Friday, January 3, 2014

That Titanium Nail

It's not right for an alien monster to have such sexy eyes. That's what creepy about the Kraken, their beautiful eyes. Eyes that are invariably beautiful, soulful, with a clear white sclera, fantastically colored irises, the most gorgeous human eyes I've ever seen. 

Now, I'd seen the Kraken on television, going back to 1978 when one of their city-plus-sized, lit-up-like-Vegas-neon starships first appeared in orbit above our heads. But meeting them in person, that's a whole different thing, considering they are real alien monsters, and not the cartoon everyone is used to seeing.

Clark The Kraken was an '80's children's cartoon involving two children named Becky and Josh and their alien monster friend Clark the Kraken. The premise of the show was that Clark would get the children involved in off-world adventures that invariably put them in danger. Clark (who was responsible for putting them in harm's way) would find some clever way of saving them. Clark was depicted as manic and maniacal. He could perform miracles, but rarely did. Clark was really just out for fun, fun, fun. In other words, he was completely insane. There were some diplomatic worries about the character, but the Kraken loved the show. They paid for it's revival in syndication when it was cancelled. 

Except for having eight tentacular limbs, Clark the Kraken really didn't look anything like a real kraken. At first glance, you'd think a kraken was a fur coat - a really big fur coat, like what maybe a big barbarian Viking would wear. 

The fur is typically a rich golden brown, and you are tempted to stroke the fur. But you realize no one is wearing the coat. The coat is standing on its own, and has six extra arms, which aren't arms, but tentacles. Peaking out from the underside of the tentacles are rows of black talons. The incongruity of this soft, fuzzy, furry creature with tentacles and nightmare features, a slavering vagina dentata of a mouth filled with rows of sharp, black fangs makes your brain say, yup, this is an alien monster

My first very up close and personal meeting involved about thirty of the monster bastards constraining my limbs as they pierced my skull with a titanium nail.  

Did I not tell you about the titanium nail embedded in my brain? Ah, well, let me start back on Earth.

There I was, 1980, fresh out of college, with a BFA and no job prospects. Not that there weren’t jobs aplenty to be had. Humanity was in the midst of the great migrations to the far-flung stars. Detroit - nuclear rocket city - was booming. They couldn't build housing fast enough. The wormhole transport centers: Houston, San Diego, Las Vegas, Newark, Knoxville, were begging for workers - skilled and unskilled. Plenty of jobs for all, unless you were a painter that favored a garish fantasy genre, or a poet, or a musician. I was the slacker prototype, or stereotype, literally living in my parent’s basement, smoking a lot of pot and dabbling with alcoholism.

At the insistent urging of my father, who wanted his basement back, I took the emigrant aptitude tests for a colony berth, and an evaluation for NATO’s peranoscopy program as well. Rejected on the former, accepted for the latter, to everyone’s respective expectation and surprise. The emigrant tests were based upon NATO selection criteria, where you basically had to be able to rebuild Western civilization with your bare hands. It was assumed that the peranoscopy tests were for those that made the emigrant cut, the best of the best, but were actually Kraken-developed tests, measuring... what? No one knew. 

So, shipped off to Lemont, IL to live for six months in a shit-box apartment with a truly awful roommate. Some called the training "hippie boot-camp", if sitting in cubicles in a strip mall office, practicing lucid dreaming and meditation skills, writing out counterfactual stories, reading texts on everything, doing crosswords, word problems, Scrabble on hallucinogens, having your brain remotely manipulated via transcranial magnetic stimulation, being harassed by lab-coated pricks for reasons not entirely clear, is your idea of hippie boot camp.

I came out the other end a trainee peranoscopist. Which is basically someone who can pierce the veils of space and time to scry the reality on the other side. Want another term? How about oracle, or seer, auger, sage? Or soothsayer, provided, the soothsayer wears an electromagnetic cap seated over their visual cortex, being fed data from the averaged-out Planck areas from the Gödel boundary of an Everett wormhole aperture.

