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Dramatis personæ (in order of appearance):
• David Innes, Emperor of Pellucidar, an outer-worlder resident in Pellucidar.
• Abner Perry, an outer-worlder resident in Pellucidar.
• Ghak the Hairy One, Chief of Sari and local haberdasher.
• Tanar, son of Ghak, Sarian and heir-presumptive to Ghak.
SCENE 1 — A FOREST CLEARING NEAR THE VILLAGE OF SARI.
(Dim the lights. David Innes is discovered sitting on the ground banging one rock with another. Enter Abner Perry.)
Abner: Good morning, David, m'boy. How is the experiment in flint-knapping going?
David: Good evening, Abner. Crappy. I've been at it all day and have yet to knap a proper point. At this rate I'll never have a decent blade.
Abner: Why not do as the Sarians have traditionally done, and go steal one from a neighboring tribe?
David: Impractical. Thanks to the stubborn fixation of the sun on remaining at zenith, one would die of old age awaiting nightfall so as to commit the deed under cover of darkness. Besides, it's bad politics. All the neighboring tribes are part of the Empire of Pellucidar now, remember? We outlawed interprovincial warfare years ago.
Abner: Ah yes, it was just last week, wasn't it? Sorry, my boy, I have a rotten memory for dates, although I remember the event itself as if it was yesterday.
David: It was just yesterday. I remember distinctly putting it on last month's agenda when I got up this morning.
Abner: My mistake. The time is out of joint, I fear.
David: Oh cursed spite, that ever we were sent to set it right. Especially since the Pellucidarians revolted at our attempts to establish Pellucidarian standard time.
Abner: A definite retrograde step. But you could scarcely blame them, after the Standard Chronometer began running backwards.
David: I thought you fixed that.
Abner: This was after I fixed it. The day before we built it, if I recall correctly. But I have been meaning to ask you, what do you want the blade for in the first place?
David: Personal grooming. I'm beginning to look like Robinson Crusoe. If I'm to be a proper hero, emperor and role-model I need to look the part. The beard and shoulder-length hair are positively unheroic.
Abner: Why, David, I am surprised. And after all my time and effort at inventing my automated barbering-shaving device! I thought you were using it regularly.
David: Then you deceived yourself. Though how you could have, given my appearance—
Abner: I presumed time merely sped for you between encounters, as it so often does.
David: Not so this time, I fear. I'm sorry, Abner, but your device proved impractical. First, the squirrels powering the machine kept dying of old age on the wheel. Next, the scissors rusted solid between one snip and the next. And as for the razor—
Abner: The razor? But I have been informed that the razor has remained keen.
David: That it has, since the stropping arm has been stropping at a blur ever since attached. But I fear you placed too much tension in the arm itself, as it quickly developed the unfortunate tendency to shave the neck a little too close.
Abner: How close? I would be happy to adjust it.
David: Right to the inside of the spine, as it happens. But things have worked out for the best. The Sarian public executioner took it off our hands at the bargain price of a necklace of saber-tooth teeth and one mammoth haunch. Dian and I feasted for minutes.
Abner (absently): You mean decades. Yes, I can see how he might have turned our difficulty to his benefit. Things have worked out indeed. Truly, we live in the best of all possible worlds.
David (nodding): Quite far within, as a matter of fact. Ouch! I've pounded my thumb!
Abner: You have my sympathy, my boy. I would apply first aid, but I see it has already healed and scarred. I perceive your difficulty now. But could you not simply have gone to our armaments plant and requested the molding and sharpening of a personal razor, rather than go through all this bashing?
David: The Armaments plant crumbled to dust ages ago, during the Peace of the Long Three Weeks in the wake of the Twenty Second War.
Abner: The Twenty--? Heavens! I had no notion we had fought so many conflicts!
David: We haven't. That's how long it lasted, at least by my count. I conceived of returning to the surface world for supplies, but the Iron Mole rusted away during the course of the hunt held to provision it.
Abner: That is certainly inconvenient. I was hoping to send it up for last Tuesday's newspaper.
David: Last Tuesday of what year?
