The Restaurant at the start of Time

THE RESTAURANT AT THE START OF TIME

This place doesn\’t need a restaurant review, of course. I mean, who wouldn\’t want to go and try trilobite thermidor and iguanadon a l\’orange? Finding it is tricky, though. You have to be interviewed, you have to pass tests – what\’s the melting point of chocolate, what\’s the relationship between mayonnaise and expensive miracle face creams etc. Basic stuff. The interview is more difficult, you really have to prove your foodiness, your discernment, your adventurousness, the sheer je ne sais pas of your palate. Suffice it to say that I passed. This blog also paid for the meal, as always, in good sound icredits and quite a lot of them.
One year ago, a consortium of icredit-billionaire chefs got together to resurrect the Large Hadron Collider (killed stone dead by the success of Patil\’s Tripartite Field Theory, along with a number of expensive fusion no-hopers). One of their number – and you know which one – had taken another look at the formulae and reckoned it ought to be possible to go on a fishing expedition into the past. Literally. The thing was, Heston wanted to try trilobite.
Trilobites, by the way, were fantastically common during the Permian era. Over 250 million years ago, the sea absolutely swarmed with them. They looked like giant woodlice, their nearest relatives are the untasty horseshoe crab and he reckoned it was worth a punt. The Large Hadron Collider, for reasons I\’m afraid I just don\’t understand, was thought to be the ideal fishing rod.
So they bought it for just one icredit, paid a few impoverished physics grads to make some alterations, fired it up, took a wild guess – and brought back a metre long Ediacaran predator with a mouth like a rotary saw. It took a bit of killing too and nobody has ever properly worked out what happened to one of the kitchen porters. And it tasted like jellyfish, only worse. The next time they were more careful and netted about ten fifty centimetre trilobites.
The race was on to find a way of cooking them – only the thing turned out to be almost insultingly easy. Treat \’em like lobster and what you\’ve got is what lobster would taste like in heaven, especially if doused in garlic butter.
On the strength of their grilled trilobite, the restaurant opened and pulled in icredit billionaires like… well, like the trilobites they were landing with each run of the modified collider. A couple more physics grads turned up, a couple more modifications and the first tyrannosaurus meat was also on sale. That was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. Not as good as ostrich meat, very dark and gamey and with a pong of high explosives from the anti-tank missiles you need to kill the bastards.
But iguanadon – now you\’re talking. Like the best, the very tenderest beef. Or the extraordinary oceanic reptiles – the plesiosaur, for instance, for bigger and better turtle soup. Or some of the fish: people were selling their mothers just to go to the restaurant. You need to book now to get a seat next decade, frankly.
I\’m here to lay some rumours to rest. \”We only fish on the edge of mass extinctions,\” Gordon explains, \”It\’s a f***ing lie to say we might cause them, because they\’ve already happened, haven\’t they? So why not eat the trilobites, they\’re only going down anyway.\”
\”Absolutely right,\” I murmer, having just tasted trilobite with garlic butter, just one segment but more meat on it than an entire lobster used to have, and what meat. God, I\’m dribbling just thinking about it.
\”And it\’s more b****s to say that Marco and Jamie are teaming up to build their own Collider to get their own supplies,\” adds Gordon who has a slightly wild-eyed look about him.
\”Is it?\” I murmer, wondering if maybe I could get a booking there. What would be the wonder of a pukka trilobite?
\”You can buy some of the calcite trilobite eye lenses,\” Gordon adds, \”As a souvenir, we\’ve got too many of them.\”
\”So there\’s no chance we might be the cause of the mass extinctions of past history?\” I ask diffidently.
The PR girl arrives quickly enough to save me, but in fact, the answer, is of course, no. We didn\’t. Haven\’t. Won\’t. Etc.
I asked the PR girl about another rumour. Her face snaps tight shut. \”Absolutely not,\” she says, \”It\’s not true that five trilobites managed to get away from the kitchen and out into the sea and it\’s also not true that three of them had egg-coral on their undersides. Absolutely not. No such thing. There have never been any escapes at all.\”
I leave, fully reassured though with another question unanswered. How on earth can they claim to have Jurassic honey when honeybees didn\’t evolve until about ten million years ago?