Then I was stationed at Nellis, outside of Vegas, a civilian in name and title and in nothing else. I spent  twelve hour shifts in an air-conditioned trailer, ‘scoping the heavens for candidate worlds and smelling other people's farts. 

The depressing majority of earthlike worlds (or superearths, as they are known) are too massive to be habitable. Of the less massive worlds, most are venus worlds, hellish and waterless. The remainder are waterworlds, with hundred kilometer-deep oceans covering them. It seems that, despite the common abundance of superearths, very few have just the right amount of water, mass, and distance from their star. Of those, only a tiny percentage have evolved life, and a tiny percentage of those have evolved life compatible with ours - life that won’t eat your skin off after a few minutes of exposure, or cause a hyper-allergic reaction, or induce permanent psychotic states, or any of a thousand other grisly ways to die. 

It turns out, within the particle horizon of the local universe, some 96 billion light years in diameter, or some 13.7 billion years back into the past, there are only nineteen worlds suitable for human colonization.

Only nineteen.

We did not know that. The Kraken eventually informed us of this. I do not know why they waited until some twenty million of us were forever lost to the universe to tell us, but... before the Kraken revealed this fact, I found one of those nineteen worlds, which is why you are reading about me. When I did find that world, I was informed by my unpleasant Navy captain boss that I was invited to have an super-advanced alien device implanted in my brain. A super-advanced alien device that was, in every way, indistinguishable from a three-penny nail made of titanium.

Actually, the way unpleasant captain put it was: "Eight Ball, you got lucky. You get a chance not to be a fucking magic eight ball stuck on this base for another five years. You want to go to the stars, visit other worlds? Go get the nail in your brain".

I accepted. I was immediately whisked down to the Las Vegas transport dome in a helicopter no less, pretty cool. I was taken inside the dome through a warren of neutral-toned office corridors under fluorescent lights. The walls of the corridors were occasionally adorned with pictures and plaques. 

Many pictures were of the EGERbridge tower site at Argonne National Laboratory - the very first wormhole aperture, now a World Heritage site.  In one picture, Pat Nixon, a beaming Dick Nixon beside her, cuts the ribbon for the power-up ceremony.  In other pictures, astronauts, or the ships used in exploring the other side of a wormhole aperture. Many pictures were of The Five: (Lovell, Mitchell, Roosa, Mattingly, and Haise), standing in front of a scale model of their nuclear-powered ship Columbia. Ship and all hands lost now, disappeared down an Everett/Gödel wormhole throat, never to be seen again. Lost to the Cosmos But Not Forgotten. 

(It is a historical irony that two of the most miserable miscreants in American history, Richard Nixon and Hugh Everett III, gave humanity the stars. My own peranoscopery studies of the past tell me it was John Archibald Wheeler who was the linchpin. Had Wheeler not gotten Kurt Gödel to read Everett's many worlds paper, none of this would have happened. When the technology caught up to E/G theory in 1968, Nixon cancelled the Vietnam War and the Apollo Moon Program, and the rest is history).

I ended up in a fake wood-paneled waiting room with a metal green door. The green metal door opened, and a guy in a white boiler suit said "You're next". 

Beyond the green door was a prep room with a big airlock door opposite. Beyond the airlock, the wormhole dome itself. The airlock door was windowless, a disappointment. There’s not even a view of the wormhole aperture, which, I’m told, looks like a 100 foot round glowing molten metal droplet hovering in mid-air (except it’s vacuum) above and below two giant metal cylinder heads. 

In the middle of the prep room was a stainless steel box, lid open, looking like a coffin. 

"Get in", ordered white boiler suit. I din't really think about it, I just got in. But then I thought wait, airtight coffin for the vacuum, no air tank for me. 

"Hang on, no air supply?" I asked.

"You got thirty minutes of air in there, you big baby. If you're not out before then, you got bigger problems than suffocation!" sneered white boiler suit. 

"But I still suffocate!" The lid was closed and dogged secure on this protest.

And then I was on the planet Gnomon, somewhere in the Horologium supercluster. (get it? Horologium? Gnomon?)

