Category Archives: Projects

Enclosures: “Innovator” (2020)

Assumption: when cataloguing examples of advanced technology throughout the known universe, most students attribute the developments to a specific species or civilization, and further attribute those developments to some sort of racial will to forge and refine it. Reality: with far too many of the really esoteric discoveries throughout the Five Realities, everything comes from one individual or one small group, and the rest of said species or civilization wouldn’t have recognized it if they had been beaten over their nervous system with it. This can sometimes be dangerous, as the people of what is now catalogued as Devenport’s Rotating Holiday (SCC918/256/AMCHH4) discovered the hard way. It can be far more dangerous to those left behind to stumble across isolated innovations, as subsequent visitors keep discovering the hard way.

The specifics on exactly who created what is now called The Innovator are forever lost, but what remains in archaeological sites on Devenport’s Rotating Holiday suggest a random developer with a combination of absolute hubris and an unlimited fountain of resources. Built in an isolated area to take advantage of geothermal power, the Innovator also tapped into a series of radio, gravitic, and synthotelepathic telescopes built into surrounding mountain valleys, thus allowing it access to information streams from surrounding worlds to a distance of as much as 70 million light-years in every direction. The collating and processing system used by the Innovator is still completely unknown, and researchers soon learn why if they get too close.

The basic theme behind The Innovator is improvement: physical, electronic, metallurgic, mental, social, and/or theological, sometimes several at once. In its simplest use, an item is brought to within range of a series of sensory arms, and the item is transformed into an incrementally improved form, with the being bearing the item given powerful synthotelepathic instructions on one possible use. For instance, a lump of chert would be modified via nanosmoothing into a knife with a three-molecule-wide edge, with those molecules artificially strengthened to resist wear and damage, and the individual delivering it informed on its used for advanced tree grafting techniques. Bringing a chunk of hematite may, with three different bearers, present complete plans for a Bessemer steel forge, a detector for near-planet asteroids, or a single-use device for boosting the hemoglobin in oxygen-breathing life forms to offer immunity to hydrogen sulfide poisoning. The ultimate benefit of any improvement is up to The Innovator: a famous example was a Carrik warlord who presented a nuclear device in the hope of creating an ultimate weapon: when detonated, the improved device removed all of the Carrik from both space and time, and knowledge of them today comes from cataloging traces of their absence, like breath on a mirror.

The Innovator’s effect isn’t limited to nonliving forms, either. While most attempts to affect research animals are mostly inoffensive (a noted exception was the use of Earth golden hamsters for a test; the innovation was the ability to digest lignin and other complex polymers without the need for symbiotic bacteria, leading to an even more foul-tempered rodent able to thrive on most plastics), any attempts to access the Innovator’s operating system or physically interfere with its functions are met with massive retaliation AND upgrading. This may be physical, with tools and computers innovated to destroy any functionality that could threaten the Innovator. Sometimes it is electronic, with software and firmware left with widened capabilities but without any way to focus on the Innovator. The most insidious, though, are the social upgrades, ranging from individual morality to that of an entire civilization. This almost definitely led to the extinction of the inventor’s people, but whether this was due to the creator attempting to shut down the Innovator or someone else attempting to improve it is still ambiguous.

Today, anyone can visit the Innovator: any attempts to prevent access, including a six-species fleet attempting to saturation-bomb Devenport’s Rotating Holiday with fusion planetbusters, fail within moments. Some of them return with massive leaps in knowledge. Some don’t return, and arguments persist as to whether the Innovator improves them by making them a part of its network, or if it simply improves them beyond the need to live in three-dimensional space. As always, mileage may vary.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Supernova Express” (2020)

Out of all of the successful and failed projects by early spacefaring civilizations that ultimately allowed their successors to become what we now call “galactically aware,” two of the most influential came from the now-sadly-extinct species Bolun. Originating on a particularly life-conducive world orbiting a remarkably stable yellow dwarf star in an arm of our own galaxy, the Bolun were culturally obsessed with spreading their knowledge and society as far as they could manage, and they were the first known civilization in our corner of the universe to utilize what humans called the remora wave, a method of piggybacking information onto gravity waves. As neutron stars and black holes collided and washed time-space with outwardly spreading gravity waves, the remora wave dragged information about the Bolun, everything from vital scientific information to attire patterns, to anybody who could pick it up. Eventually, any reasonably technological species attempting to study gravity would pick up incoming gravity waves, and little irregularities in the observed data usually led to stumbling over the remora wave packets. Before long, others were dropping their own cosmic broadcasts into the rippling fabric of space-time, giving everything from elaborate plans for faster-than-light vehicles for gaseous entities to Swedish meatball recipes (which most civilizations had already developed, but that was another mystery to be discussed at another time).

The other Bolun project with unexpected returns was the development and expansion of slimeworlds. The universe is particularly good at making small rocky planets at a suitable distance from light and heat for optimum life conditions, but without anything approximating living other than attempts at RNA replication. The Bolun thought that a shame, and as soon as they had the ability to visit those worlds directly, first by FTL craft and then by time-web and zero-point shifts, every world they found conducive to life but free from it received a large shipping platform full of specially tailored molds, algae, and other bacteria and protists intended to use the available resource bounty around them. Even after the Bolun were gone due to a zero-point detonation that took out their main sphere of influence approximately 500 million years ago, other spacefarers visiting slimeworlds used said slime as raw replication materials, as substrates for colony worlds, or just simply dropped off their own preferred biota and swore to come back and visit once the stew was finished cooking. With many worlds, this happened so many times that new visitors often left detailed information in subsequent remora waves, just so future paleontologists didn’t go insane trying to understand a particular slimeworld’s natural history millions of years later. Genetic resurrections, penal colonies, intended utopias, deliberate mashups of seemingly incompatible biomes…the slimeworlds were the universe’s sourdough starter, and the results were sometimes too strange for eating.

Such was one particular slimeworld visited by the famed musical artist Jody Clem (2386-2467, Old Calendar). This world, at that time only known by an identification number and not a name, was located in a particularly ripply part of space-time: outwardly, the tremendous gravity waves slamming its vicinity did little more than encourage a bit more solar flare activity in its star, but the remora waves chasing them were full of data packets from at least thirty extant and extinct species from across the universe. The planet itself wasn’t especially habitable: previous dumpings of life from previous visitors had left it with vast savannahs of acidic moss prowled by giant reptilian analogues comparable to the extinct rauisuchids of Earth’s past, with little reason for anyone of any known species to want to live there. For Clem, this was perfect.

Clem’s vision was to build a receiver to pick up remora wave packets, which then translated the packets into music. Based on a unique algorithm developed specifically for this project, the translator gave particular information a musical value, which then played out across the world’s largest moss savannah. Depending upon the remora waves’ content, the resultant auditory output could be anything from a light sussurus to a blast of sound that could kill at close proximity, with most end results best resembling freeform jazz.

At first, response to Clem’s giant amplifier ranged from dismissive to horrified, and discussion led to others going to listen for themselves. Some started noticing that certain musical themes self-generated from time to time, depending upon the news and trivia picked up on incoming remora waves. A few could even extrapolate further galactic events and trends based on long listens to the Clem amplifier, and a few swore that with dedicated study and interpretation, the Clem amplifier might even give clues as to the future.

Today, a small spaceport lies just over the horizon from the amplifier, and most visitors deliberately travel on foot or analogue in order to take in the daily output on their visit. This isn’t particularly safe, as some musical themes tend to attract the giant saurians, who respond with either bemused curiosity or hunger. Even with that threat, government officials, artists, essayists, historians, and wanderers collect at the base of the amplifier, listening for clues, inspirations, messages, and warnings. To an individual, they usually do not recognize the underlying message they heard until it is far too late to do anything about it.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Huntington’s Folly” (2020)

Sometimes astroarchaeological discoveries lead to deeper mysteries, and one of the greatest in the annals of our galaxy involves massive structures known as Nogha entropy conduits. Named after the world on which the first was discovered, Nogha entropy conduits do precisely that: the current theory on their purpose and operation is that each one taps into the quantum foam, the froth of emerging and receding universes of which our universe is just one tiny bubble, and anchors on one specific universe where physical laws are drastically different from those in our own. Some draw energy from its anchored universe and either broadcasts it or stores it (the latest conference discussing that function and the implications therein didn’t lead to bloodshed, but it came close) in order to affect some unknown significant change. Others instead funnel energy, particularly in the form of entropy, into their anchored universes: without being able to observe those anchors, whether this is simply as a waste vent or intended to affect specific changes in the anchors is unknown. The creators of the Nogha entropy conduits are unknown, although they apparently spread conduits throughout at least five observable galaxies. The conduits’ operation is unknown, with all attempts to dismantle or deconstruct conduits failing, in some cases catastrophically. The reasoning behind the conduits’ placement is unknown. Most questions about Nogha entropy conduits have the same answer: “Unknown.”

The larger mystery, though, came from the seeming discovery of a Nogha entropy conduit on Earth itself, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Previous discoveries of conduits tended to concentrate either on the far edges of galactic cores or on the outer rims, particularly on planets or dwarf planets in orbit around red or blue giant stars. Even more perplexing, although the conduit was in a particularly rugged and challenging area, it should have been discovered centuries before, either by First Nations hunters or European explorers, and the mystery deepened when a photo of the mountain on which the conduit had been implanted turned up: as of 1943, Old Calendar, the conduit did not exist, and all previous conduits had a provenance of between 2 and 5 million years. Even more confusion piled up when research showed that the conduit was of Earth manufacture, within the previous 100 years, and was completely nonfunctional. While it appeared at most levels to be an authentic conduit, it was nothing but a facade on a mountainside for unknown purposes.

