(Originally shared as an FB Note on 12th April, 2014.)
The contagion of insanity did not shy away from the corridors of power. In a briefing room on the top floor of the Pentagon, the Director of Intelligence paused on his way back to his seat, sighed, and methodically removed all his clothing, then turned and faced his loyal staff with an earnest countenance.
“I seem to have misplaced my pen”, he said.
There was ten solid seconds of silence.
“For God’s sake, Jeff!”, the Secretary of Defense burst out, striding up to him. “You gave us all a fright.”
And she handed him a snail.
There was a UN general summit slated for that afternoon. The irony has often remarked upon, how the heads of the world’s powers carry the keys to their nuclear arsenals with them to these peace conferences.
Nobody can say what the continent of Australia did to deserve such thorough demolition. The only clue comes from the tirade of the British PM, just about an hour before the holocaust began.
“It’s platypi, damn you”, he feelingly stated to his powerful audience. “Bloody furry platypi.”
And humanity didn’t die in the apocalypse. The small group of hardy survivors had little more than stale bread to go on, but they had 97 kilograms of powdered drink to wash this down.
Had they not run out of iced water, who can say?
He was christened Hobart, and he was a compulsive wearer of Crocs. Throughout his life, he struggled with an addiction to air fresheners, and this made him abuse Jenny, his goat. Yet when we speak of Hobart we are speaking of greatness, for Hobart pulled himself up in the world and proved that even the most syphilitic bottom-dweller can become president.
In the immediate years after the Earth’s communications capability made it visible to our sentient neighbours, the planet got invaded twice a decade, on average, for some two hundred years. The pillaging only stopped when the planet got accepted in the Universal Parliament and came under the protection of the Regulators.
The casualties of this galactic violence… It’s a weird thing. A good example would be the Million-Year War.
In 2533, Earth was invaded by two squads of Js. The J is the most violent creature which can lay claim to sentience in this quarter of the universe. They are the living essence of Metal music – warped and disturbingly intense. How intense? The single consonant that is the specie’s name on Earth is a direct translation from their indigenous label, which takes four minutes to pronounce in its entirety. The Trance Virus band, eatmyhead, won several Grammies for setting it to music.
The point is, the Js were not known as reasonable people.
The alien force struck the Japanese peninsula one hot afternoon in March, and immediately began blasting laser weapons. Which is where it gets technical.
The mammalian thorax isn’t a common design in the universe. Most species consider it an impractical place to put your heart – that is, the handful who have hearts at all. (One specie that does, the Fills of planet 244667B‑2, keeps that most vulnerable organ between their – humans call them glutes.)
A lot of species do, however, have air filtration systems quite similar to the gills of aquatic fauna. If you’re going to shoot first and ask questions later, then it’s a safe bet to shoot the gills. The J lasers did so, extremely accurately. It’s the humans who didn’t coöperate; we choose to keep our auditory equipment there.
It was actually the Million Ear War; the survivors of the continental massacre, (known as the Possums for their trusty survival technique) seem to have corrupted the name in the telling.
In the year 2917, on the 17th of July, real estate mogul and paranormal enthusiast Robert Fink hit the button to officially open his 25 square-mile Ectoplaza. The mall was designed as a space where, its creator said, the This and the Other could co-mingle. Land tax was paid for twice the size of the property, because Sir Fink said a quarter of the building’s area was invisible. He also claimed and won the title of tallest structure, despite the fact that the physical roof stood at a mere 700 metres. The board found his evidence sufficient to prove the existence of a golden ladder to heaven.
The shops within offered seances with one’s present self; mirrors were central to that particular process. Also available were OQ tests to show how smart one’s spirit was, and spectral financial services. There were few visible products available within the Ectoplaza: popular among these was the Spirit Shampoo, which offered holistic root healing and “Hair But Not Here”.
The mall was shut down after two weeks when a government inspection séance revealed fundamental structural flaws in its construction.
