How Do You Solve a Problem Like Johnny Titan?
From the Journal of Professor Albert J.T. “Mad Man” Moore
Entry # 1
It is morning here on Plutarch IV—it is always morning on Plutarch IV—on day one of my experiment in testing the limits of human loneliness.
I have not seen or spoken to another human being since you left me here some twenty-odd hours ago.
Plutarch IV remains the ideal location for my experiment as it is completely uninhabited—save for the reclusive TuTu bird, which bracaws cheerily from his cave deep inside the salt mines.
It is such a pleasant sound. At once majestic and inspiring.
The TuTu’s bracaw reminds me somewhat of the rooster’s crow back on Earth. It is as if he is saying, “Up and at ‘em, Professor! Your genius cannot wait to greet the day for another second.”
Incidentally, it is my belief that the TuTu bird is a nocturnal animal. Thus, I am anxious to see how he handles the eternal morning here on Plutarch IV.
If your Level-2 intellect can grasp it, dear Niles, consider this yet another of the many ways my experiment breaks new ground. If I say so myself, I’m like Darwin on the Beagle!
(That was a simile. Do look it up.)
In the meantime, I greatly enjoy my solitude here. Man was not intended to be a social beast. Man, quite frankly, was meant to leave me the hell alone.
(No offense, Niles.)
Yes, I am quite happy here on Plutarch IV.
I daresay I am not looking forward to your return.
Sweet baby Stephen Hawking!
If I don’t speak to another human being soon, I will lose my considerably talented mind.
It is morning here—it is always morning on Plutarch IV—on the forty-third day of my experiment in testing the limits of human loneliness.
I daresay I have reached the limits of human loneliness.
And I ask you: how much salt can one man eat?
(Please do not embarrass yourself and hazard a reply, Niles. I merely pose a rhetorical question.)
Before my arrival, I planned to subsist mainly on TuTu birds. But the fact of the matter is, the TuTu never leaves his cave in the salt mines.
I have proven they are nocturnal animals, but as the sun never fully rises, the TuTu neither goes to sleep nor becomes truly active.
He simply sits in his cave, bracawing at the never-ending sunrise.
Oh, how I hate that sound, Niles.
It’s as if the TuTu is mocking me. “Up and at ‘em, Professor! Wouldn’t want your genius to get some sleep, would we?”
And no matter how much salt I lick, I cannot find the entrance to his cave.
I am starving, my tongue is swollen, and worst of all, I am retaining water.
It is essential I take up running or my body shall grow as flabby as your Level-2 mind.
On the bright side, when I rose from my salt bed this morning (always morning on Plutarch IV!), I felt certain I smelled lemons.
I found the lemons!
This morning—always morning—I discovered a grove of lemon trees in full bloom. Immediately, my spirits lifted, but fearing a mirage, I approached cautiously.
If your tiny brain can conceive it, dear Niles, I conducted a series of experiments to determine whether the lemons responded to touch.
(Mostly, I did this by touching them.)
And only then did I attempt to test my hypothesis that these tiny yellow delights were a) real and b) edible.
Well, they tasted delicious!
I sucked four of them dry immediately, vomited, and felt an overwhelming need to get back to my salt lick.
All the while, I heard the TuTu bird bracaw directly beneath my feet. I think he may be following me. But that is neither here nor there.
The most exciting part is yet to come, dear Niles.
As you may recall (if you ever paid attention in my lectures), once a year Plutarch IV’s orbit carries it near the Trash Vortex.
Occasionally on this journey, bits of rubbish penetrate the atmosphere (which, if you know anything about Plutarch IV, is too weak to incinerate the refuse.)
This morning—always morning—It! Rained! Garbage!
I stood there, lemon juice and vomit dribbling down my chin, the salt mines calling me, and the TuTu bird bracawing his stupid little brains out. And was pelted by a veritable hailstorm of trash!
Banana peels, coffee grinds, eggshells—you name it, Niles, it hit me.
And do you know what else hit me?
The genius of which cannot be overstated.
Soon as the storm ended, I foraged the litter. Much to my delight, I found both cardboard and aluminum.
Cardboard and aluminum!
Do you see now?
Do you realize what I could make with cardboard, aluminum, and a lemon?
(Of course not. Please forgive me if I’ve caused pain, dear Niles. I sometimes forget how dull your mind truly is.)
I can build a humanoid automaton.
A robot! Someone to talk to, swap stories with, compete with at cards! And I can program him to be as intelligent as I, to have my desires, my thoughts, my feelings.
He shall be a perfect companion!
Am I admitting defeat in my experiment to test the limits of human loneliness?
Or is the scientific value in fashioning a humanoid automaton out of cardboard, aluminum, and a lemon greater than the value of continuing this experiment?
