Dear PBS Kids,
How They Got to Sesame Street
Elmer woke up in the middle of the night to movement. He sleepily looked around and saw his wife, Sesame, at the foot of their bed. She was praying quietly but intensely, thanking God for the unlikely miracle of the recent birth of their healthy daughter. Elmer let his head drop back to his pillow, when he was suddenly blinded by an intense light and heat. He jumped up and ran to his wife, but it was not until the afterimage faded a few seconds later that he realized she was gone. Only some burnt patches of her nightgown and hair remained.
Though scarring, this experience defined the rest of Elmer's life as he dedicated it to finding the cause, and prevention, of spontaneous human combustion. An aspiring particle physicist, he was quickly derided and rejected by his colleagues for his obsession. But he didn't care—when he wasn't raising his daughter, he was researching and experimenting. He finally discovered what caused spontaneous human combustion. Tachyons, faster-than-light particles, were attracted to a force produced by sentience. When an abnormally large number of tachyons were in the area, they targeted these centers of sentience and released huge amounts of energy, resulting in a very tight area of combustion. Elmer quickly went to work on a device that would create large quantities of artificial sentience-force and direct tachyonic bolts away from people. He called it the Lightning Rod, since that's how many people falsely thought lighting rods worked. One late night during a tachyon storm, Elmer began testing the Lightning Rod. He noticed that a piece inside the rod chamber was askew, and in his excitement he entered the chamber. Just as he fixed it, a tachyon bolt hit the rod.
Elmer opened his eyes in a strange world. Surprised to be alive, he realized that the tachyons were so concentrated that their released energy did more than burn him—they temporarily transformed his body into tachyons until it came to an area of enough sentience to release energy and revert back to normal matter. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but that was enough time to travel to another planet with intelligent life. Though lost and confused, Elmer was ecstatic that his machine did more than he'd ever hoped. He dedicated his discovery to his beloved wife and named the planet Sesame.
Hundreds of years ago, a planet inhabited by dinosaur-like species experienced a war similar to our own World War II. One side was democratic and peace-loving, and the other side was fascist, racist, and totalitarian. Except this time the fascists won. Religiously devoted to their regime, they ritualistically slaughtered and feasted upon certain "inferior" intelligent species, cleansing their planet. But their planet was not enough—their regime demanded that the entire universe be cleansed of all impure intelligent life. So they developed lightspeed space travel and flew from world to world, destroying all they could find. Hereafter they will be referred to as the Barney.
Unlike the Barney, the Boohbah were not a warmongering race. In fact, they loved nothing better than peace, prosperity, and comfort. They didn't kill other species; they enslaved them. They went from system to system colonizing worlds and subjecting the previous inhabitants as servants and serfs. One year they happened across the planet we know of as Sesame. They found a world weakened by constant war between its several species, and easily began the process of colonization and enslavement.
It was during this time that Elmer suddenly came to Sesame. Luckily for him, he was picked up by a band of native fugitives who had put aside their differences to escape the Boohbah. His new friends included furry humanoids, towering avians, bipedal honkers, and harry pachyderms. Most had relatively large eyes and thick fur to deal with the dim light and cold atmosphere of Sesame. And one became addicted to the Chips Ahoy! bisquits he'd inadvertently brought in his pocket. Together they gathered and developed the necessary equipment, and after several years Elmer was finally able to recreate the Lightning Rod and allow all of them to escape to Earth. As a token of their gratitude, one Sesamese named her son after their savior.
More than anything, Elmer hoped that his working Lightning Rod and alien friends would prove the validity of his discoveries to the scientific community. But his hopes were in vain. His colleagues scoffed at his claims and refused to even examine what they were sure was a hoax. Meanwhile, the Sesamese discovered that they very easily entertained human children, and that they could use that skill to support themselves. Elmer opposed the idea at first, not wanting his friends to appear less dignified than he saw them to be. But then he relented and supported their efforts to start a T.V. show for kids. "We may not convince the parents," he told the Sesamese, "but day by day we will prepare the children to accept your existence."
Detective Chauveau looked into the hospital room window. “He’s mentally unstable, but not dangerous,” the policeman said.
“Has he gotten any worse?” Chaveau asked.
“No, but he hasn’t gotten any better, either.”
“Any marks on his body?”
“None. And nothing missing from the hotel room. The suspect broke in, drugged the victim, and then left. An hour later the victim’s life savings and company account funds were gone. They didn’t find him until this morning, eight hours later.”