Phytoplankton have been known to digest carbon for quite a while. They’re employed in oil spill clean-up operations. In the 31st century, however, De Beers announced that it would be funding a revolutionary application of this biotechnology.
Large colonies of plankton were transported to the world’s carbon hotspots. Beijing’s real estate prices skyrocketed as the government dedicated a fifth of the city’s land to the operation. The organisms willingly went to work. Within two weeks, the planet’s air purity had returned to pre-2415 levels. After a month, asthma attacks started trending downward. De Beers CEO, Per Jansenn, won the Nobel Prize – nobody said exactly what for.
After six months De Beers announced a record-breaking auction. The jeweler’s site crashed three times in the week leading up to the event, with attention on a scale unseen since they had been forced to dispose of their massive stock of gemstones, dropping the price of diamonds to that of a flash drive of equal weight.
On the day, the interest surrounding the unspecified sale was well-rewarded; De Beers revealed 4D models of the world’s largest diamonds – three of them, each the size of a small asteroid.
The plankton had been recollected and submitted to extremely high pressures, which forced them to release the absorbed carbon. The suspension was submitted to a mysterious process which compressed the carbon into the unique allotrope for which so many used to be prepared to die.
In an unrelated bit of news, the Trump Foundation exercised its discretion and resuscitated the real estate mogul of the previous millennium from his cryogenic capsule. He promptly fell in love with Krill model kXv and proposed to her. It couldn’t have been that big a surprise for her when he went down on one knee, because you can’t really ship four thousand tons of glittering Girl’s Best Friend without a few people hearing of it. She graciously accepted, and allowed him to slip her primary phalange into the little platinum band grafted into the rock. Trump bought two stones, actually – one was given to the Galaxy museum on Pluto. kXv’s teardrop pendant was generally held to be the center of attention at most Milky Way happenings.
An individual of the Rpls, of NASA planet designation 211110-B3, is remarkably similar in appearance to a large spoon.
Earth diplomats privileged to host this illustrious and powerful people are always careful to only use forks at table.
Like this flame my love shall burn –Betrothal Song of the Krill
Burn, burn through all the night.
If thine should wane, my dear, beware -
On my hair your face I’ll wear –
Like a hat, I swear –
On my hair your face I’ll wear.
The Krill are a unique race of intergalactic nomad warriors. They are dreaded among the planets to which their brutish thieving, pillaging ways have taken them. Sadly, Earth hadn’t yet began to look beyond its own atmosphere when, in the middle of the 25th century, a small band of Krill crafts landed in Nevada. Within hours, the town of Baker was a smouldering mess. That is, except for the banks.
The diet of the Krill species is a matter of never-ending interest to evolutionary scientists, though their temperament forces these intellectuals to admire from afar, expending their frustrations on the second-best koala bear. This is because the Krill eat money.
The nature of the diet is such that an adequate explanation necessitates meta-biology. Somehow, the Krill system receives adequate nourishment from any form of legal tender to sustain it through the long hard day of pillaging.
Anyway. By brunch, Las Vegas had been stripped clean. The invaders seemed to consider the poker chips a sort of confectionery. They popped them like Mentos while they supervised the mass grave-digging.
The devastation worked its way toward the two coasts, with the murderers split into two bands now. Then the east-going one hit New York. In the capital, people sat at home, waiting for the unearthly beam of the Krill rays to fall upon them. It did not come. Hope washed through the state. A few brave young people announced a peaceful demonstration and a million turned up to stand with them. They marched solemnly onto Brooklyn Bridge, from which they would be clearly visible to the light attack craft hovering over the water. Grimly they began to sing.
Five minutes into the ancient anthem ‘Imagine’, they had to shield their eyes as a powerful light fell upon them. Loved ones held hands, the knuckles white with fear and determination. They held up their trembling heads with dignity, though their eyes watered from the fierce glare. Through it they could just see a band of some fifteen eight-foot jaguar types padding toward them on their hind legs. They bristled with gleaming laser/accelerator rifles. They halted some two metres off and consulted among themselves, ignoring the massive crowd in front of them – a considerable portion of which was exercising the God-given right to bear puny-looking projectile-firing weapons.
