The Island of Pizza
(Originally published September 3, 2002)
For almost a year, a few co-workers and I have been doodling on each others' whiteboards and creating a menagerie of fanciful creatures. It all started around last Thanksgiving when I drew a chicken on my whiteboard, then decided it should be an evil chicken, and added an eye patch. (It's all I could think of.) The evil pirate chicken had clucked. Yes, it was stupid, but it was a springboard for further creation.
After that, happy faces began sporting eye patches. The Pirates were born, and they were Evil. Then came the Wild Pizzas, always carrying spears to indicate their savagery and to differentiate them from ordinary domesticated pizzas. (They were originally a joke about my diet — at lunchtime I often "went off to hunt the wild pizza.")
All of the characters are Evil — but evil in the admirable thoughtful validation sense, not the common meaning of the word. Or maybe it's just an excuse for us to say "evil" more often, as we raise our pinkies to our lips.
The inspiration struck me suddenly, while I was in the shower. The pirates had always been generic and nameless characters, but I had just thought of a suitable name for a pirate. The name was a pun that tied together the Pirates, the Pizzas, and (wait for it...) x86 processor architecture! I chuckled all through the rest of my shower, and hurried to write down the idea.
What follows is a story about the Pirates and the Pizzas, heavily glazed with bits of x86 lore, inside jokes, obscure dialogue from various sources, and many truly awful puns. I don't expect any single person to catch all the references, so if you read something that doesn't make sense (and believe me...), it's probably a joke that someone else will think is hysterically funny. I hope.
This story has no moral. It teaches no lesson. It is simply a vehicle for me to tell a lot of bad jokes. Everything here is groan-argh funny, not ha-ha funny. Think of it as _Godel, Escher, Bach_ meets "Airplane!". Read it in the appropriate state of mind, and set your expectations accordingly. (i.e., "Way, way down.")
Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.
The ship's sails strained against the wind and the rain. The storm had made navigation impossible for days. The crew had little rest, and was exhausted. Supplies were low. Tension was high. On the horizon, a break in the clouds could be seen, promising an end to the storm and an opportunity to find land and food.
Todi was completing an inventory belowdecks, to create a rationing plan that would stretch the ship's supplies until they could reach land. He cursed as he wrote down some figures. Todi closed the storeroom, frowned, and walked nervously towards the captain's study.
Todi reached for the doorknob and closed his trembling fingers around nothing. He raised his other hand raised to his face and turned up his eye patch. "Lousy patch," he mumbled to himself, "always interfering with depth perception. I don't understand why the captain insists we wear these stupid things, especially after the accident." He reached again for the doorknob and gripped it before turning his patch back down. Todi turned the knob and entered the room.
Captain Arbyte was seated at his desk, writing on a parchment lit by the dull flame of a lantern. Todi cleared his throat. "Arrrr!," roared the captain as he rose from his seat, his peg leg striking the deck loudly. His figure blocked the view of the parchment. "You interrupt me, Todi," he stated through clenched teeth.
"Oh captain, my captain, your excellence, please do not be angry. I have completed the inventory you ordered," Todi explained. "We're out of tacos. Our booty is running low. Basically, the only thing we have is soap, and that only because the crew is unsanitary. We must find land tomorrow, or the crew will have no dinner. Our days are numbered."
"Arrrr," breathed Arbyte. He turned around and looked down at his desk. There was a calendar in the corner. The rectangle said: September 2.
Early the next morning, Arbyte was woken by loud cheering from the deck. Someone had sighted land, and the ship was eagerly turned to sail towards it. The navigator was called into Arbyte's study.
"Yes, captain?" Tim was an educated man, never at ease among most of the ship's crew, who he regarded as rough brigands. Tim was timid and uncertain around everyone but the captain, who he respected for his ability to organize and lead them. He was the only man aboard who did not live in fear of Arbyte's rages. The respect was mutual. Arbyte knew that no one else was intelligent enough to navigate the ship.
"Tim," said Arbyte gruffly, "I have a cold feeling about that island. I feel it in me hook. Thar be danger there. What have yer books told you about the place?"
Tim replied, "I do not know what island that is. We have been at the mercy of the storm for days, and the cloud cover still prevents me from fixing our location by the stars. By my estimation and the maps, there should be no island near us. But there it is."
