Copyright © 2015 by Robin G. Gurr
praemium n (genitive praemiī); Latin
- an advantage, prerogative, favor, license, privilege
- a reward, recompense
- a bribe
- a prize, plunder, prey, booty
- an exploit
Geologically speaking, it was not a good day for homo praemium.
Depending on how you choose to keep score (and as far as Planet Earth is concerned, if there aren’t any creatures with eyes: it didn’t happen — Vegas Rules) we call dibs on Life starting T minus 530 million years ago with the Cambrian explosion.
For homo praemium this meant just two things: (1) competition and (2) hurry-up-and-die-will-ya-so-we-can-frac-your-little-dead-bodies-out-of-that-shale-and-into-my- and here’s where the story gets interesting: -car? -iPhone? -AC? -tractor? No wait, -furnace? Ding! oh, time’s up hp, because Earth’s moved on.
The thing is, geologically, in the time it took you to watch that movie, North America and Europe were covered in an ice sheet two miles thick. As the closing credits roll, the ice sheet retreats leaving behind the freshly scraped (clean & minty) archipelago of New York City. You get up, leave the theater, check your phone, it’s Earth! She’s Breaking Up with You! She Texted it!
Not cool. That’s right! It’s hair-melting hot. It’s hair-melting hot and it’s today. Your move.
No one can predict the future, because UNIVERSE (we think), but here’s what happens:
You’re bummed (say it, you’re kind of pissed) so you go back into the theater (Mad Max!). The Planet Earth gets super hot (clearly not your fault / didn’t touch anything / everyone else was doing it, pfft whatever you tell yourself to get through this). Earth dries out in a big way.
You leave the theater, notice a kind of squalor / starvation / pestilence vibe, figure you can still evolve your way out of this, anyway you got Netflix.
Feet up on the couch, a few more movies, a few more cycles. You can’t get bacon anymore, so why go on? And just like that, it’s over; our big blue marble needs some space. A big white snowball, at least for a little while.
We are five heating-cooling cycles into their future, not our future. Ice sheets blanket the globe three miles high in most places. The planet’s poles are ridiculous tufts of super-heated sand. Look back at our shared history of 530 million years; now look forward just 1 of those millions.
The year is 972016, life hasn’t been seen on this planet for at least 150,000 years (if there aren’t any eyes, the wooly whales didn’t happen LOL 😀).
17h30 and Bïtök is trying to leave the office. Jënjï is holding dinner and holding-back a pre-dinner dam of five children at home, it will not hold much longer.
“Shÿrr?” Bïtök tipped his head back to see down the hall, “we’ll need a morning team, only careful ones – and notify Lands & Travel we might need them to crew some locks.” As Chief of Flows Engineering Bïtök runs eighteen crews, but without Shÿrr that was effectively none. Shÿrr transferred from Finance two years ago. She knows everything before it happens and knows everyone you need to meet. She’s never any negative-attribute you care to name and Shÿrr has this mental black-list of things you never knew could even be contacted. She was, in a word, and on every performance review, awesome.
A hand appeared in his doorway waggling a handset. Bïtök knew from self-reports streaming back from the valve that they’d be digging a hole tomorrow; he was nearly as certain that they’d be snaking a camera down a 450 Tsi line to see inside. So it came as no surprise that Municipal Water was now on the Tälktü offering him service windows, not answers.
The Number 3 is one of four cross-town reflow lines. Its job is to collect and transport grey-water to n-stage purification sites where the water can subsequently be re-released into the wild.
The beauty and danger of this design is that the water being collected, and the energy required to collect it, are part of a single flow supplying every component in the cycle and purifying 80% of the inflow simply through the action of transporting it. To accomplish this, the lines carry massive force potential, nearly one million pounds per square inch. Handle one wrong and you’re likely to evaporate in a greasy yellow poof with pink sprinkles.
Bïtök returned the handset to the hand and continued speaking at it, “those pipes have been fine for eighty years, they aren’t due to be serviced for another four-hundred. Graft-valves don’t go bad, they just don’t. On the other hand, subdivisions one through three were by-the-book, they were practically show-homes, which makes sense. But here we are, receiving fail-codes from a valve that never fails, just a quarter-mile downslope of subdivision one. This isn’t coincidence, right? He must have done something they didn’t find.”
Bïtök swiveled his chair, weighing his options. “Could we contact someone in Justice? Ask to re-open the post-trial review? Maybe there are original notes, something written in a margin. Or something.”
“Or,” Shÿrr now spoke, “I could put you in touch with someone who killed the developer.” Adding sweetly, “If you thought that might help.”
Not much stops Bïtök cold; but that did. “Wait.” (thinking no idea’s a bad idea) “ — Wait what? What did you just say?”
With a blink Shÿrr consulted her black-list and continued, “My great-aunt, she was one of the jurors.”
