call it?”
I was still shaking off the cobwebs, unsure of what to do or of what to make of this apparently well-meaning frog-man who’d taken me to outer space. Gorox was dressed in a red floor-length cloak over a white tunic. The sleeves of the robes were decorated with gold filigree, which made him stand out from the other Mildonians in the room—their robes were solid black or gray, with more modest ornamentation. He sure looked like he was in charge.
“Earth,” I said, after pausing.
“Earth,” Gorox said, solemnly repeating the word. “And what’s your name, friend?”
“Michael. Michael Baumann.” I could barely muster the strength to sit up, and when I did, I noticed that my mouth was dry. “Can I have some water?” I asked.
Gorox turned toward one of the other Mildonians and chittered something at him. The Mildonian doctor—I presumed—went over to a wall while Gorox continued to talk.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news, Michael,” he said, gravely. With a series of elaborate gestures, Gorox caused a three-dimensional image of the Earth—post-Event, with purple clouds that simmered with static electricity—to appear above my bed. “We first reached your Earth some weeks ago, and in that time, my scientists and archaeologists have not been able to recover any sentient life forms apart from yourself.”
“I suspected as much,” I said. “After The Event, I’d been alone for a long time. Where did you find me, and how?”
Gorox enlarged the image to show a field of ice. “Here,” he said. “You’d been cryogenically frozen for—we believe—more than 600 years.”
The doctor returned with a round vessel of water, and I sipped from it to buy time to compose myself.
“We’re still looking, of course,” Gorox continued, “but if you are the last of your kind, I hope that you’ll be willing to help us put together a history of your world. When you’re ready, of course.”
“Though there is one thing we’ve discovered that we’d like you to explain now, if you can,” Gorox said, whipping his hands through the air to replace the image of Earth with a new one.
“What is it?”
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 17, 2016
“This,” Gorox said.
I took a deep breath and stifled a laugh. The Mildonian grand admiral stared back at me, nostrils twitching with excitement and curiosity.
“That’s the Phanatic chasing Tommy Laswordfish with a net at his birthday party,” I said, matter-of-factly.
“Do you have sports on your world?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Okay, this is from one of our most popular sports. It’s called baseball,” I said.
“And in this game you chase each other with nets?”
“No, not exactly,” I said. “In baseball, essentially, one person throws a ball and another tries to hit it. If he does, he tries to run around in a circle before his opponent can retrieve the ball and tag him with it. It’s somewhat more complicated than that, but that’s all you need to know for now.”
“And are these humans in this video?” Gorox asked. “They don’t look anything like you.”
“They’re mascots,” I said. “Humans often named their sports teams after dangerous animals to sound more intimidating, and during games, they’d have someone dress up like the animal to walk around the stadium and amuse people during lulls in the action. This game was being played by the Philadelphia Phillies—which isn’t an animal—so they made up that green monster thing called the Phanatic.”
“Our scientists have encountered a great deal of evidence of this Phanatic you speak of,” the grand admiral said. “We couldn’t tell if it was a pet or some sort of political leader or religious figure.”
Gorox waved his arms again and brought up another image. “Can you explain this?” he asked.
“No, not really.”
“How about this?”
“No,” I said.
“How about this?”
“I guess, but it’s not really worth explaining.”
Today marks five years since the Phillie Phanatic hit his mother in the face with a pitch. pic.twitter.com/6RxNpkgh1w
— Dan McQuade (@dhm) April 17, 2016
“Yes!” I said. “That’s related to the first one, where the Phanatic chases Tommy Laswordfish with a net.”
“How?” Grand Admiral Gorox seemed to expand his capacity for confusion with each new video of the Phanatic.
“Well, every year the Phillies throw the Phanatic a birthday party. Do Mildonians have birthday parties?”
Gorox chittered. “We do. But isn’t this Phanatic a fictional creature? Does he actually have a birthday?”
“I guess not, but just roll with it,” I said.
“Anyway, the Phillies invite various mascots from around the country to the ballpark, and the mascots play a game of baseball before the Phillies game starts, and there are other games and dance numbers and so forth throughout the day.”
Gorox’s translucent buccae expanded and contracted. He wheezed, evidently to indicate understanding.
“What is that second Phanatic?” he asked, pointing at the video. “The one who gets hit in the face with the ball?”
“That’s the Phanatic’s mother,” I said. “Phoebe Phanatic.”
“I am not.”
Gorox wheezed again. “So,” he said. “How does this relate to the image of the Phanatic chasing that other beast with a net?”
“Well,” I said, “the net incident took place five years after the incident with the Phanatic’s mother, and the thing he’s chasing is another mascot.”
“Tommy Laswordfish, you called him.”
“That’s right. Humans often hunt fish with nets, which explains why the Phanatic is chasing it with a net.”
“What’s the significance of Tommy Laswordfish?”
“Well, back in the 1980s, a long time before these other videos, another team, the Los Angeles Dodgers were run by a thin-skinned, small-minded man named Tommy Lasorda. I wonder if you have video of a certain incident—”
Gorox held up a webbed paw and cycled through videos of the Phanatic. “I think I know what you mean. There’s one video that led our scientists to believe that the Phanatic’s natural predator was the troll. Ah, here we go.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s it. Part of the Phanatic’s act is to engage with opposing players—good-natured teasing, that sort of thing.”
Gorox flipped to another image.
“We’ve seen others retaliate, but it always seemed playful,” Gorox said. “Not with this Tommy Lasorda.”
“That’s true. Tommy Lasorda doesn’t have a sense of humor, so what looks like fun and games to a normal person looks like gaslighting to Lasorda.”
“So he responded with violence to this mascot.”
“Sounds like a real prick,” Gorox said. His nostrils and buccae flickered with disapproval. “And this fish-man, Tommy Laswordfish. He’s somehow related?”
“Yes, there’s a traveling troupe of mascots called the ZOOperstars.”
“What are the ZOOperstars?”
“Oh, God. I’m not sure if I can explain that.”
Grand Admiral Gorox stared back at me patiently, a faint whistle through his eyelids and the hum of the ship’s cold fusion reactor the only noises in the room.
“I don’t know, Admiral, this might just be too strange to explain to you,” I finally said.
“Do you have puns on your planet?”
“Wordplay,” I said, “based on homophones or double entendres. The ZOOperstars take famous figures in sports and make animal mascots out of puns on their names. So Sammy Sosa becomes Clammy Sosa, for instance. And Tommy Lasorda becomes Tommy Laswordfish.”
“We don’t have anything like that,” Gorox said.
“Really? I find that hard to believe.”
“Instead of puns, we cured poverty and disease,” Gorox said. “And we invented faster-than-light travel so we could explore the galaxy. But we could not have invented the ZOOperstars.”
“Fair enough,” I said. I sipped the rest of my bowl of water. I was starting to feel better. “Anyway, now all of this starts to come together, I think. The Phanatic, his annual birthday party, his feud with Tommy Lasorda, the pun about Tommy Laswordfish…”
Gorox wheezed his understanding wheeze. “Indeed. I understand this now. My scientists will be very grateful to hear this, Michael.”
“I’m happy to help.”
“You must rest now,” Gorox said. “We’ll need to help us with our expedition. If the Phanatic is any indication, humanity would be far too strange for us to grasp otherwise.”
Gorox turned off the projector with a wave of his hand, turned back to me and bowed his head slightly, blinking as he did so. Then he folded his arms into his cloak, turned on his heel and walked out of the room, off to attend to the general business of the Mildonian Expeditionary Fleet.
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