David: Check with the Archivist, I think he has Last Tuesday's paper from 1943. All this puts us in a real pickle, Abner. We've got to bring civilization to Pellucidar! I haven't been able to get a decent haircut in years!
Abner: I thought we did bring civilization to Pellucidar. Several times, in fact.
David: We have, but it keeps dying out. It's discouraging, I confess, but important. Though at this point, I'd settle for the haircut.
Abner (soothingly): There are worse fates, David, my boy. I mean, take me, my comb-over has never looked better!
David: Yes, I noticed that. You seem positively rejuvenated. When did that start?
Abner: About the time the Chronometer commenced to run backwards, I fancy. But to address ourselves to your problem, have you considered visiting the barber?
David: We have barbers?
Abner: Barber, singular. No competition yet, my boy. Civilization has not yet advanced that far.
David: When did Sari get a barber?
Abner: Oh, years ago. It's just been announced. Come, I'll take you.
(David leaves off knapping. Exit David and Abner together, stage right.)
AN OPEN AREA OF THE VILLAGE OF SARI, BACKED BY A SLOPE IN WHICH CAVE OPENINGS MAY BE SEEN. THE CAVE AT STAGE RIGHT IS DISTINGUISHED BY A PROMINENT STRIPED POLE AND A CHAIR OUT FRONT.
(Ghak, a somewhat Rastafarian-appearing gentleman with a bone comb in his hair, is discovered leaning against the striped pole, perusing a stone tablet. Behind him, leaning against the side of the cave entrance and whittling idly at an arrow shaft, is an athletic young man, his son Tanar. Both are clad only in furry loin-cloths.)
Ghak (reacting to something on the tablet): Saggoth dung!
Tanar (looking up, pausing in his whittling): What's the matter, Father? Is the Prehistoric Times criticizing your rule again?
Ghak (striking the tablet): Worse! The Mezops won the regatta again! Why the Surface wouldn't the judges disallow use of the John Tyler? I TOLD them a clipper ship represented an unfair advantage, but would they listen?
Tanar (casually, resuming whittling): Are you certain, Father, that you aren't merely angry that as a result you have lost your bet with Ja, King of Anoroc?
Ghak: Homing-instinct straight! Now I'll have to eat fish for a month, whatever that is.
Tanar: Isn't that like a butterfly, only fuzzier?
Ghak (shrugging): Fanged if I can tell. It's one of those fangled Surface words, and you know how slippery they are. Like this thing! (shakes the tablet) It's full of what it calls news. What does that even mean? And we call the thing a rag, and yet it is plainly of stone. For that matter, what might its name indicate? What is Pre, what is historic -- and what the Surface are Times?
Tanar (shrugging in turn): The emperor once defined news to me as events of which one had not been apprised before it was written about by someone else, carved up on the rag, and read.
Ghak: And if one has been apprised?
Tanar: Then I suppose it would become the opposite of news, which I understand to be olds, another difficult term. I take it to be related in some fashion to the physical decay one sometimes observes prior to decease in individuals suffering non-violent death. Like times, the words are evidently temporally-related.
Ghak (sighing): Whatever that means. But as the emperor insists we utilize such terms, I suppose I must add them to all the others I've had to learn. (Suddenly gazing off, stage left): Ho! Customers! Is the hair dressing ready?
Tanar: Stellara's keeping an eye on it. I'll check. (sets down the arrow shaft.) See you yesterday, then.
Ghak (nodding): Have a nice millenium.
(Exit Tanar, into the cave. A moment later, enter David and Abner together, stage left.)
David (startled): Ghak the Hairy One? YOU'RE the only barber in Sari?
Ghak (bowing perfunctorily): Yes, David, for I am the only one with axe keen enough to split hairs. You certainly appear to need my skills; you had a crew-cut five minutes ago. Love the new beard, by the way. Sit down, sit down!
David: How has business been?
Ghak: Never better. I honed my skills on condemned criminals until the public executioner acquired a miraculous device and no longer required the back-up. By then I was adept enough that only one in four died under my care. I have since improved the odds to one in six. It would have been one in seven, had Geez the Old One not perished of antiquity before I was able to complete my ministrations.