Hmm. A quandary.
I must cogitate.
This morning—it’s always—Well. You know.
I! Built! A! Robot!
Plutarch IV’s sun hung low on the horizon, the TuTu Bird bracawing under my feet. After only three hours of toil, Johnny Titan—
(Fantastic name, isn’t it, Niles? I’ve had that little gemstone tucked in my back pocket since grade school!)
—Well, that little bugger looked up at me as I plugged in his lemon, and I swear he smiled.
Smiled! At me.
My child. My creation!
The essence of my soul poured into him, who will carry on my considerable legacy long after I am gone!
Please do forgive the brevity of this entry, Niles, but I am far too excited to waste time writing the likes of you.
To Johnny Titan—greatest living automaton in all the galaxy!
This robot is a goddamn moron.
Correction: this robot is a COMPLETE goddamn moron.
To begin with, he is a terrible conversationalist.
(Even worse than a certain reader of this journal, Niles.)
It would be one thing if he were a Level-5 genius like myself. But he is Most! Emphatically! NOT!
Yesterday, I decided to test the functioning of his brain circuits. To that end, I posed Johnny a simple question of arithmetic: Two plus two. And do you know what this complete idiot of a robot said?
I checked if his aluminum was properly connected to the cardboard.
I agonized over whether I’d employed too much lemon. Of course, everything connected flawlessly. The lemon to cardboard/aluminum ratio proved spot on.
(I say “of course” because I am a Level-5 genius and I did all the original calculations and why on Earth—or Plutarch IV—would they be wrong?)
And while I was trying to think, while I was trying to solve the problem of the brain-dead automaton, do you know what the brain-dead automaton did?
He followed me around all day, begging for more arithmetic problems!
This is almost as obnoxious as the incessant bracawing of the TuTu bird. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse.
(Answer: the robot).
And to top it all off: Johnny Titan, being an automaton, does not require sleep. I, being human, do.
“Oh, but Professor Moore!” I hear you saying. “Surely his lemon will run down eventually.”
“Ha!” I say. “Ha!”
Do you really think I would build an automaton whose lemon could run down so easily?
The genius of my design, dearest Niles, is that one lemon will last a full millennium.
(Upon my retrieval, please deliver me posthaste to the patent office, where I will register my design and become the richest person on Earth. Imagine—finally being off fossil fuels by the year 2068!)
But I digress.
Today—“today,” he says, as if there was anything but morning on Plutarch IV—the brain surgeon asks me to teach him multiplication.
I fairly want to scream at him, “You can’t even add, you simpleton!”
But I realize this wouldn’t do either of us any good. Johnny Titan looks up to me, and frankly, he’s entirely too stupid to know what the word “simpleton” means.
I didn’t get where I am—here, on Plutarch IV, testing the limits of human loneliness—by taking on lost causes.
I must ruminate.
After much rumination, I have regretfully decided to kill Johnny Titan.
It’s simply the most humane action, considering his intellect.
(Please don’t fret, Niles. I would never do such a thing to you, your own intellect notwithstanding.)
Do wish me luck.
Please forgive the quality of my handwriting this morning. I am badly shaken by this turn of events and I can’t seem to steady my hand.
But I must set everything down while I still can, because if you’re reading this, I am quite likely dead.
Yes, you read that right.
Allow me to explain, as simply as I can, since I realize you are at a considerable mental disadvantage.
I have decided to kill the automaton.
But how to do it?
As noted before, his lemon will never run down—at least not in my lifetime—and I purposefully built Johnny without a kill switch.
(I ask you: what is the point of making a robot if you can simply turn him off whenever you want?)
How do you solve a problem like Johnny Titan?
Simplicity itself: remove the lemon.
The problem, of course, is that Johnny Titan is a sentient robot. And as such, does not wish to die.
(Perhaps not as stupid as I originally thought…!)
In any event, I tried, dearest Niles! Oh, how I tried.
First, I endeavored to trick him. I told him I wished to pose arithmetic problems. But the clod declared zero interest!
“What’s the point?” he said, in that sullen, mumbling monotone of his.
WHAT IS THE POINT?
The point is only EVERYTHING. But I didn’t waste my breath explaining, dear Niles.
(Remember my simple formula for dealing with lost causes.)
And he is indeed a lost cause.
He’s taken to lying down on his bed all day. Won’t do a thing to help me gather the salt licks (or the lemons, which are, by the way, rapidly going out of season).
Anyway. Killing him.
It is physically impossible to get close to Johnny Titan. When I try, he runs away like I—I!—am the imbecile, and my senselessness contagious.
Finally, Niles, I reached the end of my sizably gifted wits.
Yesterday, in my great frustration, I began to cry.
