Milo Bloom strolled into the sleek laboratory and gave a low, appreciative whistle. The room was easily the size of a football field and everywhere he looked, his eyes fell upon glass and stainless steel. Glass and metal alike were all immaculately clean and glistened like industrial diamonds. He grinned happily at his friend. “Nice set up, Oliver.”
A short boy looked up from his microscope and climbed down from the box he’d been using to reach the counter. Glasses that covered most of his face, a prematurely receding hairline, and a plain black tie all conspired to make him look forty years older than his actual age. “Thank you,” he said gravely. “Would you like a tour?” Without waiting for Milo to agree, Oliver Wendell Jones began pointing to various alcoves around his spacious laboratory. “Over there is where I’m developing a cure for cancer. And there is where I’m experimenting with solving the world’s fuel problems by converting Axe body spray into a less toxic substance, such as gasoline. And this station here is where I’m working on a mathematical formula that will explain the appeal of reality television.”
“Good luck with that! But what about climate change? Isn’t the planet worthy of your attention?”
Oliver gave his friend a scathing look. “Of course. But that’s a rather complicated problem, so I need the entire wall on the north side of the lab.” He pushed his glasses up more firmly into his face and then observed, “But you didn’t come over to look at my new lab. Did you?”
Milo pulled his hands out of his pockets and crossed his arms. “I’m giving up journalism, Oliver.” He sighed at the other boy’s look of silent astonishment. “No one reads newspapers any more. If I want to have a real impact, I must have a twitter account! And maybe a blog as well.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I may be giving up my old notebook and trusty pencil, but I still need a way to write down my thoughts. Something that will travel with me.” He paused for dramatic effect. “I need… a portable computer!”
The other boy cocked his head in confusion. “Can’t you just use your smart phone?”
Milo shook his head firmly. “No one will take me seriously if I’m out and about with a smart phone. Potential sources are more likely to make duck faces at me and snatch my phone for blurry selfies than they are to give me good dirt.”
“How about a laptop? You can sit in cafes and pretend to drink overpriced coffee while writing on your laptop.”
Milo gave him a pitying look. Oliver was brilliant, but still so naïve about the modern world. “Serious bloggers don’t write in cafes any longer. Every laptop in Starbucks has cat videos running, non-stop. No other portion of the internet works there.”
Oliver scowled at the erstwhile journalist. “And what do you want me to do about that?”
“I don’t just want a portable computer; I want a portable desktop! One that will walk around town for me, taking notes for my brilliant tweets and posts.” Milo took a deep breath and then spilled out his request. “Oliver, dear friend, could you resuscitate and update the Banana Junior 6000 for me?”
For a moment, Oliver recoiled in horror at the notion. Steeling his courage, however, he gulped and said, “I’m not sure if I can. I’ll see. Check in tomorrow.”
Walking into the lab on the following day, Milo felt physically assaulted by the loud howling of Bill the Cat rapping over the radio.
You’ve listening to WRCST, where we play all the hits, without any of that disgusting rap! We just heard from Bill the Cat on his latest solo album, and before that we had Eminem and Aesop Rock. Coming up are Mac Miller, Asher Roth, and Insane Clown Posse. Because remember, on this station, we only play lovely, melodic, current crooners; none of that yucky rap crap!
Milo coughed slightly and Oliver turned off the radio. The radio looked terribly anachronistic amongst the shining laboratory equipment; the only piece of technology from the previous millennium. “I don’t understand why my radio keeps going back to this station,” Oliver said apologetically. “I keep setting it to NPR or the classical music station, but it keeps going back here when I’m not watching. Still. It’s nice to hear Bill back on the Top 725.”
Milo nodded noncommittally. “How’s the update coming?”
Oliver shrugged unhappily. “The Banana Jr. 6000 faced fatal obsolescence several months ago. Bringing it up to current specifications is going to require a complete rebuild.”
“Can you do it?”
