THE DOOM THAT CAME TO THE THREE CITIES
An excerpt from The Abolition of Species by Dietmar Dath
“We badgers,” said Georgescu, the green badger, sitting in the red sand in front of the Pielapiel Palace in the City of Sleep, “don’t much like violence. But when it happens, we’re ready.”
The palace had not yet been inaugurated. Otherwise rough-spoken Gente such as Georgescu would have been shooed away from the great court. She was a thoroughly practical thinker, this badger, and was considering the strategic, tactical and operative prospects for a new clean- up operation against Homo sapiens sapiens.
Trusted sources had told her that resistance among the defeated would soon flare up again. The news had not come as a surprise. Georgescu made a principle of not trusting the cheery reports that depicted a world in which all human resistance was broken. She knew all the dirty corners of the battlefields, the wrinkles and the classified documents. If it were left to her, the ecotecture would have been scoured with molten metal, rinsed with clouds of spores and strewn with ashes.
They were still there, perhaps for a long time to come, splay-footed lotus eaters with adaptors wired to the hypothalamus, poor sods from the shattered brigades of the last western redoubts. The badger kept her thoughts about these well to herself. She reckoned that there would be no golden age free of these pests. What had lasted so long against all reason would survive any attempts at extermination. She sometimes asked herself whether there wasn’t an upside here: given enough time, at some point the oldest god of all would become a father once more, that’s how things worked, and so far it wasn’t clear that he had nothing more in mind for these defeated.
Georgescu saw the Gente as a midwife civilization, hardly as the goal of all earthly evolution.
The young wolf and diplomat Dmitri Stepanovich, who could see through the badger quite easily, said, “We could dope their wells. Scatter pellets.”
“Yes, pellets. Targeted poisons, where they go for water.”
These pellets, the wolf explained to the general in the wordless code of pherinfones, could contain the shades of stress factors to attack the immune system of middle-aged men, those left carrying weapons in the sparse ranks of the humans.
“For instance?” Georgescu did not look convinced.
“Death of the spouse, illness or injury, losing their – whadjamacallit – job. Debt, deadlines, fear of failure, family arguments, trouble with the boss or the … Internet provider . . . and erm . . . the spurns that wossname merit of the unworthy takes,” Dmitri suggested.
“I got that from literature. The adjective might be corrupted, it’s untranslatable in any case – something to do with their code of conduct.”
“Well, all right then. And you say that these . . . stress factors . . .”
“We can seal them into biotic pellets with a cytokine coating, quite simple. Then we bring the pharmaceutica to life, scatter them into the wells, and ten or twenty generations later they learn to fly, they scuttle about . . .”
“As long as they scuttle where they’re supposed to and don’t get in our hair!” grunted the green badger. She had seen too much to share the wolf’s enthusiasm. “As I was saying,” Dmitri continued, raising his hackles now in spikes, “when they’ve learnt to fly and to scuttle, after a certain number of reproductive cycles, they can find human ears quite quickly, get at the brains through those and since these are almost undefended . . .”
“I’d prefer if it were their hands .” This was Philomena’s first contribution to the conversation.
She was sitting on Dmitri’s back and smelt, he thought, somehow of potatoes and, mostly, of the paw of the Lion, who had sent her. “We should attack their hands. Their brains are slow and . . . not relevant.”
Dmitri Stepanovich thought for a moment, screwed up his face in concentration until the hairs of his beard quivered and then conceded the point. “That’s right. The archives in the cathedrals . . . we’ve got films and paintings of humans who were just as happy and just as horrible with no brain at all . . . I’d run screaming.”
“I’d fly screaming,” mused Philomena, rocking back and forth. She took nothing seriously. The wolf had decided long ago that she was weird.
Several guests at the Esprit celebrations had been camping out in front of the Pielapiel Palace for weeks now, waiting for the excesses of the inauguration ceremony that had been announced for the next new moon. They smelt the conversation between the badger and the wolf, wrapped their own opinions round red blood cells and began their conversation with the Lion’s trusted agents. The price of supremacy: there was no secret diplomacy amongst the Gente.
Even the title of the new discussion thread was insolent: “Alpha beasts, retired.”
“We should have stayed in the old home country,” the guests for Esprit scrawled on pherinfonic corpuscles for the agents to read, “We had open combat there, not this back-stabbing with pellets and poison”, “And the optimal phenotype for every niche, not plagues and destroying someone else’s brain or hands”, “It was all better then”, “The music too”, “Not to mention the food”.
These grubby democrats had two conduits connecting the base of their skulls, smothered in fat, with the upper vertebra of their archaic skeletons, smeared with a gel that intensified scents.
Even an idiot could tell what kind of creatures they were, could see that, although it was much out of fashion with the rest of the Gente, these ruffians had mammary glands with which to suckle their young, and that they tended to an exaggerated sympathy with the human race because they shared this habit.
The badger mocked them.
“Alpha beasts, retired . . . feh. I’m supposed to read that and argue with it? What if you took your suggestion to the Lion, asked him for a game reserve or at least a zoo? You’d have to take care of it yourself of course, so that it’s not a burden for us, if that’s how fondly you feel for mankind.”