I am not proud of this, showing emotion like some common, Level-4 genius. But I couldn’t help myself. The tears simply welled up inside me and burst forth in a tidal wave of salt.
Well, that got Johnny Titan’s attention, let me tell you.
“Sir?” he asked.
And at that, dearest Niles, a strange pride swelled in my breast.
Sir! He called me, “Sir.”
The tears came ever faster, and I was having a right good ugly cry when Johnny Titan rolled over and sat beside me.
He began weeping, too, great big lemon-y tears that smelled like cleaning supplies.
He asked me why I was leaking fluid.
I said I was in pain.
“What is pain?” he asked.
“Then why did you give me life?”
“Because I wished to crush the great loneliness inside me.”
And then, dear Niles, Johnny Titan did the most extraordinary thing.
He reached out with his accordion-like aluminum arms and wrapped them around my shoulders…
And then kept right on wrapping until they had wrapped around my throat!
Both arms now, and he began to squeeze as tightly as his cardboard muscles would allow.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
“Crushing your loneliness,” he said, and the injudicious monstrosity squoze some more!
(Yes, “squoze” is a word, dearest monkey-brain. Do look it up.)
Well. As the aluminum sliced my neck and my windpipe choked off, I swear, Niles … I swear the mechanical bastard smiled.
He’d been NOTHING until I built him. Merely a twinkle in my eye the morning I stood in the garbage rain and conceived of a lemon-powered automaton.
And after I put my citrus in his casing…!
This was how he repaid me?
“Johnny … let … go,” I rasped.
“Negative. I am programmed to kill,” Johnny blorped.
One look into his juicy yellow eyes told me he meant it. His aluminum arms squeezed tighter, and I saw my entire life flash before me.
This is not a cliché, dearest Niles.
This is the absolute truth of the matter, recounted exactly as it happened.
I! Saw! My! Life!
The cruel barbs of my fellow classmates as they teased me at school. The feeling of utter failure when I was the last student chosen for daggerball. Winning my Nobel Prize and imagining the stupid looks on their faces as I humbly accepted. And finally, leaving Earth amid much fanfare to begin my experiment testing the limits of human loneliness.
(The flashes went on quite a bit longer than that, dear Niles, I merely offer these as a sampling. I daresay you’d grow bored hearing a list of all my triumphs. Frankly, I would hate to give you a complex, having never accomplished anything significant yourself.)
But, let me tell you, after a good bit of this, I decided I’d be damned to die at the hands of this stupid robot.
So I took it upon myself to use my own arms, which are slightly stronger than aluminum, to rip his arms off my throat.
And that, dear Niles is the exact moment when—
I shall leave off here. This reminiscing has given me palpitations, and I grow lost in my own story. If I am to survive the next twenty-four hours, I must keep my faculties razor-sharp. And frankly, conversing with you has done me no favors. As Michelangelo once said, “Walk with a cripple, develop a limp.”
Until morning, then.
(As if there is anything but).
Alas, you cannot fathom the depths of my concern, can you?
Allow me to elucidate.
Following my narrow escape from death, I decided my approach required an altogether new tack.
I briefly considered building a weapon. But as you know, I am fundamentally against weapons. They allow the dumbest and weakest among us to rule humanity through fear and intimidation.
I’m afraid I am against anything that evens the odds that much.
No, I did not use my Level-5 genius to construct the perfect weapon.
I used said Level-5 genius to construct a lemon-powered video game.
For I discovered that whilst the lemon supplies were in rapid decline, there were still one or two perfectly good specimens in the grove.
On top of which, I had just enough leftover garbage to build a small prototype of a game in which two players hit a digitized ball back and forth across a pixelated “court.”
I call this invention “Ping,” and I set it up so Johnny Titan could play against the lemon.
Let me tell you, it worked like the proverbial charm!
Johnny Titan sat on his salt bed wearing an altogether stupid expression, playing Ping nonstop from morning til morning.
After I was certain nothing would disturb him, I opened the cardboard panel on his back and attempted to remove his lemon.
(The buffoon didn’t even stir, believe you me!)
I daresay the TuTu bird mocked me with his bracaws, because I could not for the life of me remove the lemon from its cardboard casing.
My robot was THAT well designed, let me just tell you.
So I set about to reprogram the clod.
The intention being if I could just get him to think more like me, my situation would be considerably more copacetic.
Well, imagine my horror, Niles, when I discovered all my original calculations infallible.
(I would be remiss if I failed to mention the considerable amount of pride mixed with said horror.)
At this moment, fortune frowned upon me.
The lemons, you see, had already begun to turn when I built Ping. Therefore, they were not the perfect batteries I used in Johnny’s construction. And, wouldn’t you know, it was at that exact instance when Ping’s lemon, wilted and brown as it was, ran out of juice.
Johnny Titan whirled on me in a rage.