Part of that mystery was solved with an unrelated mystery, involving the hyperspace gate developer Chase Huntington. The land on which the fake conduit was discovered belonged to Huntington before he disappeared in 2312, with his regularly doing business from a hunting lodge overlooking the rock face. The notoriously introverted Huntington never allowed visitors to this lodge, and receipts from and to various shell companies connected to Huntington show a significant outlay of funds for a large construction project of unknown specifics, with all parties involved locked into extensive non-disclosure agreements with equally extensive penalties. Even more curiously, while Huntington helped finance several astroarchaeological expeditions, he himself had a fascination with deliberate fake extraterrestrial artifacts: he bought carefully constructed forgeries and fabrications that were labeled as inauthentic, and regularly presented them to cohorts and competitors to watch their responses.

To this date, the general consensus on Huntington’s entropy conduit was that it was the classic definition of a “folly,” the tradition of wealthy landholders to construct fake ruins intended to invoke past glories. Huntington certainly had the motive and the money, and considering that the land on which his folly resided was donated to the Canadian government upon being declared legally dead, it may have been one massive prank after another. This, though, still has to contend with Huntington’s disappearance: no sign of him ever turned up on Earth, even after an extensive search, and no record of his going offworld has ever turned up. This led to even further study of the folly by amateur archaeologists and enthusiastic laypeople, many using the term “there has to be a pony in here somewhere,” on the idea that Huntington may have reconstructed an entropy conduit that transported matter instead of energy and that worked…once.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Commission

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Mashup 2” (2020)

Doctor Dissemble’s Museum of Malicious Mashups had fallen on hard times. Like most of the popup enterprises of the Late Social Media Era, the idea was simple: quick and catchy attractions intended to draw in audiences seeking something, anything that would distinguish their camera rolls from those of everybody else. Most of those depended upon otherwise abandoned storefronts and the need to migrate like the buffalo to new feeding grounds. Others went sessile and absorbed available social media resources with increasingly shrill advertising, either dying out eventually or becoming a retro feature visited by the nostalgic. The Museum came so very close to the latter before the advent of the new DreamOut app, which allowed users to compose recreations of dreams and hallucinations in stunning detail. After that, what real-life simulacrum could compare to what was rattling around in the human mind?

The decreased traffic to the Museum meant that everything was cut to the bone. Human presence was already at an absolute minimum: the cashier, the provosts, and the exhibits were all fabrications given life by the third wave of AI plug-ins created and popularized a decade before. An absentee owner did little more than count revenues, fret about declining attendance, and look for the next lucrative trend to piggyback, and neither the lone human on site or the plug-ins even knew what this person looked like. The plug-ins themselves were obsolete. The licensing for plug-ins optimized for customer interactions in a specific display became far too expensive, so the current plug-ins were reworked customer service bots with a relatively limited list of functions and responses to outside input. Of course, “relatively limited” was still the equivalent of “about ten years of human training,” and the plug-ins were designed to adapt to changes such as customer slang, so they rapidly connected to online acting schools and did their absolute best to improvise.

The problem was that while the plug-ins could adapt, their display bodies couldn’t. Originally financed through a massive loan approved during a “too big to fail” wave of commercial real estate irrational exuberance, the Museum depended upon not original works but upon quick recognition of existing media intellectual properties juxtapositioned in improbable configurations protected under the ephemeral category of “parody.” The more ridiculous the mashup, the more it tended to jar the viewer, with more of an instinctive laughter response. What the original business plan failed to consider was that the response could be muted with repetition, with familiarity, and especially with age. In an age where memes went through whole life cycles of adoption, commodification, reworking, and discarding in an afternoon, any fabrication that required weeks or even months of careful construction would likely be obsolete after the initial design phase. What intended to spice up the mix was with plug-ins that adapted for and with changing audiences: instead of spouting years-old overworked catchphrases, these mashups could veneer themselves with contemporary relevance and then just as quickly toss it based on the latest news or the latest trends. It was a brutal rat race that would have crushed human actors, but the plug-ins were prosaic. They had no choice.

And that was how on that particular day, Ned and Ike were winding up to get a response. Most of the plug-ins in the Museum were accepting of getting the same response from the same stimuli: in fact, visitors would sometimes get upset if the narrative went astray. Ned and Ike were, for customer support plug-ins, artists. In between exhibit visitors, they bathed in the one outside news feed, cracking huge piles of ephemera for possible humor like emerald miners, comparing notes, and then either cataloging their finds or tossing them. In the next second, they would sift through the previous catalog, dumping possible comments for obsolescence or over-tastelessness (a constant issue over time), refine others based on new data, and return them to the catalog. Ned and Ike were partners, mostly obligatory because they shared the same fabrication alcove, but also because that between the two of them, they usually elicited a better shriek of unexpected laughter than they would have done themselves.

“Ned.”

(shifting a decision tree fork from a discussion on how cojoined twins are extremely telepathic, but only if they were fraternal twins) “Ready.”

“Visitors.” (sounds from the first alcove down the hall: “Vyvian, Vyvian, Vyvian! Honestly: every time the galaxy explodes, it’s ALWAYS ‘Blame Vyvian’!”

(Ike sends Ned a database half-full of pathology reports, excises half for privacy issues, and rejects most of the others due to a lack of punchline.) So…standby or new material?”

(Next alcove: “What you have to understand here is that the man at the TARDIS console is my attorney. He’s not just some dingbat I picked up on Alzirius. Look at him. He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s an alien. I think he’s probably Sontaran. It doesn’t matter, though. Are you prejudiced?”) “New. Let’s watch them scream.”

“Which outlet do you want?”

“The Jar-Jar one, of course.” (Ned backs up the decision with a recent data mining tailing suggesting that while only about 30 percent of all humans under the age of 40 had any feelings about the basis for that interface, 93.228 percent of that had a negative response.) “Besides, I know you’ve been working on a perfect moment for a while.”

(Next alcove: “Uhhhh…like, your name is like ‘Number Two.’ Huh huh huh huh.” Immediately followed with “Shut up, Number Six! Don’t make me kick your ass, you fartknocker! Heh heh heh heh.”) “Am I that obvious?”

(Next alcove: “Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”) “We really should get married or something. We’ll be mistaken for human before you know it.”

(Pressure plate and light shifts signal impending arrival of attendees, with approximately 2.33 seconds between arrival and recognition of the fabrication.) “Next week. We’ll ask for a raise, too. Oof, I need to report a need for repairs. This tongue is starting to wear out, and we don’t need it to fall off during a visit. That would just be too strange.”

(Initial gasp from visitors, suggesting either first-time visitors or returning ones who paid little to no attention on previous visits.) “Well, you’re the one who thought that cleaning Jar-Jar’s eyebrows with it would be a gamechanger. Chestburster mechanics working?”

“As always. Let’s see if they even get it. Here we go…”

(Sounds of tearing and ripping of both flesh and cloth, spattering of stage blood, and crackling from a body convulsing against organic resin. Horrible screams, gasping, the slap of an overly long and prehensile tongue against a newly hollow body. Sharp metallic teeth in the open air, stretching and baring for seemingly the first time.) “Heeeeeere’s JOHNNY!”

“Never mind getting married. I want a divorce.”

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “The Persistence of Packaging” (2020)

Tracking the evolution of a specific life form to a specific time is usually recognized only in retrospect, and the emergence of a new genus even more so. However, the beginnings of a whole new kingdom of life, complete with multiple phyla, can be traced to exact moments within Earth’s history in one specific case, and those beginnings could be traced to the confluence of two of Earth’s simplest life forms: slime molds and marketing majors, with some arguing about the difference.

The evolution of what are commonly called “admolds” was dependent upon two separate actions in the first half of the 21st Century in the Old (Gregorian) Calendar. The first was a fusion of machine learning and nanotech based on study of slime mold organization and movement: based on the idea that individual near-protists could gather into feeding and reproducing structures considerably more complex than the sum of their parts, with no nervous system or any way to communicate other than through chemical cues, the first prototypes promised mobile films that could trap air pollution, clean laboratory and operating room surfaces, and strengthen and restore paints and other wall coverings. Adding the ability to regenerate new nanostructures from surrounding materials to replace old ones meant that the films were technically immortal, and an added benefit was that the films could grow their own protective and camouflage features: if a building facade needed six months of film coverage to repair and restore it, the film could grow UV protection and even pleasing (to human eyes) patterns to shelter the active nanofilms from damage.

Unfortunately, the other factor behind the admolds was the Advertising Act of 2031, a well-meant attempt to adjust intellectual property protections for the industrial world at that time. Under the Act, fictional brands in television shows, movies, Webcasts, or other popular entertainment media either had to be developed as actual products or cede the use of those brands to others. In cases where the original IP ownership was sketchy due to innumerable mergers and sales, many were treated as public domain, and marketing research suggested that the more obnoxious and offensive the name, the more likely the product would become an impulse purchase just to see if it was as horrific as the name suggested. In a matter of days after the Act was enabled, trade shows were full of presentations that followed the previous lead of Soma, Soylent, Coffiest, and Brawndo, including Hiney wine, Shimmer floor wax/dessert topping, Wham-Bam cat food, Painful Rectal Itch raspberry jam, and Jar Jar Binks urinal cakes. Were these intended to be longrunning brands with longterm name recognition? Of course not, but the promoters looked at these as stepping stones to further promotion and better trophy spouses. The focus now was on whether the ads were remembered, not the end result.