One of the creatures slowly stepped forward and raised his armour-sheathed arm. As though by that signal, the New Yorkers opened fire, hurling obscenities along with their steel-cased bullets. The beasts immediately folded into a crouch. The mob advanced through the haze of illuminated cordite, spewing a hail of hot metal. They only got a metre further before they were stopped by a force field, and the small ridge of deformed bullets that marked its boundary.
“Stop that nonsense”, said one of the creatures. He sounded very human, and very bored. (The Earth’s civilization remained unaware, as yet, of the massive galaxy-crossing appeal of Drake’s voice. Practically every universal translator features it.)
A few defiant souls spent their last ammunition against the impenetrable magnetic field.
“You sensible ones better stop them, because it might be you we shoot at.”
Quite a few guns clattered to the ground.
“Better. Now, I will ask a question. Anyone kind enough to reply will be rewarded amply.”
“Tell them noth – Aaargh!!”
The Krill sighed in exasperation. His eyes were a deep, gleaming ruby. They blinked slowly.
A few people whimpered. The dead man’s wife rocked back and forth, cradling the stump of his neck in her arms.
“I’ll issue the question now.”
Another of the aliens padded forward at a gesture and handed their spokesperson a large electronic tablet. It looked like a slate of basalt with rivulets of molten lava forming intricate patterns.
“I wish to know what purpose this sector of your habit serves.” He – was it a he? She? It – it raised the slate, and a large holographic image was super-imposed on it. It seemed to be a map of the city, zooming in on Lower Manhattan. The familiar layout was rudely offset by the strange mathematical symbols surrounding its landmarks.
The Krill touched the face of the tablet and it zoomed in further. Now the major feature was Broadway, then – flip, skew, zoom – the rooftops of Wall Street were displayed in sharp definition.
“I will wait five seconds, then my boys will start -”
Someone shouted something in the back.
“What was that?”
The words were even more muffled this time.
There was a brief scuffle. The double flash of the Krill rifle helped to resolve it.
“Over here, granny.”
She shoved her way through the stony-faced crowd, then turned and faced her silent accusers.
“I live with my daughter, and her two boyfriends. The bank took my home of forty years. She only eats Magic, dammit! I owe them nothing.”
“I don’t give a watery turd, old lady.” The Krill’s eyes held a different light. Perhaps it was amusement.
“We don’t owe them nothin’!”
“I hear you.”
“That’s them bastards. The money grubbers.”
The eyes were luminous, but there was no response.
“They took my home!” She swung round wildly, searching the faces of the crowd. “My dignity!”
“Who owns these money grubs, lady?”
“Listen carefully. You want to live, answer wisely. Who raises these money grubs?”
“I don’t understand!”
“Have you ever looked into eyes like mine, /Grivwle/?”
“You – what? They’re people! Nobody – Never – never seen -”, her eyes darted left and right. “You’re the first, I swear! The TV said -”
“Think hard”. the Krill hissed.
“Leave her alone!”
“Who dares -”
A man stepped forth briskly. “She’s telling the truth.”
Another man stepped forth. A teenager, probably his son, stepped out from behind him. Slowly a couple dozen joined them. One reached out and held the shivering woman’s hand.
“That’s the financial sector”, a tall lean man said. He took off his glasses and rubbed his brow. His eyes were like all the others: weary, haggard. But there was malicious energy glinting in them. “That’s where the bankers work. There’s nobody now, because the markets shut down when you killed the grids.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m a journalist – Charles Klein.”
The Krill released the sobbing woman’s scarf. “Go on.”
“Stock markets? You know stock markets?” The eyes did not blink. “They’re stockbrokers, fund managers. The Stock Exchange is in there.”
“They are humans.”
“Arguably.” He reached into his pocket, slowly. “Can I – this would –”
“Lower the shield.”
