The Babel fish is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God.
The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
'But,' says Man, 'the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book, Well That about Wraps It Up for God.
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
The Bistromathic Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors.
Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.
The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.
The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexculson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else's Problem field.
The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon in this field.)
The baffling discrepancies that used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously. They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashiness, tiredness, emotionality or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories- not in reputable laboratories at least.
And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth became finally apparent, and it was this:
Numbers written on restaurant checks within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.
This single statement took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of math was put back by years.
Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much like what the man in the street would have said "Oh, yes, I could have told you that." Then some phrases like "Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks" were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it.
The small groups of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the Universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theater grant and went away.
BREQUINDA IN THE FOTH OF AVALARS
In ancient days, before the advent of the Sorth of Bragadox, when Fragilis sang and Saxaquine of the Quenelux held sway, when the air was sweet and the nights fragrant, but they all somehow managed to be, or so they claimed, though how on earth they could have thought that anyone was even remotely likely to believe such a preposterous claim what with all the sweet air and fragrant nights and whatnot is anyone's guess, virgins, it was not possible to heave a brick on Brequinda in the Foth of Avalars without hitting at least half a dozen Fuolornis Fire Dragons.
Whether you would want to do that is another matter.
Not that Fire Dragons weren't an essentially peace-loving species, because they were. They adored it to bits, and this wholesale adoring of things to bits was often in itself the problem: one so often hurts the one one loves, especially if one is a Fuolornis Fire Dragon with breath like a rocket booster and teeth like a park fence. Another problem was that once they were in the mood they often went on to hurt quite a lot of the ones that other people loved as well. Add to all that the relatively small number of madmen who actually went around the place heaving bricks, and you end up with a lot of people on Brequinda in the Foth of Avalars getting seriously hurt by dragons.
But did they mind? They did not.
Were they heard to bemoan their fate? No.
The Fuolornis Fire Dragons were revered throughout the lands of Brequinda in the Foth of Avalars for their savage beauty, their noble ways, and their habit of biting people who didn't revere them.
Why was this?
The Answer was simple.
There is, for some unfathomed reason, something almost unbearably sexy about having huge fire-breathing magical dragons flying low about the sky on moonlit nights which were already dangerously on the sweet and fragrant side.
Why this should be so, the romance-besotted people of Brequinda in the Foth of Avalars could not have told you, and would not have stopped to discuss the matter once the effect was up and going, for no sooner would a flock of half a dozen silk-winged leather-bodied Fuolornis Fire Dragons heave into sight across the evening horizon than half the people of Brequinda were scurrying off into the woods with the other half, there to spend a busy breathless night together and emerge with the first rays of dawn all smiling and happy and still claiming, rather endearingly, to be virgins, if rather flushed and sticky virgins.
Pheromones, some researchers said.
Something sonic, others claimed.
The place was always stiff with researchers trying to get to the bottom of it all and taking a very long time about it.
BROCKIAN ULTRA CRICKET
Let's be blunt, it's a nasty game, but then anyone who as been to any of the higher dimensions will know that they're a pretty nasty heathen lot up there who should just be smashed and done in, and would be, too, if anyone could work out a way of firing missiles at right angles to reality.