Chaveau entered the room. She approached the man in the bed slowly, but there was no response. The man continued to jerk erratically and mutter to himself. Chaveau leaned close.
~ ~ ~
The attacks continued. The Hacker targeted businessmen, politicians, secretaries—anyone with critical information in their heads that could be hacked. What’s more, he was impossible to track. He was so thorough at covering his tracks that Chauveau despaired of ever finding him. At least not using traditional techniques. After the third victim was found babbling incoherently, Chauveau stopped looking for clues and delved into the field of psychiatric medication. The victims had trace amounts of chemicals, but it was impossible to match them to an existing drug. Nevertheless, Chauveau used these as starting points, researching their uses and effects. Chauveau barely slept and subjected himself to dangerous experiments, but she did in months what would have taken most scientists years or decades to accomplish. She created her own arsenal of psychiatric drugs. She used these much the same way that The Hacker used his—by combining them with hypnotism, she was able to influence people's minds. She caused them to hallucinate, to see figures that she created, and to think they were in fantastical situations. Except while The Hacker created nightmares that stole information from his victims, Chauveau created friends, angels, and fairies to slowly nurse victims back to mental health and, most importantly, to find out more information about The Hacker. For every time The Hacker looked into your soul, you saw a glimpse of him. Each victim saw him differently, but Chauveau pieced these together—half a nose here, the glint of an eye there—until finally she had a face. Had fingerprints. Had a name.
~ ~ ~
Eight policemen surrounded the suburban house in the early morning. "TIMOTHY DALTON. THIS IS THE POLICE. WE HAVE A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST. COME OUT SLOWLY WITH YOUR HANDS UP." They waited a few seconds, and halfway through repeating the call the door opened slowly. A tall, black-haired man in shorts and an undershirt sleepily walked out with his hands halfway up. He looked around tiredly.
"TIMOTHY DALTON, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW—"
The man closed his eyes and put a finger to his lips. The megaphone went silent in surprise.
"I will find you," the man said in a voice that was somehow both eerily quiet and loud enough to be heard by all. "Each of you. I will escape, and I will hunt you down, and your families. And I will make each and every one of you pay." Then he stopped, and a couple officers approached him, cuffed him, and drove him away.
~ ~ ~
Each of the officers was relocated in such secrecy that only two relocation officers knew where they were. Despite the best efforts, The Hacker did escape, using chemicals he created from materials in his cell. As soon as she found out, Chauveau contacted the relocation agency to make sure the two officers were secure.
"Don't worry, they're under the highest security and will be under constant surveillance. They don't have a thing to worry about. In fact, they're just wrapping up a Bring Your Kids to Work Day."
Chaveau's heart stopped. "How many children do they have? Where are the children now?"
"Two and one. On the bus back home, I imagine. Wait, you're not worried about them, are you? I really don't see how they could be under threat."
"Give me their addresses."
"I don't think that's nec—"
"Now! I need to get there now!"
The officer relented and gave her the addresses as Chaveau grabbed her drug kit and flew out the door.
The two families were neighbors, and Chaveau found the light on in one of the houses. She knocked on the door, and then opened it when there was no response. The kids were huddled on the floor, doing homework.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Chaveau locked the door behind her and knelt in front of them. She rummaged for different drugs in her bag. "Your parents sent me. They asked me to help you."
"With... your homework. Math? Yes, with your math homework. Now look closely at me. I have some very important things to show you..." She put an open vial under each child's nose and began hypnotizing them. Over about half an hour, Chaveau inoculated them against The Hacker. She gave them a defensive world of robots and aliens, that would be activated whenever The Hacker's drugs took effect. They would distort his hallucinations, changing his nightmares into adventures, his horror into fun. She gave them the ability to fight against him. Solving various puzzles and challenges would give them the needed mental fortitude to resist his attempts to get the data that was in their brains. For what Chaveau had discovered over years of research was that there is far more information in the mind that we might suppose. The kids had seen their fathers' computers, and had very possibly seen the information of the relocated officers. And The Hacker would try everything he could to get it.
The door was slammed open. But Chaveau didn't stop. As the Hacker shouted in anger and ran toward her, she completed the final image—one of herself, a protective mother figure from whom they could receive extra protection. And then The Hacker got her.