Bïtök, more stumbling than thinking, “Dürdëg? That Dürdëg? This Dürdëg? That one? And she’s still – ah, your great aunt she’s – ”
“Ninety-two, yes; she’s a dear, but not very patient.”
“Do you think she would know something? Could the jury have seen things not in the transcripts? Do you think I could speak with her or –”
Shÿrr handed him the completed morning-team roster, “22h30, tonight, she’ll be at your house. Apologize to Jënjï. You’re welcome.”
22h30, just as Shÿrr had foretold, there was a knock, then a pause, clearly a difference of opinion, and finally a flurry of loud raps to settle the matter. Bïtök was in motion at the sound of the first knock and made the mental adjustment to host as he crossed the foyer. Reaching for the door knob, he put an eye absent-mindedly to the peep-hole and jerked his head suddenly-back at the giant eye staring in. A slight whoosh from the door-seal welcomed the visitors.
Längät-Kö-Äshÿrr stood on Shÿrr’s left, leaning on her arm for support. Bïtök took a moment to register how different first impressions can be; Shÿrr’s great-aunt did not seem at all as expected. Yes, she was old, clearly that; thin (not surprising), but tall! Tall, six foot tall, with a cane. Where her face should have been, he could see only eyewear. She was a guest he thought quickly, correcting his expression, and escorted the giant walking opera glasses into their home.
“Again,” Bïtök continued, “thank you, Kö-Äshÿrr, and you Shÿrr, thank you so much; I’m sorry to be imposing –” he was cut-off, and she spoke,
“Do you get much done in your office? like tha? Shÿrr pet, he does like to talk, this one. Pretty to look at though, I’ll give you tha. Tha’s nice for an office.”
Shÿrr shot him a “remember, this was your idea” look and tried a diversion. Turning to address the silent family staring back from the living room, “Everyone, this is my great-aunt Längät-Kö-Äshÿrr. She’s ninety-two, and very lovable. My huggable, lovable, greaty-Ä.”
“Oh you can stop tha ri now! and put me in a chair.” — diversion successful — “an maybe a tea would be nice, for a guest, you know, I could be dead soon.”
“I’ll get tea!” rabbit-eyes from Jënjï, darting to the kitchen, “now!”
Bïtök attempts to keep the good times rolling, “Please, have a seat, in the guest chair.” Parental code words that focus parental eyes like lasers, one beam powering-up from across the kitchen, both beams now searing a red hole of manners deep into the male, teenage skull.
It grunts and moves on.
Shÿrr eases lovable greaty-Ä down into the large blue recliner as Bïtök retires with coat and cane to the hallway. She is transformed, “Oh y’es, tha tis nice. Tha tis very nice. Very pooofy. You can go now. Shoo!” and waves Shÿrr off to settle.
Bïtök begins again. “These are my children: Bïtök-Kä, seven; Bïtök-Kë you’ve met, and his twin-sister Jënjï-Kë, the teens. My wife Jënjï you saw a moment ago.”
“Oh, I did, yes I did, and they are lovely. But you!” Bïtök in the cross-hairs again, “Do you think me that dim? You’ve given me three, and I clearly count five!” as she jabs a finger past him towards the door frame.
The irresistible lure of late-night guests had of course attracted extra eyes to the edge of the youngest twins’ bedroom door. No lasers were required to get tea and hot honey mint drink and the whole family gathered ‘round on the living room floor to listen to a story almost as real as legend.
Greaty-Ä leaned forward slowly, her face now in shadow, and began…“T’was a darrrlk an storrrlmy nite!” with a wink to Bïtök-Kä whose eyes were growing wider with each syllable. “Oh.” She stopped, settling comfortably back in her chair, “I’m sorry sweeties, but it’s not tha kind a’ tale.”
Greaty-Ä paused for all eyes in the room to resize accordingly, “I am here at your father’s request to recite court transcripts ‘til you wee-ones fall asleep! You must all have been very bad, I suspect.” With an extra wink to Bïtök-Kä who was now looking more worried than confused, she continued. “But a monster story still, I promise! And praise the blessed inner glow, I hope in all your days you never hear another story such as I’m about to tell.” She took a moment to recall.
“This was over seventy years ago. Seventy? Yes, yes must have. The case was C v Dürdëg, a Federal case. I was a wee strip of a g’rrl, only twenty-one, and received a blue letter telling me tha’ I was a juror and to make my way to Principal-Phï within the week! I had never been farther than the store, and here now, I was to travel two-thousand miles by pipe tränspö!
“I was scared witless most a’ the time, I recall. The day it started we were to report at the Supreme Justice Halls to be given instruction. I had no idea, it was mobs! Mobs a’ people everywhere, and reporters, and police, and they hustled us inside.
