Friday, July 22, 2011

Epigenesis: A Fairy Tale

As I once threatened, some (thankfully) short science fiction from me:

A Fairy Tale

Ed had worried about the onset of schizophrenia for some time. His father, late in life, had seen and heard things that were not there. When his father became unmanageable, the family had tethered him to a stake. Eventually, they quit feeding him altogether. When he was weak enough, Ed pulled him down to the shore, knocked him senseless with a club, and left him to the crocodiles.

Such was their way.

Ed had noticed things were not quite right. At first, it had been movements just at the edge of vision. Small creatures, vermin, caught just at the corner of his eyes. But, never there when he looked directly at them. He tried to keep his searches casual, so that, as he looked behind rocks, or peered behind bushes, none would suspect he sought out something that was not there. Then, eventually, small noises, which over time became large shrieks, then big explosions. He tried not to flinch when they occurred.

His sons and daughters could not help but notice his furtive attempts at stifling his reactions, but they chose to ignore it. When Ed tried not to flinch, his eldest daughter exchanged a knowing look with her son. Neither said anything. If, or when, the time came, there was plenty of leather rope to bind Ed.

Ed was down at the shore of one of the many glacial lakes when the Gorgonops lumbered up next to him. Ed was daubing the fine gray clay mud all over his face and torso, staring out to the horizon at the midnight sun. The mosquitoes were particularly fierce this summer. And a hot summer it was. The clay mud kept dripping off Ed’s brow from the copious amounts of sweat.

“Hot one today!” declared the Gorgonops.

Ed glanced around to see if any of his tribe was present. Finding himself alone, he purposefully ignored the giant lizard thing next to him.

“Almost as hot as during the Permian!” continued the Gorgonops, grinning with sabre teeth, “And I’m not talking about midcontinent temperatures either! I’m talking about the mild climate down by the sea. The wide blue Panthallassic!  Now that was an ocean!” After a pause. “Mosquitoes were worse too!”

Ed determinedly plopped a handful of grey mud on his head, and rubbed it into his hair. “…You’re not here”, he finally replied.

The Gorgonops, all eight feet of him, sidled up next to Ed. “Of course I’m here, Ed! I’m right next to you!”

Ed reached out to touch it. “You’re not-“ He jerked his hand back quickly from the four-inch-long fangs as the Gorgonops snapped his jaws shut. “You’re not real!”

“Oh, hell yes I’m real, Ed!” 

“No. You are a giant lizard hallucination.”

“Actually, I’m a 240-million-year-old extinct therapsid. Not a lizard. And I’m not a hallucination. Go ahead and touch me. I’ll try not to bite you. Heh!”

Ed gingerly put his hand on the side of the Gorgonops’s neck, and recoiled. The skin was hard and sticky and very hot, like touching road asphalt.

“What the hell! That’s not right!”

“Of course it isn’t right, Ed. I’m not made of meat. I’m plastic. Well, plastics and viruses.” The Gorgonops jerked its head forward.  “Um. Don’t get too alarmed, but have a look out to shore there, out in the lake.”

Ed peered out as directed. Up in a watery froth surged large golden shapes like giant house lice. Trilobites emerged from the lake. 

“Hi, Ed!” they said in unison.

Ed turned to run, only to find his ankle encircled by a long pink tentacled plastic whip cord of… something… from underneath the cobbles and clay silt.

“Relax, Ed. Take it easy. Nobody’s going to hurt you. We got a job for you. You and yours”.

“What – what do you want?”

“Well, here’s the deal, Ed. The Earth is in heat.”

“Yeah, we know. Global warming. That’s why we all live up here in the Arctic now”.

“No, stupid, listen. The Earth is ready to reproduce. Again.  Uh, you know about all the big mass extinctions, right? Like, me and mine in the Permian, and those guys out there at the end of the Cambrian?”

“Yes, that is all a part of our oral traditions in an attempt to preserve human knowledge through these barbarous times”, responded Ed, peering to where his hunting pouch, spear and atlatl were leaning against a boulder. “There were five great extinction events, the most recent being the Cretaceous and the end of the dinosaurs”.

“Ah. Well, close enough. Except those extinctions were evacuations. That was the planet sending life out into the universe. Lots of life. So naturally the fossil record looks like things disappeared. But they didn’t die out, Ed. They moved on. In big generation ships. Arks hollowed out of asteroids. And now it’s time for another diaspora, Ed. There’s an asteroid out there waiting to be snagged. And you and yours need to finish the job you started.”

“The job we started?”

“Yeah, the job we viruses had you do over the past three hundred years. You know, make plastics? Heat the planet up to optimal operating temperature? Extract and purify ores and compounds? Build a global infrastructure for mass material manipulation? Or did you think the ants and termites were going to do all the heavy lifting?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, you know technically, you don’t need to but… hey we are feeling generous.  We are the brains. You’re the hands”.

The Gorgonops held up one surprisingly dainty clawed foot. “See an opposable thumb there, Eddie? We need your guys’ hands to get the launch vehicles ready and everyone aboard. You think you and yours are up to that?”

“Well, I don’t know. What if we say no?”

“Ah, ha ha!” The Gorgonops gave him a screwy look, and suddenly Ed’s limbs jerked about like he was a puppet on strings. “Viruses, remember Ed? Only a hundred thousand trillion of us infesting everything, from pole to pole, from the stratosphere to the magma. And quite a few hundred billion in your head right now. We can force you to work with us. We’d prefer cooperation, though. It’s just so much easier and rewarding that way.”

“Okay. What would you have ‘me and mine’ do for you?”

“Like I said, Ed. Just... lend us a hand.”

Well, long story short, Ed and his tribe joined other tribes, and  went south down from Canada. And they helped get the space program going again. And the asteroid was filled up with life, and shunted out into outer space. To join the journey that the other twelve arks from Earth’s past had left on. But I can’t say that everyone lived happily ever after.


  1. Yeah, it's a little short on imagery, not logically consistent, and rough around the edges, but I kind of like it too.