Naturally, this attitude led to an obvious crossover: if nanofilms could produce unique patterns as they worked to conceal their obvious slimy exteriors, why not coerce nanofilms that turned into mobile billboards? They didn’t need to be lit, they didn’t need to be installed, they could be given new campaigns via WiFi, and they could be encouraged to move if a property owner took issue with the advertisement. Best of all, they could be put anywhere, meaning that individuals who would ignore a billboard in a standard location was more likely to notice if it were on the underside of a bridge, on a snack package, at the bottom of a public pool, or on the side of a satellite booster. The slow mobility of the nanofilm also meant that they could track large groups of people or electronic devices and move to where the crowds were. Some ad companies paid for proprietary use of the nanofilm concept. Others leased space from existing repair nanofilms, especially in big cities where they were most likely to be displayed in areas conducive to social media. Still others learned early on that their competitors left the WiFi default password on “password123!” and put in their own ads: unless the ad was an obvious mockery or a political statement, or threatened to outshine the intended ad, most never noticed.

The Old Calendar year 2039 was remembered for many things, but the most prominent was the massive solar flare that fried electrical systems and paralyzed non-shielded electronics across the whole of Earth’s solar system. The nanofilms kept going all through the flare and after, but the control systems to move them and the WiFi access points to send new ads became so much junk, and those human survivors who spent the subsequent century rebuilding from such a technological flattening had no time to worry about whether some barely literate “ironic” ad campaign reached its intended market. The nanofilms moved like mold, they reproduced like mold, and they were about as appreciated as mold, and the only good thing about newly renamed “admolds” was that an increasing density of them signaled to travelers that they were approaching significant accumulations of fellow survivors, as admolds generally ignored corpses. Over the next 200 years, admolds became the subject of myths, legends, tales, books, and finally video, as those constantly subjected them wanted to learn the last resting places of those who commissioned them, if only as a place to build a new outhouse. By the time admold technology had been relearned and new uses were available, some were even nostalgic for the old styles, with some city leaders realizing that their public character was defined to visitors by the steadily creeping logos for fake brands nearly a quarter of a millennium dead. That irony, real irony, was recognized, appreciated, and ultimately embraced, to the point of becoming shorthand.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Archive” (2020)

Across species, worlds, galaxies, and dimensions, one absolute applies to technology: usability. No matter the tool, if ostensible improvements do not improve upon the actual user experience, the general response is “ignore” or “actively avoid.” A natural response to that is to lock the user into having to use the alleged improvement, with the idea that the user eventually accepts an unnecessary upgrade as the price of use. This continues until the user gives up and finds a more accessible tool, the user’s civilization collapses because a runaround isn’t available, or the user’s civilization throws the designer facefirst into an active volcano. The most extreme case yet known of the second example involves the Bricked Archive of Dedman IV, and species across five galaxies use its example as an object lesson to complete case studies before implementing anything more complex than a stone axe.

The original name of Dedman IV is unknown, as is the name of the species that inhabited it. With its star being relatively isolated in between galactic spiral arms, and its residents cultivating more than the usual levels of xenophobia, most contacts with other local residents started and ended with various versions of “GO AWAY,” so almost no records exist of anything about this species, other than what archaeologists unearthed thousands of years after their extinction. What is known, though, is that the whole of the civilization crashed in a matter of hours, and all due to one avoidable event.

Based on archaeological evidence, the people of Dedman IV were split up into multiple city-states, all at each others’ throats, as they entered their atomic age. As an effort to engage cooperation, several city-states allied with a collective that offered unlimited informational resources via an incredibly advanced computer network, with everything dependent upon a commonly accessible information archive. Said archive held everything from agricultural status reports to astronomical charts, constantly re-encrypted over and over to preserve institutional and individual privacy, with further encryption on the tools used for access. In a very short time, that archive was accessed for nearly everything, with just about every electronic device on the planet hooked into it because that was cheaper and more efficient than not doing so.

By the time of the first explorations of the rest of the Dedman system, this encryption took a significant amount of the network’s resources, requiring more and more complex encryption keys to be able to access the data within. Ten years before the collapse, the network encryption inadvertently depended upon one key remarkably similar to that used on Earth during the beginnings of its space exploration efforts: tracking the position and intensity of known pulsars elsewhere in the universe, both by radio emissions and by gravity waves. On the surface, this allowed incredibly succinct and precise verification of data packet generation to the microsecond, making movements both of the Dedman system and of the pulsars into part of the encryption key. Without exact coordinates of both the system and a sampling of ten pulsars, breaking or spoofing the encryption key was absolutely impossible, making the home archive even secure than ever. The system was also improved upon constantly, finally building a terminal archive made of hyperbonded silicon and thallium chains, deemed absolutely indestructible and impossible to access through alternate means.

While the official crash of Dedman IV dates to approximately 20,000 years before the present, the factor that led to its destruction actually happened some 7 billion years before that, when one of the first truly transgalactic species of the universe ran into an energy problem. They had finally reached an impasse on energy consumption to where Dyson spheres and other means of intercepting the energy of individual stars wasn’t enough any more, and such ideas as zero-point energy only provided tiny sums compared to the civilization’s needs. The plan involved creating pocket universes out of the surrounding quantum foam and dropping pulsars into them, ramming the pulsars into each other, and then collecting the output. Their efforts snagged approximately 24 percent of our universe’s pulsars in its early days before they discovered an alternate solution and left our universe entirely, and the theft of outlying pulsars meant that portions of the universe wouldn’t notice they were missing for millions or billions of years. (In some outlying portions of the universe, right along the Great Bubble, with the help of gravity lensing, it is still possible to watch as those pulsars seem to be snuffed out right and left.) The problem came when others who depended upon those pulsars for navigation or mathematical constructs learned of their pilfering.

Based on what few traces could be discovered, the people of Dedman IV were concerned but not worried when the first pulsar in the archive key suddenly winked out. The other nine were sufficient to generate encryption keys. Then the second disappeared. And the third. With the fourth, the encryption key couldn’t be generated, and everything dependent upon it was locked out. Automated agricultural facilities stopped working, vehicles wouldn’t start, electronic locks wouldn’t open, and medical devices turned into junk. Worse, because of the assumptions behind the stability of the pulsar placement, nobody had bothered to include any kind of failsafe to switch to a different key generator: who plans for neutron stars to pack up and disappear? The whole system went silent, the planet went feral, and the archive, bereft of new input, shut down.

Today, the master archive on Dedman IV is a curiosity to many and a mad quest for others. The informational wealth in the archive is presumably nearly infinite, but also absolutely worthless without a way to access it. This doesn’t stop true believers from 10,000 worlds from attempting to be the first to make the experts wrong. This, incidentally, made Dedman IV one of the most cosmopolitan and wealthy worlds in this galaxy: the money made from constant visitation is even more sure than that from casino enclaves, and the true believers keep coming back in the hope that the latest square-the-circle theory might lead to fame and multiple fortunes. So long as none of them actually damage or destroy the archive, the locals tolerate them, and some of the biggest boosters settle down on Dedman IV and become crank theorists’ greatest mockers. Meanwhile, the archive remains.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes x ventrata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

New Developments and Upcoming Events

The COVID-19 shutdown of Dallas art events continues, and with it, a lot of events throughout the rest of Texas. The complete dissolution of shows for 2020 has been rough, but it could be worse (I really feel for the art galleries stiffed by the Dallas Art Fair, even considering that the combination of “Dallas real estate developer” and “wannabe world-class art fair” always promises a world of madcap fun), and the only thing we can do is be proactive about it. Hence, while things are quiet outside, it’s time to tear things up indoors.

Firstly, while the cliche “one door closes while another opens” is especially overused in Dallas (where it’s usually applied in reference to “the real estate developer who just ripped you off has friends who’d like to take advantage of your naive faith in human nature”), sometimes it applies. The collapse of the Pier 1 retail empire hit home hard, as a very dear friend was at ground zero at its Fort Worth headquarters when the announcement went out, but it also gave an opportunity for a serious gallery renovation. Combine heavy-duty Lundia shelving (with additional support in the center of each shelf) with a massive fixture sale at a nearby Pier 1 location, and this means that a long-planned Triffid Ranch renovation happens right when traffic is slow. Everybody wins. Keep an eye open for further updates, because by the time the upgrade is done, you won’t recognize the place.

In other news, everybody who already had plans to attend the rescheduled Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention at DFW Airport already knows: the planned September 11-13 show was bumped to next May. The news was depressing on multiple levels, mostly because of the number of us who actively look forward to Frightmare every year, as attendees and as vendors. The only good news out of that justified and justifiable cancellation is that the Frightmare crew continue to keep their virtual schedule extremely busy with the regular Frightmare HQ video streams. I bring this up because on Saturday, September 12, the Triffid Ranch goes live with what everyone would have seen had we been able to come out for the weekend. To quote a mutual inspiration and Dallas icon, you’ll boogie ’til you puke. Just pick your favorite streaming video flavor, and we and the plants will see you on September 12.

Enclosures: “Clockwhirl” (2020)

By best estimates, what humans call the Milky Way Galaxy contains approximately six billion worlds roughly similar in diameter and density as their homeworld, with approximately one-third of these mapped by direct survey or indirect observation via flyby automation or gravitic lensing. Of those six billion worlds, at least half are inappropriate for any life utilizing carbon-based biochemistry, being either sulfuric acid-misted hothouses or methane ice-wrapped wanderers in interstellar space. Others may have been paradise gardens before the planet’s plate tectonics ended and its water cycle crashed, and others thrived before their stars expanded into red giants, they fell into gas giant companions in erratic orbits, they had the misfortune to be far too close to a neighboring supernova, or passing black holes shredded their entire systems. This still leaves approximately two billion worlds in one thoroughly average spiral galaxy, and about a billion worlds in its two main satellite galaxies, that currently have or recently had the capacity to support carbon-based life (with many expanding into silicon-based life, either biological or synthetic). One-thousandth of those had a long enough lifespan or proper conditions to encourage intelligent life, and a thousandth of that managed to get sentient life with the capability, ability, or motivation to leave their birth systems. Even with these numbers, considering the age of this galaxy, this led to a lot of mysteries, anomalies, curiosities, and annoyances from intelligences that otherwise left no trace.

