Sometime back in the mists of the Late Cretaceous, the plan was to host a special gallery open house in April that took advantage of blooming season. With one known exception, carnivorous plants bloom like any other angiosperm, with the height of the spectacle hitting in Dallas in the latter half of April. Sometimes the blooms last into May, and some species just never stop blooming through the growing season (yes, Stylidium debile, I’m looking at you). The last few years have been particularly rough on this idea, with last year’s flower show cancelled due to illness, but this year it was going to happen. Absolutely. Sure of it.
Well, as you may have noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the gallery is just a little too small to allow easy social distancing: at least, allowing social distancing and access to the restroom. With the current lockdown and shelter-in-place order for the entirety of Dallas County, currently extended to April 30, large gatherings are not just discouraged but open to fines and arrest, so the original open house was regretfully cancelled. Heck, when the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is cancelled for 2020 because of COVID-19, there’s no reason to risk life and health even if the shelter-in-place order wasn’t an issue. We can still have one in 2021, but a live show isn’t an option right now, and probably not until well after all of the blooms are gone for the year.
Into this comes a possible solution. Between the crew at Glasstire calling for short videos of Texas art exhibitions in lieu of personal appearances and Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track hosting regular video conferences on Twitter with readers, it may be time to take the Manchester United Flower Show online. Among other things, so many friends and cohorts regret not being able to get to Dallas to view an open house, so this is an opportunity to include them with no obligation and no plane tickets. For everyone else sick to death of online conferences for work and otherwise, it’s an opportunity to sit back and let someone else drive. We’re still working out the details, but we’re going back to the original date and time of Saturday, April 18 at 6:00 pm Central Time, with a repeat later in the evening for those on the other side of the International Date Line. Keep an eye on the site for more details, but the idea is to have an opportunity for as many people as possible to watch, so it probably won’t be attached to a particular platform. We’ll burn those bridges as we come to them.
To reiterate, the Manchester United Flower Show is back in place on April 18, barring life imitating art, and without issues with parking. See you then.
The locals refer to the days before the Well as “The Belonging,” when the veil between worlds was weak and people were better than they were afterwards. Not that they knew much other than that: those who asked too many questions were either asked to leave or disappeared suddenly in the night. The foothills and valleys around the mountains were perpetually shadowed by clouds that never broke, with the only motion being a constant swirl around the tallest mountain in the region. Occasionally travelers spotted flashes of lightning from the vortex, getting stronger the closer they approached the peak. At least, this was what was reported by travelers who related what they saw to others: other travelers trying to get closer tended not to return at all, and others returned but became extremely enthusiastic about shutting down further questions.
Every once in a while, particularly brave travelers specifically went to view the lightning’s source, and a very few were willing to whisper about what they saw. They described a tremendous stone block on the side of the mountain, flanked by tremendous metal chains affixed to the mountainside and struck repeatedly by the lightning and backed by a cyclopean multicolored bas relief that could have been stone or glass or metal or a combination of all three. In the center of the block was a well bored into the mountain’s roots. Nobody asked about the well’s depths, because those bravest of the brave rapidly left after hearing what sounded almost like voices, soft and sibilant, coming from the depths. Some described the well as being half-full of water, and others said it was only full of darkness. One, though, visited right at the spring equinox, when a sudden break in the clouds shone sunlight directly down into the well and onto a garden of brilliant yellow flowers unlike any seen elsewhere. The explorer claimed she had climbed down to gather a flower but lost it in the forest, along with most of an arm, and refused to explain the circumstances under which both were left behind.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 36″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm) Plants: Nepenthes ampullaria and Utricularia subulata Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, found items. Price: $400 Shirt Price: $350
Even in better times, Texans and tourists rushed out every spring to view the return of the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, bringing family, loved ones, and pets into the mix. This didn’t always end well for the bluebonnets: the plants themselves are reasonably tolerant of abuse, but the flowers are very easily crushed. This was really a problem for actively trafficked areas: for the most part, bluebonnets are common enough and widespread enough that the species can handle the occasional trampled cluster. In these days of social distancing, that dose of blue, purple, and green is even more important than ever, as is the need to give everyone a chance to see them who wants to do so. Please, please be careful when taking family photos in bluebonnet patches, if only by sticking to the edges and not flattening the whole thing. Most importantly, clean up after your pets, unless you want that kind of karma in an age of security cameras everywhere. Everyone else will thank you for this in the future.
For everyone who has followed this little trek so far, thank you very much, and keep an eye open for future posts. Bluebonnet season is just getting started, and there’s no telling what we could find among the undergrowth in a week or so. No telling at all.
One of the things that amazes so many initiates to Texas bluebonnets is exactly how much animal life can reside inside one bluebonnet clump. No, not bluebonnet rattlesnakes: a thriving field of bluebonnets captures dead leaves and other debris to feed detritivores, and the leaves provide sustenance for a whole legion of foragers and grazers, while the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators that themselves depend upon the flowers’ pollen and nectar. With those herbivores come predators to take advantage of the largesse, and bodies of predator and prey themselves feed the detritivores. It’s a short-lived cycle that ends when the plants die off and burn back in May, but it’s absolutely essential for a wide variety of fauna, mycota, and other flora to continue their own life cycles. Give the land a chance to cool and rest over the winter, and the cycle starts all over in spring.
For those outside of Texas, and for everyone sheltering in place, the Texas wildflower season started about the time we all started self-quarantining, and it now gets going with the beginning of bluebonnet season. Lupinus texensis is a denizen of poor soils throughout the state, growing thickly on roadsides, fields, industrial parks, and anywhere where nitrogen is at a premium. Part of their appeal is the tremendous clumps of blooms at the height of the season, but also their transitory nature: by the end of April, they generally burn off and deposit seeds for next year’s crop. By July, most people who hadn’t witnessed the waves of blooms in April would never have known they existed: the stems and flowers turn to powder and are overgrown by grasses and other summer flora.
Because of this temporary display, many bluebonnet habitats throughout Texas will not mow until the bluebonnets and other wildflower species go to seed. With the bluebonnets come legions of wildflower tourists to get photos of family and/or loved ones among the bluebonnets, in addition to utter idiots fussing about bluebonnet rattlesnakes. This is all fine and good, but these photos generally avoid one important fact: L. texensis is a fascinating plant when seen from the ground, to the point of seeming unbearably exotic.
It’s easy to be flippant about plant blindness, the cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing the plants in their everyday environments. It’s an understandable heritage of being taught over and over to look for the animals in various environments: look back on the number of pictorials of exotic environments and then consider how many focused solely on the plants and ignored the animals. You might be considering for a while: everything from National Geographic foldouts to dinosaur books focus on the animals big and small, with the accompanying flora a sidenote at best. The phenomenon of plant blindness is even worse with documentary films and videos: show a field of Sarracenia pitcher plants, and interest only perks up when the viewer sees tree frogs in the pitchers. On a personal level, I deal with this at Triffid Ranch shows on a constant basis: not only do people look at an enclosure in a quest for the animal they’re sure is inside, but after being told that the enclosure holds nothing but plants, they check again just to make sure. Plant blindness isn’t innate and it isn’t genetic: it’s a learned behavior, and it’s one that can be broken with enough practice.
This is why, in the tradition of Sir David Attenborough, it’s time to go among the bluebonnets. Expect more pictures in the very near future: after all, bluebonnet season is only just starting up, and they’re going to get thick in the next few weeks. Most importantly, though, try to remember that plant blindness. Don’t focus on anything else: focus on the plants. Note the foliage as well as the blooms. Only this way can you break the curse of plant blindness.
In which an artist, in an attempt to create backstory for a recent artwork, dives headfirst into obscure fanfic.