"Captain, I have heard rumors that we have little food left. I understand that you have bad feelings about this island. There may be another nearby, but if that be poor speculation, the penalty would be very high. I do not think we should pass up this opportunity to resupply."
"Arrr, Tim, but my gut tells me of danger."
Tim spoke quietly, "Captain, we should always take the reasoned path. Our feelings will lead us to mistakes. We will predict events incorrectly, bad things will happen, and our guilty conscience will cast a shadow over our minds. We will replay our decisions over and over again, each time regretting the past. It will have a lock on our lives, and we will die of the shame. But follow the reasoned path, and you shall always know that you made the best decision you could."
"Aye, Tim. We will go to the island."
A search team boarded a small boat and rowed to shore. Tim and ensign Smith were ordered to search the island's interior and report what food they found. The rest of the crew was ordered to set about repairing storm damage to the ship.
Tim walked into the wooded area by the beach, examining the vegetation as he went. He found many kinds of berry that he recognized as poisonous, but very little that was edible. He went deeper into the island, weaving through ever-thicker growth. Tim stepped on a branch that cracked loudly. In an instant he heard rustling leaves. The sound was getting closer.
He felt a sharp prodding in his back. "Turn around," a stern voice said, "What is your name?"
"There are some who call me...," his voice broke off as he turned to see his captor. It was a man-sized pizza, with arms and legs, holding a spear menacingly. "Tim," he managed to finish.
"What is your quest?"
"I seek food for myself and my companions. We arrived by ship and do not intend to stay for long. We apologize for trespassing."
"What is your... no, what is the... no... Nevermind! I take you prisoner. March, Tim." The pizza gestured with his spear, and Tim started walking in the indicated direction. After a few minutes, the pizza began speaking again. "You do not match the stories I have been told about creatures like you. You have not resisted me. You are calm and do not complain. Perhaps we misunderstand your people. We are the Zah tribe. My name is Pete. The chief will want to speak with you."
After about twenty minutes of marching, they approached a clearing. Tim saw structures only when he reached the rim of the clearing. The village was built within a circular depression, hiding it from casual view. Pete marched him through the village. Small pizzas — children, he thought -- were running and playing and hardly noticed him. Larger pizzas stopped and stared at him silently as he passed.
Ensign Smith moved carefully through the plants, trying to avoid staining his clothing. He was nervous and sweating, angry at receiving this assignment, as he was angry about receiving all assignments. He wished someone else had been selected. "I don't know anything about plants," he mumbled, "and the captain is going to be disappointed again. I told him that islands were yucky and I didn't like them. He never listens to my arguments."
He stumbled to the ground when he noticed a pizza sitting on a rock, turning a page in a book. The pizza heard the noise and asked, her voice sweet, "Oh, Pete, is that you?"
Smith stood up quickly and shouted, more forcefully than he intended, "No! I am Smith, a fearsome pirate! Arr! Stay back! Identify yourself and your purpose here, or face my fury!"
The pizza replied, with a mixture of amusement and impatience in her voice, "My name is Paige, and this is my quiet place where I come to read. You are disturbing me. Stop shouting."
Smith's thoughts were a whirl. He had not expected this. He had not expected anything. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but it hung open silently. He noticed Paige's round figure, and a nervous knot tightened in his stomach.
"Well?," Paige added impatiently.
Water pooled in Smith's mouth began to run down his lip. "I want," he said with effort, "to eat your face." He lunged at Paige, his eyes and mouth wide. In an instant, Paige had thrown down her book and reached her spear. She swung it to intercept Smith's path, and held it steady. Seconds later, Smith lay face-down on the ground, a red stain spreading over his shirt.
Paige kicked him, and his body rolled over limply. He blinked, unable to speak. In an even voice Paige said, "Take a look to the sky just before you die. It is the last time you will."
A bell tolled in the distance. Paige listened for a moment, then picked up her book and left.
Captain Arbyte was working quietly in his study, awaiting the return of the search team. The parchment spread before him was a jumble of diagrams and abbreviated sentences. It was one page of many; the pages were crude design plans for a machine. Arbyte called it the Beam of Evil. It would be the device of Arbyte's revenge.