“I think so. Maybe.” Oliver smiled. “Probably.”
Milo turned to leave, but his attention was caught by something amiss. “Uh, Oliver? Am I crazy, or is your lab a bit smaller than it was yesterday?”
Oliver glowered with righteous anger. “Sequestration cuts! All my cutting edge work on creating a comprehensive netspeak dictionary? GONE! Completely dc\’d-ed.”
“But…. your lab… How could it physically... shrink?”
“Like I said, sequestration cuts.” Oliver suddenly smiled. “I’m sure my government funding will be restored soon, though. After all, I’m saving the planet! Or at least, I am when I’m not restoring obsolete computers.”
The day before, it had taken Milo a few minutes to notice the difference in size of Oliver’s lab; today it was apparent immediately. All the shining equipment was gone, and the room itself was about half the size it had been the previous day. A swirling vortex in the shape and colors of the American flag seemed to be slowly sucking the room away, inch by inch.
Oliver had his iPhone on the table, clearly on speakerphone. “Yes, sir, I understand the need to balance the budget. But couldn’t you take away a few tax incentives to restore my funding?”
“That would be nice, of course,” came the voice from over the phone. Milo had no problem recognizing the booze-addled tones as belonging to Senator Lucius Bedfellow. “Your work on efficient corpse disposal—“
“Uh, that isn’t me, Senator.”
“Corpse disposal is vital to the well-being of this country, but increasing taxes is simply out of the question.”
“I’m not talking about tax increases,” Oliver said heatedly, “but closing tax loopholes. Did you know that there is a tax deduction for maintaining aquariums on board gold-plated jets that do nothing but fly back and forth between Hoboken and Suriname? Recovering that revenue alone would be enough to reinstate—“
There was a shocked hiss of disapproval from over the phone. “What?!? You’re talking about hurting job creators, young man! Are you insane?”
Milo snuck out of the room as Oliver continued to plead his case.
Meanwhile, on a jumbo jet somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Hoboken and Suriname, a stout man with opaque glasses and a bald head poses by an ornate podium. Behind the podium is a large aquarium with gold leaf around the edges. After tapping the microphone several times, he begins his prepared remarks.
“Good morning. W. A. Thornhump III here, Chairman of the Board. In the interests of promoting wealth and prosperity for all, ‘Bloom County Features, Inc.’ is happy to announce that we will be moving a large portion of our operations to Funafuti, Tuvalu. As is standard practice in that beautiful country, the newest members of BCFI will receive 73¢ worth of crafting supplies a day for their labor. We anticipate that most of our new employees will use these supplies to create ties for fly-fishing, but some may also choose to make jazzy throw pillows.
“As for our current employees, there is no reason for concern. We anticipate limiting domestic job losses to two, or perhaps three, thousand positions. Tops. Festively colored slips will go out to affected employees shortly before Christmas.”
Milo heard the radio blaring before he turned the corner to Oliver’s laboratory.
It’s Throwback Thursday, and you’ve just been listening to The Beastie Boys on WRCST, your favorite radio station! Coming up later this hour is Vanilla Ice! But for you right now we have “Walk This Way” by Run DMC. And yes, we know that we promise to never play any of that hideous, repulsive rap music on our station, because, hey, who wants to listen to that stuff? Am I right? But this one song is okay because they’re singing alongside Aerosmith and everybody loves them! We’re still Bloom County’s favorite no-rap-ever radio station for all your no-rap-ever listening needs!
As a distinctive guitar riff filled the room, Milo stared in disbelief. The lab was now the size of a large dining room table and was dwarfed by the flag-shaped vortex that continued to pull in more and more mass. “What happened?!?”
“Oh, hello Milo.” Oliver turned towards Milo with a sour expression on his face. “I suppose you’ve come about the Banana Jr. It’s almost done; give me just five more minutes.”
