This came about as I was perusing a buddy of mine’s website and came across an old writing assignment he’d come up with for his students. Todd Austin Hunt is to blame for what follows. He lit the fire all I did was blow on it. It’s not exactly flash, it may not even be sane but it’s definitely the oddest thing I can remember writing and that is saying something, so i feel compelled to share. Please let me know what you think of it, and I’ll do the same when I figure it out.
It’s hard to support yourself, let alone a family as an ecological interplanetary scientist when nearly everything worth knowing is known. I won’t blame everything on lack of funding, or the understandable lack of work ethic that is typical for underpaid and underappreciated fellows like me. While money truly is the root of evil, there’s usually someone behind it equally at fault.
Colonies such as ours, those in the first stages of development following terra-formation need strong leadership, and being in short supply of it, we settled for the closest thing that looked like it. Money. The market, as is typical for newly infiltrated worlds, looked to be an obstacle for our long-term success, but we caught a break. The canned air market boon came almost like an angel from above and gave us a glimpse of how good things could be here on Yartopia. When the bottom fell out of it after the native Gypstols started developing tube tumors, we thought we saw just how BAD it could be, but that was only the beginning.
Our plight even drew the uneven and unsteady attention of The Banana Constable of Space and Some Drive Ins. He bade us develop something we could use to control both the people of Yartopia and as well as the native Gypstols who had by this point passed from a quiet dislike of our colonization of their land to an outright hatred of all we stood for. Ahh… If only the canned air quality control people had done their jobs.
The Banana Constable refused to leave until we gave him something to take back to the Musceae Commission for Peace and Pollex Growth. Something that made it clear we had done all we could. Every failure took its toll not only on us, but on him as well. Black spots began to develop on his skin from the stress after the first week. After our fifth failed experiment, he called us together and made it clear we weren’t only risking this worlds place in history, but our very heritage. Never had I seen him in such a state. His eyes were black holes of worry and his skin looked cooked. His posture was of a man in outright torture. All of us, even Samir, felt that ice pick of terror at what we as an organization had done, at what we had caused. It is understood that terra-forming operations fail, people fail, governments fail but we move on, we move forward. We have to, but to be the cause of the death of a Banana Constable, THE Banana Constable, that type of legacy isn’t one that is overcome.
He urged us to think outside the box, to look deeper than surface exports, something people just couldn’t live without once they found it. He wasn’t able to speak long, but we looked behind the words and into his thoughts and were determined to succeed. What other choice did we have? Success, it turns out, often comes at a cost. Unfortunately, as is often the case, those costs begin drawing interest early and often compound fast.
We went back to basics. We looked to the past; after all, we’d overcome it before so we felt justified in the thinking we could duplicate great ideas and eliminate mistakes made by those that had come before. “Junk”, the stuff cooked up by dropouts and sligslangers back on earth centuries before wasn’t what we were after. Just the side effects, the money machine if you will. We settled on “Spunk”, a derivative of the Capstone tree. The tree itself was a hybrid we’d developed for its anti-aging and healing properties shortly after our exploratory visit to Yartopia. Within five years of planting the small seedling, the life expectancy of the colonists rose by twenty percent. Of course, the native Gypstols, being a life form highly dependent on x-ray and gamma radiation were not at all impressed with our newfound source of shade. They were content to spend all hours cooking their outers husks to rich mocha brown, and it didn’t take them long to realize the trees, which grew on average, five feet per day, would soon block their precious sunlight from the surface. Thus began the all the hatred and resentment that followed.
The Canned Air boon quelled the initial wave of discontentment, but only temporarily. For that six-month period, the Gypstols forgot their resentment and lost their ugly tans, but barely seemed to notice. Being in a constant state of delirium brought on by otherworldly gasses has a tendency to make one forget small things like irreversible, unintentional genetic alterations caused by sunlight deprivation. We thought “Spunk” just might be our ticket back to happiness, and blessed forgetfulness.
Do I need to say it didn’t turn out well? The very fact that you’re reading this argues against it, but I’ll elaborate for history’s sake.
We continued to harbor a deep mistrust of the Quality Control department after the canned air debacle and decided as a group that things had gone too far and the consequences were too grave to trust to those paper pushers, so we bypassed process in favor of expediency.
We never expected results overnight. The Banana Constable signed off on our idea and packed up, pleased by this point, just to have something, anything, to take with him, be it good or ill. We got results before he was even wrapped in Styrofoam and packed on his ship. He watched with us on our vid screen as the misery began to unfold. Our first look at it firsthand was of a native Yartopian beaten to death on a basketball court by what looked to be three sky anglers, they each held aloft frozen legs of lamb signed by Roald Dahl and their identical yellow raincoats turned green where the blue blood of the Gypstol ran in streaks. Then the screen swung around and we saw what we’d dreaded most. Smoke. Capstone trees blazed beneath the white cloud. There were other images from various monitors across the colonies landscape, but The Banana Constable stepped in front of the screen wearing a grave expression beneath his rainbow kerchief.
“Yartopia is in chaos. I’m hungry or I’d stay and help. Cyborgs are what you need; they’ve always been the answer. As Pop used to say, “It’s Cyborgs all the way down.” Design one to fix the sin of Yartopia, and if you can’t, then design one to destroy it. At least give me something I can point a finger at, otherwise I’ll point the finger at you, metaphorically speaking of course.”