“That’s a wiki.”
Someone hissed, “Shut up, Klein.”
The world hummed quietly to itself.
“I fail to understand. You must exchange your – your dollars – for tangible services and physical quantities?”
Nobody was sure if he – it – was talking to them.
“These people alter the essential value of the currency. That is the extent of their work?”
“You don’t – you don’t have that?”
“I have never – such a – /Heglg/!” He passed the smart phone to his cohort. The eyes seemed to read without scanning.
“You have people who make money?” This one sounded exactly the same.
“What are you going to do with them?”
All the sleek feline heads were bent together, consulting in their gurgling speech.
“What are you going to do with us?”
“That will be all, Klein.”
“I used to work there, you know. I can help you.” He lunged forward. “Take me with you!”
The Krill turned back and stared at him, then he shot him.
“Annoying man.” He stepped beneath the aperture in his craft and was levitated to it. A clear fog seeped out from vents on the fins.
“People of Earth, we are in your debt. No doubt. We won’t kill you. We’ll have to wipe your memory, though. We cannot have you telling any of our friends, see?”
Slowly, starting from the front and working into the crowd, then beyond, the humans dropped limp to the ground.
They woke at the twilight to find the most beautiful sunset they’d ever seen sinking into the horizon. Indeed, it was the only sunset they had ever seen. They called it ‘Look’. They built a beautiful civilization full of gratitude to the technological geniuses who had come before, and full of hope for tomorrow. They found new, musical words for river, and sky, and bird, and hug, and baby. They never needed a word for ‘banker’, though a small cult began worshiping Modica’s ‘Charging Bull’.
And that’s how the Krill learned agriculture.
In hindsight, people should have known there was something wrong with the trees. A full month before things got crazy, dogs stopped peeing against them. All at once. They’d grace any other upright object – lampposts, hydrants, really depressed people who sat really still – they even made an exception for round objects when it came to car tyres. Somehow, nobody noticed how their proud doggy streams were stinted by the noble sycamores. Probably there were a few humorous comments on Vibe, but nobody got worried.
Then at 7:32 am on a fine Thursday in June, all the trees in Central Park exploded. Three people were killed, and over fifty were seriously injured by flying splinters. Four out of every five parks in New York issued similar reports, some with more casualties. The case was worse in some states, and better in some; everybody got hit though. By 10 o’clock, over seventy thousand people across the breadth of the USA had been hit by the menace of the woods.
The president assured the nation in an emergency broadcast that investigations into the affair would be the topmost priority of all security services dedicated to safeguarding the safety of the American people. Standing with her husband behind her clutching the hand of their ten-year old daughter, the president informed America’s enemies that they would pay for thus sullying the bond between man and tree.
A month went by without answers. A vote of no confidence in the government was met and overcome. Massive vigilante groups carried out reprisal attacks on surviving vegetation. The term ‘war on terror’ was taken out of its dark corner and dusted off. The US withdrew from all talks on unilateral disarmament and threatened to leave the UN, calling the global organization an ’embarrassment’ and stating that global peace was a mere pipe dream without massive enforcement. Within the year, several nations joined America in withdrawing from the UN, and talks to form a more militant treaty-bound body were rumoured.
Two weeks following the swearing in of Kelly Uso, President of the USA, as head of the ARM, it was announced that the global chief of TFI, the fundamentalist organization held responsible by the US for the Park Disaster had been killed, along with three of his most respected subordinates. Open season had officially began. Invasions were planned on a regional scale. The most respected names in violent extremism were checked off the hit list in twos and threes. /You’reNext/ became the trending topic on Essence. The unit credited with the killing of the Black Scorpion, leader of the anti-state guerrillas Sovereign, was given the highest commendations of Congress and the military. The picture of the Vice President arm-wrestling Sergeant Price Kelsey became the second most shared image of all time.
On the second anniversary of the Park Disaster, the UN Forum on Forests announced that they had resumed tests on the controversial Reforestation Project run by the USA in the previous century. The Project which had been deemed successful by the US Government was never endorsed by the UN for application to the world’s endangered forests because the revolutionary chemistry behind it was considered unproven.