“The judges filed-in through this little door and everyone stands to full-attention for the singing of Commons Won. I stood like a board, squeezing my hands into fists so I wouldn’t forget the words — we only ever sang it once a year for July 7 day. No diff’rent than you wee ones I expect.” Greaty-Ä clenched her hand into a fist as she recalled the anthem quietly to herself…
“Com·mons won by grace of thee –”
“COMMON ONE TWO THREE!!” Jënjï-Pö blurted out, unable to contain her sudden recognition. Without missing a beat, Jënjï-Pë joins-in using her most serious adult-face, dropping her chin and her voice as she warns, “noooooooo sheeeeeeep.”
The room echoed with laughter, and Jënjï-Pë, sure in her belief that adults were laughing self-consciously at her all-too-perfect imitation, allowed a smile of deep satisfaction to creep across her face.
Greaty-Ä moved her enormous glasses to one side to dab at the corners of her eyes, “Oh my yes! child, One, Two, Three, No Sheep! is indeed the point. My goodness you children tell tha’ story better than I do! And just like the book, the sheep win in the end, I promise y’ tha!”
Jënjï smoothed their hair and pulled the twins back within controllable range, “Little weasels settle down now, and listen. Please continue.”
“Yes, well.” Greaty-Ä settled, “where was I, let me think now…”
“The trial?” Shÿrr poked, knowing just what to say.
“Oh, you, shush now! Of course the trial. I was setting a scene, you.” Greaty Ä steered back onto point. “The defendant’s name was Tÿxxr Dürdëg, as I said, and he was a land-developer. It was a Federal case yes, but more serious than tha’, it was a tribunal. He was charged with Common Atrocities, all capital crimes. If guilty, it would be Crushing by Judge or Drowning by a Jury of One’s Peers.
“Make no mistake, a monster he was, but a clever man too. He chose jury, because he reckoned: if he could sway just one of us t’ his side he’d likely live to see-out his days.
“So the trial started, but finding a defense lawyer was impossible. They couldn’t find anyone who would willingly say “exploit” in —”
“GREATY!” Shÿrr redacted, “oh my god, children in the room –” (parental lasers parked, confused as to target).
“Po po po, g’rrl, calm your wee senses, these little-people here have called themselves much worse at lunch-time, am I right wee ones !? -Kä here looks to be quite the cursing farmer, eh? But fine.” She continued,
“They could not find one person who would so much as spell the “E” word in open court, so they settled on a euphemism “of possible advantageous acquisition” for the public record. They quickly shortened it to O.P.A.A. and the authorities were suddenly overwhelmed when the crowds outside picked it up and started chanting OPAA! OPAA! OPAA!!”
Bïtök added, “I remember seeing that footage, you could see how angry the crowds were. The police were even handing-over their bullhorns to rally organizers I believe.”
“Oh that they were, yes, tha’ did happen. We were all of one people tha’ week; all the world against Tÿxxr Dürdëg. The trial lasted five days. I remember, testimony would get interrupted as one juror or another, or someone in the courtroom, would get physically sick as they presented the evidence or when Dürdëg would attempt to justify his actions on the stand.
“At the end of day four, the prosecutor finished with a great long list of felonies and ethical breaches. There were two counts of natural murder raised to first-degree cyclicide. He closed by describing the desperate fight to save the doomed watershed. And when the prosecution rested, the courtroom fell silent. The crowds outside stopped in mid-chant. And anyone who was watching the proceedings, which was everyone really, stopped where they stood in a spontaneous seven minutes of national silence.”
Greaty-Ä paused to take a breath. Jënjï-Kë took the moment to ask, “How could this man kill a watershed? Two cyclicides? How is that possible? What else did he kill? I don’t understand.”
“That much,” Bïtök answered, “I do know; it’s required reading in engineering.”
Her father continued, “Dürdëg built a total of nine subdivisions; the first three were without incident. He submitted the remaining plans to six different municipalities assuming each would be approved at about the same time. Every subdivision laid-out twenty houses, but his scheme was that once approved, he would build twenty-one. Twenty-one houses for the price of twenty, six times over!”
“No.” Bïtök-Kë interrupted, showing he’d been listening despite his outward appearance, “You can’t do that. There’d only be twenty connections, there wouldn’t be twenty-one. He applied for twenty, the municipality would only give him twenty.”
“You’re right,” Bïtök said, with a mental note not to worry quite so much about his eldest son, “there were only twenty connections for geo, water, and sewage. But after the plans were approved, Dürdëg secretly drew-up a new set where he shaved three-feet from each property. That gave him enough space for one extra house on the end. He simply handed his unapproved plans to anyone who came to do work on the houses. No one knew anything was wrong.”
“I would totally know,” Bïtök-Kë protested, “nobody could count?”
