Hamlet

Alistair,
My uncle died and willed me a human skull that seems to have a malevolent spirit inside. Well, I assume it’s malevolent. The jaw is chained shut, but it tries to bite me every time I get close. Should I dispose of it? How?
Hamlet in Fort Worth


Hamlet,

I once enjoyed dinner with this guy who had been faced with a similar problem. In his case, he arrived at the somewhat obvious conclusion that bone is more fragile than hammers are and so destroyed that vessel of torment.

Here’s why I wouldn’t recommend that approach: The skull is a container. Obviously it’s not a great container in the sense that it’s not particularly watertight, but for the purpose of the metaphysical it’s a perfectly suitable jar. So what happens if you break a jar full of water? Water gets everywhere. Now instead of water, picture malevolent spirit. 

So what I would recommend is that you put the skull in a box and bury it somewhere that people are unlikely to dig it up. Like somewhere in the middle of the Sahara or under discarded car parts in the garage of a lazy man. Whatever you do, don’t unchain or break that sucker. You probably don’t want to be transformed into a delicious veal cutlet.

Alistair

Chirpy

Alistair,
I have recently had my brain swapped with that of my pet cockatoo. I’m typing this – painfully – using my beak, while trying to distract my body by throwing seeds on the floor. It looks like it’s broken my nose trying to pick it up. Good recommendations for a clinic to return my brain back?
Chirpy in LA


Chirpy,

By “had my brain swapped” I assume that you mean that you’ve had that portion of your subconsciousness swapped with the cockatoo. I will be operating on this assumption for the duration of my response for the following reasons: (1) You speak as if you are self-aware as a human, while combating reflexive cockatoo behaviour. If your full consciousness was that of your pet, you wouldn’t even know what a keyboard was, let alone how to use one, because cockatoos have never been all that impressed by electronics. (2) If you physically exchanged your actual brain with a cockatoo, you would have a nut-sized lump rattling around in your skull that doesn’t hardwire into your neurological system properly. So you’d be dead. Your cockatoo, sporting a bizarrely-huge brain for which it cannot supply adequate oxygen with its circulatory system, would also be dead.

Assuming that this letter finds you before you kill yourself in some instinctive attempt at flight, you can do one of two things: (1) Just try reversing whatever happened to create this problem in the first place. I would only recommend a “clinic” for that procedure if there was a clinic that administered the initial swap. (2) Failing that, work at retraining your brain. Neural pathways are hard to manually rewire, but it’s not impossible. Start by using your hands when typing. It should be noted that you will never fully rebuild human instincts or eradicate the cockatoo instincts. This means that you will always be a weirdo, most notably in your reproductive habits.

Alistair

Chuckles

Alistair,
I am an ancient demigod, returned from a death that was no death for one of my stature. In the meantime, my look was co-opted by a children’s show character. Now, everyone who encounters me is, instead of awed and terrified, mildly amused. What should I do to regain my sense of terrible presence?
Chuckles in New Amsterdam


Chuckles,
I’m sure that by now you’re very tired of being told to make the best of the situation. True, some malevolent ancient beings have been able to work with an innocent or whimsical appearance and even to make a net benefit, you seem to lack the necessary je ne sais quoi to properly pull it off. However, there is this to be considered: Children’s show characters are, by and large, not created in a vacuum (certain exceptions notwithstanding). They are designed to appeal to children, using bright colors and simple shapes in a sort of pleasant condescension. If you do, in fact, resemble a children’s show character, some measure of these likely apply to you. Humanity is afraid of many things – the dark, their own minds, the phrase “We need to talk”, anything smaller than them, anything bigger than them, anything that looks too much like them, anything that looks nothing like them – but from a frankly staggering list “Bright colors and simple shapes” may be unsettling in large quantities but not, on their own, frightening.

What I’m suggesting is that perhaps nostalgia has gotten the better of you. You say that everyone is amused and not frightened, but throw your mind back and wonder if perhaps those memories of frightened masses are, in fact, a little rose-colored fiction. I advise learning to love yourself and becoming a stunt double for your presumably more well-adjusted doppelganger.

Alistair

Efficient

Alistair,

I work for a corporation described by most as “evil”. While we can debate the ethics of the matter – strict interdepartmental discipline doesn’t necessarily equal evil, even if a little bit of fire is involved – the fact is that we’re going places. Or would, if the CEO wasn’t constantly spending money on pet projects. Rather than spending a moderate amount on kidnapping someone and holding them hostage, or in establishing a water monopoly, he insists on constructing orbiting lasers and convoluted plots to discredit media rivals by faking stock market crashes (which was super dramatic and theatrical but immediately and easily invalidated). 

I’m going to do it regardless, but I’m interested on the net morality when I murder and replace him.

Efficient in Catania


Efficient,

Given that you’re going to do it anyway, I’m curious to what use you would turn this knowledge. If the net morality was, say, an unmitigated good, would you turn away or just murder several bags full of infant animals in order to right stakes? Likewise, if it was a negative, would you set a line item into the budget for charity? I think what you want to hear is that your imposition of order will be a net good, and then you can feel vaguely superior to your predecessor for having lowered his carbon footprint by no longer having frivolous private jet chases.

More importantly though, morality isn’t really a budgetary line item. Negatives and positives don’t cancel out. It’s more of a baggage situation; all of it gets run through the bonfire of judgement and you have to sift through the ash on the other side to pull out the valuables. Which is a terrible metaphor on a number of levels, but I cannot be bothered to come up with a better one.

Short version: If you ice your employer but give everyone dental, you’ll probably be the main one to second guess the decision. When you start and finish the guessing is really a personal issue.

