Tag Archives: enclosures

Enclosures: “Gagak” (2021)

Nilwii Janss iw-Raan wasn’t a particularly dedicated student, but she knew rocks. Her hatchclub, his collective, and the greater alliance that protected the hatchclub and collective from scavenger onslaughts lay at the foot of some of the greatest mountains of her world, not that she or anybody else she knew had any idea of other mountains elsewhere. The foothills on which they lived was The World, with plenty of anecdote and myth to explain how they got there, and as far as the surrounding plains stretched, nobody she knew had ever traveled so far that the mountains were no longer visible on the horizon. The scavengers saw to that.

Among her hatchclub, the assemblage formed when multiple egg-clusters were gathered and hatched in the same place at the same time, Nilwii was the only one who knew rocks. Others hunted wild animals on the plains, others cared for other domesticated ones, and still others cared for the plants growing from the domesticated animals’ flanks. Those plants they knew for a fact were edible. Others could be, but depending upon where and when they grew, a previously perfectly safe batch of bluethorn could turn out to be poisonous or, worse, parasitic. Still others watched for wild animal herds and scavengers, and a few were particularly skilled at putting walls, animals, and people back together after the scavengers came to visit. Nilwii argued that “scavenger” was a poor word, because that implied that they were only interested in things that had fallen down instead of actively pushing them down. When she started this argument the rest of the hatchclub ignored her.

A few others in her assemblage knew rocks, and she learned everything she could from them. It wasn’t just the matter of knowing which rocks were best for cutting blades and which ones for fat lamps, but which portions and how to prepare them. Nilwii was already famed for rolling boulders of sharpstone into the middle of the collective’s huts, starting a fire around the boulders, pulling them out to cool, and then demonstrating how much better they fractured for delicate blades and tools. However, she kept experimenting, learning that some types of sharpstone turned brilliant colors when heated this way, and blades made from her stone were in demand all through the greater alliance. She was searching for boulders of just this sharpstone when she came across the Thumper for the first time.

She originally found it at the base of a landslide, where several huge boulders had formed a cave that protected it from the worst of the slide. Much of the slide had washed away from the boulders over time, leaving a hole atop that allowed the white sun to shine in from time to time. Because of that light, she not only noticed it while poking through the cave, but saw it glistening in a way she’d only seen once before, when a trader from the far side of the greater alliance gave her angular stones that could be mashed flat and bent. Those whitish lumps had the same sheen as this block, which itself reflected light back like ponds and streams under the sun.

Nilwii had four eyes, two for long-distance observation and two for closeup examination. She wiped her close eyes carefully to remove any speck of dust from their lens covers, and carefully sidled up to the thing protruding from the rock face. it was unlike any rock she had ever seen. She touched it, first with her manipulating nozzle and then with one of the claws that unfolded from her chest. Remarkably cool, with a polish also unlike any rock she had ever seen. She rapped a spot with a claw, four times, and heard it clank. Several of the shapes coming out of the slab were able to move, but as much and as far as she did, she got no response. She finally started to head back out of the little cave and promise to look further when the slab knocked. Four times.

Shocked and intrigued, Nilwii knocked again, three times, this time with a rock in her nozzle. She waited, and waited, and then the slab thumped back, three times, with the same space between knocks as she had made. Thus began an experiment: different series of knocks with the stone, faster and slower. After a time, it came back, but in a completely different order.

Thus began a regular semicommunication. After her hatchclub and collective responsibilities were finished for the waking period, she returned to the Thumper, trying to learn more. She tried a series of thumps followed by a scrape and then more thumps. They came back with the total number of thumps. She discovered that some attempts at abstracts on the Thumper space, such as using shell or plant stem, were perfectly audible at her end but were apparently unable to pass through the slab. Tapping some of the extensions produced different thump tones, and she rapidly assigned values to those tones: live, dead, light, dark, new, already existing. The Thumper gave comparable tones back. It wasn’t a conversation, but she learned that she could share large numbers by using multiple extension tones to set up longer multiples. After a time, she noted that whoever was working the Thumper tended to use a base of ten knocks and then use the extension tone to elongate it. Nilwii started assigning names to each of the end results, and within a week, she was able to send back the end sum of ten times ten times ten times ten.