On that particular morning, Lietyran awoke with a sense of responsibility. She awoke every morning with a sense of responsibility, considering her position and her heritage, but this was different. From the moment the tower servants awoke her, her responsibility to those she and her family ruled was the same: she was the ruler and they were the ruled, deferring only to traditions of the royal court and the specific orders of her parents. That day, though, had an extra veneer of obligation. Her father, Taurik XXIII, the emperor and total ruler of the Bright Empire of Melnibone, was attaining his 55th birthday the next day, and Taurik always expected his subjects to at least try to surprise him on what was, after all, a national day of obligation. The fact that Taurik’s birthday coincided with the five thousandth anniversary of the founding of the island nation of Melnibone just made Lietyran’s concerns more focused. A day before such a pair of momentous holidays, and she had yet to find her father a suitable present.
Climbing out of her bed and staring out the tower window, she beheld the main and sole city on the whole of Melnibone: Imrryr, the Dreaming City. tens of thousands of citizens rushed below her, attended to by hundreds of thousands of slaves and servants, between the city center and the fantastic sea-maze built in the harbor. In the surrounding towers, all of which appeared more grown than built, the greatest sorcerers the world had ever seen conducted countless rituals and sacrifices, traveling to alternate planes of existence or trading with demons and elementals alike. Squinting a bit with her witch sight, she could see the seemingly endless progressions of elementals of the air repairing towers, transporting messages, or simply gathering the smoke from hundreds of fires both mundane and magic and shuttling it outside the city. To her window rose the sounds of Imrryr life: horses and mastodons, fervent conversations, droning incantations, and the occasional scream of terror. So did the smells: sweet wine, sour sweat, bitter regret, acrid fear, and occasionally the clean crisp scent of exultation. From time to time, dragons would swoop near the tower, their riders returning from the furthest edge of the empire with news or tribute. The Melniboneans were a cruel and capricious race, solely interested in maintaining their power and fending off their boredom, and the best the humans hauled in every day by the hundreds could hope for was relative indifference. To Lietyran, the sounds and sights she beheld had been a part of Imrryr life since the days of the first emperors, and would be a part centuries after she and everyone else she knew was dead. Not knowing anything else, she accepted it and moved on.
That moving on involved subterfuge that day. Her father was a late sleeper, attending to affairs of state by midday after others had made sure that anything that passed under his gaze was worthy of his attention. Even she dared not wake him early unless he had specifically requested it, as his nights were devoted both to his own esoteric research and to his wife, Empress Salaee. The emperor indulged his only daughter and doted on her as best as Melnibonean traditions allowed, but he had his limits. Because of that, she quickly donned travel clothes and hat and her most quiet slippers and cleared the floor reserved for the royal chambers, only switching to riding boots after she was on the ground level. She quickly picked ten of the most loyal of the royal guard, ordered a meal basket with wine from the kitchen slaves, and walked to the tower stables, where her favorite horse awaited her intentions. She was a princess, they were her subjects, and nobody questioned why or where she was going that early in the morning.
There were others who would, which was why the real reason Lietyran was up early. The Melnibonean royal court was affectionately referred to by her father as “a pit of vipers,” to which she strenuously objected. She had been raising vipers and other venomous snakes for most of her 17 years, both for their venoms and for pure curiosity, and she never saw even the most aggressive viper bite itself. Some of the noble families of Imrryr were boorish enough to hint as to their intentions of taking the fabled Ruby Throne for themselves, although none were ambitious or stupid enough to state their intentions openly and risk the Emperor hearing of them. Taurik also had his traditions and obligations as ruler, but this never prevented his enjoying the Royal Inquisitor’s very precise and very slow interrogation as to the extent of any treason that usually doubled as a public demonstration of the subtleties of agony. Most settled for watching for any opportunity for favor with the Emperor, particularly involving any intrigues surrounding his daughter, and she learned practically in the womb to feint and double-feint as to her true intentions, even among those she legitimately considered friends. Sometimes the feints were physical: her mother discouraged her from learning warcraft, recommending and preferring undetectable poisons and minuscule alterations of grimoires so that summoned demons were able to escape and wreak revenge before they could be returned to the Lower Hells. Lietyran learned much from her mother, and also sword and dagger play from the Lords of the Dragon Caves alongside lessons in riding horse and dragon. The royal guard was expected and required, but she knew she would not be completely helpless.
Upon leaving the stables and trotting up the main street, Lietyran looked from under her wide-brimmed riding hat, adorned with the royal dragon sigil, to about halfway up a nearby tower. One of her surrogate vipers, Inarris, stared down blearily, still recovering from her nightly celebrations. Inarris was a novelty in Imrryr, proudly flaunting blonde curls in a court where brown or black hair was the standard, and her huge blue eyes caught Lietyran’s equally blue gaze and slitted: in no way would she have the time to dress and ride out to see what Lietyran was doing that day. The princess subtly saluted, knocking some of her black hair back over an ear so narrowed as to appear to come to a point, and slowed so Inarris could see exactly where she was headed. The eastern gate, leading out into the forests and wilds of Melnibone. By the time she could get there, though, Lietyran would be long gone.
Lietyran’s destination would have been a surprise to anyone who had asked, and nobody had. Another one of the grand traditions of Melnibone involved subtlety when presenting gifts to the Emperor. Taurik appreciated novelty leavened with subtlety and wit, and appreciated the adage that the best joke was a slight distortion of the truth. On previous birthdays, many came to him with intricate puzzles and viewers, both created specifically for his amusement and gathered from nearby planes, but he also enjoyed storytellers and explorers. With the whole of the world under his boot, most had little in the way of unique perspectives, and the same went for sorcerous effects and fireworks. This was why Lietyran was heading toward a secret location she had recently discovered in a chronicle in the royal library: six months of feverish translation of the magician’s cipher gave her the location of the presumed-lost laboratories of Terhali the First, the most famous of Melnibone’s guiding empresses.
Most of of the island of Melnibone outside of the city walls was wild, interspersed with small orchards and farms dedicated to growing the rare plants used for spells and incantations throughout Imrryr. Other herbs and trees were impossible to cultivate and grew where they chose, so the island was covered with flora from across the Bright Empire, brought back on battle-barge and dragon alike. Over the centuries, emperors claimed magical laboratories built by their predecessors or built their own, both to keep secret new avenues of learning and to prevent accidents from damaging life and property. Of the ones never found and exploited, the most sought-after was the laboratory of Terhali the Demon Empress, rumored to have been mothered by a demon as an explanation for her deep green skin. As with the others, it was almost definitely built on a nearby plane of existence for security and discretion, but could be reached via demon-constructed doorways and gates in hidden locations, but only with the correct password. If Lietyran’s translations of the cipher were correct, she had both a password and a map.
Lietyran and her royal guard rode for about two hours, occasionally backtracking based on referral to the cipher and her notes. Eventually, they reached the cliffs at Melnibone’s northern shore, and she ordered her guard to spread out and watch for any interlopers. With the guard preoccupied, she carefully walked along the edge of the cliff, stepped down onto a nearly invisible pathway running just below the edge, and even more carefully inched to one of dozens of cave entrances on the cliff face. Most of these were dark and shallow, only going in about ten feet or so. The one she selected had light coming from the back, about 200 feet back, and she tiptoed over branches and bones that had collected at the mouth. The light turned out to be filtered sunlight coming through the collapsed roof, and the tunnel eventually opened out into a natural caldera. The caldera was surrounded with thick forest, thus explaining why it had evaded discovery for the 500 years since Terhali last lived, and the only thing in it was a tremendous rock slab, weathered and pitted. This had been carved with a large circular window in the center, and runes both around the window and on the rest of the slab seemed to make the slab appear even older than what Lietyran expected.