“You have to know how the inspections are done.” Bïtök countered, “Since houses have to be completed in sequence to give the surrounding lands time to acclimate, the first twenty houses were built, inspected, and approved. There is no house-21 yet, just vacant land that anyone would assume was subdivision commons.
“Then after the foundation for 21 is laid, Dürdëg goes in and does the primary servicing himself, completely unticketed, completely illegal. At night he would tee and splice into house-20’s existing services: the geo, the drainage, fresh and grey water, everything; it was all spliced underground between the two houses. He never calls for an inspection, municipal engineering wasn’t expecting a call because no house was on file, and the workers on site assume the inspection’s been done because everything’s running.”
Now it was Jënjï’s turn for answers, “but… then did it work? Can you do that?”
“No,” Bïtök shook his head, “and he knew that, he knew the business. Dürdëg was expecting six fast sales and he’d be gone. Instead, problems started right away. A couple of the 21’s had leakage and breakthroughs even before the floorboards were down. But the worst was in Gainsphï, subdivision four. The geo from the 21 in four was burning a trench back as far as house-10; the rest of the street fell into positive feedback and the whole thing went critical three days later. Gainsphï lost two lakes and one of their smaller watersheds, the one Kö-Äshÿrr described. The municipalities bordering Gainsphï had oxygen-rationing for the better part of a year.”
Jënjï-Kë was still confused and now visibly upset by the story, “It makes no sense, I don’t understand! What would he gain? Money? What about Community? Did he think he could be a Community of one? What did he think would happen! He was crazy – is that it??”
“Yes dear,” Greaty-Ä replied, knowing Jënjï-Kë’s feelings only too well, “what you’ve said there, I think it was all those things, yes. I felt same as you. I think he just cared for himself, if you can imagine such a thing, he said as much on the stand. He owed nothing to anyone, he said, we were just jealous and angry th’ we hadn’t thought of it first, nonsense talk, ravings! Tha’s what I thought.
“We pronounced him guilty on the morning of the fifth day; we needed no deliberation, he was guilty ten times over. His family became a ward of the People. He had one child, a boy. The boy had a permanent ban from obtaining a breeding-license, not that I think he ever dared apply. He was restricted in vocation as well; he became a dental surgeon, his training paid for by the People.
“Dürdëg’s final words were all ranting: how he’d done no harm! how we’d a’ done the same! three feet is nothing! the plan was still good!
“I have never been ashamed to say it: when we twelve jurors walked him to the shore of tha’ blistered, dying watershed, I never felt more sure of my purpose to this day. We twelve dragged him into the water and held him, head under, and we held him and we didn’t let go, not for thirty minutes, we stood there, waist deep, and stood for something.”
We are five heating-cooling cycles into their future, not our future. Ice sheets blanket the globe three miles high in most places. The planet’s poles are ridiculous tufts of super-heated sand, remember? The year is 972016, and in the most literal sense, life hasn’t been seen on this planet for at least 150,000 years.
Because three and a half miles down (in most places), beneath the barren ice and snow, lives a family, within their community, within their society, within their civilization, within nature.
Geologically speaking, it was a very good day for Heterocephalus prodigialis: the first creature ever made Senior Partner, by Earth.
But of course no one makes Senior Partner overnight; and so it was for Heterocephalus glaber, i.e., naked mole rat as they knew him, back when he worked in the Pliocene mailroom. To hear Earth tell it now: she knew from the get-go, this breed was going places, this breed had moxie, Earth can smell a winner an epoch away! The efficiencies! The resilience! His spec sheet was incredible:
- Regenerating Teeth
- Constant speed forward and reverse
- Geothermal heat regulation with Behavioral Thermoregulation Override
- Low respiration, low metabolic rate, requires no circadian rhythm
- Living month-to-month in Somalia’s basement yet IUCN Red-Listed as abundant, not endangered
- Ultra Efficient Oxygen Uptake, High Genetic Protein Stability
- Hunger Resistant, Drought Resistant, Cancer Resistant
- So eusocial, they practice shared sustainable agriculture
- They do not itch. They do not scratch.
- FEELS. NO. PAIN. WILL. EAT. SHIT.
Naked mole rat was the original Terminator. If circumstances hadn’t made a niche, it was only a matter of time before this naturally-selected bad-boy would have come screaming from the bowels of the planet to tear mankind a new one.
But there was a niche. A very favorable niche. And for cycle after cycle since the earliest Pliocene days, the world, top-side, came and went, came and went, and H. glaber pretty-much went about its business being H. glaber.
Until the world changed, where our story began, about a million years ago, when the calming unchanging cycle of Earth’s climate became a drunken crash of anthropogenic uncertainty: sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sometimes violent, always dryer, always worse.