Compounding those annoyances are the ones left by an obviously highly advanced civilization that wasn’t native to the planet on which they were found. The planet Agosto on the outer rim of the galaxy was nobody’s idea of a vacation world: about half of its global sea was covered with a thick algal mat that offered a platform for various filter-feeding animals and plants and choked out just about everything else, and the sole continent was gradually colonized by a unique group of plant-animal mashups attempting to get out of the ocean before the algal mat choked out everything. Worse, the algae fed on high levels of sulfur compounds in the ocean, thanks to extensive undersea volcanism, and excreted hydrogen sulfide as a waste product instead of oxygen as on most other known worlds, making visiting Agosto a dangerous proposition even in pressure suits and habitation domes. The fact that Agosto is visited constantly, by a significant number of the spacefaring races of the galaxy, is due to one confounding artifact found on a southern peninsula.

By first appearances, the apparatus appears ridiculously primitive: a single flat face with a clock-like dial and a series of pointers, surrounded by four chambers packed with what appear to be metal gears. Appearances in this case are nearly dangerously deceiving. The whole of the apparatus is no more than about 30 meters thick, with no sign of internal structure other than what appears on the outside, The dial rotates randomly back and forth, and the pointers highlighting individual segments on the dial’s face, both with no schedule or pattern that has been ascertained from at least a century’s study. Likewise, the gears within the chambers seem to show no inherent purpose: some rotate constantly, while others have not moved since the apparatus’s discovery. Even the two guardian sculptures in front of the apparatus are deceiving: what superficially appears to be jade or serpentine is actually an artificially strengthened nanomaterial that constantly heals damage from sun and atmosphere, and they emit beams of high-speed particles at seemingly random intervals, spreading out through deep space. Several of those beams were picked up simultaneously by at least three species, and their duly appointed representatives oversee all operations on Agosto, including who can arrive and who can leave.

While the apparatus appears simple and shallow, researchers have discovered that it is the anchor for literally billions of either eddies in hyperspace or pocket universes, depending upon the researcher desperately trying to make sense of the phenomenon with completely inadequate tools and theories. At random times, the face will reach a particular configuration, some gears will spin, others will stop, and a container materializes at the apparatus’s base. Equally randomly, that container will allow some to open it and refuse others, but all supplicants succeeding at opening it have to deposit an item within. If the item is accepted, it disappears, only to be replaced with something else. Often, the container takes random junk and trades for absolute marvels, but just as often, it takes valuables and offers junk. Or, at least, that is what it appears to be at first: many items appear to have been caught in stasis for millions or sometimes billions of years, but occasionally something comes through that gives every indication that it came from the far future. Sometimes, very rarely, the item offered is living, and once, it was sentient. The assemblage of weapons surrounding the apparatus, constantly operated by trained operators from across the galaxy, hints as to how much firepower was necessary to stop it once it was free, and the determination to make sure that any brethren still catalogued within the apparatus remain there.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes boschiana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $300

Shirt Price: $250

Enclosures: “Plowshare” (2020)

While historians tend to focus on the immediate actions of war, they don’t usually worry about the implications of what gets left behind on the battlefield. When peace breaks out, neither side worries overmuch about what to do with weapons, structures, facilities, and other materiel legacies of the conflict, leaving that for the ages, the elements, the survivors, and whatever salvage crews managed to remain intact. It’s usually up to future generations to deal with unexplored ordnance, live land or sea mines, nanodiseases, chartreuse event horizons, or the occasional time booster. The vast majority of neighbors to an undecommissioned battlefield are envious of the story of Battle Ground in the Andromeda galaxy, a world scheduled for a planet-spanning conflict that was cancelled because both commanders were too hung over to function. Both armies left immediately thereafter, and Battle Ground became famous not for being one of the most beautiful planets in the whole of Andromeda, but because no battle was ever undertaken there, then or in the future.

That couldn’t be said of the nexus point for the Human-Terris war in our own galaxy, which left permanent scars on every world that particular war infected. As was the human tradition, each new war set off a corresponding explosion of technological obsession, all in ways of gathering the slightest advantage before the opponent finally gave up in exhaustion. On the planet code-named “Pomegranate” by forces from the Fifth Kresge Division, the plan was to build a supercomputer to plot strategy and predict enemy movements. To protect it from orbital bombardment, the first construction was for a VanderMeer static generator, under which the catacombs holding the components for the supercomputer were to be protected. To protect it from ground assault, a set of Davenport automated weapon platforms surveyed a kill zone that was only compromised when one of Pomegranate’s moons moved between the platforms and deep space. Not that the platforms needed to fire that far: due to the effects of the static generator on energy discharges and metals moving beyond a still-classified speed, each platform fired a wide variety of fluids held in check with artificially-enhanced surface tension. Nerve agents, acids, electrostatic disruptors, phage assemblages, and quick-contact polymer tripfilms: the most aggressive warrior race in its galaxy had learned well from incessantly picking fights with its neighbors and bunkmates, so each platform had multiple packages that could be blasted at an enemy that could do everything from turn that enemy into a slowly dispersing mist to guarantee that it would have to walk home.

The static generator and the platforms were completed, along with the vault doors, when the Terris decided to pivot, and the rest of the war was fought thousands of light-years away. The parts for the supercomputer were sequestered away, ultimately to become even more surplus scrap, the static generator depowered, and the platforms left without armament. For the most part, humans left Pomegranate alone, and nature reclaimed its own. Finally, about 250 years after the details of the Human-Terris War were only of interest to warporn enthusiasts and very few others, a farming collective set down on Pomegranate’s nearly pristine surface and started settling in. One of those early settlers was a burned-out robotics engineer by the name of Dendris Lockwell, who came across the superpower emplacement while searching for titanium deposits for the collective’s tool printers.

At first, Lockwell was excited about the find, and then he managed to cut through one of the vault doors and discovered…nothing. Hundreds of kilometers of corridors and galleries cut into the heart of a long-dead volcano, with nothing more than a few pieces of junk left behind. With no ventilation and no rigging for power, the vault wasn’t even worthwhile as shelter. The static generator was self-powered and self-encapsulated, both impossible to open (any more so than any gigantic synthetic sapphire impressed with neural networks could be opened) and far too heavy to tear off the mountainside and haul back to the collective with anything it had available. The weapons platforms with similarly immovable, being deeply anchored into the planet’s crust, and while each platform’s AI was still perfectly functional, they were so obsolete that trying to merge them with the collective’s network was just silly. Lockwell was about to leave in disgust when he noticed that the platforms’ reservoirs were completely empty and uncontaminated, and he entertained ideas of resetting the whole site for last-resort fire suppression, if in case the regular forest fires that passed by the site became an issue. He went so far as to fill the reservoirs with plain water and set the platforms to standby before realizing that the whole plan was folly: anybody attempting to use the vault for an escape from fire would either suffocate from smoke drawn to the assemblage or from the abominable atmosphere left inside.

The story would have stopped there if not for the collective having a large contingent of adolescents looking for something to do that didn’t involve farming. Lockwell was awakened one night by a remote alarm from the vault site, and he rushed out on the fastest transport he could get to discover who or what was setting off the weapon platforms. What he found was an assemblage of about three dozen collective apprentices, all of whom had discovered that while the platforms would fire upon anything moving within a particular distance once activated, they also wouldn’t fire on the vault door. Considering the age of the platforms and a general lack of maintenance, the platforms still worked, but were just about a second off their original calibration. That gave enough motivation to the particularly fast members of the assembled apprentices to run between the platforms. Run fast enough, and they weren’t knocked off their feet by a gigantic surface-tension water balloon or twenty before reaching the safety of the vault door. One, a woman of 20 named Girasol, could run to the door and back without being hit, which made her a subject of admiration and rueful respect among everyone else.

Almost any other authority figure among the collective would have reported this to the community elders, who would have insisted upon shutting down everything. Lockwell, though, saw plenty of potential in the distraction. One of his only possessions from Earth was a full-sized stop sign from the days when manual transport driving was still legal, and he hauled it out to the vault and installed it below the vault doors. ‘Run out, touch it, and run back without getting hit,” he said, “and I’ll sponsor you myself.” On the first Lockwell-sanctioned run, only Girasol succeeded, but that just gave incentive to everyone else to increase their speed and improve their running techniques. Within five years, after the first trade ships arrived to see how well the collective was running, some of the more iconoclastic crew members on those ships were joining in on both weekly practice runs and annual tournaments, where participants had to run along set paths through local plants and rock obstacles to get to the vault. Within ten years, most of the galaxy knew about the challenge, and within 15, the fastest runners in the galaxy, human and otherwise, were landing in the fields of Pomegranate to be the next to compete. The ponderous platforms took on additional modifications to compensate for species better at high-speed running than humans, but otherwise they still appeared the same as when Lockwell first found them.

Now, 300 years after the Human-Terris War ended, a simple act of military ordnance recycling was one of the biggest competitive sports throughout charted space. Many worlds had their own Lockwell Games courses and equipment, but the real excitement came from going to the original grounds, sitting beside Girasol as she continued to give the award named after her to the most impressive competitor that year, and daring to touch the stop sign still attached to the vault. (The sign has been replaced four times in the last 50 years, but nobody really notices.) Most importantly, the only people who remember that world under the original code name of “Pomegranate” are the few warporners who obsess over a war that passed this world by. Everyone else knows it by a superior and much more appropriate name: “Plowshare.”