The chatter on the forum died down at that, no one wanted to attract further suspicion. Democracy was all very well, but openly anti-Lionist sentiments were very strictly sanctioned.You took good care what you said and to whom in this kind of talk. After all, the badgers had charge of police matters in the City of Sleep, just like in the other two cities.
“I await your word,” said the wolf.
“Good. But not the brains – the hands instead,” Georgescu said, to compromise. The dragonfly had come up with this formula.
Dmitri Stepanovich showed his tongue, panting for a while to show respect. The badger could read his thoughts in his eyes: work was done, time now to find some plants for the dragonfly to eat, sunlight for her and meat for himself.
Even while he was briskly setting out his plans, Georgescu had sent an enquiry to the military planning staff in the City of Sleep. Now she opened the reply and told the wolf, “My technicians say that we should give these pellets of yours some glands . . . before the aggressive phase of the life cycle . . . so that they can spray the . . . what are those called? Lower part of the hands?”
“Ball of the thumb.”
“That’s it, the opposable thumb. To destroy the rebels’ thumbs.”
“Do these last few humans have speech at all, like we do?” Philomena asked aloud.
No one in the grand court of the Pielapiel Palace wanted to argue with her about this, not even the forum lurkers. She was the only one of the regent’s immediate aides without the marks and scars on her skin, but even so, her position was well known. The Lion attended to her words, she had been present at all the most important councils of the last hundred years, in Landers, Capeside and Borbruck.
Dmitri Stepanovich glanced aside. He had come here to persuade the badger of the plan to attack the wells, and now she had closed her eyes and was talking to her commanders again via a whisper channel.
Do humans have language? We, the Gente, have speech, which is how we issue new orders and that’s all I need to know. I do not wish to understand my enemies, merely to defeat them. Facts, not speculation, decide what is to happen .
Philomena’s question had been a rhetorical flourish, nothing more.
The wolf looked along the length of the great court to the black Temple of lsotta, where young vestals with heads of hawks and in long, ragged robes of doves’ feathers, sprinkled the broad steps with the blood of willing victims, mixed with water.
The black stone was so hot that the blood hissed and turned to steam at once.
Here we all are then and here we decide what must happen.
A clean place, with sightlines from all sides, no admittance except for guests and official business, a fine crimson dust lying over everything, between the black temple and the Pielapiel Palace, here in the middle of Capeside. Now that his task was done, Dmitri would have liked to talk with a couple of historians, get rid of the bad taste that these necessary measures left in his mouth. He would have liked to ask scholars whether they observed an improvement, compared with before (and even before that), whether it was a hopeful sign that hereabouts decisions were taken in the open air, not in shuttered rooms like during the Monotony, in smoke-filled rooms heavy with the breath of intrigue, with low ceilings, rickety tables, uncomfortable chairs, when everyone at the table was afraid of the other.
The Monotony: he didn’t know too much about it, but enough to understand that the age when mankind ruled had been far too complicated in its idiocy to be understood afterwards. The rulers had knowledge that counted for nothing, the centre could not hold.
The badger and her army, the wolf and all the rest of the Lion’s envoys, the dragonfly and her fragile kith and kin – they were all free people, not servile subjects. That was how things should stay and that’s why he and his had to stop the Monotony irredentists from reintroducing their bizarre and repulsive customs.
Even the worst of those idiots on the forums knew that no concession could be made to mankind, no compromise with their disgusting ideas about protein metabolism, nor with their clumsy political system, nor the moronic way they used the noosphere. This crap must never again clog up the channels whereby Creation communed with itself.
Cyrus Iemelian Adrian Vinicius Golden, the Lion, in whose name all that was in the Three Cities was, wanted to secure the new era that he had founded, in order to hand it on to his daughter Lasara one day. She stood for those who had been born after the Monotony had been brought to an end, the many who had never experienced how bad it had all been before. Thus the final task in establishing the reign of sweet reason was theirs, the task of the young, the task that the founder had not wished for himself, actively to forget the old order.
Dmitri Stepanovich had served the Lion for eight years now.
The aediles of the Three Cities found him eager, brave, persistent, properly enraged by setbacks, talented in using his fine biochemical tools and they found that he had some thoroughly dangerous ideas.
Even Ryuneke Nowhere was supposed to have spoken words of praise for Dmitri, from one of his countless hiding places, or so the chatter on the forums said. “Follow those birds of yours back to Landers now, young wolf,” said the badger, opening her eyes. “It’s decided. We’ll destroy their hands, we’ll finish the job.”
Dmitri nodded, as he had learnt to do in the Orient, and left without a word. There were dark paths awaiting him, troubles to beset him round.
BEING AN ASS
“O-o-o-open up! You eeyo- 0-0-0 -0 – o pen up there!”
Shouting and muffled curses.The wolf was irked by the stupidly intense sun shine and only heard the noise with half an ear.