It was uncanny just how well this new world suited H. glaber. In the hot cycles, the naked mole rat would live life below ground. The hotter it got (some called it “worse”), the more this encouraged naked mole rat to find cooler, deeper digs. The deeper the exploration, the greater the discoveries: new burrowing techniques, new sources of minerals, interesting dangers, unusual friends. The more they discovered, the more they were stressed; the more they were stressed, the more they evolved.
So it wasn’t surprising, that around the time of “The Great Burnout” (an historical marker 30,000 years after our anthropogenic tipping-point and 10,000 years shy of the next ice age), that we should find naked mole rat flourishing and in search of greater stressors. Their range had grown only modestly: Djibouti’s northern shores, down the coast to Mombasa, extending eastward inland through Kenya and Ethiopia until blocked by the Ethiopian Highlands, except for a finger of expansion through mountain passes to Juba in South Sudan.
It was decided at Mandera-phï! (“phï!” a whistle meaning “Head for the burrow!” 1), the equidistant center of the H. glaber range, that Djibouti-phï! would expand northwest following the coastline of the Red Sea, avoiding the rocky Highlands, and burrow for 50 rains. Juba-phï! would burrow northeast along the mountainous Sudan-side of the Highlands. Starting so far south, Juba-phï! was expected to take 100 rains at least before they would link-up with the Djibouti-phï! expansion along the coast.
As new colonies, they would be expected to name themselves once their settlements were established. For now, the Djibouti-phï! expansion in the North would be given the name Coastal-phï! and the Juba-phï! expansion coming up from the South would be called Inland-phï!.
1 Literal translations can be challenging. From the root ï meaning “glee”; the exclamation phï: place of glee; expressed as a whistle phï!: head for the burrow, encompassing a burrow, find your bliss, etc.
It had been a long, though business-as-usual, project for the Coastal-phï! arm of the expansion, burrowing never far from the Red Sea. Two generations had been put to the task, comprising dozens of families and even the coronation of a new queen en route. But this was the 50th rain, and at most there were three or four good days’ digging before the moist soils in this region turned hard. Then, finally, they could turn their hand to communal structures and the promise of a normal life in this new and inviting land.
When all hell broke loose, everywhere, all at once: the naked mole rat equivalent of a gunman being spotted at a presidential photo-op, inside a nuclear power-plant, when the cooling pumps fail. The over-crowded room explodes in a shower of grabbing, guns and clip-boards, klaxons, sirens, people touching their ears, yelling at wrists, doors auto-locking, trampling, body slams — screaming, whistling, total chaos…
Phë! Phë! Phë! Phö! (Queen!!), Phä! Phö! (Where is Queen!?!) Phÿ! Phë! (SNAKE!) Phö! Phä! (Get a Drone!) Phÿ! [teeth flashing everywhere] Phë! Phö! Phä! (In Tunnel 4!!) Phä! Phÿ! [teeth flashing everywhere] Phö! Phä! (Tunnel 4) Phë! Phö! (Queen) Phÿ! Phë! Phä! (Where is Drone?!!) Phä! Phë! (SNAKES!) Phÿ! Phä! (Stuff Drone in 4) Phÿ! Phë! Phö! (Maybe Yes! Maybe No!) Phä! [teeth flashing everywhere] Phÿ! Phë! Phö! [teeth flashing everywhere] Phä! Phÿ! Phë! Phöööö! Phöööö! Phöööö! (ALL CLEAR) Phöööö! (stand down) Phä Phï! (Friendlies!!!, it’s Friendlies!!!)
At the unmistakable and never mistaken Phä Phï!, the colony quickly fell back into place, each resuming their regular, peace-time role. The confusion caused by this sudden burst of untraceably dangerous, vaguely exotic scent, coming as it did from mid-tunnel, was quickly and unexpectedly resolved.
The friendlies were indeed mole rats, just as naked (“ ä ”) as any other, and yet something in their greeting whispered caution. The welcome scan continued as dozens of well-wishers pushed and squeezed their way over and through the scout-pack of friendlies. The friendlies reciprocated in kind. Then a lull while the scout-pack considered. Decided. “Phï!” and with a backwards flurry of feet, the scout-pack drove through the crowd, back through the breach from which they had appeared.
The tunnel through to the breach was now clear. It sloped strangely down and the scents rising up and filling the passage were more than a caution, they were not of this world. The three largest diggers stepped forward, squeezing shoulder to shoulder to shield the clan. They peered down together, breathing deeply of the whispers from below. With a “Phï!” they were gone.
In our world of chance and invisible hands, the Coastal-phï! expedition, on a quest of discovery, was itself discovered by a well-established, and welcoming, bustling community. There was still the matter of monarchical authority, but with time and goodwill, accommodations for two queens could be made.