Two weeks later, the Forum’s scientists presented their findings. Subjected to tests comparable to the effects of nature over a half-century, seedlings treated with Agent Lothlorien reached a level of volatility comparable to that found in Fifth Generation TNT. The nitrogen in the fertilizer which had saved the forests and parks of North America was weaponizing the cellulose.
In the following days, the ARM was abruptly dissolved, its last initiative to commission a Pacific chain of islands for the safe resettlement of its many enemy combatants/detainees. The UN announced that the objectives and ethos of the hugely successful organization would be incorporated into its own main peacekeeping role. It declined to confirm whether or not the USA, Spain and Iceland would be allowed back into its ranks.
They were allowed in, seventy-two years later, following the USA’s inclusion in the coalition against the XE. Five years after their re-inclusion, the ARMheads, as they were known, were three of only seven countries to vote against the induction of the island state of San Leonardo.
There’s a game, much popularized by the drinking establishments in Regulation Space Docks around the universe. Basically, to initiate the game, I ask a question. You then decline to respond. I therefore lose the round, and do shots.
At this juncture, we must define ‘shots’, as used outside our solar system.
Therre II is a lush and picturesque planet in a galaxy two steps behind our own, and then one to the left. It has levels of iron similar to Jupiter, and a lot of silicon. It’s a very likely place for pleasingly-humanoid blue inhabitants. One of the larger E.T hoaxes happened there.
Therre II (pronounced *) has no life forms though. It has Fizzle.
Fizzle used to be a fuel for the smaller military spacecraft, till it was discovered that the exhaust often mutated in space and started hunting in packs. Fizzle is like a hydrocarbon in which the T. Rex mind didn’t quite melt yet. It’s green, and it glows. Some doctors perform illegal abortions by making their teenage patients look at it for more than five seconds. (This industry actually became enough of a menace- Skype possibilities and all- that the Regulators had to reintroduce the Spite penalty.) When the raw material for Fizzle is sent two weeks forward in time, faint sounds of menacing laughter can be heard from the retrieved capsule. This thing is served one part to 6.72(repeating) gillion parts of water. Hardcore enthuisiasts recommend Mountain Dew.
Back to the Question game. I lost the last round. Now you ask a question. I decline to respond. Now you’ve lost. You slap the table, and the surplus surgical robot comes and extends its needle arm while I and several other off-duty highly-trained astronauts wrestle you to the table. Fizz is thus introduced to your poor unsuspecting bloodstream. Your outline subsequently wavers, and the lights go off. We laugh and cheer.
Thirty weeks later: welcome back to consciousness. It’s your turn.
Occasionally people intentionally lose at this game, i.e, they fail to decline to answer the question. This is considered suspicious, and lounge proprietors are required to notify the Regulators. Nobody wants that whole Twin Planets thing again.
Then there was the man who went around turning apartment blocks into pancake stacks. He single-handedly solved the hunger problem – at least as afar as breakfast is concerned – and exponentially increased the numbers of homeless people in major urban areas.
The Ells are an ancient and wise people who live on a planet in a galaxy three floors above the Earth’s own. They are mainly known for being the only culture in existence to officially consider the light-year a unit of time.
There’s a good reason for this: The Ells only age when they leave the peculiar physical laws of their system behind. The youngest and most beautiful of the Ells are therefore the shallowest and least informed.
Pretty much all the Universe gets its reality TV from there.
… and then there were the Truebloods. Their hardcore approach to the diet issue was such that ‘I’d rather be a vegetarian’ was rendered an idiom in their circles. Hence this saying found on many Trueblood bumper stickers: “I’d rather be a vegetarian than be a vegetarian!”
The sun truly never sets in some cities. These are places in which extremely radioactive drinks are served. In such cities, the sun just gets kicked out – with some difficulty, I tell you – after closing hours.