Alcoa Ruskin sat in his Work Bubble, injecting his dinner into his thigh. It was steak and mashed potatos, and the potato-extract was lumpy, as usual.
"Oh, to have lived in a simpler time!" sighed Alcoa, cringing uncomfortably as a lump moved through his artery toward his knee. "I am not made for this 25th Century! I wish I lived a long, long, long, long time ago!" Suddently, he felt the shudder and heard the loud ringing "danger! danger! danger!" that meant Princess BigLots Krispy Kreme, Tampax/MillerHighLife/WeightWatchers/Redbull/Stridex University's only student, had dialed up his Work Bubble. Alcoa rose slowly past Mattress King Viagra, the old, brittle head of the history department. He waved at Mattress King. Mattress King looked up from the pile of books and maps he was sitting on. He looked as if he had been crying hot salty tears that seemed to be the hot salty tears of someone who was very old now and did not feel quite so hot and salty at all and was probably just as lost as Alcoa was but who had never really shared much considering the fact they were always kept locked in their plastic Work Bubbles lest BigLots needed something at an odd hour of the day. BigLots was their only student, the cost of college education now being so high that schools only had one student, divvied among the 12 colleges on Barsoom. Earth had been abandoned since the 23rd Century, when the Prophet Al Gore came back from the dead and threw everyone off the stagnant garbage pile the Earth had become. Even with millions of miles of airlessness between Earth and Barsoom, the universe still smelled like a used diaper.
BigLots sat at her plastic desk, tapping her foot impatiently as Alcoa rose through the floor and came to a shuddering stop in front of her. He piled some of his books into a chair and smiled "Hello, BigLots. What can I do for you?"
"I want to know about sex!" declared BigLots.
"What? What are you talking about?" asked Alcoa. He was genuinely as clueless as a detective who had no clues.
BigLots jabbed her ComputerPen at the air in front of her. An image floated above her head. Two people. A man and a woman. "Are they fighting?" asked Alcoa.
"No! They're having sex! I want to learn what they are doing!" declared BigLots.
"Well, what's it for?" asked Alcoa.
"That's why I'm asking you. You're the headmaster. Old Mattress King couldn't tell me anything." BigLots looked at the writhing image longingly, her cobalt blue eyes like puddles of water poured from a fishbowl that had been knocked over by a tabby cat. "It looks wonderful!" she sighed, wringing her hands in front of her sighingly.
Alcoa watched the flickering image. "Where did you find this?"
"In the library. I was, I was," the fish in her eyes jumped and sparkled as if falling out of the bowl hadn't killed them but made them even stronger and more scaly, if either Alcoa or BigLots knew what a fish was, since they'd all gone extinct a long time ago. "I saw your name on an old box in the Miniaturized Library, and I looked inside with the DeSmallifier."
"Alcoa?" asked Alcoa.
"No. Ruskin. He was the headmaster here too, but a long time ago. And the box, the box," the fish let go of their hooks and swum up to her forehead and then splashed down into her cheeks. "There are so many things in the box. The box is so full of things. Things. Wonderful things in the box!"
"So, you discovered a thing in a box?" asked Alcoa increduously. "You're like this because my long dead relation put his thing in a box?" The ghost people fighting above BigLots head were making him uncomfortable.
"Many things in many boxes. Boxes of all shapes, sizes, and colors! It seems to be all he did, if I understand what he's left behind." her face flushed pink like a new sunset on the third ice moon of Jupiter, all pinkly gauze and flutter. "But I didn't read very far. I was too frightened and embarassed." BigLots turned away from Alcoa in fright and embarassment.
"Well, let me see your box, and I'll see if I can get this all straightened out," declared Alcoa.
"You think you can straighten out your ancestor?"
"I don't see why not. I am a headmaster."
"Oh, Mr. Ruskin! I don't know what to say!"
"Bring me your box, and I will take a poke at it," said Alcoa.
"I should very much enjoy your poking of my box!"
"You and I will poke your box together!" declared Alcoa, his eyes looking into BigLots but not thinking of fish because he didn't know what a fish was. "We will poke it until there is nothing in your box left to poke!"
What awaits these two interstellar innocents as they reach back into the deep dead past of a world long dead? Tune in next week!