Fragments from ‘Sand’

(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 –
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.

Betrothal Song of the Krill

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.

“Anyone else?”

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.

“Step for­ward.”

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.