Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
I call it World War Bee. Perhaps not an apt label for what’s really going on, but it gets the buzz out.
Sorry, bad joke. Levity is the only thing keeping me sane these days.
In all fairness, the war wasn’t the bee’s fault, but it did start with them. Now, the war is all around us, in the rocks and soil, in the trees, in the animals, carried by the wind. Bacteria, pathogens, spontaneous mutations, those are the weapons of the enemy. We fight back with nano-tech, combat drones and chemicals.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll explain. The sudden widespread death of bee colonies at the beginning of the 21st century triggered a worldwide famine.
Remember starving? That was why.
Turns out bees were responsible for nearly a third of our food supply as they pollinated our crops. It was determined that the excessive use of neonicotinoids in fertilizers, as well as the cocktail of herbicides and pesticides regularly sprayed on fields, were responsible. So, rather than changing our agricultural practices, which was deemed too costly, someone came up with the novel idea of creating our own bee which would carry out the business of pollination for us.
That someone was me.
I invented the BeeBot and it did exactly what it was designed to do, industriously buzzing through orchards and fields with their little pollen collectors, fertilizing crops as well as, if not better than, ordinary bees, since we could control when and where they were put to use.
Pure, unadulterated hubris.
Then the worms disappeared. So I helped engineer our own; little, red, plastic-coated wrigglers that aerated the soil and broke down organic waste. Then a multitude of bacteria and other organisms, insects, etc, vanished – mainly those responsible for breaking down larger organics. Food waste, wood and grasses ceased to rot and corpses would lie around for months as the decomposition process was retarded.
Once again, I came up with radical solutions; specially designed Nanotech and chemical vats to break down organic matter, but for every ingenious solution I came up with, Nature would trump me elsewhere. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, like the human race was under deliberate attack from Mother Nature herself, but those who made such claims were ridiculed into silence.
People like me.
Then the mutations started. Creatures spontaneously evolved that could counter my engineered facsimiles; strange birds attacked BeeBot populations, new bacteria appeared in the soil which broke down the plastic casings of the WormBots, previously unknown fungi wreaked havoc with the nano-tech and mysterious air-born pathogens began wiping out human populations within days.
It was undeniable. We were at war and Mother Nature proved to be a real bitch when backed into a corner. She fought like a rabid banshee and could adapt, and adapt quickly, to anything we threw at her.
Thirty years later, the surface is a hostile, unrecognizable war-zone. Those not directly involved in the war effort simply hunker down in man-made bunkers or deep caves waiting until it all blows over, if it blows over. Every year there are growing reports of new aggressive plants, weird beasts and diseases that stalk the land, corrupt water supplies, and pollute the air. Every year we release our counter-measures – combat drones, vaccines and updated filtration systems.
We’ve been evicted from the Garden of Eden; expelled from the circle of life. Mother doesn’t want us anymore. Most days, I can’t say I blame her. I’m beginning to wonder if this is one war we shouldn’t win.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
“The Vulturi Zoological reserve is home to the most dangerous collection of species within the galaxy…”
The dull-as-Arcosian-Slug-Art tour-guide is a spastic, Mark-VII resembling a stick-figure assembled from recycled gas cylinders, aluminum coils and rubber bands. Whoever programmed it should be boiled in their own gastric juices. It’s yammered non-stop since we left the Deep Space High School three hours ago, droning an incessant litany of factoids as it jerks up and down the aisle of the 0-g passenger hold.
I try to tune it out and simply stare morosely at the scene slowly enlarging beyond my portal as we near the tiny, blue-green moon; our final (thankfully) destination on this tour through the Vulturi system. The lush satellite is dwarfed by its host, a milky-white gas giant, marbled with vibrant orange and yellow stripes, which swirl in intricate eddies around its equator.
As we blaze though the upper stratosphere, every passenger clinging desperately to their crash belts, Mark-VII, suctioned to the forward bulkhead, recites a shopping list of redundant data pertaining to atmospheric pressures, gravity ratios and mineral compositions of the moon.