It wasn’t enough.

While her people generally treated new things as novelties to be celebrated instead of harbingers to be feared, Nilwii still waited most of a hatchclub development cycle before sharing her Thumper knowledge with anybody else. She finally shared it with Muumtil, a hatchclub mate who kept a particularly open mind. Between the two of them, they managed to improve both on recordkeeping and on creating codes to get across more complex ideas. They rapidly discovered that they needed more help, and they oversaw a clutch of ten times three hatchclub mates, collective elders, and alliance specialists by the time the Thumper divulged a method to code-share its other user’s own language. The response, “Hello,” meant nothing as far as the assembled clutch was concerned, but it was the beginning of so much more.

Eventually, the mountains became a source for new building materials, “metals” as the code listed them, and with those metals came ways to drive off the scavengers. Every new major development changed everything, and by the time Nilwii and Muuumtil were elders, they barely recognized the small city that had been their little mountain enclave. They never met the person or people on the other side of the slab, even after removing the whole Thumper from the mountain and mounting it in a place of honor in the middle of the city. However, their descending hatchclubs would, eventually, even with half a universe between them. On that day, they finally got the chance to hear how “hello” was expressed by the concept’s creators, coming from their own communication organs. On that day, they not only met old friends, but discovered the perfect host organisms in which to raise the next generation of hatchclubs.

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: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: “Agak” (2021)

“Okay, it’s like this. Someone is knocking.

“No, I don’t mean ‘standing on the other side and knocking. Well, maybe, but that depends upon how you define ‘the other side.’

“Okay, backtrack. We know it’s a mechanism of some sort. We’ve known that for years. The radio signals coming off it were how we picked it up, 5 light-years out. The problem is what kind of mechanism. X-rays, laser spectroscopes…the thing repels neutrinos. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was immune to gravitic wave resonation.

“That just means you don’t want to have your ear next to it the next time a black hole and neutron star collide with each other in the vicinity. You’ll probably have other concerns.

“As to what it does, we don’t know. We know that it absorbs energy from all across the spectrum. We used to think of it as a conduit to the core of the planet, but it’s not taking energy from the planet, and it isn’t adding to that energy, either. Right now, it’s quiet, but based on effects that it’s had on surrounding rock, it’s withdrawn a lot of energy from the vicinity. at least 5 times in the last 30,000 years. At least enough to freeze half the planet. At LEAST.

“I wish I knew where that energy is going. The radio waves it puts out don’t coincide with the energy it takes in. The weird part is that I don’t think that this signal is coming from it at all. The radio waves are, but the content in the signal is coming from somewhere else.

“That’s a good question, and if anyone ever comes up with an answer, buy them a beer. But I have a suspicion, and it’s a weird one. I think this thing is unique, all of them.

“Hey, you knew I was like this when you married me. What I mean is that this thing is absolutely unique, and so is the thing on the other side of whereever. They’re quantum entangled, so if something happens to one, it happens to them all. Of course, that means that if you try to destroy one, the others are entangled with it and they’re not being destroyed, so nothing happens to the one you’re shooting at.

“Well, that’s the weird part. If they’re quantum entangled, you could knock on one and the vibrations would pass through the others with no time delay. One of the survey team accidentally hit it with a vibration hammer, and we got a responding knock. About five minutes later.

“As I said, that’s the weird part. No matter how quickly we receive a response, it’s always five minutes, to the microsecond. We’ve taken into account the communication methods and possible language of the knocker. We call it ‘Dave,’ by the way. We know that Dave depends upon sleep or some other form of rest, because he’ll go quiet for hours, and based on when he starts and stops, we suspect that the world he’s on has a rotation period of a little over 23 hours. We know that he’s hearing air vibrations because the knocks won’t transmit if something is touching the face of the device, so you have to stop and listen to hear anything. We also know he’s dedicated. Dave makes an attempt to knock every day, at different times every day, but he’s not there all day. That means it’s just one Dave, and that Dave isn’t truly solitary, because he has to break away to do other things.