Looking back to make sure that nobody had followed her into the caldera, Lietyran pulled her handwritten notes from a riding bag at her side, followed by a small metal pick and a clear blue crystal. One set of runes suggested the incantation necessary to awaken the monolith, but she knew far too well about the traps set by Melnibone’s sorcerers to prevent unauthorized pillaging of their secrets. She took off her riding hat, brushed hair out of her eyes, and put the crystal to her right eye. There, she thought: through the crystal, another series of runes were made visible, and those suggested a different cantrip. Lietyran put the crystal back in her bag and walked up to the monolith, spitting on her palm while doing so. She used to pick to pull away dirt and detritus from a space directly underneath the window, revealing a small triangle carved into the stone. She pressed her spat-upon hand onto the triangle and whispered “Gol mek ta ke,” and jumped in spite of herself as two gigantic crystals, each much taller than she was, erupted on either side of the window.
Now she knew she was on the right track, as no crystal of this type existed anywhere on Earth. Their extraplanar origin was obvious, and although she wasn’t foolish enough to touch them, she knew that they were rapidly chilling in the morning sun. Right at noon, with the sun directly overhead, the cipher hinted, and the gate could be opened.
Lietyran had time to kill, and she regretted not taking the food basket with her when she came down this way. No matter: she would have plenty of time to eat if everything worked. Instead of going back for food or wine, she settled for studying the remaining runes as the sun rose and the crystals froze. Finally, with a course of action, the sun at its height, and a thick fog forming around the base of the crystals, she stood between the two, gathered her notes, and began to read aloud.
When starting, Lietyran had no expectations of a spectacle. Indeed, she was too busy concentrating, focusing on magical concepts whose perception was as essential as the spell itself. However, she knew it should have been straightforward: a slight glow to the monolith, and the gate inside the window would open into whatever fantastic plane to which the stone had been anchored. She was so focused on the spell that at first she didn’t notice the sparks flying off the stone face, the twin vortexes of fog and dead leaves forming over the crystals, or the sudden wind blasting through the caldera. She noticed when one of the sparks broke free and passed over her head, though, and stared in surprise when the whole of the circle opened and a blue-topaz light shone through. She definitely noticed as a silvery metal barrel about the size of her horse launched through the circle and bounced to the wall of the caldera. The sparks and dust-devils stopped, the light stopped, and the wind stopped. The only sound coming from the area came from the barrel, which was slowly pinging like cooling iron.
As a princess of the greatest empire the world had ever known, Lietyran had no time to cower, or stare, or run off. This thing could have been a threat to the Bright Empire, or a serendipitous opportunity, and as such must be investigated. She also looked at the barrel as the perfect birthday gift for her father: even empty, she knew that the circumstances of its arrival would make an interesting tale, with the appropriate omissions as to the exact location and the circumstances leading up to its discovery. She may have been a princess, but she was also a Melnibonean, and traditions on what and where to share ran through her veins along with her blood. She walked forward as the barrel stopped pinging, noting what appeared to be a door on the side of the barrel. That door swung open, discharging a large cloud of sour greenish smoke, and two figures crawled out, coughing and waving the air to dissipate the smoke.
“Are you all right, Garanik?”, the first figure asked, as he, unmistakably he, removed a strange round black hat off his head and waved that in the air at the smoke. The figure’s clothing was odd by any standard: a white shirt of unknown material under a dark blue vest covered with pockets and straps and loops. Breeks of a coarse faded blue cloth, and blue shoes with odd lacing with magenta stripes on the sides. The most surprising was the hair. As mentioned before, Melnibonean hair ranged brown to black, with the occasional blonde for variety. The stranger’s hair was a deep auburn, like that of the winged men of Myrrhn, and his sideburns suggested that his beard would be the same color. As if taking that into account, the stranger ruffled that hair for a second as if trying to dislodge sand, put the round hat back on, and took a quick look around, completely missing Lietyran.
“Well, THAT was different! Terrestrial world, average gravity…I’m just glad it has a breathable atmosphere. We may be here for a while if we need to make repairs.”
Another voice came from the other side of the barrel, deep and sonorous, with a different accent than that of the stranger. In all of her studies and all of her experiences, Lietyran had never heard accents like these in her life. “Do you know what happened?”
“Not a clue. Bell’s Theorem spits in my face again.” The stranger turned, noted Lietyran for the first time, and took off his hat slightly, “Hello.”
Lietyran was in unfamiliar territory, but she was neither stupid or cowardly. Regretting that she had neither sword nor dagger, that her guard had no precise idea where she was, and that her little pick made a terrible weapon, she made a show of relaxing in order to free her arms for a possible fight, looked up at the stranger through her eyebrows, and asked “I presume you know who you are and where you are?”
The stranger smiled, turned to the side and yelled over the barrel “And the Machine’s translator carrier is working this time!” He then turned to her, took off the hat entirely and put it over his heart, and bowed slightly. “Apologies. My name is Benetalistantrumaine, but everyone calls me ‘Bennett.’ As to where I am, I was hoping you could help. We’re a little off course.”
“We?” Just as she asked, she turned toward the near end of the barrel. Standing over her was a giant. The first stranger at least appeared human, if not Melnibonean. The giant could never pass for human. It stood a full eight feet high, with greyish skin and longish dark hair, the latter held in place with an elaborate circlet of golden metal with a white jewel in the center. From what she could see, the giant wore similar unfamiliar attire, with a brown billowing blouse and dark brown breeks tucked into black boots. The giant’s had two deep brown eyes that stared down with obvious amusement, and its short muzzle split open for a gesture that might have been a smile. Big stout teeth like a horse’s were visible, suggesting that if it planned to eat her, it would have to work at it. In spite of herself, Lietyran stepped back slightly, tripping on a rock, and fell backwards. The giant reached out a hand that gave her a larger shock: instead of the five fingers she and the first stranger had, the giant had six: four fingers and what appeared to be a thumb on either side. She warily offered her hand in return, and the giant lifted her easily. She started to brush herself off, and then stopped, speechless.
“And you’ve met Garanik. He’s an engineering student from Iscaris III, which is…er, that’s a long story. Say hello to the lady, Garanik.
“‘Hello, Garanik.’ Are you all right?” She suddenly realized that they both spoke Low Melnibonean, the tongue used for everyday activities.
“I’m all right,” Lietyran said in High Melnibonean, the tongue used exclusively for magic and communication with elementals and beings of the Higher Planes. They both understood her, which meant either they were from the Higher Planes themselves or someone had made a potentially fatal error in teaching the language to his servants. They didn’t look like anybody’s servants, which confused her further.
“Pardon my bad manners,” Bennett said, indicating the barrel, “but I have to take a look inside. Just a minute.” He opened the door further and climbed inside, and Lietyran and Garanik listened to shouts, whistles, curses, and grumbles from within. Lietyran looked at Garanik curiously: the barrel was large, but there was no way he and Bennett would fit comfortably inside. The door swung out and Bennett stepped out, sneezing for a second at the last of the smoke.
“The good news? The good news is that we’re not stuck. Any repairs we need to make can be made after we leave. The bad news is that this place ranges closer to Chaos, so we’re going to need more time to recharge before we can leave. Want to see the sights?”
“Of course,” Garanik rumbled, “That’s why I came along in the first place.” Garanik looked at Lietyran expectantly. “Could you tell us where we are?”
Lietyran was back in familiar territory. “You are on the island of Melnibone,” with the two silently practicing the pronunciation: “Mulnehbooney.” “We’re just outside of the city of Imrryr.” The both of them looked unfamiliar and just a little unimpressed.
“And you are…?”
Lietyran’s voice gathered up in its full royal majesty, as befitting her station. “I am the Princess Lietyran, daughter of Emperor Taurik and Empress Salaee, heir to the Bright Empire of Melnibone. The real question is where are you from and what are you doing here?”