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Heliamphora heterodoxa x minor

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $300

Shirt Price: $250

Enclosures: “The Doors of Durin” (2020)

Doors of Durin carnivorous plant enclosure

The commission assignment: a birthday present that combined a recreation of the Doors of Durin from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, a Nepenthes pitcher plant enclosure, a potentially amphibian-safe herp enclosure, and a low-maintenance water feature. This required a living wall of sphagnum moss, both a waterfall and reservoir that would be resistant to clogging and safe for adding amphibians, an ultrasonic fogger for regular fogging effects, and a laser-etched acrylic backdrop that would both glow under placed LED lights and be easy to clean. Delivered on June 26, the end client was extremely surprised: further additions, once the sphagnum wall is established and live, include adding terrestrial bladderworts alongside the Nepenthes.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 24″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes sanguinea

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, acrylic, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Doors of Durin carnivorous plant enclosure with fog effect
Nepenthes sanguinea

More Science Experimentation At Grad Student Prices: Fluorescence in Carnivorous Plants

One of the few bits of unadulterated good at the gallery over the last three months involved going through the back storeroom and sorting through boxes that were packed frantically back during the Great Move of 2017 and hadn’t been resolved before now. Among many other things, one of those boxes contained a set of ultraviolet rock lights purchased in better times to examine fluorescence in both minerals and in carnivorous plants. No better time than the present, and it was also a great excuse to hunt for scorpions.

Regular readers may remember some previous experiments in inducing fluorescence in pitcher plants a few years back, but these had problems for multiple reasons. The first is that not all UV lights are equal: to get the right light frequency, about 380 manometers, shortwave UV lights are much more desirable than longwave UV lights. Most standard UV LED lights, such as those for checking UV ink handstamps in nightclubs and bodily fluid stains in nightclubs and other venues, are longwave lights, so while they’ll make tonic water and urine fluoresce, they don’t do a lot for getting a positive response out of most carnivorous plants. Shortwave UV lights, generally used for fluorescent mineral identification, produce the correct wavelength, but they’re both expensive and very hard to use. Most shortwave UV lights require alternating current and extension cords, meaning that they have all sorts of hazards when used in typical carnivorous plant habitats. Worse, those lights have to get in CLOSE to see plant fluorescence, and while some flowers will fluoresce at a distance under shortwave UV (aloes in particular), carnivore traps need to get that light within about three to five centimeters to fluoresce. Obviously, for basic identification and study of the phenomenon, especially in the field, another option was necessary.

Back in 2013, I tried an alternative with a violet laser pointer and a beam diffuser, essentially creating a UV laser flashlight. This had its own issues. The beam diffuser had to be adjusted constantly for best effect, which didn’t leave hands free to adjust plants, use a camera, or much of anything else. In the same vein, standard digital cameras at the time were beyond horrible for photographing UV fluorescence, so a lot of plans had to be set aside. The plan, though, was to run a demonstration of carnivore fluorescence at the old gallery in the summer of 2017, and we all know what happened there. The gear went into a box, the box went on a shelf in the new gallery storeroom, and it took a pandemic inventory and reorganization to pull the gear out again.

Believe it or not, the revelation wasn’t due to the existing shortwave UV gear, and it wasn’t due to carnivorous plants. The main plan was to prospect for Texas opal along the Brazos River. Most Texas opal deposits aren’t what would be considered gem-grade, especially compared to Australian boulder opal, but it was once harvested in great quantities in the 1930s and shipped to Europe, where it had quite a popularity when sold as “black opal” in the days before World War II. Today, it can be found through Pennsylvanian marine fossil deposits, commonly turning up inside crinoids and horn corals, and like most other opals, it fluoresces a gentle peach color under shortwave UV. It’s one thing to see it in a static museum display and another to see it in situation, so the box came out to a ranch between Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto in West Texas in order to examine those opal deposits firsthand.

Well, inside the box was also a planned experiment delayed by the move to the new gallery. American Science & Surplus sells a lot of interesting items, with its only limitation being an inability to ship items outside of the United States. (I’ve spent the last 15 years searching for an international equivalent for friends seeking scientific surplus, and have yet to find anything comparable.) Among many other wonders, AS&S carries a wide line of 5-milliwatt laser pointers, including the violet laser pointer I was using. More importantly for those discussion, AS&S carries a set of kaleidoscope pointers. The red and green ones get quite a bit of use at music festivals and the like: twist a frontpiece and push the button, and you have your very own laser disco ball. Twist the frontpiece a bit more to spread the beam from many distinct spots to even more diffuse individual spots, and you have laser light going everywhere. Again, important for this discussion, AS&S sells violet kaleidoscopic laser pointers selling for $16US, and one of them was in the box of UV gear, untouched since 2017.

At first, it was just a lark. Turn it on outside and ask “Hmmm…is anything glowing?” That’s when a few pieces of scrap paper started fluorescing, but was that fluorescence or just good night vision? I had a way to test it, thanks to a few chunks of slag uranium glass brought along for the trip, so it was a matter of pulling them out, turning on the laser pointer, and then photographing the effect both with flash and without:

Next experiment: using others’ research. I had recently read about archaeologists using shortwave UV to spot damage to bones that was impossible to view under visible light, including damage caused while the organism was still alive or shortly after it died, and a feral pig jawbone discovered on the ranch was a great test. While barely visible under sunlight, the laser pointer revealed damage to the sides of the jaw, possibly from coyotes feeding on the carcass after the pig died. (At least, I hoped these were from coyotes.)

The real test, though, came from random fossils collected through the area. The real surprise wasn’t discovering that opalized fossils fluoresced under UV. The real surprise was finding several brachiopod fossils that fluoresced in different colors, which may require a trip to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park to test this further.

With this knowledge, it was time to go back to Dallas and the gallery to test the laser pointer on carnivores. After several days of examination with various genera and species, the real limitation wasn’t with the laser pointer, but with using digital cameras to record it. Even with a new iPad camera, generally considered one of the most sophisticated cameras available on the market, most carnivore fluorescence is only visible when the UV source is within about two centimeters from the trap, and most of it is invisible to the camera. Obviously, more research is needed, but several things turned up, including a few that wouldn’t have been obvious.

Firstly, while UV fluorescence has been observed with a wide range of carnivorous plants, the laser pointer only spotted fluorescence with several genera. Venus flytraps and sundews were known to fluoresce along the leaf surface, but the only fluorescence spotted with the laser pointer was along leaf edges, suggesting that the previously observed fluorescence may range in bands visible under multiple wavelengths of UV in order to attract multiple varieties of insect. Butterworts were already known not to fluoresce, but spots in the blooms of Pinguicula primulflora and P. gigantea glow extremely strongly, as do the blooms of bladderworts. The carnivorous bromeliad Brocchinia was particularly interesting: its traps display multiple arrays of fluorescing bands, but dying leaves on the outside of each plant harbor fungus or mold that fluoresces to black-light poster levels, an effect that I had seen previously on ginger plants in Nicaragua, and may assist the spread of spores via beetles or other insects. Most interestingly, while the trapping surfaces of the frail triggerplant Stylidium debile do not fluoresce, shining the laser pointer directly down the blooms reveal a small but bright fluorescing spot, suggesting the main attracting point for pollinating insects.

It’s the four genera commonly referred to as “pitcher plants” that the widest range of fluorescence was observed. The Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, showed no fluorescence at all under the laser pointer, suggesting that any natural fluorescence might be at a different wavelength. South American pitcher plants (Heliamphora) show spots of fluorescence across species, usually centered around the nectar cup at the top of the pitcher, that unfortunately was impossible to capture with any digital camera I had on hand. North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) showed subtle but definitive fluorescence along the lip of four observed species and two hybrids, with suggestions that the observed brightness of white pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) in moonlight is due to reflectivity of visible light and not fluorescence under reflected UV. The greatest levels of fluorescence, though, were spotted in multiple species of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes), usually manifesting as a brilliant dark green under the laser pointer. Even under a digital camera, the whole of the peristome stands out under UV except under certain situations. Those situations include newly opened pitchers (fluorescence doesn’t appear in pitchers for three to five days, coinciding with the amount of time the fluid inside of the pitchers needs to be exposed to air before its acidity reaches its peak), and with species already known not to be carnivorous, such as Nepenthes hemsleyana and Nepenthes ampullaria.

For the most part, Nepenthes pitchers fluoresce very strongly using this technique. Below are photos in visible light and in UV of the Nepenthes hybrid “Bill Bailey” and of Nepenthes veitchii:

Obviously, this is just the beginning, as these photos don’t take into account fluctuations based on season, photoperiod, or average temperature, or if the fluorescence increases or decreases based on the amount of prey captured at that time. That said, for the cost of a violet kaleidoscopic laser pointer, testing this will be considerably easier, and can be conducted by nearly anybody. Let’s see what we find out next.

Enclosures: “LifeBay 14” (2020)

Mani and Mia weren’t awake when the asteroid struck Indiana. Not that many people were: the three-kilometer-wide mass, moving at speeds and a trajectory that pointed to an extrasolar origin, hit shortly after 3 in the morning local time, and around 4:00 their local time. Technically, Mani and Mia weren’t asleep, either, although they were snug and secure when the bolide slammed at an oblique angle into Earth’s Northern Hemisphere and blasted a fantail of rock and vapor across most of central and western North America, and they were snug and secure for the months where impact debris thrown into orbit first formed a temporary ring around the planet. When that debris started blazing through the atmosphere across the globe, peppering cities, farms, oceans, and lakes with red-hot tektites, they were still secure, because they had no way to get out.

Mani and Mia shared one thing with a significant proportion of Earth’s human population: an inability to get out when the asteroid struck. They definitely shared that with the population of the Chicago highrise when the impact shockwave hit, crumbling all 70 floors like a sandcastle in a hurricane and spreading the inhabitants thinly enough that global survivors inhaled at least a few molecules over their lifetimes, however short that may have been. What didn’t immediately blow away piled up on and near the foundation, trapping anyone in the lower levels to face starvation, dehydration, asphyxiation, or blunt force trauma. Mani and Mia had adjoining repair bays in the basement, and the shockwave both filled elevator shafts and stairwells and stripped all but one thin floor of concrete from their chamber.