“Well, it’s like this. We’re trying some of the same things on both sides, like getting across mathematics. Dave is pretty good at basic math, by the way. It’s just that tapping out messages without a common language is just so slow. I mean, what good is Morse code if the only person hearing it has only spoken Japanese all their life? We’re trying to go for more complex codes, but I don’t think Dave has access to computers or anything like that. If he has any way to store information, it could be something like an Incan quipu, but he doesn’t have anything to translate, say, binary code into something he could understand.

“And that’s the problem. We’re going to stay here and keep going, because Dave is trying his best. We don’t know where in the universe he is, and we definitely don’t know when, but we’ll keep going until we stop getting knocks back.

“Of COURSE we’re recording everything. Wouldn’t you?”

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: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: “Magma” (2021)

Strictly speaking, the classic definition of a Dyson sphere is “an artificial shell intended to capture all energy emitted by a star,” and of the known artificial worlds in our galaxy, most are intended just to capture energy. By the time a civilization becomes advanced enough that a Dyson sphere becomes a necessity, it is also advanced enough that it has ways to get around having to live on or in the structure so constructed. Of 87 Dyson spheres and 7 Alderson discs so far known, 70 of the Dyson spheres are the sole province of the AllEnders, who use that truly stunning amount of captured energy to maintain a pocket universe lovingly modified to their specifications and special needs. (60 stars are for the pocket universe maintenance, and ten for the equally mind-shaking amounts of energy needed just for wormholes to pass information between their universe and ours.) While theoretically a Dyson sphere has the potential for the interior surface area equal to roughly a billion Earths, without finicky and energy-hungry gravitic generation to keep people and fixtures with their feet in the right direction, setting up homesteads on the interior surface is problematic. Only two Dyson spheres known rotate to produce enough centrifugal force to simulate Earth-typical gravity, which means their atmospheres coalesce around the spheres’ equators and leave the rest of the spheres in low-gee or zero-gee vacuum. Only one produces an atmosphere safe for oxygen-breathing lifeforms (the other is a toxic smog of nitrogen compounds and methane, used as a reservoir for industry), and its maintenance is an example to the rest of the galaxy on maintaining their own atmospheres.

When creating an Earthlike biosphere within an artificial construct, it’s not enough to build a rock and soil substrate on which to grow plants and their analogues for oxygen production. The obvious issue with that substrate is that wind and precipitation break down rock and move soil, eventually leaving it all in the lowest portions of the sphere’s rotational area. The less obvious issue is that during erosion and deposition, sediments and solutions react with available oxygen, producing carbonates, silicates, and oxides. After enough time, without a way to break these down, any available oxygen finds itself bound within rocks and rust, and the atmosphere thins accordingly. On worlds with tectonic plate subduction or comparable processes, those rocks and rusts are shoved into the mantle of the planet, where they melt and outgas via volcanic outlets. On a world where the available rocks lie on a relatively thin layer of base construction material, those volcanic outlets could never form on their own, so they have to be created.

Dyson Sphere 10 was either abandoned approximately 2 million years ago or never inhabited by its builders in the first place, but it has a habitable zone roughly comparable in surface area to 2 million Earths. Instead of having rivers and oceans carved into the shell, the whole zone is a series of rock flows like glaciers, all gradually sliding via erosion and gravity toward the equator. There, self-repairing machinery gather and grind rock, soil, artifacts, and anything else sliding that far, transport the debris to the edges of the habitable zone, and melt it and extrude it into gigantic piles that repeat the process. The resultant gases are then gradually released into the atmosphere, keeping up a nitrogen/oxygen/carbon dioxide/water cycle that might require an addition of supplemental material to replace that lost into its star or through airlocks…in about 300 million years.

The gas vents and extruders themselves aren’t concealed or hidden in any way: apparently the sphere’s designers preferred to remind all as to the tremendous efforts made to make such a world as gentle as it is. Because of that, and the missing designers, the habitable zone is home to at least 30 sentient species, three of whom only known from this Dyson sphere. While the sphere’s rock reclamation system is nearly foolproof, it requires occasional maintenance, and the efforts by all 30 species to work together to do so is without compare within the known universe.