Once we’re within the lower atmosphere the outer heat-shielded hull is jettisoned and suddenly, we’re all suspended mid-air, strapped to our respective seats and linked to each other via spidery struts and cables.
“The entire crew compartment is encased in a high-impact, transparent orb providing a nearly 360 degree panoramic view,” Mark-VII commences to outline the procedure in excruciating detail. He then points out our odds of survival should we find ourselves beyond the protection of the shuttle craft.
“… If you look left you will see the first specimen on our tour; the Giant Gorger rescued from its home world before its sun went nova. Known for its terrifying speed and ravenous appetite…”
The maroon dragon is a thing of beauty as it wings majestically through azure skies. I snap a few pictures for the kids back home before it dives into the clouds below.
Soon our sky-bus-bubble soars over a lush savanna, teeming with diverse wildlife. A herd of bounding, fluffy monopods is pursued by, what appears to be, dun-coloured blurs, slithering through the grass at dizzying speeds.
“…The Torthian Grass Snake only stops moving when it has gorged upon a sizable prey, in this case…”
One of the monopods bursts into a mist of blood and fur. What remains is a bulging, coiling mass of reptile beginning its long, digestive bask in the hot afternoon sun.
Hours later, we are hovering over an adobe dwelling. Two semi-clothed bipeds stand outside looking up at us, forlornly. Mark-VII informs us that these are the infamous Homo-Sapiens of Earth.
“…These tool users will kill not only for food – often enslaving and breeding their prey in foul conditions before slaughtering them – but will also kill for pleasure, territory, resources, abstract concepts and bizarre religious motives unknown in any other parts of the galaxy. Their misuse of primitive technology was particularly destructive, responsible for the mass extinction of many species and the poisoning of their home planet’s air, land and water.
“This is the only remaining pair in existence, bred in captivity after the survivors of their home world were rescued by Vulturi Zoologists. Alone, or in small groups, they are relatively harmless, but if left to breed unchecked, they are capable of global devastation within a hundred generations. Easily one of the most dangerous species in the galaxy.”
Boring. I snap a few pictures anyway before we bank east.
“And if you look to your right…”
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
The air is rent with screams, alien klaxons and a violent thundering that threatens to crush Kaam with raw acoustic power. All is dizzying confusion, a chaotic kaleidoscope of hauntingly familiar images, intertwined with deep inscrutable wells of emotion, all imbued with significance now lost to her. Searing light and smoke sting her eyes… Noxious smells burn her nostrils and lungs… Flashes of faces filled with concern, love, fear… A baby screams. Voices call out to her.
Kaam has the same dream once a year. Each summer, just before the nine shimmering Dawn-Runners race across the blanket of night like a Wulv pack on the hunt, she wakes from the dream, sweating and shivering, her heart filled with an ache, an emptiness. Tonight is no different.
Kaam’s night terror disturbs Maa-Kel’s slumber, but only briefly. Her adopted mother drapes a thickly-furred forepaw over her shoulder, nuzzles a whiskered muzzle into her neck and licks her cheek gently with a moist purple tongue before drifting back to sleep. Briefly, Kaam basks drowsily in the warm security of her downey nest listening to the comforting rumble of the sleeping pack, bedded down in a huddle within their shared cave. Maa-Kel’s fur is redolent of sweet, gallu-grass and Kaam can easily single out Haaman, Graan-Ka and Goom nearby by their distinctive male odours.
The voices call.
With nimble care, Kaam scrambles stealthily over the sleeping mass and creeps outside into the jungle. Away from the pack’s warmth she begins to shiver in the cool pre-dawn air. She lacks the Wulv’s thick, blue fur and has only near invisible fuzz covering most of her body, except her head, from which cascades thick, golden hair, longer than any Wulv’s, hanging in intricate braids down to her knees. Kaam has only two legs and two arms, unlike a Wulv, who has four, leanly muscled legs for running and jumping and two, small dextrous arms and hands for manipulating tools. But, though Kaam is slower and can’t jump as high, she is strong and lithe. Her fingers are more clever and she can climb much better than any of them. Tonight, she clambers easily up and over the ivy-blanketed, hexagonal pillar stones, which rise like millions of flat-topped, rock-crystal columns, forming steep stairs to the ridge over-looking their jungle valley.