Hundreds of years ago, a utopian civilization flourished (as utopian civilizations tend to do) on a planet hundreds of light-years away. A rough translation for the name they called themselves is "The Balanced Ones" because they had not only achieved a harmony among their society and with the environment, but they had also seamlessly integrated artificial improvements into their biological bodies. The Balanced Ones lived in peace and prosperity until the unthinkable occurred—their sun went nova. So sudden and unexpected was this disaster that none on the planet survived. The only members of their race remaining were a small interstellar expedition, the first of its kind, that had set off a few years beforehand. The crew consisted of one of each of race's four genders and a carbon dioxide-breathing symbiotic creature that provided the oxygen needed by the Balanced Ones and recycled their waste. The expedition's original purpose was merely to explore a nearby star system, but when they found out the tragedy that had befallen their people they redirected their course to a farther, more habitable planet, hoping to start their race anew. But so long was their journey that their super-intelligent minds began to deteriorate. By the time they landed on Earth, they were bumbling idiots incapable of any serious civilization-building. Meanwhile, the 20th Century American government that intercepted them was disappointed that the only aliens to contact Earth had the intelligence of toddlers. They relocated them to a top-secret facility. Some hoped they would be able to reproduce, but as the years passed this seemed increasingly unlikely. To maintain funding for their continued care, the government released film of their activities jointly with the U.K. as Teletubbies.
The Barney reached the planet Sesame at about the same time that Elmer left it. However, the Boohbah had been observing the Barney for a few years, and knew of their obsession of wiping out all other intelligent life. So they pulled one of biggest cons in the galaxy. Right before the Barney arrived, the Boohbah freed all the native slaves and made no effort to control or restrain them. The Sesamese immediately overran the Boohbah. Many were killed, but most were either ignored or forced to do hard labor themselves. Then the Barney landed and started to imprison and kill everyone. Except for the Boohbah. The Boohbah made no attempts to flee approaching Barney. In fact, they made no attempts to do anything remotely intelligent. The Barney saw them wandering around and concluded that they were domesticated animals, like horses, bred to serve the Sesamese. As nonsentient beings, the Barney made no effort to eradicate them; rather, they herded them up and trained them to serve on their ships. From then on the Boohbah traveled with the Barney as beasts of burden, patiently awaiting the day when they would rise up against the Barney and take everything and every planet they had.
Though ridiculed by his fellow scientists, Elmer continued to research and improve the Lightning Rod. He also became friends with Jandro Domingo, a Hispanic entrepreneur. He shared his discoveries with Jandro, including a version of the Lightning Rod that was so powerful it attracted tachyonic bolts even if there were no tachyon storms nearby. Jandro used it to discover yet another planet, which he named Terra Del Dragón. There he found two principle groups living in an apartheid-like society. The "Duendes" were various humanoid species of differing size that made up the powerful minority. The "Dragones" were their abused counterpart, a race of intelligent bipedal reptiles that made up the majority on the planet. Jandro, ever the champion of the underdog, decided he had to do something to help the Dragones.
He started with education. He set up schools and taught them the things he knew best—language, economics, and religion. Spanish became their lingua franca, and they converted to Roman Catholicism in the thousands. He brought over manufacturing techniques from Earth, and they learned to produce everything from chairs to trains. The Dragones soon gained an economic advantage over the Duendes, who grew jealous of their new products. But this was not enough. With their ability to fly, the Duendes overcame the Dragones and beat them back into subjection. So Jandro enlisted the help of Elmer, and together they created a way to give their friends a physical advantage of their own. They first created a large tractor beam and placed it on the moon. Then they surgically implanted "wings" into the back of each Dragón. The wings had no ability to fly, of course—they were barely a foot long. Instead, when a Dragón wiggled the wings, they would release radio signals to the lunar tractor beam, which would then lift the Dragón into the air, giving the appearance of true flight. This ability was all the Dragones needed to fight against the Duendes and ensure their independence.
Jandro continued to visit the Dragones throughout his life. He even had Elmer install his Lightning Rod chamber into a room of his house, and created a portable Lightning Rod in the form of a stone. Jandro, by now a rather whimsical old man, set the key to activate the device to a fantastical poem, and wrote it down as it became harder and harder to remember. Eventually he died a very happy man. His house was sold to another family, and portal to Terra Del Dragón was probably lost forever.
