Joe, a Typical Hero of the Future: The Universal Translator

Joe noticed that he was quite near the city of Wow, so he decided to walk towards the city. Shortly he turned onto 43rd Street, entering the city. 43rd Street was Wow's main street, and it was the main street even before it became the only street in Wow. Once a two-lane road, 43rd Street had been widened so much in the past that it was now as wide as the city itself, and Wow now consisted entirely of skyscrapers clustered along both sides of the 3,482-lane road. Naturally, cars were made obsolete on the planet Bonanza several centuries ago by modes of transportation that didn't require roads. So, 43rd Street was now the site of an enormous street bazaar that was the home of more disreputable vendors than everywhere else in the universe combined.

As Joe walked down 43rd Street, a crowd of admirers quickly started to surround him, because Joe was a typical Hero of the Future. Obviously, someone who is a typical Hero of the Future is human, from Earth (typically North America or Europe, depending on where his author lives), male, young, handsome, completely oblivious to the existence of other entities in the universe, etc. so that authors don't have to waste precious space detailing the hero's attributes. Wait, the author just did. Oh, well. As Joe walked through the streets of Bonanza, a medium-sized man floating a shelf of gadgets around approached him.

"Greetings, Joe. My name is Huck Stir, a vendor of gadgets. Since you are going to be going to Hr'zaf, I have a gadget that you might be interested in", the man said.

"How do you know that I'm going to Hr'zaf?", Joe said. "I haven't told anyone yet. I guess our author seems to have completely forgotten that I hadn't. I've saved the universe, so I suppose that I ought to save this story". Joe then took out of his pocket a Personal Time Travel Machine. He keyed in a time corresponding to ten minutes ago, and pressed the big red button. Unfortunately, since the Personal Time Travel Machine is not a space machine, and the planet had moved in the past few minutes, he ended up in a tree about half a mile away from the street Joe was walking on. Wait, the street Joe will be walking on. No, the street Joe will have been walking on. Oh, forget it. At any rate, Joe thought that his landing spot was quite good, since many of the users of the Personal Time Travel Machine often ended up floating in deep space, embedded in the core of a planet, or worse.

Joe quickly climbed down from the tree and broke into a sprint towards the road he had been (or whatever tense you prefer) walking down, making sure that his past self didn't see him, since he hadn't seen his future self ten minutes ago. Presently he saw a man he identified as Huck Stir. He approached Huck, said "I'm going to the planet Hr'zaf", and ran back in the direction he came until his Personal Time Travel Machine was beeping, and pressed the big green button, landing him back where he was before.

"You told me yourself that you were going there, less than ten minutes ago in fact", said Huck.

"Glad to hear it", replied Joe. "What did you want to palm off on, er sell to me?"

"Are you aware that the natives of the planet Hr'zaf do not speak English?"

"That's impossible!", replied Joe. Everyone, no matter what race, culture, or planet of origin, speaks English! In my travels, from the planet [here Joe named the homeworld of the Zkwejr'ieurywwns, which cannot be written using the Latin alphabet] to the planet Abtial, from Ancient Greece to Future Prishilo, everyone spoke English."

"Well, this culture doesn't", Huck said. "So, would you be interested in buying a universal translator? Only 850 credits!"

"How does it work?", asked Joe.

"It uses techniques that were used in ancient television but until relatively recently were never packaged in a handheld device. Here, try it out for yourself", Huck said, handing the translator to Joe. "Guten Tag", Huck now said, and at his waist level there was a band of text that said "Good day".

"It uses subtitles?", Joe said.

"Well, yes. Would you like to try saying something? Give me back the translator and say something in a different language." Joe handed Huck the translator.

"Osay, elltay emay hyway ouyay... um, how do I handle words that start with vowels again?" said Joe. Sure enough, the phrase "So, tell me why you... mu odkw kejhewk mmwirj kjqawdkwf d%2o3@*Avc" was printed below Joe.

"Well, that's not really a language", said Huck. "Try something else."

Joe then uttered something in French, and the translator translated it. Unfortunately this translation will not be revealed here so as not to corrupt the minds of the young. Joe bought the translator and then boarded his ship for the planet Hr'zaf. In almost no time at all he reached Hr'zaf. He landed his ship on a runway outside one of the larger cities of eastern Hr'zaf. One of the natives of Hr'zaf approached him and uttered something. The phrase "It is outrageous that sheet cable is $1.25 a light year" appeared below him.

"Huh?", said Joe.

"It services, it is outrageous that sheet cable is $1.25 a light year", read the new caption beneath the Hr'zafian.

"What the heck are you saying?", Joe replied

"Parcelled shyness chronicle catches thumping reticular disinclined shipments tradeoff."

"Come again?"

"Modestly rises, messily loses collection basket and proscribes among intelligible misinformed peripheries"

"Look, you have one more caption to start talking sense!", yelled Joe.

"Hardy balloons buzz deliriously over the facts hyperspace detects asunder"

Joe then took out his astro-ray gun, aimed it at the Hr'zafian, and fired. "He's shooting at me! Help, help!", read the caption below him just before he was turned into 32,148,431,783 tiny little bits.

"Finally the dumb thing starts talking sense", Joe said, somewhat relieved. Unfortunately, Joe's heart would have been filled with fear rather than relief if he had known that this utterance was properly translated only because it was spoken in a different language, and a telepathic one at that. He smashed the translator on the ground, but then thought better of it and picked the translator up again.

Virtually everyone who has studied galactic history in school realizes that the main problem with a Universal Translator is that, while there are an infinite number of languages in the universe, there are only a finite number of ways of stringing syllables together, and after a while you're going to run into two languages that use the exact same words but have different meanings for each of them. To be specific, Uzbek and East Hr'zafian share this property.

Unfortunately, Joe never learned this fact, as he had stolen a spaceship and left the planet Earth two days before his classmates learned this valuable piece of information. Of course, even in the days when Joe did attend virtual reality school, he learned virtually (no pun intended) nothing, being easily distracted with the beautiful women and fast spaceships that, for reasons completely unknown, appear so frequently in the virtual reality textbooks.

Ebok Khalimanariz, in his best-selling cyberbook Life After the Universal Translator; or How I Successfully Evaded Thousands of Hordes of Angry Aliens, says that, even if you believe that a Universal Translator is broken, you should never smash it against the ground, because it will then really be broken. It will then start to give outrageous translations even of mundane sentences. At this point, you are well on your way to getting into major trouble.

Unfortunately Joe had never read Khalimanariz' book, and so was completely unaware of the damages caused to Universal Translators by smashing them against the ground. Joe picked up the Universal Translator and decided to proceed onwards.

After walking along a road for about two or three minutes, Joe was approached by a group of heavily armed Hr'zafians still a distance away, who seemed to be speaking to Joe. Joe turned on his Universal Translator and aimed it at the group. "There's that Hero of the Future! What a great person he is! Let's go and give him a hearty welcome to this planet!" Impressed with how true their statements were, Joe approached them, only to be met with a round of astro-ray gun fire. Joe started running away again while his translator was generating captions such as "Say, isn't that guy's name Joe? What a great person he must be", "Glitter glumble sdfkjzw8 eoitukjdf", and even more lucid ones such as "Wkjdsf2cv;lj@wke oweiuslkjdsf 2348dflkjweoir%22@@@@ ljfk@sdkjw.thq".

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