“I want Ping!” he howled.
I edged backwards, trying to keep my voice steady. “Johnny, we have to wait until the lemons are in season again. There’s nothing I can do right now.”
He didn’t like that, let me just tell you.
He hurled Ping to the ground in an explosion of cardboard and aluminum. The desiccated rind bounced twice and rolled under my feet.
“Now, Johnny, that was uncalled for.”
“I! Want! Ping!”
I could see there was no reasoning with him. He was like a cardboard and aluminum caveman. I stepped back and—squish!—my heel slipped on the errant fruit.
As my feet betrayed me, Johnny Titan charged.
“Get back!” I screamed, but Johnny did no such thing.
“You are my creation! Built to be like me!” I cried.
And do you know what Johnny Titan did then?
Why, he smiled that creepy, stupid smile of his and said, “I am like you, dummy.”
If ever I had reason to believe he was completely unhinged, this was it.
And let me tell you something else, if you can believe it. As I backed away, terrified of the madness in his eyes, my life flashed before me again!
But this time, I mostly saw Susan.
Not the brightest bulb in the box, but not an altogether brainless beauty.
How she was devoted to me, dear Niles! How she treated me like a prince, never asking anything in return until the one day she finally asked for something in return:
A baby! Can you imagine a Level-5 genius like myself reduced to being a sperm donor? Changing diapers and feeding some brainless beast at midnight, like a common person?
I am embarrassed to say I did not respond terribly well to Susan’s request.
I daresay I told her exactly what I thought of her and her barbaric suggestion.
And when I came home the next day and found her note on the kitchen floor … as I stood in the empty room among all the other empty rooms … I realized I had brought nothing to the relationship.
(At least not in the way of furniture.)
And, what’s more, it was then, dear Niles—that exact moment!—I conceived the idea for my experiment in testing the limits of human loneliness.
Can you believe it? Johnny Titan was gaining on me from across the salt mines, a murderous rage in his lemon-powered eyes, and all I could think about was Susan.
And that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought.
And maybe I had been what a Level-2 intellect would call “kind of an asshole.”
Maybe I should run.
I can’t run anymore, dearest Niles.
I’ve spent the last forty-eight hours evading the blood of my blood and aluminum of my aluminum.
Running from morning til morning. From the salt mines of Plutarch IV, through the lemon groves, and now, finally, here:
The Dunes of Dingleberry. Where I will either cling to life or drop into the abyss.
I feel like I am barely hanging on, Niles.
Johnny Titan is gaining on me.
I know he will find me in the end.
I know my human body will break down and cry for rest, while Johnny, all lemon-powered perfection, will run on and on—smelling delightful all the while, damn him.
My eyes scan the Dunes constantly, ever vigilant for any sign of my fiendish foe.
I am terrified he will find me. Nay, horrified that I only have myself to blame.
Yes, dearest Niles. The fault for my predicament lies solely at my own feet.
Susan. Johnny. My isolation here on Plutarch IV.
All of it.
I fear some defect in my character has led me to this horrible impasse.
(Don’t try and argue, dear Niles. It’s pointless. You are far too dim to score any points, and I am, after all, quite dead.)
Let it simply suffice to say I am the cause of my own undoing.
Much as it pains me to write, Johnny Titan is not merely a humanoid automaton, born of cardboard and aluminum and lemon.
No, dearest Niles.
The secret ingredient to Johnny Titan, the je ne sais quoi of my creation, is my disdain for my fellow man.
No. Not disdain.
The word itself makes me shudder. But seeing it in print, I realize it must be true.
The time for deception is over. I must face up to my faults.
I programmed Johnny to be like myself, and therefore I am to blame.
Were I as simple as you, Niles, I would beg God to forgive me my trespasses, and thereby feel new again. But I am not a religious man, I am a man of science.
And as a man of science, there is no one to whom I can pray.
I am truly alone.
This entry shall be quick, Niles.
The TuTu bird woke me as always with his bracaw.
(If by some miracle I escape this godforsaken planet, please do remind me to migrate the Tutu over to Nachtus 8. Plutarch IV provides an exceedingly crappy habitat for a nocturnal bird.)
As I opened my eyes, all my senses snapped to life at once.
The smell, dearest Niles! The smell!
So fresh. So clean.
He is coming.
And I am so, so tired, my cherished friend.
My own lemon, if you will allow me a small metaphor, has finally run down.
So here, dear Niles, I make my last stand.
This is my Alamo.
Forgive me my trespasses, dear Niles. I hope when you return to Plutarch IV I can beg for it in person. But I fear the best I can do is leave this chronicle of my last days, in trust that your pea-sized brain you can somehow make sense of it.
I must set down my quill now. Think fondly of me.
Hasta la bing bong.
I mean it.