Abner: A sad loss, that. Geez was a valuable adviser, whose memory stretched back prior to the coming of the Mahars. He was a fount of good advice.
David: Such as?
Abner: In summation, "Attempt to not reside near Mahars."
David: Ouch! Ghak, be careful! You nearly had my ear!
Ghak: My apologies, my emperor, but you moved, and anyway it was hard to perceive under all that hair. Now hold still, lest I split your head as well. (calling): Tanar! What's keeping you with the hair dressing, boy?
Tanar (from within): It's not ready yet. I've been waiting for five years, yet it refuses to foul properly. And Guss the Crazy One assured me his used butter spoils more rapidly than any in Sari!
Ghak: My apologies again, David. The economy, you know. We used to import our rancid butter from Amoz and Anoroc, till the discovery that it spoiled more quickly at home. Yet since the trade collapsed, it has become dear. It's as if everyone was buying local.
Tanar's voice: Everyone IS buying local!
Ghak (unfazed): Merely proving my point. There! That's the second cheek shaven back to the skin! Let us recommence on the first, since I perceive it has sprouted anew in the interval.
David: Say Ghak, if you're the barber, why do YOU remain so hairy?
Ghak: Why, because there is no other barber to barber ME. There! Finished again with your shave! Now to return to your pate—by the Pendant World, it would seem to be completely matted! Have you no decent bone comb to tease apart the tresses?
David: Dian presented me a fine fish skeleton on my last birthday to go with the thorn pick she had procured for my previous birthday the day before. But as fate would have it, it fossilized before I could use it, and we lacked the fine tools necessary to remove the breccia.
Ghak: Sorry fortune indeed. I foresee a mighty hack job here. It could run you as much as a Hyaenodon's forepaw.
David: As emperor, I can afford it. Just see that the process costs me not my ear.
Ghak: If it does, I shall deduct a toe. Tanar! Isn't that butter rancid YET?
Tanar's voice: Getting there. Stellara just slathered some over our lunch of pickled Brontotherium tail, and it does taste slightly off.
Ghak: You're having lunch? But I just shared last night's supper with you not more than ten minutes ago.
Tanar's voice: That was last month, Dad. We wondered why you didn't come home. Where have you been?
Ghak: Right here, as well you know, taking care of business. We have been favored by the emperor's presence today.
Tanar's voice: Oh, good, Stellara loves presents. Oog! I think the butter finally turned.
Abner: I'll say, I can smell it out here! Well, so long, David, I must repair me to some pursuit less olfactory.
David (helpfully): Try the NEW factory. It's just to the left of the old factory's ruins.
Abner (pausing): Ruins? But I was there just twenty years ago, and it was going along fine then.
David: For the first five minutes, yes. Then, oddly enough, unplanned obsolescence occurred.
Abner: Then I really HAD better run, before it happens again.
Ghak (nodding): He's right, you know. Happens all the time. Pyew! That butter DID go bad! Well, I think we're about finished here, David. As soon as Tanar emerges with the butter we can dress your hair up proper.
David (rising): I think I'll forgo that, thank you. Thank you for sparing my ear, but I would still like to save a little change from that forepaw. Hyaenodons don't just happen along every day, you know.
Ghak (shrugging): Your loss. To be truly stylish, there's nothing like a nice greasy coating of—NOW what? (Wailing within.)
Tanar: False alarm on the butter, Dad. Turns out it was Stellara's visiting sister. Stel went to waken her from her sleep and found her in an advanced state of decomposition.
Ghak: She WAS looking rather old when she turned in last week. (Worried): I hope this won't lead to a diplomatic incident with Amiocap. Their last two ambassadors died of old age also before returning home.
Tanar: Only one did, actually; the other was a cover-up. We had to lie about it to avoid just such a problem.
David: Really? What happened to him, then? And why wasn't I informed?
Tanar: You were, fifteen years ago. Possibly the runner hasn't reached you yet.
David: Possibly. And the answer to my previous question?
Tanar (sadly): The Ambassador was a brave man. It seems he had offered to help test Abner Perry's barbering device…
(All groan. Somwhere offstage, a fat lady sings. Curtain.)