Squatting on a towering pillar, Kaam watches the bright Dawn-Runners tumble across the morning sky as image/feelings from her dream, likewise tumble through her mind. Maa-Kel once told her about their arrival. At first, there was only one large Runner, round like a Maku fruit, but after blooming into a fiery flower it became the nine. A day later, the pack had found her; an infant, unharmed and alone in a mysterious, broken sky-egg. They called her, Kaam – The Fallen Bird.
Kaam’s dream-people all look like her. Was she a Dawn-Runner, a fallen bird come from some other place? Or was she cast away? Would her people ever return for her?
She fills her lungs, tilts back her head and howls a mournful serenade as the receding constellation slips beyond the horizon. Her song is quickly joined by her pack and echoes throughout the valley. Soon, neighbouring packs add their voices to the woeful dirge.
Every year she hears them call and every year she sings back to them, but her song never seems to reach the deaf ears of the Dawn-Runners.
Maybe next year they will answer. Maybe next year.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
In the years long after the cataclysms of fire and ice, embedded deep within the dark histories of the descent of man, when the waning sun still hung dim and bloated in its senility above the shattered horizon, there once stood, defiantly upon the ragged slopes of Mount Agothon, the greatest ale house this side of Armageddon. “The End Inn” had a reputation spanning a thousand light years, drawing many of the galaxy’s greatest champions, who, at least once, would make the long pilgrimage to its venerated drinking halls. It was a place where heroes came to die.
A long standing rule of the proprietor forbade fighting indoors. Grudges were to be left at the threshold. No words of anger were to be spoken, no punches thrown, nor blood spilt as long as one stood beneath the vaulted roof of the inn. However, if a patron came with the burden of revenge weighing heavily upon their heart, or if a pride was wounded so deeply by careless word or deed which could not be forgotten or forgiven after a round on the House, a challenge could be made and resolved in the arena constructed on the Inn’s rooftop.
It was one such challenge which would prove to be the ruin of “The End Inn” and all life within a hundred leagues.
Shadowed by the jagged fangs of Agothon’s twin peaks, a drunken and raucous assembly of both human and inhuman patrons had gathered among the steep-tiered seats of the rooftop amphitheatre to witness Hogarth the Obstreperous duel his arch-nemesis, the mighty Execrable Corlang of Delta V, but as the two champions strode out to their respective ends of the snow-dusted arena a respectful hush fell across the crowd.
Hogarth, more baroque machine than human, towered above the diminutive Corlang, but whether the enigmatic man-thing from Delta V showed concern was anybody’s guess. Whatever hate-filled past linked these two galactic mercenaries would also remain a mystery, for neither spoke a word before Hogarth cast a volley of death-dealing flames from his built-in arsenal.
Corlang sprang deftly aside, easily evading the blue, flesh-searing blazes and, hovering mid-air, countered with a prismatic burst from his ring of Quantum Oblivion. The multi-colored, atom-splitting spray was absorbed easily by a luminous field which now surrounded Hogarth like a rippling dome. The heat of the impact blistered the faces of the crowd. The icy battlefield became a steaming plateau.
Hogarth the Obstreperous barked a mocking laugh. Execrable Corlang, still hovering, gave a sharp-toothed sneer of defiance, then all was silent. The two rivals sized each other up, seeking hidden weakness. An unseen battle raged within their minds. Each imagined thrust was parried, each fatal blow evaded and reposted. No witness dared to move or breathe, lest they miss the inevitable final strike.