Bennett removed his hat again and scratched his scalp for a moment. “As to what we’re doing here, that’s a good question. We can’t say we were ‘pulled off course,” but that’s pretty much what happened. When the Machine dematerializes, it simultaneously exists in all alternate realities at once, and then maps onto a specific one before we can disembark. The difference is that this is drastically different from the reality we were expecting. Does that help?”
“I know the words you used, but not in that order. So who ARE you?”
Bennet chuckled. “Well, I’ve already introduced myself, but I’m from…well, that’s a confusing situation. Let’s just say that my people solved the secrets of travel through the time-space continuum, but thanks to an accident, I’m able to travel sideways as well as back and forth”
Lietyran suddenly grinned, rushing up expectantly. “This can travel in TIME?”
“Could you let me see?”, Lietyran said, trying to push Bennett aside so she could reach the door.
“I’m afraid it’s not that easy. The Machine’s power source is back in my reality. That’s all I’m trying to do: get home. Little bits of that power seep between dimensions, so it can gather that up for another jump, but that takes time.”
“Our faithful steed, the Silver Machine.” Bennett patted the side affectionately. “Back, forth, and sideways through time and space, with little complaint and no clue as to where we’re going half the time.” He sing-songed; “Don’t you know what I mean?”
“So how long do you need?”
“Normally, a day is more than enough time. However, in realities with more of an inherent level of chaos, it can take longer. Give us about two days, and we’ll be on our way.”
“Let me understand you. You two are from a different…reality? And you can travel to other realities, and not just to other planes?”
“That pretty much sums it up. Garanik here is from a different reality and a different world, and he asked to come along to see the multiverse.”
“‘Multiverse’. Now that’s a word I understand. But I thought travel through the multiverse was only possible during the Conjunction of the Million Spheres, when the barriers between planes was at its most fluid.”
They looked at each other. “News to us,” Bennett said.
Lietyran thought for a moment. Her thoughts roiled. If she got them back to Imrryr, not only would their tales make a perfect gift for her father, but Inarris would chew glass in envy. And then there was the thought of traveling beyond anywhere any Melnibonean had ever been. All of this happening on the anniversary of the Empire’s founding…if the gods intended this as a joke, they were evidently in the mood for slapstick.
“In my power as Princess, I welcome you as honored guests of the Ruby Throne, and invite you to a special audience before the Emperor. We can bring back your…Machine as well. I just have one last question.”
A regular comment about military history involves the trope “every peacetime is spent preparing for the last war.” Across four galaxies, with approximately 10,000 sentient species per galaxy, the trope holds true: whether an intraspecies conflict, a formal war between one or more civilizations, or a galaxy-wide beatdown, most plans, equipment, and strategy are battle-tested and ready…for the previous conflict. This isn’t to say that these are necessarily ineffective or useless.
Long before the scions of a little mid-arm world deep within the AAaches Spiral called Earth started spreading out across what became the Delegation Collective, they kept focusing on the lessons they thought they had learned from a major war just before the development of spaceflight. In this case, two nation-states had just fought a long and incredibly bloody war declared The War To End All Wars, and the nominal victor was determined never to face another invasion from its neighbor. To that end, it built what was one of the most impressive military structures in its history, running nearly the entire length of the mutual border. Most experts on Earth history considered that line to be one of the universe’s great military failures: the neighbor bypassed the line by moving troops and weapons through a neighbor to the north, with the line’s collective firepower unable to turn on its own territory to repel the invaders. What is rarely discussed is that the line only surrendered after months of heroic repulsion of every attempt at infiltration, the surrender was only because the invaders threatened to murder civilians until resistance ceased, and that the line’s resistance took enough attention and manpower to delay a further invasion of surrounding states, allowing an alliance to gather strength and destroy the invaders. The line may have appeared to have been a failure, but the reality was much more subtle, and without it, the actions leading up to the formation of the Delegation Collective probably never would have occurred. Whether that action was for good or ill is still being debated, particularly among armchair alternate historians. (These pseudo-historians tend to freeze up in actual alternate history exercises, which is why their survival rate in paratime generator tests tends to be exceedingly low.)
To find a nearly perfect example of this trope, students and experts need to look to the world of Solace, a rocky body orbiting a mid-sequence star in one of the satellite globular cluster galaxies in gravitational thrall to the AAaches Spiral. Approximately 15,000 standard cycles before the present, Solace’s name roughly translated to “All,” and All’s dominant government, a military dictatorship led by the notorious narcissist Joluus, attempted what it thought was a quick and easy conquest of a technologically similar civilization a short ultraspace hop away. What Joluus assumed would be a decisive and nearly casualty-free conquest turned into a hideously expensive and pointless campaign, and All’s forces returned exhausted and broken. Joluss’s insistence that they complete their mission led to a mass revolt across the planet, and Joluss quickly found himself in charge of only one small landmass and All’s innermost moon, with the rest of his species demanding that he step down and stand down or be excised from history. This he couldn’t bear.
Joluss’s plan, or rather that of his advisors and sub-colonels, involved everything Joluss craved at all times: a glorious annihilation of his opposition and a return of a regime that would conquer the stars. The first step was a strategic retreat to the innermost moon, currently covered with weapons emplacements, strategic ultraspace buffers, and research facilities. The moon had been terraformed, or rather Allformed, about a century before, which gave his forces literal breathing room while finishing the last stage. On the face of the moon’s greatest mountain was an intended symbol of Joluss’s invulnerability and invincibility: a bunker that led to the moon’s core and a staggering amount of raw material for building an even larger military force than before.
The real surprise about Joluss’s bunker came with a discovery from one of the research zones about a year before. One team confirmed that they could create a small bubble of space-time with a wildly varying temporal progression: tens to thousands of cycles could go by inside in an instant outside. Although the team begged for more time to confirm their results, Joluss’s commanders immediately pushed for a larger model that would encompass the bunker and the interior of the moon. The logic was clear: a quick retreat inside the temporal bubble, set the bubble to collapse after approximately ten cycles had progressed inside, and then sweep All of its traitors with a decicycle’s worth of military development conducted nearly instantaneously. As soon as the signal arrived announcing that the bubble generator was ready, Joluss’s command transport sped to the bunker door, to spend the next decicycle preparing for swift and terrible doom upon the upstarts that dared try to subvert his destiny. And after that, both his galaxy and the gigantic spiral galaxy that took up a significant portion of the night sky.
The temporal bubble generator was employed with a standing wave effect: anything entering as it was engaging would gradually pull in, meaning that Joluss would arrive inside the bubble as most of the vital war materiel work was nearly completed. He couldn’t be expected to wait for his war fleet, after all. The weapons bays and ultraspace buffers went silent as all available energy was diverted to the bubble generator, giving the opportunity for a retaliation force from the planet to swoop in and attempt to capture Joluss before he was beyond reach. They chased his command transport and two others running interference to the bunker door. The other craft were crushed against an invisible wall just short of the door, while Joluss’s vehicle just…sat there.
As seen over and over in the history of 40,000 known extant sentient species and easily 100,000 extinct ones, the one true military truism was “Haste makes waste.” In their efforts to avoid their leader’s anger, the bubble designers made one tiny error in millions of units of computer code that controlled the bubble and its effects. Instead of rushing time within the bubble, time was now stopped nearly entirely. Worse, another tiny error meant that the bubble’s effects were increased by a factor of 1000: instead of 10 cycles running inside the bubble before its collapse, everyone outside it watched 10,000 go by. It was completely impregnable, too: as the rebel force secured its position, every weapon capable focused on Joluss’s smirking visage, only to deflect away without hitting him. Joluss was in plain sight, and completely untouchable.