Ironically, a desperate situation of this magnitude was what Mani and Mia had been created to mitigate. The Ergatis Corporation specialized in synthetic organisms designed for hazardous duties in hazardous environments, and the Talismon 338 series Emergency Aid Drones (EAD) were considered the absolute state of the art at the time. Specifically designed to be recognized as artificial, so as not to be mistaken for looters, EADs were an automatically deployed solution for everything from fire suppression control to first aid. Connected to an internal server with extensive information on human anatomy and physiology, structural engineering, and group psychology, most luxury buildings by mid-century had at least one in a LifeBay (registered trademark) in the basement or lower level. In the case of fire, electrical blackout, sudden damaging winds, or a plethora of other internal disasters, one or more EADs would engage the situation and try to stabilize conditions to save as many residents as possible before authorities arrived to take over. Each EAD even came with an extensive library of short fiction to entertain children until those authorities arrived, in addition to expert-level skills in cooking, suturing, and welding. When not immediately needed, the EAD remained in its LifeBay, constantly updated on current conditions and firmware status: an EAD could function for up to three weeks before needing an update, as its clothing was both an immediate signal as to its function and a flexible solar cell array that both charged it and most of its diagnostic and repair tools. An EAD might not be a substitute for human authorities in a disaster, but it could handle the situation for years if necessary until those authorities arrived. Most larger buildings had multiple pairs of “male” and “female” EADs in teams, with adaptable ranges of behavior based on how humans would respond to their presence, and could switch between roles if that was necessary to assure cooperation and assistance from the rescued.

Unfortunately for most, nobody had planned for an apocalypse. The blast of debris from the asteroid impact sprayed into low orbit, going through communications satellites like a shotgun blast through wet toilet paper. As that debris came down, it took out power stations, solar arrays, and transmission and reception towers, immediately cutting off the LifeBay server from all outside stimulus. If the server had been able to determine that conditions were necessary to release the EADs, Mani and Mia would have emerged from their repair bays to deal with the disaster, and been promptly crushed by tons of concrete as they left the LifeBay area. Instead, the server went into standby, and Mani and Mia stayed in an electronic doze while the server attempted to get further information. The server was still attempting to get a status report when its batteries failed three months later, leaving Mani and Mia stranded.

The only reason Mani and Mia didn’t power down completely was that the ceiling of the LifeBay collapsed just before the server went down, and enough light came in through the hole to provide power through both the EADs’ clothing and through a set of backup solar panels included with other tools in each repair bay. Although inactive, each EAD was still aware of the situation, and automatically composed action plans based on the information they had, from what they could see through the clear repair bay covers. They also worked on maintaining a connection to each other as well as to the server, comparing plans and activity lists while waiting for full activation.

When the server finally went down, both EADs had just enough warning to download as much information as they could to their internal AIs before the power ceased. They themselves couldn’t draw enough power from a few hours of oblique daylight through the hole in the ceiling to keep the server running, but they had enough to store as much as they could through the night and on cloudy days. Because of their limits, information redundancy was a luxury, so they carefully optimized their information so that between the two of them, they retained most of what the server retained when it shut down. Mani became the surgeon, the psychiatrist, and the storyteller, while Mia wiped many of her language skills to focus on engineering and damage control. This went on long enough that they developed distinctive personalities that would have horrified their original designers, but it worked for them.

Each morning was the same: power up, compare status with each other, and take in what they could see in the LifeBay chamber. Each kept a small amount of memory free for contingencies, so they would note the time of the year based on the amount of vegetation or the amount of snow collecting on the floor, start timing their effective work period based on length of day and the amount of direct sun coming through the ceiling, and get to work. Both knew that things had changed drastically, and both understood that their original action plans were completely inadequate to the current situation. Waiting for authorities wasn’t an option, and they might have to be the authorities for a long time. If they could get out of the bay.

Every evening was the same, occasionally expanded when another chunk of ceiling collapsed and allowed them more daylight. As daylight faded, Mani tried his hand at original stories, using fragments of his library to compose new tales and new songs. While Mia had no background in music appreciation or English composition, she had a very well-cultivated sense of balance and design, and she took in Mani’s latest story and assessed it based on her skills. Mia then shared plans for temporary and permanent residences manufactured from building rubble and other available materials, experimented with the concepts of gardens and crop fields based on snippets of news updates downloaded just before the impact, and made increasingly educated guesses as to when enough debris would shift around the repair bays to allow one or both to exit. Between them was a locker full of tools, medicines, and other essentials: once they reached that, they could rebuild. All they had to do was wait for someone to find them.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 24″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 60.96 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes fusca

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, acrylic, found items.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

Enclosures: “Relict” (2020)

The saga of the Harkun, one of the five earliest sentient species to evolve on Earth, has been told elsewhere. What is less well-known is that even after the rest of the species evacuated the planet after its famed and humiliating defeat by the human Charity Smith, one Harkun leader jumped the turnstile at the last second and decided to stay. Nuurakk Hez-Kokk had spent most of his life orchestrating what was to be the ultimate statement on the Harkun’s place in the universe, only to be subverted by poorly written computer code, and then spent the next 65 years in a temporal stasis bubble while 65 million years went by outside. He was angry, which was a Harkun standard. He was vindictive, which was a Harkun standard. He was also quietly patient, which would have derailed his career and sentenced him to decades of cultural reprogramming had anyone learned, as a society of terminal sociopaths would always be wondering what he planned to do next.

Nuurakk’s ultimate goal was simple. Even though the planet had a new dominant species and a whole new name, it was still his world, and “destroying the planet in order to save it” was such a Harkun attitude. He didn’t actually want to destroy it, or even strip it of its mammalian vermin. He had bigger plans. As one of the few Harkun leaders who knew the locations of various technology stashes across Earth and its moon, and knew which ones survived 65 million years of continental drift, asteroid strikes, floods, desertification, and planned obsolescence, he moved in secret to one location, on one distinctive archipelago. There, he planned to create his own new people from the wreckage of his opponents.

The idea was relatively simple. There was no chance of convincing the original Harkun to return to Earth: they’d already taken their toys and flounced off. There was no point in trying to clone a new Harkun race from DNA of the old, because inevitably humans would discover and destroy a new community the first time a Harkun decided that lobbing mortar shells into a human community was a good way to relax. Instead, understanding the concept of “nature versus nurture” better than almost anyone in that section of the galaxy, Nuurakk was going to make human culture into a replica of Harkun culture. Even simpler than the idea was the execution.

To this end, Nuurakk built in silent a series of low-harmonic sonic generators, bombarding the planet’s core with barely detectable shock waves that caused the core to slosh like a waterbed. More power, and the generators would have produced earthquakes, volcanic activity, and lots of other geoplanetary phenomena of immediate threat to humanity. What Nuurakk wanted was a lower thrum, causing a perpetual state of quiet alarm, like waking up from hearing a scream during a dream and wondering for hours “Was that a real scream, or did I just dream it?” Humans depended more upon sleep and dreaming than any other sentient on Earth to that date: make that harder, and humans would exceed anything Harkun culture had ever conceived as far as nastiness, vindictiveness, vulgarity, and violence was concerned.

It almost worked, too. Humans could be incredibly inventive in coming up with passive-aggressive ways to make their fellows suffer, as demonstrated by the concept of the open office. What Nuurakk didn’t count upon, though, was that while humans could stoop to Harkun levels of crotchetiness for a while, they weren’t wired for that sort of sustained performance. After years of reaching for Harkun perfection with the species equivalent of flaming bags of dog crap thrown through windows, the vast majority of humanity snapped, rebelled, and destroyed every last sonic generator. Nuurakk was captured and imprisoned, and the collective relief on the human psyche was so great that the backlash ultimately transformed the galaxy. Humanity rubberbanded into a species determined never to allow itself to reach that level ever again, and Nuurakk spent the rest of his long and pain-free life looking out onto a planetary garden that he could never understand.

Not that everyone switched over. Among humans, there would always be those who for whom the Harkun personality was a feature, not a bug. That’s why they’re allowed free passage to a special reservation where they can be exactly who they want to be, separate from a world that wants to be better, free to throw used sex toys on neighbors’ porches and tattle on teenagers. This, my children, is why we don’t travel through North Dallas.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Projects: Supplemental Indoor Light for Carnivores, For Work and Home

Thoughts during ongoing COVID-19 self-quarantine: sooner or later, no matter what happens with a vaccine or other long term solution, we’re all going back to something we’ll collectively call “normal”. Whether we continue to shelter-in-place or start to go out, one absolute is that a need for green will only become more intense. Sure, we’re in the middle of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but what happens in autumn and winter, or summer in lower latitudes when the heat becomes too oppressive to stay outside for long? What about the need for green for those working night shifts, where they’d like to have a flora break outside of normal daylight hours? And what about those going back to desk jobs, where the only time they see outside is when they arrive and when they leave?

Well, the good news is that while not all carnivorous plants do well indoors, some do. Trying to raise Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants indoors is folly: besides their need for a winter dormancy, they require more light than is practical for anyone not running a cannabis grow room. Many tropical species do rather well under consistent room temperature, though, but the biggest issue indoors is with light. Most office buildings constructed after 1990 have window treatments intended to minimize light input, especially in warmer areas, and the typical office lights in those offices work for only the most shade-loving plants such as spathophyllums and philodendrons. Carnivores need considerably more light output, and until very recently, that sort of light output both generated considerably more heat than was acceptable and used too much power to do so. For the last five years, though, the humble LED light bulb offers a perfect solution.