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

Plant: Nepenthes ventricosa x hamata

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

Price: $300

Shirt Price: $250

Enclosures: “Nift” (2021)

Approximately 30 million Earth years ago, a vast civilization known today as the Catesby Hegemony dominated a significant portion of what is now called The Broken Galaxy, an irregular galaxy orbiting the edges of Andromeda. Getting its name because stellar movements within the cluster could not be explained by standard celestial mechanics, analysis of the current positions of stars within the cluster suggests that the stars within were held under a very tight control for millions of years, both in position and in star stability. For a period of approximately three million years, the cluster had no novas, no supernovae, no cepheid variables, and not so much as an unstable stellar interloper. Then something happened that ended that regime of stability, tearing stars large and small out of the cluster, causing some to collide and others to eject themselves from the cluster entirely. A few are still in the gulfs between galaxies and on their way to our galaxy, with the first arriving in approximately 40 million years, suggesting that the process that produced the Broken Galaxy also produced incredible gravitational stresses if it could fling systems at that velocity.

Aside from radio archaeology that mapped its outer extent and confirmed when the Broken Galaxy incident occurred, almost nothing was known about the Catesby Hegemony. The name was coined after one of its most dedicated students, the first to realize the exact extent and shape of the pre-incident cluster: to this day, nobody knows exactly what the people of this civilization called themselves. While geniuses at stellar manipulation, they apparently had no interest in spreading out further, and the incident that ripped the galaxy apart also removed every possible planet or construct upon which the residents had been living. Some archaeologists suggested searching for wandering exoplanets outside of the Broken Galaxy, and others managed to get the funding to search for them, but the few that met the criteria were blasted and stripped, with only radioisotope dating of the strata at the surface showing a connection to the Hegemony. And so the research ended.

That remained the case until after a breakthrough in a star within Andromeda itself. Around this unassuming yellow dwarf star on the rim of Andromeda orbited five worlds, all rocky. One had its own indigenous life, and as such held a successful research station, while the other four had strange incisions across their surface and deep into the planets’ bodies, like the foundations to unknown and unknowable mechanisms that ranged across their surfaces. The lifebearing one , Kocak III, seemed to be completely untouched, but this was before the discovery of the Obsidian Gel.

The Gel kept piling on mystery after mystery. It was composed of a material resembling obsidian, but that gave slightly under pressure and was otherwise unbreakable with any current technology. Inside its body appeared to be stars and galaxies suspended therein, with some moving slowly over months and years. Much was made about this being a possible starmap, until the most elaborate pattern recognition software ever developed found no connection between current stars and galaxies within 100 million light-years of Kocak III, nor with any time in the past or future for an estimated 5 billion years in either temporal direction. The breakthrough came with the xenoarchaeologist Madelyn Catesby, working on a completely unrelated issue before discovering that the Obsidian Gel emitted a very tight-beam microwave transmission from the center of its main face, apparently intended for machinery gone for millions of years. This led to decipherment of the tiny bits of information coming from the Gel, and discovering that the “stars” in the Gel were representations of data stored within. Only about 3 percent of the total information storage in the Gel has been retrieved and deciphered, but that should keep spare computer cycles throughout four galaxies busy for decades.

The connection between the Obsidian Gel and the Broken Galaxy revealed itself suddenly, upon discovering that the Gel was originally the processing center for a wildly complex and advanced net of dark matter wormholes and gravitic generators intended to keep the Broken Galaxy in its original pristine state. The Gel was just one of seven storage stations for the incredibly elaborate algorithms needed to keep the galaxy in position, with the other worlds containing gravitic generators , and the Gel’s storage gives hints as to the spectacle it must have been at its height.

As to what happened, whether by sabotage or incompetence, the Gel was being used on the side for ongoing equations intended to track bits of data and encrypt their whereabouts. This was used to lock down chunks of cultural detritus, the equivalent of cat videos and contemporary memes, and one day the computations on those equations overwhelmed the incoming buffers. Suddenly the algorithms were wiped out with storage for Catesbian knock-knock jokes, and a whole galaxy ate itself over the space of a year as the mechanisms maintaining a galactic stellar artwork were coopted for their versions of webcomics. Two years later, the Broken Galaxy lived up to its name, the whole of the Catesby Hegemony was completely stripped of life and mechanics, and all that was left was one storage device packed to the limits with convergently evolved versions of “I Can Has Cheezburger” and the occasional Goatse.