Earth was the next target of the Barney expeditionary force. Although the Barney had superior technology, they found humans not entirely defenseless with their nuclear weapons. They would put up a fight in an all-out war, and the Barney treated life as precious and not to be wasted unnecessarily. There own life, that is. And all-out war might spoil billions of humans that would otherwise make a good meal. So they took a more subtle approach to prepare for the advent of the main fleet. They created a show to brainwash children. They knew humans found dinosaurs (which they resembled) frightening, and so based the show around humans getting along well with the Barney. The sang songs about ethnic cleansing, such as "Clean up! Clean up everybody everywhere!" The hope was that when their species finally landed in full force and the Barney descended from their spaceships, the children would shout in delight, run toward them, and the parents would lose heart and give up the fight before it was fought.
"Dr. Mbaye, is it? Is that how you pronounce it?" Agent Barnes asked congenially as the scientist entered his office.
"Dr. Powers, actually. I took my wife's name to lessen any prejudice I might receive here," the man said with only the hint of an accent.
"Prejudice? I hope you haven't gotten any of that with us?"
Dr. Powers paused. "No, sir. But most Americans are not used to working with a Senegalese biologist."
"I see. Well, Dr. Powers, what can I do for you?"
Another pause. "It is not easy for me to tell you this, but I need to report suspicious activity conducted by Dr. Radburn."
Agent Barnes's smile faded. He held up a radio. "Johnson, has Nigel Radburn left for the day?"
The man on the other end responded. "Yes, he just left 5 minutes ago."
The FBI agent turned to the man in front of him, content. "Well, we'll just have to ask Nigel about it tomorrow. Anyway, I'm sure it was nothing."
"But, Mr. Barnes—" Dr. Powers started.
Agent Barnes leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. "Look, Doctor, Nigel's been with the Werewolf Project since its inception. Longer than you, I'm sure. Before you go accusing him of anything, I want you to understand. Nigel Radburn has been here for decades. He's practically the face of your department, and he wouldn't have gotten there if he'd shown any hints of treachery. The FBI trusts him. I trust him. And I don't think it would look very good if anyone thought a foreigner from a rather socialist country was trying to sabotage a top-secret government program by incarcerating its top scientist. Do you?"
"I just saw Dr. Radburn slip a vial of Agent Werewolf into his coat sleeve. And I don't think that would look very good, either."
Agent Barnes stared sharply at Dr. Powers, but he picked up the radio again. "Johnson, show me the camera roll of Dr. Radburn starting at... 15 minutes ago. From all angles."
They watched silently. At four minutes into the footage, hidden on most of the cameras but picked up perfectly at one angle, Dr. Radburn could clearly be seen carefully placing a vial of clear liquid into his coat sleeve. Agent Barnes said a word that should not be repeated in retellings of PBS Kids shows, and spoke into the radio.
"Johnson, the Werewolf Project's been compromised. Organize a team and secure Dr. Radburn and a stolen sample of Agent Werewolf immediately."
~ ~ ~
Dr. Radburn walked out his house door and straight into Dr. Powers. "Abe! What a surprise!"
"I hope not too much of a surprise, Nigel! I had a question about the elk DNA I was hoping you could answer, so I thought I'd drop by."
"Of course! I'm sorry, I actually have somewhere to go, so I'm afraid it will have to wait until tomorrow," Dr. Radburn said as he walked past his colleague toward his car. Dr. Powers followed him.
"I saw you take the vial," he said. Dr. Radburn stopped. "I saw it, and I'm sure if I asked the FBI to look at the camera, they would see it too. I don't know what you want with it, but perhaps it was an accident. If you give it to me I will be certain it was simply a mistake."
Dr. Radburn turned and smiled. "I'm sure this is a misunderstanding. I would be happy to look at the cameras tomorrow with you."
Dr. Powers shook his head. "If you don't give me the vial now, I will call Agent Barnes and inform him of our misunderstanding."
Dr. Radburn continued to smile. "Dr. Powers, you are a very smart man. I've watched you work tirelessly. You've contributed more to the project than anyone else, perhaps even myself. And yet how many promotions have you been given? How many raises?" He lowered his voice. "How would you like to work for a government that actually rewards merit? One that doesn't create atrocities like Agent Werewolf to be used at the drop of a hat?"
"And for that you sold us out to the Soviets?" Dr. Powers asked.
At that Dr. Radburn swung around and quickly got in his car. But before he got halfway down the street an FBI car pulled up, blocking the way. He turned around but another one was already there. As the FBI agents got out and aimed their guns at his car, he rolled down his window, now a few yards away from Dr. Powers.