Then, all at once, they recommenced their furious battle in a frenzy of unbridled powers. Lancets of Loathsome Lightning ricocheted from shimmering Shields of Righteous Reflection, blasting great chunks of stone from the peaks of Agothon, causing avalanches of rock and snow. Relentlessly, the two enemies rampaged, oblivious to the devastation caused by their mutual hatred.
Darts of Nuclear Damnation disappeared into a Vortex of Nil, Vibrations of Molecular Sundering were quieted by a Zone of Entropic Dissipation and still the damnable fight was fought until, at last, a terrible, soul-devouring darkness, summoned from the Abyss of Gork, swallowed whole the Inn, Mt. Agothon, the gaping, gasping, smoldering crowds, even Hogarth and Corlang, until all that remained was a vast, steaming, concave emptiness inhabited only by cold, uncaring winds.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
It’s oily, amber light which finally penetrates the hazy atmosphere as the first forays of dawn dimly paint the coastal shoreline. Ook-Pak emerges from his dome-like tent and stretches his many limbs, shaking off sleep’s lethargic blanket. His four nostrils flare eagerly, inhaling a deep breath of fresh, methane-rich air.
With two primary appendages he straps on a utility belt adorned with various brushes, hammers, chisels and trowels, while secondary, chittinous arms perform morning ablutions to his slick, hairless body. The camp awakens slowly around him, but excitement about the work ahead is quite palpable, displayed by the camp’s lively banter and the quick-shifting hues of the large, wispy membranes fringing their necks.
“G’morn, Ook-Pak,” a sleepy-eyed novice croaks. “Fine solar period for a dig, no?”
Ook-Pak tips his short antennae in greeting as his neck-fringe flashes agreement. “May Utta be with us, Lik.”
“Is truth? We may find Those-Who-Came-Before?” Lik chitters eagerly.
“Pray it is so.”
Ook-Pak ignores his stomach’s demands and goes directly to the dig site a hundred grulls from the camp and, crouching at the bottom of the excavated pit, he studies the mysterious metal cap covering the entrance to the catacombs created by some long-extinct race.
It takes many hours for the crew to maneuver the chambered air-lock over the site and the rest of the solar period to chisel away the millennia-old growth of minerals and rust welding the portal closed. It isn’t until the silvery lunar disk is cresting the horizon with its missing chunk, like a bite out of a fresh harlack bulb, that Ook-Pak’s team is finally ready to crack the age-old seal to an era no eyes have looked upon for eons.
The crew is feverish with anticipation, so rather than wait until the next solar period, Ook-Pak orders the team to break out the bio-lamps and remove the cover.
The air-lock maintains the subterranean pressure near perfectly. As the heavy lid slides off with a grating clang, only a brief, sucking hiss emits from the depths below, as if a great lung inhales a long-awaited breath.
A rusted, far-reaching ladder, designed for a slightly larger being, vanishes after several grulls into gloomy darkness.
Accompanied by hovering bio-lamps and armed only with his belt of tools, Ook-Pak begins the long climb into the bowels of the underworld. Alone in the reverent silence, he prays to Utta that he may find the proof he is looking for buried beneath the ancient sands.
His entire career has led to this moment. If he could find evidence of the elusive race, Those-Who-Came-Before, lords who mastered the sciences long before his own species walked beneath the light of Utta, he could satisfy an age-old argument about the foundation of their own culture.
Ook-Pak’s studies have proven that the ancient world was very different. The atmosphere was once choked with oxygen and nitrogen, toxic to his kind, yet capable of sustaining an environment for a vast diversity of plant and animal life that fossil records demonstrate populated nearly every continent and ocean. But some global, mass extinction event, possibly a result of misused technology – as Ook-Pak suspects, changed the atmospheric chemistry of the planet, and paved the way for Utta’s People to rise to dominance.
Was it deliberate? Did this ancient culture commit some form of racial suicide? Did it happen over night, or was it a slow, agonizing death? Were they aware or ignorant? These questions echoed through Ook-Pak’s mind as he descended ever deeper into the dark mysteries of the past. If there were answers down there, he was determined to find them.