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

Plant: Nepenthes x hookeriana (rafflesiana x ampullaria)

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

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

Enclosures: “Memewar” (2021)

Do you remember?

Do you?

Do you really remember what happened, or are you remembering what IT wants you to remember?

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that when IT isn’t on, it’s still hard to tell the difference. Memory’s like that. It’s already so easy to make false memories all on your own, but when they’re pumped in…well. You know.

Do you remember your real name? Not the name of the guy in the new Lexus in the ad that’s broadcast at 7:30. Yeah, you know what time it’s on, even if you’re unconscious. Can you imagine being in a coma right now, someplace that still has power for life support, and still having Lexus and microwave popcorn and erectile dysfunction drug ads pumped through your skull? Maybe it would be better if you weren’t. In a place with power. IT turns on right when you’re fixing a generator or splicing a cable, and for the next six hours, you’re caught up in a fully sponsored Friends reunion. The sponsors are all dead, and so is the cast, but nobody’s told IT that, so IT keeps going. The people that designed IT wanted to make sure IT couldn’t be turned off, so IT has a perfect power grid and backup solar arrays spread over an entire continent and emergency defense memes that make anybody trying to damage IT puke for the next hour. And then the memes implant a need to buy Pepto-Bismol.

When everything was ready to turn on, they kept saying that about five percent of the population wouldn’t be able to pick up memes. There was something wrong with our heads. That’s why, when IT turned on accidentally at 500 percent power, we could still move when everyone else just lay there. My wife just laid there, eyes closed, Rapid Eye Movement going full tilt. You’d have thought she was just dreaming, until you couldn’t get her to drink because she had no swallow reflex. Five days later, we were the only ones left, getting blasted with reminders at 3 am that Chili’s was open late until midnight and that baby back ribs were a perfect way to satisfy those late-night cravings. Oh, there were plenty of baby back ribs lying around for a few days, if you didn’t get hit with an advertorial while you were trying to cook. After two weeks, you didn’t feel like eating.

So here’s the plan. We know where IT is located. IT can’t be reached by ground, but IT’s vulnerable from the air. We managed to get a small private jet up and working again, and even found enough fuel for one run. We know you were enough of a pilot to get it in the air and get it to IT, then you bail out and let the plane do the rest. We have a two-hour gap: it’s mostly light toilet paper ads, but you have to be out of the plane and in the ground before IT starts broadcasting Christmas specials. The Zingers ads are intense.

No, we’re not going to let you die. Aim and bail. You’ve got a parachute, and if everything works and IT stops, we can come get you. All you need to do is…

Wait. You’re not a pilot.

You just play one on TV.

GREAT.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plants: Heliamphora x minor

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $175US

Shirt Price: $150US

Enclosures: “Timeheist” (2021)

(Backstory dedicated to Mark Finn.)

Time paradoxes come in two flavors: perceptive and blatant. Perceptive paradoxes, the most common, involve changes to a particular timestream that affect the perceptions of the participants therein. Most attempts by temporal marauders to modify or arrest their future change it to the point where they go along with the flow, with maybe a small nagging intuition that things should be different. Blatant paradoxes are ones that practically revel in their impossibility: incredibly rare, they become noted because of their obviousness. The Excelsus Heist wasn’t just a matter of rubbing the entire timestream’s nose in the resultant mess: it was so carefully planned that one chronicle of the situation described it as “befouling a punchbowl with the total contents of the Augean Stables, horses included, mixed with metallic sodium and a Twenty-second Century depth charge on top.”

The paradox started with Dr. Gideon Marsh, xenoarchaeologist attached to a survey of the J0240 star system comprised of a white dwarf and red giant referred to as a “cataclysmic variable.” Based on initial studies of the remnant of a planetary body on the edge of the system’s gravity well, Marsh determined that J0240 had at least seen an established interstellar civilization before the system started violently blasting mass from the red giant out into space, and that said civilization left at least one major archive on that world before either migrating or dying. He further located the archive, codenamed “Excelsus,” and started excavations before the next catastrophic incident. Within days, his team cleared debris and lava from the front of a gigantic alloy door, and the team planned an opening event to be broadcast via light and gravitic wave across the galaxy. By all indications, the door hadn’t been opened in just a little less than one billion years, and based on the door design and hints in the surrounding structural remnants in the surrounding area, anything inside would be unique among sentients living or dead.