“Well eeyo- o- o-open up there, why do-0-0 – 0-0- n’t you?” yammered someone who reckoned that he was a donkey.
He stood rather uncertainly on four legs-until a while back he had stood on two legs, then decided that that was monkey business-in front of a burnt-out tank in a dirty street in Capeside, beside the imposing grain store, halfway between the Temple of Isotta and the market mile that divided the city centre from the fourteen suburbs.
The shrieking nitwit stamped round in his own dung and tried with all his might to wake the ruined machine. “Open up, you’ve got fruits and grains in there for s- u- u- ure, eeyore, or don ‘t you even have ha- a-a – ave a bit of bread fo-o -o-or, eeyore, for me? Don’t you ha- a- ave any bread for me? And open up here, eeyo- 0-0 -0 – 0-open up there! ”
Half a dozen badgers, their pelts so swathed in ablative film that they looked more like porcelain figures than living creatures, surrounded the delusional donkey.
First of all, he gasped and grunted for words, then they beat and scolded and snufiled at him until he shut up. Finally he let himself be led off to sober up, but looking back at the tank dozens of times, so that the badgers lost their temper at last. They aimed their water cannon at the broken beast and drove him where they wanted him, shouting imprecations all the while. One of the faster badgers ran ahead and stuffed cut flowers into his mouth from a satchel. They kept falling out as he shouted, until at last he began to chew.
“The flowers have been dosed with certain substances,” Philomena instructed the wolf in a snide tone that she had learnt from her best friend’s scientific lectures, “prepared by our dear Izquierda and her specialists, which will help this poor donkey . . . and others of his, shall we say, stubborn disposition, to a better sense of their place in the world, a-ha.”
The dragonfly kept on in her tutorial tone, expansively.
“Two kinds of iron ores, which, if all goes according to plan, will form a sub cellular concentration beneath the nostrils of any … remedial subject exposed to the substance, thereby sensitizing his proprioceptive organs to certain forces that affect the iron particles. Fluctuations, ebbs and flows, in the geomagnetic field of any given place the delinquent may stumble into, if for instance he is fiddling with weapons systems abandoned by the defeated faction, let us say, burnt-out tanks . . .”
“You’re … very pleased with yourself, aren’t you Philomena?”
‘These fluctuations regulate . . . how might I explain it . . . indirectly, the likeli hood that certain mechanically sensitive ionic channels in said noses will open or close. Or said beaks, if the reprobate is a bird. Thus we have equipped the poor soul in question with biological magnetometers, which will in future –again, if all goes as it should – assist him in navigating . . . unfamiliar . . . terrain, and which might seem to any observers, such as myself or your good self, to cause symptoms as it were of pain, whereas of course all ethical laws to which we certainly subscribe . . .”
“One day you’ll get lost in your own damn sentences and bite yourself in the arse.”
“I have no arse, dear friend,” whispered the dragonfly.
The wolf thought then that he felt her tongue, thin as a hair, trail across his brow, delicate as a laser.
Dmitri Stepanovich would not be provoked. He bared his teeth and spat, politely, nanosaliva, which fell on the sand and changed into a handful of tiny clever little spiders, smaller than dust, that ran away at once across the great court. They had instructions to clean the badger Georgescu’s fur for a couple of days, a “thank you” for playing host and chairing the meeting.
The wolf bowed his head formally. He hardly noticed that Georgescu had raised her right paw in acknowledgement, but trotted away silently. Arriving at the market boulevard , bustling with buyers and sellers, he craned to see the sky, looking for the raven who had guided him here from home and who was to give him his next instructions.
Magnetometers. Remedial cases. Grain, bread.
The wolf felt a doubt, something he had not felt before.
THE HOT STEPS
“Why do you tremble?” The oldest of the vestals was quivering with suppressed rage, there on the steps of the Temple of Isotta, as she asked a younger virgin, “Surely you knew that they would meet here and discuss matters of war?”
“The blood . . . I don’t like to be watched as we libate,” the other answered. She wished that they could do this differently – at night, by torchlight, in secret and with ceremony, as the frescoes on many of their facades had been painted, in the years immediately after the Liberation, the omnipresent picture of the winged snake, mostly in vinyl colours, heraldic animals in geometric shapes, stars and symbols.
“We shall not be asked to pour the libations of blood for much longer,” the veteran said, to comfort the disquieted girl. “The Li’l Runaround shall soon appear.”
Then she pointed with two of the seven fingers on her right hand, at the burnt city all round and at the monuments. Both could see, with their keen hawk eyes, that new grass was growing in the windows of the ruined department stores and the Telecom Tower, violets were blooming. The Lion’s promise had not been empty words: “We shall plant gardens.”
“Back to work, my children. Clean and prepare,'”spoke a voice, a blue shadow from within the temple, a warning.
The vestal hawks obeyed.They squatted down and leant over the steps, pecking away at the last crumbs of the hideous morsels that defiled the temple stairs. Gather, and snap, and spit. Even the sacrificial blood had not been able to wash the steps free of these tiny fragments, left over from the last battle for the city.
Sometimes you had to use your beak.