That was 15,000 cycles ago. One of the effects of the standing wave that saved Joluss from his judges was that it collapsed in waves, too. Joluss emerged from the bubble about 8000 cycles before the rest of his command vehicle, or at least part of him did: his head emerged from the bubble and attempted to laugh, only to choke as his internal organs remained behind the bubble’s wave. The head gradually fell free after a few hours, with the skull preserved to this day in one of the Museum of Folly franchises imported from AAaches Spiral. Every thousand cycles, another chunk of the command vehicle emerged from stasis, to tear free and collect at the base of the bunker door. After a while, everyone stopped waiting for the bubble to collapse right away, and the moon was ignored by all but a few Museum of Folly chroniclers looking for a better example of military failure. They looked for a long time.
And the ultimate irony? By the time the bubble collapsed completely and the soldiers inside realized that something was wrong, everything changed. 10,000 years is a long time for most intelligent species, and the newly liberated people of All had a constant incentive not to repeat the past. By the time the soldiers emerged, All had been renamed “Solace,” the people had evolved into a new species, and the soldiers found themselves a vestigial remnant of an otherwise extinct life form. They still live on the moon that preserved them, but the constant reminder that their fellows had better things to do rides over their entire consciousness. Outside of the Museum, the only remnant of Joluss is his name as an empty, now-obsolete profanity, and the former warriors of All and the current inhabitants of Solace now ignore each other out of embarrassment: one out of shame of what they could have been, and the other out of humiliation of what they used to be.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm) Plant: Nepenthes ampullaria Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, found items. Price: $350 Shirt Price: $300
The best-laid plans, and all that. The old Chinese curse about living in interesting times definitely applies through this month, and apparently beyond. The news about the Dallas County shelter-in-place order requiring all residents to stay at home unless conducting essential business is now international news, but the subsequent mandatory orders applying specifically to Richardson and Garland are just as big a deal. Right now, the Dallas County order will be up for review on April 3, the Garland order until at least April 7, and Richardson cut to the chase and set its order to run until at least April 29. Any way you look at it, anyone in the greater Dallas area isn’t going anywhere, especially since local police are empowered to ticket and/or arrest anyone running about without good reason.
And how does this affect the Triffid Ranch? Quite honestly, it stops everything for the next month, and directly affects the rest of the year. Unlike the twerp at the mail drop last Monday who wanted to argue that the Dallas County order didn’t apply to him because of one tiny issue that he assumed invalidated the whole order, the orders aren’t up for debate over here. As anybody in US Army Basic Training learns on the first day of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical training, you do NOT take off your mask until someone with the proper authority gives the proper “ALL CLEAR” signal. You may be melting in the heat, and you may want the freedom to take it off and relax, but it’s there for a reason.
So what this means is that every Triffid Ranch event scheduled for March, April, and May has been rescheduled, delayed, or otherwise put on hold. The planned April 18 Manchester United Flower Show open house is delayed. This also means that all appointments will have to wait until Richardson’s order is lifted, although remote consultations are still open. (If anything, if you’re looking for a custom enclosure, the delay should give it plenty of time to get established by the time you’re able to pick it up.) Among the important events:
As always, keep an eye on the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for changes to the schedule: everything depends right now on how well the COVID-19 situation flattens out, and what gets scheduled against what. Until then, stay safe, stay distant, and we’ll see you when we see you.
(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on February 21, 2020.
Installment #15: “What To Do When Jimmy Hoffa Gives You The Final Logs of the Marie Celeste. And Tells You How He Got Them”
So the last couple of months have been a wonderful time at the Triffid Ranch. The last open house was a blowout, the NARBC Arlington reptile show booth was a hit (and yes, I’m signed up for the September show), and the biggest problem right now is constructing new enclosures to replace ones going out the door. With that came an extensive cleaning, both of the gallery and the Web site, with more to come. Among many other things, the Enclosure Gallery section of the site was finally stripped of its endless scrolling option and everything put into separate links, for further perusal at the reader’s convenience. Oh, and we have stories.
A little backstory here. People who knew me in the days before the Triffid Ranch know that I was a professional writer between 1989 and 2002. “Professional writer” as in “actually getting paid for publication,” even though a lot of the muck shoveled out of my typewriter and computer didn’t quite qualify on either category. (Everyone brings up the tropes of “People DIE from exposure” or “pay the writer,” but amazingly nobody brings up the number of articles, stories, essays, and reports commissioned for publication that are then spiked because they inconvenience a friend of the editor’s, thrown back because the editor saw some other bright shiny object and says “this isn’t what I wanted,” kicked down the road and then tossed back because “it’s no longer timely,” or, my favorite, simply neglected because the editor is more worried about getting attention than in doing his/her job. With all of these, does the writer get paid for lost time, lost effort, or lost hair and stomach linings? Oh, it happens…about as often as the Dallas Cowboys come home with a shutout World Series pennant.) With a few relapses, I’ve stayed away from pro writing since then, because the aggravation isn’t worth the strain, and this comes from someone who had to threaten to dox every senior executive at SyFy in order to get payment, one per day until either I received a check or the president was getting phone calls on her personal number about why this freelancer hadn’t gotten his check, because nothing else made a difference to them. Others can do the pro writer tango, and that’s fine.
That said, when the gallery opened in 2015 and the first plant enclosures first went public, a strange thing happened. When the gallery first opened, I relished the sense of mystery, and when people would ask “So what’s the story behind this?”, I assumed they meant a discussion of themes or materials or concepts. No, what they meant, quite literally, was “what is the story?” The first response was “What story do YOU want from this?”, and it wasn’t wiseacre: it was serious. The problem was that viewers and purchasers both didn’t want their story about what they were viewing. To an individual, they wanted my story. In many ways, the enclosures were like museum displays or zoo exhibits: people could stare at them all day, but they wanted context and an explanation of what they were viewing. They didn’t always need one, but they wanted to know that one existed, and that there was more to the enclosures than carnivorous plants with neat backgrounds.
At the same time as that was going on, it was hard as the enclosure creator not to create “What if?” scenarios, instead of leaving everything to the viewer. Asking a viewer to answer the question “So what story do YOU want?” became an internal comparison between the scenario suggested and the one roiling around in my head. Think about it for a while, and the stories became more and more elaborate: who put this here? Why are the plants here? Are they interacting, or did one come before the other? Most importantly, if an unknown protagonist came across that scene, what were the characters and situations that led to that moment? It’s now up to the viewer: how does this story end, and why?
To help that along, every enclosure debuting at the gallery from here on out has its very own backstory, available at your convenience. Much as with the QR codes on museum or zoo displays offering further information, the nameplate on each enclosure has a QR code, readable by the vast majority of smartphones and tablets, so that it can be pulled up right then, or you can go to the Enclosure Gallery section of the Web site to read at your leisure. Some may be silly, some may be humorous, and some may be really, really dark. With the exception of ones that are obvious tributes to other writers or artists, though, they’ll be as unique as can be managed.
Don’t look at this as a return to writing. To paraphrase the old Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety, “I don’t hate writing! I hate publication!” Look at this as “augmented fiction.”
It took long enough, but the Triffid Ranch presence on Facebook is now as dead as cathode-ray tube monitors, and it was for a lot of reasons. The biggest and foremost was needing to focus on the gallery, but recent developments with Facebook’s algorithms as to which posts would and would not be shared with Page subscribers, as well as how much getting them boosted was going to cost, made being on that platform intolerable. Instagram and Twitter are both still destinations, but getting off Facebook was a plan for the better part of a year, and the current gallery efforts just expedited that. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for subscribing to this newsletter, early and often.)