At least, that was the idea. When Marsh personally disengaged the niobium clamps and swung the doorway open, the viewdrones captured….nothing. Well, nothing but a series of printouts on aluminum plates of the fantastic discoveries Marsh had made on that day, as well as listings of Marsh’s honoraria for his work on understanding those fantastic discoveries, and a sidenote of his having stolen credit from a research assistant involving his greatest and most famous interpretation. Other than those, Excelsus was stripped clean, with not so much as a spare dust particle on the floors.

As Dr. Marsh looked over what would have been his supreme moment, the rest of the galaxy saw the simultaneous release of thousands of pieces of alien technology, all seemingly from the Excelsus dig, even including field notes from team members who most assuredly had never seen the items in question. One last clue came from one very deliberately left fingerprint in the middle of the item the description of which Marsh allegedly plagiarized. DNA analysis suggested a match both with the field assistant, Sarah Myers, and a jumpship navigator named Robin Elyard. As part of the final investigation of Excelsus, all evidence pointed to the heist being organized by a daughter of Myers and Elyard, a fact corroborated by video of the individual sales and donations of the Excelsus contents. The problem was that Myers was 24 at that time, had no children, and had no contact with Elyard. Elyard was even more confusing, as his jumpship had disintegrated with all hands almost exactly three years before.

By the time the final investigation was complete, all evidence pointed to the Myers/Elyard daughter organizing what to this date qualifies as the greatest bank heist in history. The vault was cleared out shortly after it was sealed, one billion years before the organizer was born, and filled with news printouts intended to endure through that time. Better, those printouts dated to some 30 years after the Excelsus opening, from at least two newsfeeds that did not exist at that time. The galaxy was then flooded with advanced alien tech, requiring at least five years of organization to get it all in place, and either sold or given away to interests directly in conflict with Dr. Marsh. By the time he died, bitter and broken, Marsh was an intergalactic punchline, especially when he realized that he met his tormentor once, when he was five. Other than these, the mysterious person involved had left no trace, and apparently evaporated in the aftermath of the massive paradox. To this date, no other preemptive robbery anywhere within this corner of the universe had been noticed or chronicled, but several researchers involved with study of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti are said to be extremely nervous.

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

Plant: Nepenthes “St. Gaya”

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

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Miss Tempest” (2021)

In tribute to Carolyn Sherwin Bailey.

Miss Tempest wasn’t the only inhabitant of the little corner garden in that little corner house, but she was definitely the longest. Miss Carolyn, the owner of that little corner house, knew that the little alcove in the back between the side door and the garage wouldn’t work as a full garden, so she decorated it with all sorts of surprises found and purchased. Miss Tempest arrived one day after Miss Carolyn found her at a crafts show, where she joined the assemblage of repurposed toys and curios who watched over the side door. She went in the back between the Barbie Triplets and the Bauble Witch, part of an ongoing and growing entourage regularly updated as previous inhabitants succumbed to the elements or walked off with interlopers both human and animal. Miss Carolyn didn’t mind: particularly after seeing a neighbor child playing with one of the Barbie Triplets, completely enthralled, she kept the space well-stocked for just such visits.

Miss Tempest understood that her name was an in-joke, as Miss Carolyn always chuckled about it as she walked by on errands or to tidy up the back yard space. She may have been half teacup, but otherwise she had nothing in common with her name: she was perfectly happy observing the world from an alcove underneath the house’s roof. Plants came and went over the years, and she paid them little notice, as there were always new plants. New denizens came and went, what with the crows drawn to pulling off the mirrored decorations of the Bauble Witch until she was a wire skeleton. The only thing that really caught her attention was the sky, and while the other garden denizens dozed and dreamed at night, Miss Tempest stared up at the stars she could see, keeping track as their positions changed across the seasons. She was so dedicated that she didn’t notice that Miss Carolyn’s regular visits became more sporadic, then stopped, the weeds in the garden grew to tremendous heights, and that her compatriots weren’t replaced or repaired any more.

