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 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 unclaimed planets, drill a hole and bomb the hell out of them, and then thoroughly catalog and patent whatever was found both on and below their planetary surfaces.  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 a few thousand small alien creatures and bacteria.  While their 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 the ship wall apart and sucked half of the crew into space and the other half of the crew died in a simultaneously occurring break room fire.  The fire, which began in and around a drunk employee's deep fryer during his birthday celebration, would have been easily put out were it not for the ship overcompensating oxygen dramatically due to the ten foot lavatory wall hole.  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.  The entire cafeteria and most of the ship's interior went up with a loud whoosh and then all was still, aside from a few dozen blaring 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 sealed the lavatory area automatically, slowly but surely.  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.  Finally he became too hungry to wait any longer and 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 Bartolemeu's boredom and recurring need for sustenance had overcome his fear.  He began posing with the black statues, going from one to the next to mimic and share in their pantomimes.  The lone survivor started to spend all of his time in the cafeteria.  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 screamed 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 it remained on a slow and steady inertia driven path towards the planet after the escape hatch launch.  The ship would arrive along with its payload of charred bodies and nuclear missiles just two months after Bartolemeu with a devastating boom on the other side of the planet.  The former BigHeart Corp. payload specialist had no idea that Sandy and the rest of his friends were following him through the gloom of space.

Planet April has an incredibly limited and fragile ecosystem.  Poison puff plant grows freely everywhere.  Like 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 since running out of everything else on the ship that had survived the fire.  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 clutching his stomach.  This noise and activity caught the attention of several local squillers who rushed over to see what was happening.  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 their food is always plentiful, they're 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 plant as Bartolemeu happily cooked and ate his first real 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.  He'd been confined for too long. 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 cooked 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 to eat.  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 his former ship finally made it to the planet two months later.  When the nuclear missile payload hit April, the explosion was enough to nudge this small and unique world just slightly 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 created a chain reaction that turned the entire system into a ball of flaming dust within a week.

Luckily Bartolemeu's radio rescue flare had done the trick.  A BigHeart rescue ship arrived on the scene in time to patent several unique organic compounds that would revolutionize plastic surgery and make the corporation trillions of GovBucks.

2 comments:

  1. Reminds me of Douglas Adams

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  2. thank you, i love his writing, i won't live up to that comparison but i'll try:-)

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