He then lay down, rolled himself into his peel and two of his emissaries lifted him onto the loading dock. They rolled him in foam, then stopped, faintly we could hear him beneath the wrapping, “Make them super in at least four ways”. Seconds later the dock closed and we felt the rumble of his ship. He had gone.
Up to this point, I can safely say we shared the failure, but that feeling ends here. From this point forward, I blame Samir and his damn 14-1 ratio. My staff argued 4-1 even 3-1 would be sufficient, but Samir had the votes, and more importantly an overactive salivary gland that made him nearly unstoppable. If there is one thing on Yartopia more valuable than money, fame, or an endless supply of Smack, it’s saliva. Most of us have a hard time making any, at least while on the surface. The dual suns seem to burn it from our mouths as soon as we take a breath, not Samir though. On any other world the spit baths he divvied out would have been no more than an annoyance. On Yartopia, it was tantamount to flaunting wealth and status.
I have no doubt Samir bought the votes he needed, whether with promises or actual saliva, I guess we’ll never know. Either way, he created his own demise.
We were lucky in one respect, we kept much of the terra-forming equipment had plenty of husks with which to work with when we finally narrowed down our list of traits the Cyborgs would need to quell the uproar within the colony. It really was just a matter of programming.
It seemed obvious the Cyborgs would need tremendous patience in dealing with the colonists. We made them SUPER patient.
They must be impervious to attack and so we made them SUPER strong with SUPER armor. The armor also made them SUPER heavy and there were arguments about whether that counted as two traits, three? But after a day of infighting, logic won out and we went back to work, counting the whole as a single trait.
The Cyborgs must be able to distinguish between imminent dangers threatening everyone, and threats, which only harmed the individual, or those close by. Sensors attached to the face of the Cyborgs read all trace elements in the air and determined the maximum firepower of all weapons within a 1-mile radius. They sensors were SUPER sensitive. Perhaps too much so.
We floundered trying to come up with the last one SUPER trait. At last, we settled on the one that made sense at the time. You see, after adding the armor, the Cyborgs were quite slow, and while nearly indestructible, they wouldn’t do us much good lying on the ground covered in filth and probably excrement when the colonists figured out how to bring one down with say a net or covered over hole. We gave them the power of flight. Sure, we had to add many boosters to get them off the ground, but what else were we going to do with them? If this was going to be a failure, we didn’t want to leave anything behind, and if things continued on the way it seemed they might we certainly weren’t going to be able to take it with us.
So we had our Super Cyborgs, we had them programmed, and by all rights we should have felt at least hopeful about our effort, but we didn’t. All of us had grown up bouncing from planet to planet and star system to star system. Living in this manner, certain truisms are understood.
The natives will always hate you.
It’s no use making friends with Mollusks.
If it’s purple, has a head that makes up more than twenty percent of its mass, yet refuses meat, it’s either a trap and you should back away quietly, or it at one time or another molested things smaller than itself. If the second part is accompanied by singing, run.
Lastly, Cyborgs are never foolproof.
For one thing, there are too many moving parts, for another, even the most complex logic systems lack what we’d think of as basic common sense.
Patience and diplomacy have been synonymous throughout recorded history. I guess I can’t blame the Samir exclusively, we all ported in to share our programming with the Cyborgs and some of our own prejudices were bound to get through, but again, 14-1? The one represents the baseline, the 14 represents the factor, meaning these Cyborgs had 14x the amount of patience that any one of us did. Basically, they were pansies. Instead of marching in, cracking some heads and wringing some tube necks. They offered settlements, bribes, and favorable status for cooperation. They began to trade their own supplies, armor and boosters with not only the colonists, but with the wobbling brown tubed Gypstols. When they Cyborgs began offering their ports for networked reprogramming, we started preparations for liftoff.
I had just finished the countdown when something large and very heavy hit the side of the ship. The ship tilted but righted itself, before we were hit again. I called for Reginald to go, he fired the thrusters and we began to ascend, but all the while, more artillery hit us from below.
“Go Dammit!” I screamed, pushing Reginald aside and pinning the accelerator. A couple of fellows nearby were thrown to the floor by the ships power and it seems I saw Samir fly by me, but it all happened so fast I can’t be sure. The next time I thought of him we were in deep space, safely away for the failed colony, but now only buying time until we learned of our punishment from the Musceae Commission for Peace and Pollex Growth.
When we were safely away I examined the faces before me, they were grave. Each knew the score. If we were lucky, we’d end up pulling DNA extraction below the frozen oceans of a planet two light years from anywhere, if we weren’t so lucky, they’d send us back to Yartopia as a sort of bribe of their own. I’d never seen the native Gypstols eat, as they treat it as a religious experience not to be witnessed, but I have a feeling they’d make exceptions for us if they could get their tubes on us. Samir won’t have to worry about it either way I guess, lucky bastard. He did fall in the takeoff, he was lucky in that he landed in a chair, and not so lucky in that it was on rollers. No one saw what happened but we found him in the mess hall. Somehow, the force of the takeoff had rolled him through the control room, down the hall and up against the center isle of the kitchen. The force knocked over a block of knives and each one found a soft place in his chest. It was incredible, a one in a billion type event according to my statistical calculations. Maybe we’ll all get so lucky, but each hour that passes and we continue to wait for word from the Commission, I’m becoming more and more convinced that we make our own luck.