Because more enclosures have gone out the door this year than in all of 2019 (and it’s mind-boggling when considering that the original gallery at Valley View Center opened up five years ago next August), it’s time to recharge the creative batteries by immersing in other people’s dreams and seeing how they influence mine. With the next newsletter, this section splits off recommendations into fiction and nonfiction, but for now, go out and buy yourself a copy of Medusa Uploaded and its sequel Medusa in the Graveyard, both by Emily Devenport. I refuse to hide my partisanship, as Emily and her husband Ernest Hogan have been friends and cohorts for three decades now, and that’s aggravated by the fact that the two consistently write fiction that plays Whack-a-Mole with my subconscious. By the time I’m finished with Medusa in the Graveyard, I should have some really interesting dreams that need to be turned into carnivorous plant enclosures.
Friends joke and grumble about this being “the worst timeline,” but they’re not entirely wrong. If it weren’t, then blues musician Cricket Taylor would be coming back home to Dallas to sold-out shows, heading back for yet another world tour, and taping the latest opening song to the biggest shows on Netflix. Let’s fix the timeline by making this happen, shall we?
This is an excerpt from the transcription of the Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transmission (GOSS NET 1) from the Apollo 11 mission.
Communicators in the text may be identified according to the following list.
Neil A. Armstrong
Command module pilot
Lunar module pilot
Edwin E. ALdrin, Jr.
Multiple (simultaneous) speakers
Launch Control Center
Mission Control Center:
Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)
Communications Technician (COMM TECH)
A series of three dots (…) is used to designate those portions of the communications that could not be transcribed because of garbling. One dash (-) is used to indicate a speaker’s pause or a self-interruption and subsequent completion of a thought. Two dashes (- -) are used to indicate an interruption by another speaker or a point at which a recording was terminated abruptly.
*** Three asterisks denote clipping of words and phrases.
(GOSS NET 1) Tape 71/15 Page 395
04 14 28 22 LMP (EVA) As I look around the area, the contrast, in general, is *** comes about completely by virtue of the shadow *** down Sun … very light colored gray, light gray color, a halo around my own shadow, around the shadow of my helmet. Then, as I look off across *** the contrast becomes strongest in that the surrounding color is still fairly light. As you look down into the Sun *** a larger amount of *** shadowed area is looking toward us. The general color of the *** surrounding *** the contrast is not as great. Surveying all the dusty area that we’ve kicked up *** considerably darker in texture. Now, I’ve kicked up one, and I imagine that this is *** Surveyor. The same is true when I survey across on – along the area that we’re walking. In general *** to the fact that there are footprints there. General terrain where I’ve been kicking up a lot of this surface material is generally of a darker contrast *** color.
04 14 31 29 LMP (EVA) The panorama I’ll be taking is about 30 or 40 feet out to plus ***
04 14 31 39 CC Say again which strut, Buzz?
04 14 31 43 LMP (EVA) The plus Z strut.
04 14 31 47 CC Roger.
04 14 31 48 LMP (EVA) And right in this area, there are two craters. The one that’s right in front of me now as I look off in about the eleven o’clock position from the spacecraft, about 30 to 35 feet … There’s several rocks and boulders 6 to 8 inches across … sizes.
04 14 34 13 LMP (EVA) I’m now in the area of the minus Y strut taking some … photographs.
04 14 35 56 CDR (EVA) Bulk sample is just being sealed.
04 14 36 58 CMP (COLUMBIA) Houston, Columbia.
04 14 37 01 CC Columbia, this is Houston. Go ahead. Over.
*** Three asterisks denote clipping of words and phrases.
(GOSS NET 1) Tape 71/16 Page 396
04 14 37 09 CMP (COLUMBIA) Roger. No marks on the LM that time. I did see a suspiciously small white object whose coordinates are – –
04 14 37 25 CC Go ahead with the coordinates on the small white object.
04 14 37 28 CMP (COLUMBIA) Easy – Easy 0.3, 7.6, but I … right on the southwest end of a crater. I think they would know it if they were in such a location. It looks like their LM would be pitched up quite a degree. It’s on the southwest wall of a smallish crater.
04 14 37 58 CC Roger. Copy Echo 0.3 and 7.6, and –
04 14 38 27 CC Columbia, this is Houston. While I’m talking to you, LOS will be at 111 19 31; AOS, 112 05 43. Over.
04 14 39 04 CC Columbia, this is Houston. Did you copy LOS AOS times? Over.
04 14 39 14 CMP (COLUMBIA) Negative, Houston. You broke. Disregard. I’ll get them off the flight plans.
04 14 39 19 CC Roger. Out.
04 14 39 56 LMP (EVA) There’s something going on out here/
04 14 40 12 CC You’re breaking up again, Buzz.
04 14 40 18 LMP (EVA) I say there’s something going on out here. A shimmering…what the?
04 14 40 53 CC Clarify, Buzz.
04 14 40 58 LMP (EVA) Something just appeared in line of sight. It wasn’t here before, and it wasn’t visible before touchdown. It was preceded by a shimmer around the area, and now we’re looking at a structure.
*** Three asterisks denote clipping of words and phrases.
04 14 41 07 CDR (EVA) I see it as well. A large assemblage of vertical struts, much lighter in color than the surrounding area. It has a large area of what appears to be vegetation of some sort, of a red-purple coloration, along the base.
04 14 41 25 LMP (EVA) And there’s a door.
04 14 42 01 CDR (EVA) Yeah. A door.
04 14 42 14 CC Houston. Please clarify. A structure? A door?
04 14 42 39 LMP (EVA) The structure is approximately one hundred yards high, constructed of stone. Points at the top, appearing to be eroded slightly at the top, as if by meteoroid ablation. No obvious entryway, no windows, but there’s a door way up, a little more than halfway up the face. I’m turning the TV camera…now.
04 14 43 18 LMP (EVA) *** get the panorama now. Okay.
04 14 43 33 LMP (EVA) Did you get it?
04 14 43 50 CC Holy mother of God.
04 14 43 55 CDR (EVA) The structure is odd enough, but there’s a big blue door. It looks like it came off a farmhouse. It’s big enough that we could walk through with EVA suits, if we could get in.
04 14 44 45 CC Neil and Buzz, this is Houston. Is there any way to access this door? Over.
04 14 45 03 CDR (EVA) Not unless we packed a ladder. It’s up about four times the height of Eagle, maybe five.
04 14 46 36 LMP (EVA) I’m moving past the vegetation to get a closer look from underneath. Yeah…it’s a door, but it’s not attached to anything. It’s suspended maybe two feet from the structure surface, with no visible means of support.
04 14 47 17 CC Roger. Out.
04 14 47 18 LMP (EVA) Houston, I’m going for samples of the vegetation.
(GOSS NET 1) Tape 71/18 Page 398
04 14 47 37 CC Negative, Buzz. We don’t have any way to transport biological samples.
04 14 47 55 LMP (EVA) Roger, Houston. Otherwise, I see nothing other than the door. No artifacts, no displaced regolith, no signs of who made it or why. I’m attempting to chip a piece off, and it’s denting the shovel. The structure looks from a distance like sandstone, but on closer observation, it appears to be sintered from what looks like diamond.
04 14 48 04 CDR (EVA) Houston, what is the status of our consumables?
04 14 48 48 CC Neil and Buzz, this is Houston. To clarify my last, your consumables are in good shape at this time. Over.
04 14 50 26 LMP (EVA) Not enough time to go through the door, even if we could reach it?
04 14 50 34 CDR (EVA) Yes. I think you are right.
04 14 51 29 LMP (EVA) Houston, what are our options? We can’t enter it, we can’t break in, and the EVA’s running out.
04 14 52 01 CDR (EVA) Houston, orders?
