Wednesday, September 17, 2014
History of the Universe 4: The Dozens
There was a micro-galaxy called The Dozens near the Attlinger system. The planets in The Dozens circled each other so closely that they looked like a colorful bag of marbles from just a hundred thousand miles away. They were so masterfully situated gravitationally, that they sheared tiny bits of atmosphere from each other as they passed. For this reason, each of the planets in The Dozens had exactly the same atmospheric mix.
The Dozens were surrounded loosely by ten small suns which kept them in near perpetual light and warmth, aside from the frequent eclipses caused by the planets rotations. Each world in The Dozens system was named for an Earth English month. Despite their shared atmosphere only one of these planets held life beyond bacteria, that planet was April.
Payload specialist first class Bartolemeu Day was employed by the BigHeart Corporation. It was BigHeart's modus operandi to seek out any unclaimed planet, drill a hole in it and bomb it all to hell, and then thoroughly catalog and patent whatever was found both on and below its planetary surface. This hit and miss style of patenting had been highly lucrative for BigHeart. The corporation held patents on a number of popular interstellar building materials as well as for a few thousand small alien creatures and bacteria. While BigHeart's exploratory explosions generally left these planets in tatters, this was highly convenient for the pilot fish companies that relied on BigHeart to point them towards money makers. A BigHeart patent contract fee was a small price for these scavengers to pay in order to escape the cost of doing their own exploratory drilling, bombing, and cataloging. They could get right down to business purchasing land paperwork and stripping a planet's value without concern that it may be a risky investment. BigHeart's unofficial motto was "We Drill It, You Kill It".
Life had been pretty average for Bartolemeu before a broken lavatory seal ripped a chunk of the ships wall apart and the ensuing breach sucked half of the crew into space. As they whooshed through the hull to become space-dust, the other half of the crew was burning to death in a simultaneously occurring cafeteria flash-fire.
The fire, which began in and around a drunken employee's deep fryer at his birthday celebration, could have been easily put out had it not been for the 10' lavatory hull breach.
The ship was an older model and the crew were all equipped with breather bugs, they had no need for the oxygen that was being provided them. If they hadn't had been wearing breather bugs some of them may have noticed how thick and delicious and oxygeny the air had become. This was because the ship didn't know everyone had breather bugs, it was valiantly trying to save the lives of everyone on board by cramming as much oxygen as possible through every vent to compensate for the hole in the crapper.
The ship's oxygen alarm had long been disarmed after breather bugs became mandatory, however the atmospheric system was tied into the gravitational gyroscope so it was deemed more cost effective to just let the ship go on churning out unnecessary air. All things considered, leaving the system in place did turn out to be far more cost effective. The engineer responsible for that decision was posthumously awarded "Employee of the Month" by the ship's automated evaluation proto-servo a week after becoming a popsicle and shattering into a billion pieces against a passing meteor.
The oxygen overload caused the cafeteria and most of the ship's interior to turn white-red with a loud ffft!, and then all was still, aside from a few dozen barking alarms. Bartolemeu Day had never been a fan of parties, he'd been sleeping in his hyperbaric chamber when all of this occurred. The alarms woke him seconds after the danger had passed.
The ship had sealed the lavatory area automatically. Bartolemeu Day was left wandering in a broken ship with a couple dozen blackened corpses melted to the floors and walls, their bodies and faces trapped in a macabre pantomime of their final seconds.
Bartolemeu rarely left the comfort of his hyperbaric chamber for the first several days until he became too hungry to wait any longer. The intrepid cosmonaut was forced to brave the still circus in the cafeteria for as much peanut butter powder and bottled water as he could carry back to his room.
Within two months, however, Bartolemeu's boredom and recurring need for sustenance had overcome his terror. Fear became familiarity, and familiarity turned into comfort. Bartolemeu began posing with the black statues, going from one to the next to mimic and share in their pantomimes. The lone survivor, once terrified of leaving his chamber, began spending all of his time at the never-ending birthday party.
Bartolemeu had identified all of the bodies but one, a poor charred creature who sat with its head down on the table nearest the blast center. The quiet payload specialist hadn't interacted with the staff very much while they lived. He was not the type of man to use two words where one would do, and he didn't engage in banter. Bartolemeu appreciated the exact nature of his work, he preferred equations to conversations. And so when this quiet and serious man began to feel deeply and irrevocably lonely for the first time in his life, he didn't recognize it right away. He named the unknown corpse that leaned against the table like a child asleep in class "Sandy".
Three months later when the ship neared The Dozens and the few remaining sensors alerted Bartolemeu that a habitable planet was nearby, he had a difficult time deciding whether or not to leave. He turned to Sandy for guidance.
Sandy had become his confidante, his lunch partner, his best and first friend. Sandy's empty eyes and curled screaming lips implored him to get the hell off the ship if he could. "Get out! Get out! Get out!", Sandy howled silently. In the months since they'd met Sandy had never steered Bartolemeu wrong. He packed up what little food was left, all of the ship's radio rescue flares, a solar tent, the emergency medical kit, and pointed the escape hatch towards planet April.
