"What the hell is or are 'immortal octopi'?"
The grinning man took the cigar from his mouth and replied, "Not a damned thing, as far as I know. Just popped into my head. That's how I name anything, first chepookish thing as comes to mind and sounds good to me."
"Okay, but... what is it? I mean, really? This thing you're calling Immortal Octopi?"
"I thought I had explained that," he said, and stuck the cigar back between his teeth.
"You said, 'The world sucks and some people realize it on a level more than the masses do. Those people have a duty to change it, partly for the ignorant, boorish masses, but mostly for themselves. But because of their nature they don't get on with people, often don't associate with anyone more than they have to, and so they're disorganized and alone, impotent. They should all get together and make coherent plans. Immortal Octopi.' That is as nearly a direct quote as I can manage."
"Yup. Pretty good, pretty good. So, you wanna do it?"
"What, join an organization of outcasts? I take it Immortal Octopi is the name of the organization?"
"Double outcasts. Cast out by society, and cast out by themselves, or ourselves."
"And you think I'm one of these people?"
"I wouldn't say that, exactly. But I don't think I'm much like you."
"Infinite diversity, man. Of course we're not all the same. We're more different from each other than the masses are from each other. Some of us may be more different from each other than we are from the masses. But we'll all have at least one thing in common, the most important driving factor behind Immortal Octopi."
"We all recognize how much the world really sucks."
"Just so. So?"
"So, um. What do all you octopi do, anyway?"
He shook his head. "Haven't a clue. Haven't started yet."
"Am I the first person you've approached about this?"
"Well, I just thought of it while we were standing here."
"We're sitting. Why the hell did you sit down at my booth, anyway, stranger?"
Ignoring the question, he simply looked down at the table. "Why, so we are. I don't like that. That's wrong." He promptly stood up. "I'm going out. Wanna talk some more about this?"
The other sighed. "I don't know. Look, maybe you can contact me if you ever get anything going at all. I'll think about it. I don't want to be involved in organizing this thing from the beginning."
"Well, if you say so. But you should know, I rarely go through with any of my ideas unless someone is there to keep me interested. But when I do really work on something, it rarely fails. When I say rarely, I don't mean anything I've set my mind on ever has failed, I just mean I keep open the possibility that someday something might."
"Like what have you done that's so big?"
He sat back down. "Um... have you ever heard of sardines?"
"Is this some other weird organization?"
"No, I mean the fish. The actual fish."
"Of course. What of them?"
"What was your idea?"
"How old are you?"
"Er, I think like fiftyish, but I lose track."
"I think sardines have been around a lot longer than fifty years."
"I guess I don't see what you're saying." A thought struck. "Are you saying you can travel back through time?"
"Oh, well, if you say it like that, not as such, then, no. But I mean, after a fashion, right? Like, as good as. You know God?"
"Haven't met him personally, but I know of him."
"Yeah, well, you believe in him?"
"I guess. I certainly don't believe against him. I'm not exactly an atheist or agnostic or whatever, but... I don't know. Yeah, I believe he exists, sure. Like I believe crop circles exist. But what are they, anyway? I don't have an opinion about that."
"Well, anyway, if you talk to him, like pray, just say something, he knows it. Not just when you say it, but he knew you were going to say it, back at the beginning of time."
"Oh. So you think-"
"One day, and bear in mind, I'd never heard of sardines, but one day, I was thinking I'd like to have something to eat unlike anything I'd ever had or even heard of. I was thinking up a good description of it in my head, and asked God if he could do something about it, make something like that or whatever. And at the time I was over at a friend's place, and he was in the other room getting something to eat. He came back into the room with a tin of stuff he was eating and asked if I wanted any. I smelled it and looked at it and thought it seemed like what I was just thinking of, so I said sure, and I tried one, and it was just what I wanted. And I asked what it was, and he said sardines. My idea."
"So you think that God knew when he was creating the world what it was you would want at exactly that moment in the future, and made sardines just for you?"
"Not just for me, of course, no, but it was my idea. It was for everybody who might ever want some, but it was my idea."
"It couldn't have been God's idea all along, and that you thought of it was just a coincidence? Or that you'd heard of or had sardines a long time ago and just forgot, and your subconscious supplied a memory of the thing, but not a memory that you'd ever actually had it?"
"Well, anything's possible. I believe what I believe, and I can see where you might not. Fine. You want a different example, then?"
"I'm still going out."
The less strange of the two men sighed again, and both men rose and walked out together. They stood just outside.
"Okay, you've heard of cold fusion?"
"I don't think they've managed that yet to any significant degree."
"No. That's because no one kept me interested in my idea."
"Okay. How about an example of something that did work out."
"Oh. Well. Hmmm... you know dogs?"
"What? No, no. How could I live my whole life and never hear of dogs?"
"Why couldn't you decide a thing you knew of was a good idea and ask God to have created it?"
"What would be the point?"
"If someone doesn't ask for it, maybe it never will have existed."
"But they did exist."
"So did sardines."
"Okay, I see what you're saying. Like I say, infinite diversity. Our minds work differently, we can't see things the same. That's okay. Nevermind. No, I thought it'd be good to teach dogs to speak human."
"And you did?"
"Not all dogs, of course. I started with a few. If you had to listen to them and know what they were saying, trust me, they wouldn't be man's best friend for long. So I abandoned the idea."
"Is there anything you can tell me that is common knowledge?"
"Oh, um, okay, hmmm... you know how Hitler's dead?"
"Yes, something that happened probably before you were born."
"Yeah. My uncle did that. My mom was pregnant with me, and he thought I'd be born into a better world if Hitler was dead."
"A) I don't believe your uncle killed Hitler, and B) if he did, I don't think that would be something you could claim as an accomplishment of yours."
"Fine. Tough nut. Um... I suggested that Monterey chicken sandwich thing to Dave Thomas."
"I don't believe you. The man's a genius. He doesn't need help from the likes of you."
"Have you ever been to Monterey?"
"We're in Monterey."
"Have you ever eaten one of those sandwiches while you were there?"
"They haven't had them since I came here. Not at Wendy's, anyway. But I once ate one in Maine with someone who was from Monterey."
"So you perhaps have an inkling of where I'm going with this."
"Not a clue."
"Damn. I forgot, myself. I hoped you might remind me."
"Goodbye," he said, and turned to go back into the building to order another drink.
"Jerrick Harrison, by the way."
"It's my name."
"I'm very happy for you, Jerry. Goodbye."
"My name's not Oscar."
The stranger shrugged. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
The non-Oscar didn't bother asking what sometimes worked. He went back in and had another drink. Five years later he didn't notice the blurb in the paper about a crazy man who'd been killed trying to slow lightning down to a more human speed, nor the mention of a scientist who'd been working on the same thing for the past three months and was on the brink of success. Partly this was because he didn't have access to the paper the story was in, and partly because he never really read newspapers much.