04 14 52 07 CC Complete the other objectives. Do not get any biological samples, but look for artifacts or other signs of technology. We’re otherwise keeping the schedule. Over.
Well. Skip out on one update in February, and look at what happens. All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi…er, I mean, all of those years of mental preparation for the collapse of human civilization, and here’s what it comes down to. No zombies, no Daleks, no mutants, no dinosaurs, no asteroid impacts, all of the rampaging highway raiders in Mohawks and bondage pants are riding mopeds…there’s a very good reason to stay home until this is all over.
Very seriously, for all of the “Love In the Time of COVID-19” jokes, March just got very interesting around the Triffid Ranch. Being open solely by appointment, social distancing was already enforced before everything went down, and a lot of those appointments may now be run virtually. (Yes, that means finally getting my Skype account up and going.) I was literally in Austin for 15 minutes last weekend when the City of Austin announced that it was shutting down the SXSW art and music festival, and cancellations rapidly spread through Texas, especially after Dallas County set up a ban on gatherings for more than 500 people on March 13. I was last-minute scheduled for a one-night presentation via the Corpsepaint Show at Gas Monkey Live on March 13, so there was that. All-Con was on its second day when Dallas County ordered its shutdown, with all of the vendors having to pack up and go home at about 11:30 Friday morning. Then came the list of events that were being rescheduled because there was no guarantee that COVID-19 would abate by the planned date. The Deep Ellum Art Festival. Fan Expo Dallas. When the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shuts down, you know people are taking this seriously.
To their eternal credit, the organizers of the Oddities & Curiosities Expo touring shows and Texas Frightmare Weekend have been on the case. Not within an hour of the Dallas County announcement, the Oddities & Curiosities crew were up and rescheduling shows, with the Dallas show moving from March 28 to June 27. Texas Frightmare Weekend is still starting on May 1 until further notice, but Loyd Cryer and his faithful crew were already running contingency plans and reassuring attendees and vendors that if anything changed, they’d know as soon as humanly possible. To their greater credit, both shows understood that a lot of us vendors were going to be hit badly due to the number of March shows shutting down, so they both posted lists of vendors so interested bystanders could buy from them directly until the situation was under control. In the interests of solidarity with cohorts and friends, go check them out and buy mass quantities, or at least let friends know that they’re out here:
With all of this, it’s hard not to bring up my home town’s unofficial motto: “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think about Dallas?” All I can say is that while we’re all staying home, with good reason, keep an eye open for interesting updates: since the gallery is reasonably isolated and I have plenty of time that was previously taken up with show preparation, it’s time to write up all of the plant care guides and other ephemera that had been put off for months and sometimes years. At least, that’s the idea. We’ll see how it goes from here. Until then, stay inside, stay safe, and rest assured that if you get a newsletter from me, it’ll include more content than far too many of the ones flooding your email box right now. And so it goes.
UPDATE (3/16/2020): I just got word from Jason at Curious Garden about Saturday’s carnivorous plant workshop, and it’s being rescheduled for a date after all of our current self-quarantine. This news wasn’t unexpected, but it came just as the City of Dallas ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, and gyms within city limits. It’s getting strange out there, folks, so take care.
Nosferatu Festival in Austin had a lot going for it, but one of the best was the screenings on Saturday and Sunday of the classic 1922 film. Modernized soundtracks for silent films aren’t new (after all, it’s been 35 years since the rerelease of Metropolis with a soundtrack highlighted with new music from Freddy Mercury and Bonnie Raitt, among others), but Nosferatu seems to bring out the best from original electronica composers, and attendees of Nosferatu Festival got two live performances for their efforts. After that, the number of people chuckling and pointing back at my booth at the scene showing off carnivorous plants was just gravy.
All said, thanks to everyone involved with Nosferatu Festival, from the venue to the attendees to the interested bystanders, for putting up with me over two days, and I for one would love to see more events like this at Come and Take It Live. The venue has an excellent feel that’s perfect for darker events such as this, and combine that with a very horror-friendly staff, even having a tire blow out on my cart while packing up on Saturday night wasn’t the bummer it could have been. (Said tire ruptured with no warning on my second-to-last load, loudly and explosively enough that I thought I’d been shot at, and much better that it blew out at the end of Sunday night than when I started setting up on Saturday. THIS, kids, is why any vendor at any show should have at least one spare cart, rack, or other contrivance to convey inventory, just so you’re not dependent upon borrowing someone else’s cart that might not exist.) Let’s see what next year brings, shall we?
Well, there’s Austin. Despite arriving in town just in time to learn that the famed SXSW Festival was being cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, everyone else involved with this year’s Nosferatu Festival was ready to go, and so was the Triffid Ranch. It shouldn’t be any surprise that a three-day festival dedicated to the first movie vampire would attract people with an appreciation for impending plagues, so even with the rest of Austin crashing around us, we made the best of it. (A little tip: George Romero taught us all that apocalypses are easier to bear if there’s a sufficient supply of barbecue on hand, and I make it a point to stock up at Green Mesquite on Barton Springs every time I’m in town. Considering how late we all got out of the festivities each night, having a nice stockpile waiting for you at the hotel makes being in a strange town a bit better.)
It’s been a while since the last time I set up a booth at Come and Take It Live (some may remember it as the site for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays shows until it switched venues in 2019), but it’s like riding a bike. The staff and support crew was on the ball, the weather was exemplary, and an enthusiastic crowd waited outside for the 4:00 opening on the two main days. Even with the threat of coronavirus, we were determined.
Apologies for a lack of updates this week: expect a whole lot later today, as I had to drop out of one show tonight out of concern for my mother-in-law and several others are rescheduling until after the current COVID-19 concerns have passed. Expect updates later tonight (after all, it’s not like we’re going anywhere soon), and then it’s time to rewatch a movie that was a little more prophetic than we knew when it came out in 2007. (Hey, I was looking forward to having something silly for Friday the 13th, but reality intruded.)
For the folks south of Dallas: by the time you read this, the TROTS (Triffid Ranch On Tour Secretly) tour to scenic Austin begins, setting up for Nosferatu Festival on Saturday and Sunday nights. If you can make it, I’ll see you there.
Posted onMarch 5, 2020|Comments Off on Enclosures: “Inverter” (2020)
Let me tell you something about Some Guy.
I first heard about Some Guy nearly 30 years ago. An ER nurse friend was relating her horrendous day when she mentioned the standard discourse. Someone is brought in, or crawls in, or hobbles in, with a horrendous injury, usually one bad enough that the police need to be involved. Without fail, when the obliging officer queries as to what happened, the patient has the same story: “I was at home on my porch minding my own business, when Some Guy came up and shot me/stabbed me/soaked me with pepper spray/shoved a broken bottle up my butt for no reason whatsoever.” Ambulance drivers and EMTs backed her up: during full moons, Some Guy was busy in rich and poor neighborhoods alike, usually in incidents involving alcohol, firearms, and big knives or bigger swords. After an incident involving model rocket engines and Everclear that disrupted his wedding anniversary dinner, one EMT told me that he was putting up posters in his spare time offering a reward for anyone who found Some Guy, and received all sorts of calls giving the whereabouts of Some Guy. The source? “Some Guy.”
It was about that time that I discovered where Some Guy got the money for all of his ammunition and bladed weapons. During the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, friends came to me to tell me aaaaaaaaall about this great investment opportunity, legal stratagem, or career change that was absolutely sure to beat the odds. The investment opportunity might have been a plan to sell action figures of various sports figures remodeled as superheroes, with no actual business plan other than “taking bets as to how much cocaine the CEO could shove up one nostril before a company all-hands meeting,” but it had the potential for a multi-billion-dollar IPO before it all crashed and the stock turned back into pumpkins and mice. When confronted with the sheer inanity of some of these, I was told, over and over, that it had been checked and verified, and backed up by an expert. And who was that expert? You guessed it: Some Guy.