The Kraken chose Gnomon as an enclave for human contact, surrounded by countless trillions upon trillions of Kraken-inhabited worlds within the Horologium supercluster. We humans, in our arrogance, assumed this world to be the homeworld of the Kraken, only to find out that their planet of origin was swallowed by its sun some half a billion years ago, and some 300 vigintillion light years away from Earth. 

Gnomon is where you go to get a super-advanced alien artifact that looks like a titanium nail driven into your skull. 

It was local dawn when I am decanted and let out of the admin building, the sky turned from black tar to a sullen cherry, the color of a cooling branding iron.  Above, at the zenith, was a gigantic Halloween moon - the gas giant Gnomon orbits, a hot jupiter circling a red dwarf star. 

(The palette of the planet Gnomon is limited. Red light kills color. It turns yellows and oranges into a uniform red hue, and makes green and blue look black. Even red is not immune. Yellow-reds turn into blue-reds; dark reds turn into brown). 

The admin building was a pre-fab pole-barn structure that houses the wormhole aperture, and looked slightly more permanent than the other buildings in the human town. Hardly a town, and more of a joke, a trailer park really. The majority of the structures were trailers and intermodal containers, limited by the size of the wormhole aperture. Here and there streetlights provided a half-hearted attempt to produce yellow sunlight, but did little to relieve the gloom. Beyond these lonely, humble structures were low black hummocks and hills that clumped to the horizon. I had not much time to "admire" the view before an army sergeant in a jeep pulled up to meet me.

"Get in" he said, which I assumed I would hear until after the insertion procedure, after which it would be "Get out".

"What, no ID check? No paperwork to fill out? I just get in the jeep and we go?"

"Are you Kurman?" I nodded. "Get in! And this is not a jeep. This is a MUTT, an M151 Military Utility Tactical Truck. Got it? Not a jeep".

"And you are?" I asked as I climbed in.

"Camarena. Sgt. Camarena. We don't have far to go". 

We took off with a lurch towards the low hills. After about a half hour on a gravel road, we passed over a gloomy ridge, I thought I spotted a brightly lit area, and it was green. Vivid green.

"Is that where we are going?" I asked, but just then, over the next rise, appeared a huge square of vivid green, a bright day-lit field as if we were back on Earth. I looked up in the charcoal sky, and there were no lights to account for it. Taken against the color of Gnomon, or rather the lack of it, the field was a riot of florescent green, impossibly green, all verdant green grass and scattered bush. Animals grazed within this hallucinatory field of green. Some animals I did not recognize or know. Giant lumbering shaggy things, droves of deer-and-elk-sized things, shoals of small quick things that browsed upon the grassy fields. Other animals I did know - cows, sheep, goats, possibly a giraffe in the distance. 

Interspersed among the animals, shaggy octopus forms wheeled about lazily. These were the callows, the Kraken young. Around this magical plot of land was a barb-wired fence, homely and worn wooden posts spaced out to suspend the rusting wire.

“You’d think, a billion years ahead of us, they’d have something more than a barb wire fence? I guess you go with what works." observed Camarena, and nodded. "There’s your reception committee.”

Behind a section of fence were three adult kraken. One motioned me forward with a disturbingly human finger crook with the end of its tentacle. The barbed-wire drooped down to let me pass, then snapped back into position behind me.

"Greetings! Welcome!" exclaimed the middle kraken in a shower of spit. It's English pronunciation, naturally, was flawless. "We will begin in a moment, but first, observe!"

With this cue, a kraken callow climbed upon the back of a nearby cow. It quickly wrapped a tentacle about the cow’s neck, and then, as if pull starting the cow like a lawnmower engine, whipped the tentacle hard and backwards. The cow’s severed head dropped to the ground. An impressive gush of blood issued from the neck. Within seconds, dozens of callows swarmed over the headless standing cow, and it disappeared beneath a mass of squirming fur and writhing tentacles. Soon, only a spot of crimson remained. The callows stood about at attention.

“And now your turn!"