Its existence was kept secret from the entire crew, except for Tim, who had helped Arbyte design and construct it in a small, secret room behind the captain's study. It had taken two years to build. It was ready for testing. A muffled cackle escaped his throat.
The bell was ringing at the edge of the village, mounted in the arch of a gate. The gate stood at the only part of the village that was level with the surrounding earth. A simple road ran under the gate, providing an easy path for carts to enter and exit the security of the village.
Like any gate, it could deny access to outsiders. The bell atop it was a cultural pride of the pizzas, for it added a more benevolent purpose: the gate could call the village together. The ringing bell was a summons.
Paige passed under the arch and smiled to the small pizzas laughing as they rang the bell. She still carried her spear with her, the tip crimson. She walked unhurried to the center of the village, and took her seat at one of the many large tables there. The rest of the tribe was seated around, talking quickly in hushed voices. She realized that something important had happened.
The tribal chief was an elder pizza, enormous in both size and in wisdom. He spoke, "Zah! It is a memorable day for us all! Pete has brought us a guest — a pirate!" A chill spread over the crowd. "Do not be afraid. I have spoken with this pirate, and believe he is gentle and wise. Put aside the stories you heard in your childhood. He will dine with us as our guest tonight. Welcome, Tim!"
Tim was led the short distance from the chief's home. He sat smiling between Pete and the chief. The smile turned into a frown when he was handed a glass of milk. His eyebrows raised, he turned to the chief and asked, "Milk? From what? This island is too small to have adequate grazing land."
Pete interrupted with a chuckle, "You surprise me, Tim. The cows do not stay here. They're migratory, of course. We get milk when they're passing through."
Tim's face was blank. "They fly?"
"No, they jump good," answered Pete.
"Oh, I see."
Paige stood up, her face white, the yellow drained from her cheese. She stepped onto the table and struck the end of her spear on it. "I must say something," she said in a forced voice. The chief nodded. Paige walked across the table and presented her spear to the chief. "There are other pirates here. I killed one who attacked me a few minutes ago. The blood is my proof."
The chief said nothing for a long time. He sighed, and finally said, "The opportunity is wasted. We must fight the pirates immediately, before they learn of what has happened. This is all Paige's fault." He turned to Tim and said, "I regret this, Tim, but you are now our prisoner. Guards! Take him away!"
The Zah tribe ate a hurried meal.
Todi was watching the trees wave in the wind. He was the first to see the pizzas approaching. He had never seen walking pizzas before, and was paralyzed with wonder. When a dozen of them got into the search team's boat and began rowing towards the ship, he finally shouted.
The pirates scrambled to arm themselves, realizing their peril too late. In his study, captain Arbyte heard the clanging of metal and the screams of men. Todi tore open the door and said loudly, in a futile attempt to hide the noise outside, "Excellent news, your excellence! Our food will last twice as long as I previously estimated!"
"Todi, you fool sycophant!" Arbyte looked through the doorway and saw a spear fly by, then heard a dull moan. The figure of a pizza appeared in silhouette.
Arbyte was immediately enraged. With a swiftness Todi thought him incapable of, he had drawn a sword and ran towards the pizza. The sounds were rushed: A thump for his foot, a crack for his peg leg, and then a gurgle from the pizza he had sliced in two with one swing of his sword. The two halves hit the deck with a wet thud.
Paige screamed at Arbyte, "You monster! I'll cut you into tiny pieces!" Arbyte cackled, "Arrr, you would try, but I am captain Arbyte! YOU can teach nothing to ME about segmentation!"
Pete rushed towards Arbyte from behind. His spear connected near Arbyte's knee, at the top of the wooden part of his leg. The joint yielded, and Arbyte fell. His leg fell next to him.
The rest of the pirates stopped, their will broken. The pizzas moved to strike fatal blows. "Enough!" Pete held back the other pizzas with a gesture. "There has been enough killing here. Take the pirates prisoner and bring them to the village. Dissect the ship and take anything we can use."
Captain Arbyte was shackled and carried to the pizza village. He was weak from the loss of blood, but the wound had been bandaged. He was thrown onto the ground near the chief's home.
Arbyte strained to raise his head. The figure of the chief came into view, and slowly into focus. "Pizza the Hut!," Arbyte cried.
"I'm pleased that you remember me after all this time, Arbyte." The chief demanded, "Where's my money?"