It was hard not to see Some Guy in just about everything if you looked, but he tended to stick to entertainment, business, and real estate, where the ratio of money over brains tended to run in opposite directions. Some Guy had a thing about working on multiple layers. I once worked with The Dumbest Guy In Tech, who proceeded to regale everyone in the office about how he’d heard on the radio about a species of rattlesnake was now colored to blend in with bluebonnet blooms, so anyone wanting to enjoy Texas wildflowers had to watch out for snakebite if they went for the traditional photo poses in bluebonnet fields. When I pointed out that (a) bluebonnets only bloomed for about a month, thereby making the rattlesnakes a blue-purple target for 11 months out of the year, (b) there was no earthly reason why rattlesnake colors would be selected toward blending in with bluebonnets, and (c) rattlesnakes had better things to do than distill venom solely to bite flower tourists on the tuchis, The Dumbest Guy In Tech proceeded to tell everyone “Well, the DJs said they’d verified that it was true.” Knowing perfectly well that the only things a morning terrestrial radio DJ would ever verify are the results of paternity or STD tests, I decided to check on it anyway, and called up the station to learn the name of the government authority or professional herpetologist who described a snake color morph unknown to any reptile authority within the United States, Mexico, and Canada. After hemming and hawing on the air, they finally admitted who had sent them the obviously Photoshopped photo on which they’d based their entire report: “Some Guy.”
At this point, I was wondering if Some Guy was an actual human, or some horrific deity mixing the worst excesses of Loki and Nyarlathotep. Maybe he was a hereditary title, passed on down the centuries by individuals or organizations unknown to challenge and remove the overly credulous. That theory took extra credence when suddenly “Some Guy” switched to “A Lot of People.” Every idiotic idea being given credence in popular culture could be laid at the feet of A Lot of People and their mocking king. Pivoting to video. Texting while driving, especially while driving a stick. Living mermaids and creation science. Tying pension funds to Enron stock values. Government should be run like a business. Giving credence to anything Cory Doctorow had to say about anything. With that realization came the realization that any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy, and that Some Guy and A Lot of People are just as dumb as the people who parroted them. The difference was that Some Guy had dumb ideas that tickled the brain just enough to make them happen, or attempt to happen.
The finale came, as so many do, with someone who should have known better. One fine day in June, an experimental quantum generator went live, with the idea of using quantum units, or “qubits,” to detect possible dimensions that exist in conjunction with our own. The important aspect was the recent confirmation that contrary to previous assumptions, the human brain wasn’t too warm and too wet to allow quantum effects, and the generator was created to test the possibility of human memory and cognition having a specific quantum component. The researchers behind the whole project were very forthright about what they were attempting, and encouraged responses from the public as to ethics and responsibilities with the experiment results. Based on one particularly enthusiastic comment, once the generator went live, a major new feature was added for the public’s benefit: a second generator that, if it worked correctly, would allow the alternate dimensions to be seen with human eyes, like a polarized lens for afternoon sun. The second generator worked beyond all expectations, including that of its instigator, Some Guy.
What happened next is common record among the survivors. Backing previous research by the psychiatrist Harold Shea and the neurologist Crawford Tillinghast, research that didn’t exist in our reality until the second generator switched on, the second generator didn’t just allow those dimensions to be visible with human sensory organs unsuited to the task. It confirmed that human imagination, the stacking of seemingly unconnected data until they collapsed into a final result, was also a quantum function, and both generators gave that imagination form. Not just one imagination, mind. The effect ranged worldwide, suddenly mapping an infinitude of alternate worlds and scenarios onto the globe and everyone crawling on it. The world’s script was being written by the famed infinite number of monkeys banging away at an infinite number of typewriters, and the generators gave them a good goose and a shot of ketamine and told them that they were writing a miniseries for HBO.
For approximately ten minutes, every imaginary scenario bouncing around in every human’s head got its chance to get up on stage, take a bow, and throw feces at the audience. The whole of the Atlantic was disrupted and displaced as multiple Atlantises attempted to rise and fall at once, much to the consernation of their residents and those living within 1000 kilometers of a coast. Within five minutes, Tokyo was literally smashed flat with kauju and robots falling from the sky. The multiple asteroids, flying saucers, and random plates of spinach ravioli that hit Chicago punched a hole through the Earth’s crust and turned Lake Michigan into the planet’s largest hot tub. Dallas being full of shopping malls that were themselves full of flesh-eating zombies was no longer a metaphor. London witnessed a spectacular battle between Daleks and triffids as the prime minister appeared on television to scream “Hands up: who likes me?” New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, and Moscow and everyone in them simply disappeared, converted into raw churning chaos by all of the possible horrific scenarios. And few talk about the new moon that used to be Lewisville, Texas: that many banjos playing at once knocked the area into orbit.
At about ten minutes in, someone or something had enough presence to turn off both generators, with partial effects. At that point, every scenario stopped, and the ones that required drastic changes to basic laws of physics evaporated. Many of those that could exist in our reality disappeared within seconds, but others were mapped onto our reality, mixed in like a scoop of cigarette butts into birthday cake batter and served with a smile. We got a slew of new neighbors, all of whom remember a drastically different world than the one in which they wake every morning, and some handled it better than others. We’re all working together to get by, mostly to deal with all of the other surprises dumped on us. The worst were the rocket-propelled atomic hamsters. It’s bad enough giving one of the most vile-tempered creatures in our reality ramjets and unlimited atomic fuel, but what sort of sick monster gave them a taste for fresh human bones? It’s a good thing that so many of us woke up with iron-based or silicon-based bones, or else things would have gotten so much worse.
And Some Guy? Not only did he survive, as did most of the Lots of People, but he was stupid enough to advertise that he was still around. This time, though, people started to pay attention to what he was saying, track his comments, and track him. What aided these efforts was the amount of unlikely, implausible, and devastatingly effective hardware and ordnance left behind when what was now called the Quantum Inverter turned off. As Earth was cleaned and sorted, the Lots of People were winnowed and blown away one at a time, with everyone else participating. You have no idea how much you’re loathed until a Jain kicks your head off like Chuck Norris and uses it as a street sign, and some of them gave common cause between the Daleks and the Spectroscope Nuns to take turns.
This is where we are now. Some Guy is truly alone for the first time: he tries spreading his baloney, and it’s picked up and neutralized via the telepathy webs within microseconds. We finally cornered him in the one portion of Antarctica still frozen and undeveloped, after being chased into the wastes by dinosaurs and terror birds on land and anomalocarids by sea. After all this time, I get to lead the assault team to reach him, and we’ve had the better part of three years to collect the absolute cream of destructive hardware left after the Inverter incident to make sure he doesn’t walk out. “Terminate with extreme prejudice” doesn’t begin to describe his fate: anyone comparing him to the Devil would be asked “And how many times did the Prince of Lies knock up your little brother to deserve THAT comparison?”
About five minutes ago, we received a radio message: Some Guy was wanting to negotiate a surrender in an effort to be disintegrated and wiped from this reality with the tiniest bit of dignity, and he was STILL trying to dissemble and confuse. That’s it. He has five teams waiting behind ours to make sure he doesn’t make a break for the ocean, three ribbon drones able to track him based on the random bits of DNA he breathes out, two continents’ worth of missiles, darts, spears, blowgun pellets, cane toad skins, emitters, and disruptors trained on his location, and about five kilos of mother-prime unflavored antimatter waiting to drop on him if he somehow gets past us. It won’t matter, though, because even if the anomalocarids didn’t get one of his feet, we know exactly where he is. We know because Some Guy told us.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes unknown hybrid (#1 BE-3172)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.