As fit-for-purpose as H. glaber surely was, story-telling was not yet one of his strengths, so while the old-timers and new-comers could convey enough to squeak-by, some of the finer points of this story still need to be told…
… because the natives ‘round these parts (the friendlies), while established, were only nouveau créé, as it were, arriving on these shores a mere twenty years ago. And the friendlies, quite literally, could not have been friendlier, for they were the Inland-phï! team arriving a time-machine-astonishingly seventy years ahead of schedule! The Inland-phï! friendlies had been waiting twenty years for a sign, and knew, given their routes, that the tunnels would have to cross somewhere. Except the Inland-phï! colony had dug deeper through the years, as average temperatures rose, and the Coastal-phï! team had nearly tunneled overhead and past them.
Fifty rains prior to the reunion, when both teams were first setting out, the Inland-phï! arm of the planned expansion had encountered an early logistics problem. The existing colonies in the Juba region were both prosperous and numerous. So numerous in fact that it would slow the burrowing effort if all able members of Juba-phï! headed north together. So a new plan was quickly assembled where only enough members to run optimum dig-chains would head north; the remainder would form a new team, River-phï!, and continue following the big, bountiful river leading out of Juba, to go where fortunes led them.
For twenty-six rains, the stories of the Coastal-phï!, the Inland-phï! and the River-phï! expansions were the same. Life went on, burrowing and raising families on the road. Then, just after the twenty-seventh rain, a most ironic (or at least symmetrical) event occurred that rocked Inland-phï! to its core. They too were set-upon by a pack of friendlies, friendlies that had very-nearly been bitten to death by surprised diggers when their unaccountable scents branded them de facto as snakes.
This time, the friendlies were members of the offshoot River-phï! team; and while they certainly weren’t snakes (and, truth be told, smelled nothing like snakes), no one could say exactly what they did smell like. For what the River-friendlies had discovered, just outside of Bentiu, was a tunnel, pre-dug, and heading north. They traveled the tunnel a distance of 500 phï and still it went on without end.
Nothing lived in this tunnel, although it seemed many had tried; those who had been foolish – or perhaps simply desperate. The oppressive heat, the fumes, the sulfur and acids, in short: the dregs of Nile blend crude oil that had once been pumped from the Muglad Basin; it was sure to kill any creature. Any creature, of course, except one: the H. terminator.
The Greater Nile Oil Pipeline, long abandoned since draining the Greater Nile of its sweet crude oil bounty, did indeed head north and northeast, seemingly without end, one-thousand miles, directly to the shores of the Red Sea at Port Sudan. Naked mole rat, not being stupid by nature, correctly surmised that while digging was nice and all, it was still simply a means to an end, and they could traverse forty times faster than they could burrow.
So the offshoot River-phï! party had doubled-back (at 40 times burrowing speed) and chased-down the northern expeditionary force, surprising them from behind. Together, the teams agreed to regroup at Bentiu and gamble that the time saved from this tunnel would be substantial. They re-rigged their dig-chains to pass supplies forward instead of kicking dirt back, and aside from the scent they could never quite rid themselves of, made good time to the coast, and called it a day.
Take a look this part of the world and you would be forgiven if you mistook a detailed highway map for a diagram showing the location of the regions’ energy pipelines. You might even wonder if it might not be more efficient to travel by pipeline than by car in some of the more remote areas. And you would be right, if you could.
While the Greater Nile Oil Pipeline was something of a one-trick pony for naked mole rat, the principles behind it were not; and in increasingly harsh conditions as the millennia ticked by, H. glaber had a ticket to ride: at least east and west, north and south, freely across Eurasia.
Ten ticks, ten millennia, ten thousand years. It was now 42016; the first delicate snow-drops fell from the sky and would not stop falling for the next 100,000 years. The climate’s icy smooth pendulum heaved-to with a vengeance, laying waste to many lands and announcing new rules. Consolidate or die. Migrate or die. There were some hold-fasts so harsh that you were more likely to be killed for your body heat than for the food you hid.
H. glaber found this cold white world, stressful, and therefore interesting. Not that going top-side was ever much on his mind. Curiously, many of the pipeways were at least roughly insulated, so travel for naked mole rat was tough but not impossible and he sometimes explored just beneath the snowy landscape.
At some point, no one can quite pin it down, the confluence of snow and cold, genetics and fur, and luck — came together in a particularly punky pack of adventurous H. glabers transiting the east coast of the Mediterranean rink. This pipeway had clearly been one of the newer extensions, sturdy, well insulated, but never completed. H. glaber had found this to be common, as though there had been a flurry of construction, never quite finished, in many parts of their transit system.
They poked a few heads from the stalk where a large valve had likely been planned. They were looking into a room or a basement, seemingly pitch-black and silent, which of course to H. glaber was awash in sights, sounds, and smells. The air was bitterly cold and the pack resembled a tiny team of steam trains chugging down the pipe to floor level. The floors were littered so they chose the stairs to explore; nothing but concrete, and stairs, more concrete, more stairs. The walls had dim squiggles (רשות גז תל אביב on one side, Gas Authority Tel Aviv on the other). The stairwell ended in a solid wall of door; but some thoughtful being, of one kind or another, had kindly chewed a suitable exit.