Unfortunately for Bartolemeu and April, with nobody alive to steer the ship away, inertia continued to drive the massive mausoleum towards the planet after his escape hatch launch. The ship would arrive with its payload of charred bodies and nuclear missiles in a world ending boom just two months after Bartolemeu landed. The former BigHeart Corp. payload specialist had no idea that Sandy and the rest of his friends were following him through the quiet gloom of space.
Planet April has an incredibly limited and fragile ecosystem. Poison puff plant grows freely everywhere. As the name suggests, the plant is poisonous to humans. It is not, however, poisonous to the only animals aside from Bartolemeu to have lived on planet April, the squillers. In this perfectly closed system the squillers eat the fast growing poison puff plant and their poop and eventual deceased bodies nourish new crops.
Bartolemeu didn't know any of this when he landed. He had been living on turkey jerky and dehydrated peanut butter for weeks.
The first thing he did was eat a poison puff plant leaf. The second thing he did was projectile vomit while laying in a fetal position and clutching his gurgling gut hard enough to leave little purple fingerprints. This noise and activity caught the attention of several local squillers who rushed over to investigate.
Squillers are squirrel like creatures with large eyes and soft skin the same deep shade of green found in poison puff plant stems. Because squillers have no natural enemies or prey, and because their food is always plentiful, they are playful, trusting, and gentle creatures.
This made it very easy for Bartolemeu to capture and cook one. The squiller had walked right up to him and allowed him to pick it up and quickly snap its neck. The squillers watched from the shadows of the poison puff plants as Bartolemeu happily grilled and ate his first cooked meal in months. It was delicious. When he was through, he tossed the bones behind his tent and settled in for a nights rest under the stars.
Maybe the next night Bartolemeu would sleep in the tent, but he preferred to be out in the open on his first night. He slept so soundly he didn't hear the squillers removing the bones of his dinner and carefully burying them in the poison puff plant field. Bartolemeu slept so deeply that he didn't notice the squillers weighing down his blanket and warming him against the chilly April night wind. When he awoke, feeling refreshed for the first time in months, Bartolemeu jammed a radio rescue flare into the soft earth beside his tent and filleted another squiller.
He was quickly growing fond of these little critters who were so friendly and affectionate, and who tasted so good. Bartolemeu was followed by a hoard of playful squillers wherever he explored on this strange little planet. Within the first several days he had become completely accustomed to their peculiar friendly habits and obvious interest in him. Because of this, Bartolemeu was caught completely off guard on his fourth night when the squiller he'd selected for dinner bit him lightly and then wriggled expertly out of his grasp. Bartolemeu's mouth was stuck in a garishly startled grin as he watched the squiller rejoin its chattering friends in the poison puff plant shadows. His grin fell away when several squillers emerged from the bushes carrying an elderly squiller to lay at Bartolemeu's feet.
And so it went from then on. Each day the squillers would offer him two of their number. Bartolemeu ate the elderly, lame, and sickly. The squillers would bury the remains in their poison puff plant field, along with Bartolemeu's own solid waste. Every night the squillers made sure their lonely human was warm and secure. If their enthusiasm for his company wavered they never let it show. Bartolemeu's enthusiasm for the squillers had diminished significantly, however. He just wasn't sure how to feel about them.
Maybe in time Bartolemeu might have come to terms with the reality that he'd landed among a race of creatures so without internal or external conflict they would offer themselves up as a meal to any creature who needed sustenance.
He might have shaken the fear that the squillers were planning something big, perhaps fattening him up to turn the tables and eat him, or that they were exercising some kind of phenomenal otherworldly condescension through their sacrifices and concern for his well being.
The truth is, Bartolemeu was really starting to resent the generous and kind squillers by the time Sandy showed up with BigHeart's nukes two months later. When the nuclear missile payload hit April, the explosion was enough to nudge this small and unique world a half a hair out of orbit.
The Dozens had been winding and wending around each other for millions of years with the precision of a Swiss watch. This tiny nudge started a chain reaction that turned the entire system into a spiraling ball of flaming dust within a week.
Unfortunately, Bartolemeu spent his last seconds on April unfairly blaming the squillers for his demise.
Bartolemeu was awakened by a wet hard thump and for a split- second, imagined he must have fallen out of his bed. This was absurd, of course, because the only beds within 9,000,000,000 miles had all just been turned to ash in a nuclear blast. In the turmoil of receding sleep and returning paranoia that followed, the only English speaker on the planet barely had time to shout indignantly "So THIS is how they get you!", before both he and the hundreds of squillers who had been carrying him away from the approaching avalanche of carnage were all mulched .
Not so unfortunately, the brave payload specialist and BigHeart's newest posthumously awarded Employee of the Month's dutifully placed radio rescue flares had worked.
A BigHeart rescue ship arrived on the scene in time to patent several unique organic compounds that would revolutionize plastic surgery and make the BigHeart corporation trillions of GovBucks.