“Well, yes, I have come to check on your progress,” Milo admitted, “but mostly I want to know what happened to your lab.”
“More sequestration cuts,” Oliver barked. “Apparently, the economy of the free world depends upon Tuvalu eliminating their trade tariff on chenille yarns, and they were only willing to do that if the United States government agreed to subsidize private American firms in their acquisition of Tuvaluan internet domain names. Those subsidies need to come from somewhere, and someone has decided that my research projects are a good place to start.”
“But how do…” Milo wilted under the thunderous look in Oliver’s eyes and decided to let the issue go. Satisfied that Milo wasn’t going to pursue the issue, Oliver went back to work.
“Walk This Way” was followed by “Ice, Ice Baby” and Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations.” Finally, Oliver declared that he was done and turned off the radio with a flourish. “Ta-da!”
The ancient computer sprouted first one leg, and then the other. It slowly began marching in place and then jogging. As the boys watched in fascination, the words I THINK. THEREFORE…. I AM. I AM! appeared on the screen.
“Well, that looks familiar,” Oliver muttered.
“What happens next?” Milo asked.
Suddenly, the Banana Jr. 6000 stopped jogging in place and began running as fast as its short awkward legs could carry it. Oliver smiled. “That!”
Milo took off in hot pursuit.
Milo returned several hours later, out of breath and covered in sweat. “Have you seen it?” he demanded.
“Try your house, or maybe mine. It might be offering sacrifices to ‘The Great and Wise Gods of the Mighty Living Room Computer’.” Milo looked completely confused, so Oliver explained. “Before I shut it down before, the Banana Jr. thought that our large screen TV was a god. If you’re missing any kitchen appliances, the chances are that it’s worshipping a television somewhere.”
Milo’s opened wide. “So that’s where the Major’s automatic wine opener went!” With renewed energy, he ran for the door, yelling “thanks” as he went.
Oliver was left in a closet-sized laboratory to contemplate a flapping flag-shaped vortex in solitude.
As Milo trod the well-worn path back to Oliver’s laboratory, he suddenly heard a loud “whooshing” noise. Alarmed for his friend, he ran the rest of the way, jerking to a stop at what he found. Oliver Wendell Jones, mighty scientist, was sitting cross-legged on a dirty lab coat holding nothing but an abacus in his hands. The space-time vortex was gone.
“Where’s your lab?” Milo asked in astonishment.
“Gone,” Oliver said mournfully. “Sucked up into the Great Sequestration in the Sky. I guess I’m just not ready to be a scientist yet after all. Where’s the Banana Jr. 6000?”
“Also gone,” Milo said cheerfully. “I think it’s on a pilgrimage to the Bloom County Basselopes Stadium. Opus mentioned that the stadium has a jumbotron, and there was no stopping it after that.”
“So what about your dreams of being a blogger? Do they want to join the smoldering embers of my dreams of a Nobel Prize?”
Milo grinned and shook his head. “Nah. They’re just on hold until I turn nine. For now, I’m going out to the Meadow. Want to come along?”
Oliver looked down at his abacus, and slowly began to grin. Throwing the antiquated counting machine aside, he jumped up and twined his elbow around Milo’s. “Why not?” he squeaked happily. “Let’s frolic away our eights! Careers can wait!”
Somewhere, in some pocket universe, a glistening laboratory the size of a football field sits sadly waiting for its owner to return. Its only company is a blaring radio promising a full, uninterrupted hour of Macklemore because, hey, they never play any of that rap on THEIR station. And elsewhere, in Paramaribo, Suriname, a gold-plated jet with an aquarium onboard is preparing for takeoff. And in yet another elsewhere, a Banana Jr. 6000 trembles in ecstatic terror as it offers up a Segway to the mighty god that lives inside the BC Basselopes Basketball Stadium. But in Milo’s Meadow, two friends amble about, arm in arm, looking for dandelions and enjoying their childhood. I think we all know where the sun shines brightest.