Alistair

Crystal Clear

Alistair,

After a recent UFO sighting and abduction, some men wearing black suits came by and tried to erase my memory. I think they forgot to change the batteries or something, because it didn’t take. I felt bad about it and played along, but I think that it maybe wasn’t the right move now that I think about it later. What would have been the right move then? Honesty or a little white lie?

Crystal Clear in Puyallup


Crystal Clear,

Sometimes I receive letters that make me think I should call the most relevant authorities instead of responding.

This is not one of those letters.

What you did was kind in a short-sighted sort of way. You did it to be considerate, but chances are that those men would rather know when their equipment fails. But you know what? Who cares. Those guys need to take their work less seriously. Clearly you’re not particularly traumatized by what you witnessed, and it’s not like you’re about to unravel the fabric of the universe with your new understanding of aliens.
Just know that if you tell too many people about that equipment failure, you might get a second visit from the same guys. Their second visit won’t be as painless, because the portable memory-wipe devices they use only apply to recently absorbed memories. You’ve been warned.

Alistair

Company Man

Alistair,

I’ve created one of the ultimate superweapons, but like a fool I did it on company time. Thanks to policy, they technically own the rights to my Planet Buster 4k. I suppose I could use the weapon to threaten them into keeping the rights, but if I let them know it exists I won’t have a patent before the design leaks. Any thoughts?

Company Man in Albuquerque


Company Man,

So you’re saying that they don’t know it exists? If you were a man who lives by a transcendent code of honour, I would suggest that you tell them and surrender your designs, consistent with your own ethics.

However, you designed a superweapon on company time, which leads me to believe that you may have less of a “code” as much as you have a nihilistic manifesto on the back of a beer-stained napkin. As such, it would do no harm to your conscience to smuggle the plans out of work, quit and then claim to have designed it on your own time.

All that said, you should consider the idea that your employers might actually know about the Planet Buster 4K (really?) and are already making plans to seize it. When the authorities inevitably get involved, choose this day how much credit you want to take for something that, ostensibly, could literally destroy Earth. 

Alistair

Tut

Alistair,

In a recent investigation in a pyramid, I found a hidden door, marked with symbols that translated to “Keep out – My rooms – No girls allowed”. When I opened it, I found a collection of greenish-gray creatures with big eyes that were totally dark and didn’t have any eyelids. They were bending over a sarcophagus, and when they saw me, they just stared. We stood there for like fifteen seconds, and then one of them came over and slowly closed the door without saying anything or blinking. Once they closed it, I could hear them whispering to each other.

What should I do? Should I inform the head of the dig? Is this bad?

Tut in Southern Egypt


Tut,

Have you tried knocking? I mean this in the most sarcastic, dismissive way possible. If you keep blundering through places that don’t belong to you expecting the inhabitants to be long dead it’s really only a matter of time until you, in error, stumble on someone who has yet to be this way. While the traditional method in these circumstances is to hasten their progress to such a state, that seems rude at best. I’d advise that you apologize but in point of fact I wouldn’t want to hear someone robbing my house apologize as much as I’d want them to beat a hasty retreat.

Alternatively, you may have stumbled into a rival group of archaeologists/anthropologists/grave robbers, albeit with a broader level of interest than yourself. In that case, it’s more or less a free-for-all.

Alistair 

Fish nor Fowl

Alistair,

Is it ethical to have a relationship with a fully human man, given that I’m a half-human hybrid? I mean, I’m thinking about the children here.

Fish nor Fowl in Cambridge


Fish nor Fowl,

It’s largely going to depend on half what. A half god is a metaphysical threat, a half fish is a biological oddity. Which is not to say a half god creature is not also a biological oddity (godly genetics come in triplicate, so your typical demigod is actually one third god), but it’s less curious and more ethically questionable. As a general rule of thumb, if you are significantly more ancient or powerful than your partner, the power dynamic is going to take a careful guiding hand (obviously not the hand of the more powerful partner – that’s more or less the whole point). Biologically speaking… it worked once. Presumably it can work again. Whether or not it should is an exercise for the reader. Most likely not.

Alistair

Quisling

Alistair,

My neighbors are being hunted by a mysterious creature who lurks in the darkness. I haven’t told them that I can hear it whispering to me in the night; it wants help. It wants me to lure them out, to let them be found and taken away.

Is collaborating with the creature sketchy? Or just good sense?

Maybe Quisling in San Juarez


Quisling,

First of all, you’re making some assumptions about this creature’s work. The mysterious is not always the malevolent. Perhaps this shadow-lurker is liberating the souls of your neighbors from humanity’s quagmire to be released in a higher plane. Did you ever think of that? You probably didn’t, did you? Maybe he’s on a rescue mission, spiriting away the occupants of a given postal code before the meteorite hits. There’s even a race of caring (if confused) demigods who are constantly trying to physically restructure our timeline so that everyone can enjoy their best possible reality. Any of these are possible. It’s also possible that it’s a werething who’s simply out to eat the innocent. I’ve seen that too.

On the plus side, making the right decision here doesn’t require that you know all the facts first. Regardless of whether your new friend is a goodie or a baddie, it’s in your own interest to at least make him think that you’re useful.

Alistair

Futuristic

Alistair,

I woke up a week ago with a Heads up Display constantly in my line of sight, determining threats and reading heart rates and showing me a minimap. It’s handy, but it’s tagging threats from people I’ve never seen before. Well, specifically, it’s tagging Enemies. I don’t remember meeting any of them, and I definitely don’t know where the HUD came from. Are they connected?

Futuristic in New York


Futuristic,

There should be a toll free number in the lower left corner of your HUD when you close your eyes. Call that number and ask to be put in touch with your designated Alpha. I know that none of this makes sense to you, but you’ve become separated from your pack and it’s only a matter of time before one of the Enemies you’re looking at realizes what you are (assuming the autofind feature isn’t just tagging someone who cut you off in traffic).

Alistair