“Jesus! Wait!” but the callows were upon me. I struggled and thrashed, kicked and punched, but the horrid little fuckers pinioned my arms, immobilized my legs, wrapped their tentacles around my limbs and torso, and then I felt sharp little talon stings when a tentacle slithered around my neck.

"Don't struggle", I heard one of the adult kraken say. "You'll just get cut to pieces if you do".

I froze then, surrendered. All I saw were sharp black talons and fur, and an eye that peered at me. A beautiful eye.  All I heard was the chatter of the kraken in, I supposed, their natural tongue: bronx cheers, shrieks, hisses, screaming gargles. All I smelled was a horrible marine stench, the kind of stink you smell when you dig into the anoxic ooze layer of a tidal flat.
I heard a cheerful "Here we go!". A seering pain in the top of my head cancelled out the thousand or so pinpricks and razor cuts I felt over the rest of my body, and then...  

and then.. 
and then,
and then... I felt vertigo, then nausea. I heard air raid sirens, saw black and white static. The sirens were replaced by a whistling tea kettle on a stove that circled around me. I saw pieces of color in the static, sometimes resolved into little fractal dragonettes or spinning mandelbulbs, and then dissolved, replaced by geometric shapes, lines and lace, mandalas, cartoons, mechanical elves, each image fleet and meshed into the next. 

My eyes felt as if they had swiveled backwards in their sockets. The nausea returned. Space inverted itself, the nausea and vertigo passed. Cold purple spaces and stars appeared. Jittery little borders surrounded the stars, pieces jinked and flitted around in orbits. The stars swam away in a whirlpool, an armageddon, an apocalypse of fireworks, a receding pyrotechnic snowstorm. I beheld the entire universe, each and every star expanded into a sun, tiny detailed worlds about them. 

The tea kettle sound became louder, almost unbearable. I'd have stopped up my ears with my fingers had I had hands, but I don't think I did.  Overwhelmed, I managed to shout for it to all stop, but all that came out of my mouth was hissing, spitting, screaming gargle.

And then I was laid out upon the grass. Kraken and callows stood and stared at me as if I were making an embarrassing scene, or had had a seizure, which I had been. And ah, of course, I realized, the titanium nail was in my brain.

"We never tire of watching that", said one of the kraken, ejecting oozing snot from spiricules in appreciation.

"You made it," noted Sgt. Camarena, as he held out a hand to help me up. "Congratulations".

I swayed on my feet a little and then said "Thank you, Sergeant".

"Call me Ernie. You ready to go?"

I looked down at myself and saw I my clothes torn and covered in blood. "Jesus, I'm a mess", I observed.

"Superficial cuts. We'll clean you up back in town".  

The kraken and callows let out kind of a soft-palate squawk or screech, which I recognized as "See you later!",  and I got back into the jeep with Ernie.

"What was that crack about I made it?" I asked him, as we turned around on the gravel road and back over the rise.

"Oh come on, Eight Ball. You would have chickened out had we told you there was 20% survival rate", Ernie pulled a clipboard from under his seat. "Now's the time for paperwork. Uh, and, just so you know, once we are all done here? You can't go back to Earth."

"What? Why not?"

"Look you got a alien device in your head now. We can't be sure of your loyalty to the species. You may now be naturally beholden to the Kraken, and so can never be fully trusted ever again". He held up his hand in anticipation of my protests, and continued "yeah, the Kraken have acted all benign and beneficent and given us some kickass technologies and advice, but, for all we know, they may be grooming us for cannon fodder".

"... or smallpox blankets" I returned. 

Sergeant Earnest Camarena turned and stared very hard at me. "Would you have thought of that before you had a nail in your head?" he asked.

"...probably not" I admitted.

"and that's why you can't come back to Earth. But we got a nice place set up for you on Alterra. It's in galaxy NGC6264 out Hercules way, some 450 million light years from Earth".

"I know where it is" I said.

"I know you do" he said, pointed at his head, and nodded slowly. 

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, well, this is classic Mary Sue (meaning self-insert fiction), which, yes, made me wince re-reading it. But hey, I have a hard time going beyond a first draft and beside it's my hobby, so... there will be more of these.