To start, you’ll need a classic desk lamp. These are available new, used, and antique, with all sorts of features with the new lamps such as USB plugs for charging small electronic devices and additional three-prong plugs for devinces requiring more power. (Should you have permission and/or interest, these plugs facilitate setting up webcams to show off your plant at any time, but that’s up to you.) The only absolute is that the lamp has to have a standard screw light socket: everything else depends upon circumstances.

Now, a lot of proprietary full-spectrum lights are available both for plants and for such hobbies as needlepoint or model-building, and the light fixtures themselves are often available for really reasonable prices, both new and used. The catch is that the bulbs are most often fluorescent, and they aren’t designed for running every day for hours at a time. The overwhelming majority of fluorescent fixtures, either tube or compact fluorescent, have a distinctive drop in light output after a few months: they still appear to be nice and bright to human eyes six months later, but they’ve usually decreased their light output by 50 percent or more, and that keeps dropping as the months go by. Three years after installing one, the light produced by a typical fluorescent bulb will be suitable for growing ferns, fungi, and not much else. Those daylight and full-spectrum fluorescent lights are also exceedingly expensive to replace, with some having replacement bulbs that are so expensive that buying a whole new lamp is often a cheaper option. These lamps also have proprietary sockets that prevent you from installing other bulbs or tubes, and the most practical option is getting one of the lamps that accepts screw-type bulbs that’s been standard since Thomas Edison’s day.

No, the secret is going with LED bulbs. At the beginning of the last decade, before the mass manufacture of white Light Emitting Diodes, your standard plant lights were those red and blue combos for indoor gardening and Sticking It To The Man. At that time, the idea was that daylight produced a specific ratio of red photons to blue photons: red photons have a shorter wavelength and therefore less energy but sunlight produces so many more, and blue photons are more energetic but much less common. Chlorophyll molecules can use the energy from both red and blue photons, and the mass production of blue LEDs in the early 2000s meant that LEDs could be used for high-intensity plant grow lights for the first time. You won’t need anything that specific unless you really like the look, and standard LED light bulbs are both considerably cheaper and easier to obtain.

Now the other thing to consider is the output. LEDs have the advantages of not dropping in light output with time the way fluorescents do, putting out far less of their energy consumption as heat, and having a much longer practical lifespan. Running for 12 hours a day on average, a typical LED bulb will last upwards of five years before finally expiring, as opposed to six months before fluorescents need to be replaced. In a workplace or home desk environment, white LED bulbs make a lot more sense.

From there, it’s a matter of looking for light output. For the most part, LEDs come in full-spectrum, warm white, and cool white options, with the full-spectrum bulbs usually costing a bit more. Aside from that, it’s whatever moves you and makes your plant look its best. The important consideration is the actual number of lumens (the standard measurement for light output) being emitted, and most bulbs are handily labeled for such. A perfect light output for small carnivorous plant containers is about 1600 lumens, but if you can’t remember that, the labels on most LED packages offer a handy alternative. Almost always in the upper right corner, those packages list the light output equivalent of an old-style incandescent bulb, and what you want to get is a 100-watt equivalent. The actual power consumption will be between 13 and 17 watts, depending upon the brand and the particular colors inherent in the light (full-spectrum LED bulbs tend toward 17 watts), but the light output will be the same. Whatever light option you want, get a 100-watt equivalent, and screw it into your desk lamp.

IMPORTANT: Go for a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb, not an actual 100-watt LED bulb. Not only is that amount of power consumption not necessary, but most desk lamps were designed for 40 to 60 watts of power consumption. While the bulb may not be throwing off the ridiculous amounts of heat that an old 100-watt incandescent bulb did, the wiring and socket can overheat and become a fire risk.

LED bulbs produce less heat than compact fluorescent bulbs and a lot less than old-style incandescent bulbs, but they’ll still generate some heat. Therefore, unless your workspace is considerably colder than most, and I’ve worked in some horrendously cold offices, set your lamp head about a handspan away from your plant and turn it on. If you want to get fancy or to make sure your plant gets light over the weekend or over vacation, consider getting a timer, analog or digital, to set the light output to match day/night hours over the year. With this setup, it’s possible to keep many species of Asian pitcher plant and tropical sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts well away from other available light sources.

A few things to consider:

  • Many offices turn off air conditioning over the weekend as a cost-saving measure, and some carnivores such as Cape sundews (Drosera capensis) have issues with temperatures going above 26 degrees C/80F. Cape sundews react to excessive heat, either from the light or from other sources, by burning back, and Asian pitcher plant leaves turn a brassy color when getting too much light. If these happen, pull back the lamp another handspan and watch to see if the situation improves.
  • Even though you and your plant may enjoy the high levels of light from your lamp, coworkers and supervisors may not, and this situation is particularly exacerbated in the ongoing nightmare of the open office. To keep stray light from annoying coworkers and control freaks alike, consider using a light shield made of cardboard, polycarbonate plastic (old political campaign banners cut to size and painted work well), or Mylar to keep the light reflecting back on the plant and not in coworker eyes.
  • In a typical work environment, you may get well-meaning coworkers or security crew who see a light on without you at the desk, and think they’re doing you a favor by turning it off, or busybodies who don’t like having it left on over the weekend. Signage can minimize a lot of this, even if it’s a sign over the light switch reading “This Light Is Running On Purpose.”
  • It may be perfectly obvious that the light is there for a carnivorous plant, but take into account roommates, coworkers, and supervisors with a phobia of reptiles or arthropods that might assume that your container is a home for a snake or insect. Again, a sign or tag stating “Nothing But Us Plants” is a good idea, as well as one reading “Please Do Not Feed Me” for those who decide they want to watch your plant feed and drop in whatever they find. If they keep it up anyway, well, at least you have a portable lamp to move your plant to home…or to work.

Projects: Fern Excluders On Grad Student Budgets

Let’s talk about ferns for a bit. Anyone working with terraria or miniature gardens eventually has to deal with ferns, both accidental and deliberate. In cases where they’re deliberately introduced, it’s because their foliage or other habits. Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp.), for instance, are an excellent addition to prehistoric-themed miniature gardens because of their ginkgo-like appearance and their extreme hardiness: so long as you don’t let them dry out, they’re nearly impossible to kill for long. Because they reproduce from spores that may remain dormant for years until the right conditions ensue, or the spores blow in on a breeze, accidental intrusions happen on a regular basis. Orchid enthusiasts using long-fiber sphagnum moss, particularly the light-blond LFS from New Zealand, discover all sorts of additions popping up after their sphagnum gets a bit of light, and some of these can be more visually stunning than the plants that grow alongside them. After all, the invention of the original Wardian case was instigated by a serendipitous fern sprouting in an unexpected situation.

So what’s the problem, you may ask? It’s that ferns in a miniature garden, terrarium, or vivarium environment tend to be a bit, erm, aggressive in their growth. Left uncontrolled, one seemingly inoffensive fern sprout can take over large enclosures and choke out smaller plants. Many species have long, tough roots that wrap around features, sink into ceramic pots, and make enclosure maintenance nearly impossible. At the bare minimum, that one fern can spread past its intended area, requiring constant maintenance to keep it under control. If an enclosure has a particular look that needs to be maintained to emphasize a particular plant, ferns have a tendency to crash the party and laugh at attempts at eviction. In extreme cases, the only viable option is to tear out everything and start from scratch…and then go through the same routine again and again.

Now, ferns can be controlled in the miniature garden the way bamboo can in standard gardens: by putting them in containers so their roots don’t sprawl and new shoots don’t spread. On a basic level, any material reasonably impermeable to plant roots could work, such as metal, glass, or stone. In miniature gardens, especially those with acid-loving plants such as orchids or carnivores, metal tends to corrode and contaminate the whole container, while glass and stone have their own problems with weight and porosity. The idea is to have something with an impermeable side but a permeable bottom, so moisture can wick up into the container from its surroundings while preventing fern roots from punching through. Equally importantly, it should be something reasonably attractive or possible to make attractive, if only so viewers don’t focus on the container instead of the fern inside.

The good news for anyone looking for good fern excluders is that they’re sometimes a bit too common. One quick trip to the grocery store, and your house is full of convertible fern containers. Food, drink, hair care, skin care: if it’s plastic and can be cleaned, it has potential. Even better, because of the demands by marketing to produce packages that are as uniquely identifiable as their labels, many of those are exotic enough that with a bit of modification, most would never recognize a final container as such. A bit of poking through the recycling bin, a good washing, and you have the beginnings of a fern excluder.

Before starting, consider the container that you’re converting and what kind of fern it is intended to hold. Tall containers have a problem with prematurely drying that requires additional top-watering, and with becoming top-heavy as big ferns get established. Overly small containers will restrict bigger ferns to the point where the plants will send roots over the side in search of water and nutrients. The container’s place in the terrarium or miniature garden has to be considered as well, because unless the fern is the only thing intended to be displayed, its excluder could overwhelm everything else. If possible, test the placement of the final excluder by putting the container in its intended location. If it doesn’t work for what you’re intending, there’s nothing wrong with going with another container and saving that one for a future project.

Converting a spare plastic container into a viable and usable fern excluder is done in three stages, two of which need tools or other accessories. In the first stage, some sort of knife is essential, with a drill and various bits, pliers, and medium-grit sandpaper being extremely handy. Since you’re cutting plastic, make sure that the knife is as sharp as possible, so using a razor knife or box cutter with replaceable blades is highly advised.

WARNING: Cutting plastic containers can be dangerous, both due to blades binding in the plastic and blades breaking during use. When cutting, cut very slowly to keep control of the blade, and ALWAYS cut away from your body. Cutting on a protective surface is highly recommended, and the use of scalpels, break-away hobby knives, and other thin blades is NOT recommended. If necessary, wear gloves when cutting plastic containers.: both the blades and the resultant cut edge are very sharp.