FINANCIAL FABLES – The Revolting Students

Once upon a time (and a very good time it was) there were some revolting students causing trouble in the kingdom.
They were annoyed because the King\’s Favourite Minister had decided they all had to pay much more to get their magic Stiffikets. It wasn\’t that they actually wanted to study, it was more that they knew they had to have a magic Stiffiket if they wanted to get a job doing anything at all. Even road sweepers had to have a Stiffiket showing they had a degree in Transportation Network Hygienization.
The trouble was the Stiffikets were very expensive already, costing fifteen thousand gold pieces each (at least). With the hike in prices, this was going to go up to 27,000 gold pieces.
\”Don\’t worry,\” said the Favourite Minister, \”We\’ll lend you the money at favourable rates and you don\’t have to pay it back until you\’re earning… ooh.. loads.\”
The revolting students ignored this because it all sounded quite financial. They just kept on shouting about the cost of Stiffikets going up.
\”Look,\” said the Favourite Minister reasonably, \”It\’s just not fair that you should get the advantage of a magic Stiffiket which will make you much richer, without having to pay for it.\”
\”How much did you pay for yours, then?\” shouted some unpleasant oaf.
The Favourite Minister ignored him because the Favourite Minister, like all his friends, hadn\’t actually paid anything at all for his magic Stiffiket which was quite a bit more use for getting a good job back then as well. He didn\’t see what his free magic Stiffiket had to do with anything. After all, he was all right and so were all his friends who agreed with him about raising Stiffiket prices, even the ones who had said they wouldn\’t.
The Favourite Minister was quite certain that the revolting students would see sense and stop revolting soon. However his Official Fool wasn\’t so sure.
\”Look sir,\” said the Fool, \”What we don\’t want them to work out is that keeping the entire middle class sunk in debt for as long as possible is a very good way of controlling them and stopping them doing anything that upsets the gravy train.\”
\”Apple cart,\” corrected the Favourite Minister gently, who was a multimillionaire. \”And I\’m sure that\’s not true.\” He was always v ery careful to wear only quite ordinary velvet cloaks.
\”It is true, sir,\” said the Fool, \”And it\’s how we… er… that is, your predecessors and you have been able to get away with so much for so long. The natural arguing and protesting people are too busy worrying about their mortgages and student loans to do anything to stop you.\”
\”Not at all,\” said the Favourite Minister anxiously, \”The trouble is, the revolting students seem to be getting sympathy from the pamphlet-writers. Every time the police try to control them, everybody complains.\”
\”Hm,\” said the Fool, \”We can\’t have that. All right sir, I\’ll see to it.\”
Off he went to see a friend of his called Miggs. James Miggs, 001. The Fool outlined the problem with the revolting students and Miggs grinned. \”Leave it to me,\” he said.
The next time the revolting students were marching up and down, Miggs sidled up to one of the wilder-eyed and more drunken ones. \” \’ere,\” he said, \”This is boring. Let\’s go attack that big block of stone with flags on just over there.\”
\”Yeah right,\” said the revolting drunk student who went off and got himself photographed vandalising the Cenotaph.
\”\’ere,\” said Miggs to another one, \”What about that statue of the fat bloke. Did you know he\’s the FM\’s dad?\”
And so another revolting student vandalised a statue of Churchill. Tutting at how gullible the younger generation were, Miggs had a quiet word with some friends of his in theatreland.
\” \’ere,\” he said to a group of revolting students, \”Look, there\’s a posh car, it\’s probly a banker. Let\’s get it!\”
Obediently the revolting students trashed the posh car and poked a stick at the Crown Prince\’s second wife who they otherwise quite liked.
Miggs made sure his friends at the pamphlets got pictures and went off for a drink.
Soon everyone said, \”What wicked ingrates the revolting students are!\” and everything went back to normal. The people who\’d got to the top thanks to their free Stiffikets were even more safe from challenge by anyone younger or poorer – and so were their children.
\”Job done,\” said Miggs James Miggs, 001.

Future Histories I hope will stay fictional… The Second Korean War

\”THE SECOND KOREAN WAR\” OR \”THE CHRISTMAS WAR\”