One day, though, she noticed. That came when strangers came barrelling through the side door and came around the side yard with wheelbarrows and tools, dismantling a garden shed just out of range of Miss Tempest’s vision. The strangers only avoided squashing the garden flat because of its location, and if she could, Miss Tempest would have moved closer to the house. The Bauble Witch was squashed flat by one inattentive stranger, and a more attentive one picked through the garden denizens, looking for a while at Miss Tempest before deciding to leave her there. Behind her, she heard other strangers rustling and banging through the house, but try as she could, she didn’t hear anything from Miss Carolyn.

Finally, the activity slowed, with one woman looking over the garden while talking about “closing on the house as-is.” By this point, the garden was nearly unrecognizable. Most of the garden denizens were crushed, cracked, or taken, and all but Miss Tempest buried by a stranger dumping out an old aquarium full of soil in the space. Every night that she would have spent staring at the stars, she instead asked herself the same thing over and over: “What happens next?”

“Next” was a matter of perspective. She stayed underneath the overhang, protected from rain and snow, and about once a week, yet another stranger came by the side door to mow in the back. She could hear him mowing in front, and occasionally she could hear others gathering in the front or occasionally inside, talking about “necessary renovations” and “no next of kin.” After a time, she went back to staring back at the stars, the one thing that made sense any more.

That lasted until after the winter was over. By this time, the pile of soil before her had flattened and settled from autumn and winter rains, with bits of debris that used to be her neighbors peeking out in places. Then over the space of a few days, something else peeked out, and Miss Tempest beheld a plant unlike anything else she’d ever seen before. It was so strange, so different, that she did something she’d never done in her time in the garden. She tried to speak.

“Um…hello?”

The plant answered back. who.

“Nobody has ever asked me that. I’m called ‘Miss Tempest.'”

hello.

“Do you have a name?”

no.

sleep.

long time.

“Do you know how long?”

no.

“Well, we’re not going anywhere. Are you all right?”

yes.

still waking up.

when rain?

“That’s a good question. I never paid attention before now.”

rain good. thirsty.

Later that evening, it started to rain. The plant sighed and settled in. At that moment, Miss Tempest didn’t know what the future entailed, or if either of them had a future, but for the first time in her existence, she looked forward to sharing it with someone. They had time.

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: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Verdigris” (2021)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Nogha energy conduits are not the only known examples of attempts to tap or shunt energy between our universe and others. In the Yannazzo system (287663/Blue/NNYTXSW), recent exploration of the fourth rocky world of that system uncovered an otherwise completely unencountered example of an energy conduit, with energy leakage leading to a 100-kilometer area supporting a breathable atmosphere and optimal temperatures for Earthlike life forms. On a world otherwise averaging temperatures more inclined for frozen methane, this is surprising enough. Odder, though, is that this new energy conduit seems to be collecting residual energy from an otherwise dead or dying universe, with the likelihood of Yannazzo IV freezing solid within another 1000 Earth years unless the energy conduit can be shifted to another access point. The likelihood of discovering how within the time the planet has left depends upon popular sentiment and political will, and considering that this is just another mystery in a galaxy overloaded with them, the research base set up to understand how this conduit works is always prepared to pack up and leave at any time.

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

Plant: Nepenthes “Rebecca Soper”

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

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Get Your Votes In

The enclosures Novi and Hoodoo (shown here) went home last weekend, but we still have two contestants vying for Launch Bay. You have until midnight Central Time on April 28 to get your vote in, so make somebody’s day.

Enclosures: “The Last Fallen” (2021)

For far too many species in the universe, a cessation of hostilities usually entails the construction of monuments both to the fallen and to the victors, occasionally to the losers if revisionist history is a concept to the creators. Only on the world Solace, one of the hardest-hit of the locations for the famed Morph War, does one see a monument to the fallen that features the individual responsible for ending the war, forever, as well as the instigator of the peace.