"Don't worry, Pizza. You'll have it by next week." Arbyte managed a chuckle, smiling at his own misfortune. "Arrr... Does Tim live? I must speak with him, if he yet breathes."
"I'm right here, captain," said Tim. He was standing nearby, guarded by three pizzas. "You were right about this island. We should not have come. I gather you know the chief?"
"Aye, Tim. He took my leg the first time, long ago."
The chief added, "And I have your leg again. You still haven't paid me for what you took." He threw Arbyte's leg at him, hitting his shoulder. Arbyte spat and picked it up. The chief continued, "I guess the foot's on the other hand now, isn't it?"
Everyone looked at him blankly.
At that moment Pete ran into the area, calling to the chief, "Soap! What lousy treasure! All they had on that boat was soap!" Pete handed a bar to the chief, who looked at it briefly before starting to laugh. "Why, captain Arbyte, all these years and you never even used the soap you stole from us? What a waste, for you to lose your foot escaping with goods you never used!"
"Pete, put this to good use. You have a dirty bit of splattered blood on one of your segments. Clear it." The chief handed the soap to Pete and pointed to the washroom. "All your base are belong to us, Arbyte."
"Let Arbyte go," the chief ordered. "He is no threat to us. He's proven that he isn't half as smart as everybody says he thinks he is."
Arbyte was thrown out of the village, and the gate closed behind him. He crawled silently towards the beach, his eyes narrow, with an inexplicable smile on his face.
The still-living pirates were caged together in a cell near the center of the village. They talked of escape, and of revenge. "There's more than one way to do it," explained Tim and Todi. "Our swords have probably been locked away in the village armory," Todi said, "but if we can overpower a few pizzas, we can take their spears." Tim suggested, "We could also use torches as weapons. The cheese on a pizza has a low melting point, and almost any fire will burn them."
"Captain Arbyte is free. He will also try to help us," said Todi. Tim suddenly remembered Arbyte's Beam of Evil. He interrupted Todi, saying "Yes! And he has a secret weapon, one that he and I have been building in secret for years. It hasn't been tested, but it might work."
The pirates agreed to wait for news of their captain before struggling. Besides, they argued, the food was better as a prisoner than on the ship.
The next morning, a small wooden crate was discovered just outside the village. It had a small letter "E" written on it, in red. It smelled of tomato. It was opened, and found to contain the severed foot of a pizza, along with a note that proclaimed, "Evil is afoot."
Enraged, several pizzas set out to hunt for Arbyte. They did not return that afternoon. By that evening, worry began to spread in the village.
At dusk, the village gate was flung open as if by an explosion. A large wheeled machine with captain Arbyte at the controls rolled into the village. There was a long, thin cylinder on its front. The pizzas saw intense rays of heat and light shooting out from its tip, exploding on whatever they contacted.
The pizzas were unprepared for this weapon. They were shocked by the power of the blasts, and the heat caused nearby pizzas to faint. The defense troops retreated immediately, and watched three homes burn before they mustered the courage to counterattack.
"Arrr!! Revenge is mine!" Captain Arbyte was laughing, enjoying the spectacle of smoke and fire. "This machine is built for safety — mine!"
Three pizzas charged the machine, each from a different direction, but Arbyte was fast enough to hit each one with his Beam of Evil. He rolled towards the center of town, no other pizzas daring to oppose him.
The pirate crew could see some of the attack. "Arbyte's gone mad," said Tim. The pirates nodded. A little harmless pillaging they understood, but this was slaughter. They held their breath as they saw the chief pizza walk slowly towards Arbyte.
"Pizza the Hut!" Arbyte saw him, and whirled around to aim. The elder pizza boomed, "Arbyte! This ends now!" He threw his spear towards the machine. It struck a hose between the controls and the discharge tube, and fire erupted from the spot. Arbyte watched in horror as the flame grew to consume the entire machine. It collapsed in a hissing jumble of partially melted metal.
"The spear hit a breakpoint," explained Tim. "The machine could not continue."
With Arbyte dead, the pirates had no desire to fight, and the Zah tribe had seen enough killing. Not trusting the pirates enough to let them stay, the pizzas restocked the pirate ship and forced the pirates to sail away, with a promise never to return.
Of course, a lost and storm-blown pirate may be unable to keep his word.