The Second Korean War (often nicknamed the Christmas War) is one of those historical mysteries. Why on earth did they do it? And how did they so nearly win?
The why is quite easy to answer although no one will ever know the details of what was going through the mind of KiM Jong-Il, successor to Kim Il Sung, known as the Dear Leader of North Korea. The last remaining Communist state was collapsing around him, for reasons he may not have been able to understand. Kim Il-Sung\’s totalitarian command economy had been propped up by Stalinist Russia and Communist China for reasons of realpolitik that he probably thought were ideological. The fall of the Berlin Wall must have been the worst week of his life, just as it was for all the little communist parties that fell apart at about the same time. Suddenly the subsidies and cheap oil were cut off and during the 1990\’s Korea suffered famine, power blackouts and the kind of fifth world misery that happens to industrialised countries when the power goes off. Industrialisation is really something of a one-way bet.
But the North Korean economy had been falling apart for twenty years by the end of 2010 and an extraordinary degree of government control and ideological flim flam had somehow kept the show going. The Chinese had taken a cold hard look at capitalism and decided that they could do a lot better with it than with Marxism. That they had then proceeded to do with great aplomb and skill, leaving little brother North Korea in the dust. One day, perhaps soon, their support would run out. Still nobody had risen up and killed Kim Jong-Il, as they had Ceaucescu in Romania, and although his health was bad, he was in the process of annointing and bringing on a successor in his third son, Kim Jong-eun.
Perhaps Jong-Il\’s mind was confused by the period-piece Cold War propaganda about American Capitalist Running Dogs pumped out by his minions. Perhaps, like Tony Blair, he believed his own publicity. His people had probably at least started to wonder: they were beginning to realise that South Korea was prospering mightily, its people well-fed and successful while they were still shuffling about in the grim darkness of a failed command state. Eventually they would work it out, surely? According to the army, the best thing to do was distract everyone with a victorious war.
Both north and south had a long-held dream of reuniting the two Koreas – the thing the sick Jong-il had to do to go to his ancestors with honour, was achieve reunification with the economic basket-case North Korea on top.
Perhaps Jong-il was even upset by being mocked as a puppet in the satirical movie Team America: World Police (in 2004) – as a big move fan he probably watched himself warbling about feeling so ronery.
And so, some time around 2005/2006, the decision was made to invade the south in a surprise attack and finish the job Jong-il\’s father had famously only narrowly missed completing. Of course, Jong-Il had no doubt that it was a noble aim and that he himself was a hero for attempting it.

There was, of course, a problem – the little matter of the heavily mined demilitarised zone on the 38th parallel and the 40,000 American troops still garrisoned there. One of the motives for North Korea becoming a nuclear state – at huge expense in money and lives – was the idea of using nukes to set off the mines and clear paths for the troops to cross. Another was to stop America invading, and in that they succeeded. But the trouble with nukes is that they\’re useless, militarily. Nobody wants to conquer a radioactive wasteland, which is really the whole idea of war – it\’s armed robbery under another name.
In the end, Jong-Il went for a different, more difficult and more original option. He dug two tunnels straight through the Diamond Mountains and underneath the minefields and wildlife and US troops on the 38th parallel. He didn\’t do it personally, of course: hundreds of thousands of political prisoners did, all those who had disappeared into the camps. Most of them died, not least because of the ingenious use of underground nuclear explosions to pre-loosen the rock for tunnelling. Who cared if traitors got irradiated?
Originally there were three tunnels, but one was abandoned – did it help cause the famine of the 1990s by taking too many labourers away from the fields?
By autumn of 2010, the tunnels were well-under the 38th parallel and about ten feet from the surface in carefully chosen locations in South Korea, near road links but far from surveillance. A trivial amount of blasting and clearance would be needed to break through.
The tunnels were full of vehicles ready to roll – where else would you park them so they couldn\’t be seen by satellites and spy planes? North Korea had made heavy covert purchases of petrol in summer 2008, thus accidentally sending the price of oil soaring because none of the men in charge really understood how markets worked. Still, they had acquired large stockpiles which would give them three weeks of campaigning to achieve their objectives.
Unfortunately ventilation in the two huge tunnels was primitive and often went wrong so they couldn\’t keep the troops there, but they were being brought up to the multiple tunnel entrances under cover of the darkness that covered North Korea during the unpowered nights. The army high command was full of confidence.
Meanwhile young Jong-Eun had added to the plan. He wanted to use high technology as well: accordingly, on 23 November 2010, the little island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea was deliberately hit with about 200 mortar shells. All the eyes, digital, satellite and physical immediately swivelled to the western coast of North Korea and the diplomatic shouting match kicked off. Meanwhile on the eastern coast, facing the Eastern Sea and the hated \\Japanese, North Korea\’s only nuclear submarine was brought to the sea and launched. It carried some of the precious nukes, one of them targetting Tokyo. The submarine itself was called Vengeance.
And so, on Christmas Eve 2010, the North Korean army broke through into South Korea. They had two major objectives: firstly they were to capture all the American troops and hold them hostage to stop the US taking action; secondly they were to blitzkrieg south to Seoul and take the South Korean capital by storm, holding hostage as many Western corporate employees as possible.
They knew they only had a short time because their logistics were wobbly. Their plan then was to call a ceasefire on taking Seoul and negotiate for the reunification of Korea on their own terms, no doubt with Jong-Eun as the military governor of the South. It was an audacious plan, they could expect the advantage of complete surprise and then…

[from Quantum Reverse Tunnelling Fragment A78]