"The Soviets may never use this, Dr. Powers, but neither will you!" he yelled. He pulled out the vial from his coat and held it in the air.
"No. NO!" Dr. Powers yelled, and lunged for the car.
But Dr. Radburn opened it and flung it to the ground. He immediately seized up and started convulsing. Dr. Powers followed suit a moment later. The last words he remembered hearing were, "Quarantine the area NOW!"
~ ~ ~
The United States couldn't condemn the Soviet Union for using a biological weapon without admitting to creating it, so they did nothing. Agent Werewolf had been created to start an epidemic, not a pandemic, so the affected area was only the small Massachusetts town where the research lab was located. It spread, infected everyone it reached in the first day, and then died. The virus targeted the DNA of each cell it encountered, splicing and adding different sets of the DNA it carried. It added all sorts of mammalian DNA: dog, bear, monkey, even aardvark. And then the body went through the process of correcting itself to match its reprogrammed DNA. This was long and dangerous, but thanks to the careful care of the best hospitals, none of the townspeople died. But none of them were ever the same. It was Nixon that signed the order to create a special community for them free from outside abuse. That or a concentration camp to keep them from scaring and embarrassing America, depending on how you saw it. But the government did its best to restore as much normality as possible into Elwood City, even to the point of convincing them that they were normal. They created a form of Agent Werewolf that had only took effect temporarily, and hired celebrities to visit the town transformed in this way. Jimmy Carter didn't like the fact that they were isolated from the rest of the nation, so he hired an author to create books about the victims living normal lives. His hope was that these books would eventually help Americans get used to the idea so that the townspeople could be reintegrated into the community. Eventually these books were adapted into a T.V. series, and thus was Arthur born.
"Quetzal, ha sido divertido." The old man smiled wryly as he whispered to the old Dragón. Then he winced as the bipedal triceratops thrust a rod in his back.
"Quiet, aliens!" the soldier yelled. They said nothing, but the Dragón mouthed back, "Sí."
A raptor approached them, and the rod was again thrust in Elmer's back. "Bow to Colonel Jad!" the triceratops commanded.
Both prisoners bent forward and the raptor stopped. "I see Private Nolo has been treating you well." He smiled. His teeth were not a pleasant site. "I trust you have had sufficient time to repair your transportation machine?"
Elmer nodded gravely.
The colonel revealed more teeth. "Good. And I trust you were informed that you and your friend will be traveling in it with us, to ensure it works as intended?"
Another nod. "Excellent. Then we shall be able to welcome the main body of the People of the Flame here a good two years ahead of schedule." He pushed a button. A blank wall suddenly displayed a beautiful orb of blue, green, and white. Elmer drank it in; it was the first he'd seen of Earth in several months. "And for opening the galaxy to the Holy Flame, you shall have the rare privilege of being purified and consumed at the end of your unclean life. Though that may not be far off anyway." He chuckled, then turned to the triceratops. "If all is ready, then let us return to the Home of the Flame."
The Private Nolo pushed a few buttons, and a chamber opened. The two prisoners were pushed into the center, followed by Colonel Jad and half a dozen other Barney.
Nolo stayed at the controls. "The machine is ready. Tachyon reading is sufficient. Starting rod in 3... 2..." Quetzal made a quick, barely perceptible sign of the cross with his hand.
"1..." Elmer closed his eyes and smiled.
Nolo pushed the button, and the room exploded in flames.
~ ~ ~
Rosa fell into the fire and woke up screaming.
She looked around her room. Everything was dark. She closed her eyes and tried to calm down enough to sleep, but it was impossible. It was only March, but she was sweating through the sheets. She took off the quilt on the top of her bed gingerly. It was the only thing she had from Grandma Sesame, and had already torn a couple of times. As she placed the quilt on the floor, she noticed an odd dark shape in the corner of her room. She stepped out of bed and started to walk toward it, trying to figure out what it was. It jumped up and threw something in her face, and everything went dark.
~ ~ ~
Thus begins the journey of Rosa, granddaughter of Elmer and Sesame, as she travels through space and mind to uncover her grandfather's secrets and redeem her planet. She'll enlist the help of mutants, interstellar refugees, and slaves as she fights against alien warlords and criminal masterminds. Thousands of years of conflict have come to a head. Will Rosa be able to save all she holds dear, or will she burn with everyone else?