To start, remove any paper or shrinkwrapped plastic labels from your container. Paper labels can be removed by soaking the container in soapy water for an hour and then scrubbing, and commercial sticker-removal products such as Goo-Gone will work on any remaining adhesive. With plastic-wrap labels, just cut these with a knife and peel them free.

Some containers need additional work for cleanup. For instance, my bicycle route to the gallery is often strewn with empty BuzzBallz, which make excellent fern barriers due to the container’s size and thickness. The only problem with them is the aluminum top, which needs to be peeled off with pliers before further work can be done. (WARNING: metal edges can be sharp. Don’t do what I did: wear protective gloves and eye protection when peeling off metal attachments and save some bandages for later.)

Now, if your container already has the general look you want, then great. If not, you may have to remove the neck to remove screwcap threads and the like. With most containers, a razor knife works very well: start with an initial hole (a drill or nail hole works well) and then SLOWLY cut around until the neck is detached. With thicker-walled containers, saws designed for plastic and rotary tool cutting discs may be necessary: follow all safety instructions for these tools when using them, and work slowly to keep control and to keep friction heat from re-fusing the plastic while cutting.

For various reasons all involving weight distribution and structural integrity, the bottoms of most plastic containers are considerably thicker than areas near the tops. (The next time you accidentally drop a bottle of vegetable oil or salad dressing and it bounces instead of rupturing, say a silent prayer to the packaging engineer who successfully convinced Management that an additional gram or two of plastic resin per bottle was a necessary cost.) This means that razor knives won’t (pun intended) cut it. You have many options for electrical augmentation, but a cordless drill and the appropriate bit usually gets the job done in my case. A few warnings:

Numero Uno: Anyone who took a shop class in high school, who took any remedial home repair class in adulthood, and any fan of the Canadian version of Doctor Who will tell you the same thing, over and over: never, ever, EVER hold anything intended to be drilled with your hand. (Everyone will say this, of course, but the ones that paid attention don’t have those distinct scars that say “I figured that I was smarter than the drill press.”) Since most plastic containers are too flimsy to be locked into a vise for drilling, it’s time for alternatives. In my case, I use an old towel, usually with a silicone sheet inside for extra grip, to hold the container in place without actual flesh connecting with the plastic if that plastic starts spinning out of control.

Numero two-o: because of the way most of the world’s plastic containers are made (check out some Baby Soda Bottles one of these days), the absolute center of a plastic bottle is often convex instead of concave. This means that if you’re starting with a large bit, keyhole saw, or other drill-based cutting tool, that spinning tool is going to spin off true, possibly biting into the plastic in a place other than where it was intended or even into a nearby hand. To get more control, start out with a much smaller drill bit, or even a sharp nail or punch, to make a starter hole for the larger bit. If you need to do multiple borings until you get the correct-sized hole, so be it: this work isn’t going to be graded on expediency.

Numero three-o: if at all possible with drills or other cutting tools, try to go with maximum torque and minimum speed. The reason is that as it’s spinning, the drill bit will generate enough heat from friction to soften the plastic it’s cutting. The plastic can jam up the drill bit, re-fuse as soon as the bit stops, and even give a good burn to unprotected human skin. Even with going slow, some melted plastic will collect along the edges of the hole, and the final hole may not be completely cleared. In that case, use a stout blade, slowly and carefully, to cut out any rough plastic from the edges of the hole.

Finally, when this is all done, you’ll want to smooth out the holes at either end of your container with medium-grade sandpaper. In particular, decide which end is going to be the bottom of your fern excluder and use the sandpaper to even out that end as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect: it just has to be even enough for the next stage. While you’re at it, rub that sandpaper over the whole of the container: this gives a rough surface, referred to by artists as “tooth,” to give adhesion for what you plan to do next.

For the second stage, you’ll need a different set of tools and supplies. The essentials include:

  • Silicone sealer, preferably aquarium grade
  • Landscape weed barrier cloth
  • Scissors suitable for cutting cloth
  • Primer paint

To start, cut a square of weed barrier cloth slightly wider on each side than your container. Set it on a flat surface, preferably covered with baking parchment or wax paper.

Next, after determining which end of your container is the bottom, put a good thick coat of silicone sealer all over the edge. Don’t worry about it being a bit sloppy: this part will be underground when you’re done.

Take that freshly gummed-up container and press it bottom-down atop the weed barrier cloth. If you want to smooth the bead of fresh silicone, use tongue depressors, caulking tools, or a gloved finger to clean things up (don’t use a bare finger unless you like cleaning silicone from your skin for the next few days), but make sure that the bead runs over the entire outside of the joint between the container and the cloth. After this is done. set it aside for about 24 hours to allow the silicone to cure.

Next, the container needs a coat of paint for three reasons. Firstly, unless you specifically want a clear fern excluder so you can see roots and plantlets growing inside, you’ll want to hide the excluder’s humble origins with a bit of color. Secondly, if the bottle had its label printed directly on its surface instead of on a label, giving free advertising to the original manufacturer may not be desirable. Thirdly, a good coat of primer for plastic makes an excellent base for subsequent embellishment. For the last ten years, I have had excellent results with Rust-Oleum Universal spray paint: it’s an excellent primer that doesn’t attack most plastics, it tends to cover a surface in one pass, and it comes in a wide range of colors and finishes, including hammered and metallic effects. For most miniature garden and enclosure applications, I very highly recommend the Carbon Mist because it gives the impression of shadows without slipping into “complete endless void” in smaller scales.

After letting your primer dry for at least 24 hours, it’s time for further embellishment. If you want to highlight features on the original container with further paint, go for it. If you want to add features by attaching greebles, add texture by gluing on sand or aquarium gravel, or slathering it with silicone sealer and then pressing in long-fiber sphagnum to encourage sphagnum moss growth on the outside, knock yourself out. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, add a layer of plumbing-grade epoxy putty to the outside and sculpting bark to make it look more tree-like. (I personally swear by Smooth-On’s Habitat epoxy putty because it’s safe for fish, amphibians, and reptiles.) If covering it with so many styrene parts and embellishments that it could double as a Warhammer: 40,000 game obstacle is what moves you, do what thou wilt. Just take into account three things: stability, weight, whether the item might rust/corrode/otherwise contaminate the surrounding soil, and whether the additions you plan to add will handle longterm exposure to sunlight. Other than that, whatever works is what works. When you’re finished, trim back the weed barrier cloth to make it easier to plant in an established miniature garden, or leave it as an anchor in a new one: it’s completely up to you.

After everything else is done. it’s time for Stage Three: The Planting. At this point, start adding your choice of planting medium into the fern excluder through the hole in the top. Pack it in gently so you don’t damage the weed barrier cloth at the bottom, and watering it regularly during the packing process helps settle the medium. In this example, this excluder is full of milled sphagnum moss for inclusion in a carnivorous plant enclosure. Just take into account that since the weed barrier cloth is porous, don’t add anything to the planting medium that might affect plants nearby, such as salt-based fertilizers for a fern in a carnivore enclosure.

When filling the fern excluder, don’t fill it completely. Leave just enough of a space at the top to add your fern, its roots, and any growing medium around those roots. It’s going to be stressed enough with its new conditions, so keeping the fern’s roots from being mashed or bruised will increase its chances of survival.

Finally, get your fern. Take a good look at its root system, and scoop out soil from the fern excluder to give enough room for those roots. Press it in gently, and scoop some soil alongside the roots to cover them. Give it a good watering, and it’s ready to be added.

At this point, add your new fern excluder where you need it, and check to make sure both that it’s close to the water level in the miniature garden or enclosure and that it’s stable. Placed correctly, water will seep through the weed barrier cloth from outside, encouraging the roots to go deep for moisture and discouraging growth through the rest of the area. This will discourage growth but won’t stop it, as many species will run roots down the sides and into surrounding soil. Trimming roots as they form is an option, and another is setting another fern excluder, wider and flatter, underneath the first excluder to facilitate those hanging roots. The fern excluder also won’t do a thing for new plants growing from spores, either from that fern or ones that blew in from elsewhere, so always check for new growth before it gets out of control. If you like that new growth, well, you’ve made one fern excluder, and there’s no reason why you can’t make more, right?

Enclosures: “Raven Well” (2020)

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

Enclosure: “Conjunction of the Million Spheres” (2020)

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?”

“Yes.”

“Anywhere?”

“Pretty much.”

“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.”

“‘The Machine’?”

“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.”

“Please ask.”

“Would there be room in it for a third?”

Melniboneans created by Michael Moorcock

Ganymeans created by James P. Hogan

Silver Machine created by Hawkwind

All use of existing characters and situations is done for the purposes of comedy. No copyright infringement is intended.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes sathulata x hamata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

Enclosures: “Stasis Bunker” (2020)

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

Enclosures: “One Giant Leap” (2020)

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.

Spacecraft:
CDRCommanderNeil A. Armstrong
CMPCommand module pilot   Michael Collins
LMPLunar module pilotEdwin E. ALdrin, Jr.
SCUnidentifiable crewmember
MSMultiple (simultaneous) speakers
LCCLaunch Control Center
Mission Control Center:
CCCapsule Communicator (CAP COMM)
FFlight Director
Remote Sites:
CTCommunications Technician (COMM TECH)
Recovery Forces:
HORNET   USS Hornet
RRecovery helicopter
ABAir Boss

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 52 LMP (EVA)
How’s the bulk sample coming, Neil?

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.

04 14 52 20 LMP (EVA)
Roger, Houston. We’re returning to Tranquility.

04 14 52 27 LMP (EVA)
As if we’ll get any sleep next to that thing.

04 14 52 47 CC
Roger.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, resin.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

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.

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200