The pack emerged into quiet and darkness, it was always so. The world top-side, they had learned, was a quiet place of contemplation. Cold, of course, but never dangerous, and never boring. They skittered across the caramel-colored terrazzo following zig-zagging patterns from here to there. Past תכשיטים – Jewelry and סוללות – Batteries, Chocolat Fin, Cinabon, and ALDO, Azrieli Observatory Lounge & Bar 49th Floor – לסגור (CLOSED).
Seeing nothing of interest but sensing an intriguing draft, they pressed on to the end of the great hall. There they found a missing floor-level cover plate and behind it, more stairs; so they followed the wintery scent, flight after flight, noses high to the 49th floor. And the sight was a wonder; an infinite, perfectly white, sheet of quiet contemplation, stretching for phï and more phï in every direction. Here on the 49th floor, the snowy sheet of wonder spread-out in all directions from the 36th floor.
But the pack leader wasn’t standing in quiet contemplation, he was squat up on his haunches a few feet back by the door looking at paper again. The others had seen this habit many times. Often they would observe him motionless, swiveling his head for no reason or other. The world top-side was covered in squiggles, awash in squiggles in patterns like these:
Schindler M-Series Traction Elevators. Maintenance Schedule. Installation 1998.
Machine Location: Mounted to top of guide rail system in hoistway overhead.
Machine Type: Gearless traction.
Rated Speed: [100 fpm (0.5 m/s)] [150 fpm (0.75 m/s)].
Earthquake Emergency Operation: Comply with requirements in ASME A17.1/CSA B44.
Phase Motor Relay.
One final head swivel, then “Phï!” and they headed for home.
It would be wrong to say that the planet’s surface was uninhabited or uninhabitable; but certainly, it was inhospitable. Where it had once been hot it was decidedly cool. Where it had been frozen it was tropically pleasant, but those areas had been lightly populated from the start. Where migrations to the new tropics had been attempted, most had been smashed by coastal weather patterns that were random, severe, and cursed. Where it had been temperate, in that livable arc of humanity across the Northern Hemisphere, it became a total freezing hell of whiteout and misery. Nothing lived long there except on the edges or well-under the snow (which was preferable).
This was naked mole rat’s domain; here, within the first ice age that had followed quickly from The Great Burnout. Here, naked mole rat could explore, undisturbed. Here, naked mole rat could study in peace. And here naked mole rat was no longer so naked.
And that is how, in the hot times naked mole rat would live life below ground; he would build families, colonies, alliances; he would experiment, tinker, and grow; he would consolidate, he would thrive. In the cold times, H. glaber would go top-side, unmolested. He would discover, he would learn, he would understand, he would thrive.
Geologically speaking, the documented history of H. glaber ends quite quickly. By the end of the 42016 ice age, in the short but glorious spring of 142016: humans, very battered and bruised, very much decreased in number, but still stubbornly doggedly virally human, came stumbling out of their first winter of doom. They brought with them stories of new gods, new demons, and new rules for how this new world worked.
And somewhere in those tales were mention of fantastical wee angels, or soul-sucking rats, white guardian devil toads, and small dé·jà vu dogs. All of these were H. glaber reflected back in the eyes of others. It was one of the cultural enjoyments of H. prodigialis to return top-side each ice-age to discover what had been written about them in the cycle preceding.
But geologically speaking, the perquisite was short-lived. Humans made it OK through the first of the cycles; made it, sort of and just barely, through the second cycle of ice. But the fight had clearly gone as the next scorching spring came upon them. The written word was failing. In some places now, runes were the only lasting expression, and it wasn’t wholly clear if these were stories or warnings or currency or gravestones.
When the end came, Earth and homo praemium sat across the desk from each other; this was clearly not a meeting either wished to be at. Earth offered politely that perhaps both sides could have done more to make it work and that certainly homo praemium had many good qualities.
Mankind nodded solemnly. He paused, almost said something, but instead lowered his gaze to consider the moment. Then he stood, cleared his throat, and offered the following as explanation: “Yah… well I got a lot of other offers.”
H. praemium was last seen being escorted from the lobby atrium, and our story continues…
We have one inevitable goodbye still to be said, but it is a happy one since the story of Heterocephalus prodigialis cannot be told while Heterocephalus glaber is still around to hear it. Or maybe it is more accurate to simply note how curious that H. prodigialis and H. glaber were never seen together in the same room at the same time. Without our taxonomies, evolution continues, and with no man-science to mark their passing, some tipping-points are left to pass unofficially.
You may draw your own conclusions, but Heterocephalus prodigialis chose to commemorate the moment with an unbelievably old and cherished scrap of paper; now scrupulously preserved, displayed, and named “The Ø Phï Document.”
Fantastical mole rat. As a species it would be fair to call them H. prodigialis, as a people they call themselves Clotheds. While many animals in the history of life became tool users, the Clotheds have been the only ones, so far, to become civilization users; an opportunity that is very rare indeed.
By the end of the first ice cycle H. prodigialis had journeyed, discovered, and begun to hoard. By end of the second they were systematically preserving the contents of cities, archives, and caches. By the end of the third ice cycle they had triaged what remained. And by the end of the fourth, they had preserved the last tattered crumbling shreds of what was possible to preserve.
Smart and ultra-adaptable as we have seen, over a great span of time they uncovered every scrap of knowledge and industry, technology and culture, science and medicine, art and architecture, language and learning, justice and kindness, and every mistake that had ever been recorded. They had extracted the body of human existence.
During this time, they were aided greatly by Earth’s unusual dryness: molds, bacteria, oxidation, seepage – the worst of an archivist’s nightmares were kept somewhat at bay. The heat and the cold took their toll on top-side creatures as well; every cycle saw fewer able to return to the ruins and disrupt the work of the Clotheds (or generate much that was new to preserve).
However it was the Lithosphere and their mastery of it that was the Clotheds’ greatest advantage. The layers just below the surface were their domain; they were miners, architects, root and mushroom experts, minimalists and specialists in this world. No other life had taken such complete advantage of this ecological niche. Not only could they build vast storehouses underground, but very little was required for their safeguard.
It had taken the Clotheds the better part of 500,000 years to acquire this vast and literal storehouse of knowledge, but it had taken a further 400,000 years to become wise. In their earliest years of study, the Clotheds were simply in awe; they knew themselves to be clever and dexterous, but clearly the Humans had outpaced them in every way. Appreciating that first-born often had to blaze a trail for themselves, the Clotheds were always thankful that it was not they who were first to discover Earth’s magnificent fossil fuels.
Eventually the awe softened to mere appreciation, then became frustration, then concern. As the Clotheds discovered, each Human achievement came paired with an equivalent Human problem, then two, then ten. The cascade was shockingly fast; Human achievements ebbed to nothing and the industry of Humans became a mono-culture of problem creation.
And that was the Clotheds’ first great understanding: the brain of homo sapiens (sapiens) did not possess the structures necessary to solve the problems of Human achievement. This was most evident during the Human petroleum phase when their societal controls stood in diapers as social and technological change roared forward without them. To call humans “stupid” would be like calling dolphins or chickens or children “stupid”; they are who they are to the best of their abilities.
The Clotheds’ second great understanding was that all Human problems flowed from the first in some fashion. Even when Humans understood all too well and had all the facts, the surrounding complexities could never be unwound and put right. Were they alive to see it, Humans would probably be shocked at how some of their “unsolvable” problems like street people, GMO, and economic manias now appear regularly in children’s puzzle & sticker books.
(with answers printed upside down on the bottom of the page!)
It was not that these problems were easy, they were not. It was that solutions had to be found, or there could be no hope. If the Clotheds could be said to have a blind-spot, it would be, that biologically they suffer from a lack of unimagination: they simply cannot imagine simple thought. Every idea, opportunity, analytical insight, problem, or decision is a chain of causes and effects stretching for infinity from the past into the future.
The complete story of the Clotheds can of course never be told; who has the time and besides, they’re still busy making it. They do have war, they do have waste, they know of the stars and of the seas; they know that some thoughts are too complex to be thought of alone; they know that they are not the only species on this planet. How they make it work is a story for another day. But, in the spirit of goodwill and in no small part: gratitude, the Clotheds wish to pay it backward and impart some of what they know,
To the reader:
- At any given instance in time, the world is perfect in an absolute sense; that is to say, it is in balance.
- Everything is connected to everything else; beyond a certain point, this may not have practical relevance.
- Everything exists within cycles in which energy flows according to physical laws.
- Sustainability is only achieved by becoming integrated within a cycle. Sustainability is not guaranteed; however without integration, unsustainability is guaranteed.
- There are always opportunities to enter a cycle. An opportunity you choose to accept is a niche. An opportunity forced upon you is an externality. Every niche creates an externality; both are opportunities, both are subjective.
- Subjectivity can only be adjudicated. Boundaries are subjective.
- Being subject to an opportunity (niche or externality) without becoming integrated within the cycle is called an exploit. Exploitation always creates positive feedback. Positive feedback is unsustainable and leads to a cascade of cycle failures.
- When the concept of opportunity is applied to Social systems, it is called Trust.
- Forgiveness because you cannot know all things.
❧ Commons Won by Grace of Thee,
Treasured pastures by Leave Be,
By Thy Neighbor’s be thine own,
From a seed until thine Grown. ❧