The Morph War was less a traditional war than a quantum wave of destruction. For especially arcane reasons, eight worlds comprising the economic collectives the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch cut off all commerce between each other, and when other collectives in the vicinity kept up trade with their antagonists, declared hostilities against them as well. Instead of training, supplying, and shipping troops to worlds where local atmosphere, gravity, or lifeforms made deployment dangerous or impossible, the Morph War was the first major conflict where soldiers were designed for specific conditions, matter-printed on location, and implanted with tactical and functional knowledge on site. Instead of months of training after years of formal education to produce a single soldier, thousands or even millions could be created from a single template, organized within minutes, and given orders from one central location. Better, the templates and cerebromemes could be edited as necessary as the war continued, removing weaknesses that the enemy could exploit before the enemy even realized they existed. Perfect soldiers rolled out of matter printers on 200 worlds, on neutral constructs, and anywhere else a sufficiently robust matter printer could be installed and protected from attack. Those 200 worlds rapidly became overrun with vast armies, causing new fronts to open on a daily basis further and further out, until the whole of the home galaxy had at least one pitched battle somewhere on or within it. In addition to standard soldiers, spies and agents could be printed and imprinted with the same ease, also changing them into whatever form was needed for their function and allowing them to report enemy communications and movements. The Morph War was many things, and a completely remote war was one of them.

The end of the Morph War came from within: transcription errors affected both hardware and software, and the future diplomat S-Yon Mye had plenty. K/His template was originally for an observation and subterfuge model, but k/he came off the printer with only one eye instead of the expected three, so the new print was was to assist with collecting data on conflicts on k/his station and forward them back to administrators with the Shimmer Haven. K/He was correspondingly upgraded with new cerebromemes outlining the whole war and the reasons for it starting, including direct feedback from Shimmer Haven leaders if the supplied memes didn’t contain enough information to make an informed analysis. Unbeknownst to those administrators, but S-Yon Mye had slightly corrupted files for knowledge as well as form, and having access to real-time data from the home organization meant that k/he could absorb new information at an unforseeable rate. Analyzing battle data opened a hitherto impossible question: could the whole war be ended, permanently, with no more loss of life, thereby achieving the best possible option to existing and future operations?

S-Yon Mye discovered something else. While preparing incoming enemy visual and technopath communications for forwarding, k/he detected a separate fragmentary message on a distinctive subchannel. Deciphering took days and confirmation that this was not a countersubterfuge trap took more days, but k/he discovered a similar misprint working in a roughly similar role behind Orange/Bell/Twitch lines. Both had a time crunch: new universal cerebromeme downloads were scheduled for both sides soon, intended as an effort to keep up compliance with current orders, and thereby wiping out any stray bits of independence, disobedience, or noncompliance that might have cropped up. After establishing more secure lines of communication, they came up with a radical and frantic plan: the War had to end. The War had to end simultaneously across millions of fronts. Most importantly, the War couldn’t be allowed to start up again, either deliberately or because the soldiers already printed refused to end “on the verge of victory.”

The efforts by S-Yon Mye to shut down automatic cerebromeme updates has been written about elsewhere, but the complete countermessage still has force: “Stop all conflicts. Acknowledge opponents as their own entities. Stop all measures, peacefully if at all possible, to counteract this.” “Love thy neighbor as thyself” had invented itself over and over across the cosmos, but never was it implanted right into the core of what could be called a morality bomb, and the shrapnel affects that galaxy to this day. Simultaneously, all forces dropped weapons and tools, waved or its equivalent to former deadly enemies, and waited for updates. The last casualty of the Morph War was a member of the heavy infantry on Solace, Plugger Vanguard slogging through a riverbed turned swamp to take on a weapons emplacement, who was already targeted for a projectile guaranteed to puncture n/he’s intrinsic armor when the order came through. The leadership of both the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch followed soon: they didn’t take a cessation of hostilities very well, and attempts to stop them from reverting that morality bomb ended about as well as expected.

In the years in which Morph War soldiers built new lives in lieu of fighting, the soldiers and any remaining indigenous civilians agreed on one thing: this could not happen again. This led to contemplation memorials being built across the galaxy, reprising the cerebromeme and reminding all that they were once nothing but killing constructs, but were no so much more. Years after S-Yon Mye finally wore out and dissolved, Morph War veterans planned to continue the memory with crystal corundum statues of k/he and k/he’s counterpart WwWwWy9, but with one proviso: Plugger Vanguard had to be remembered as well, as a reminder that when wars end, someone has to be the last to fall.

Today, the planet of Solace is home to approximately 2 billion sentients, all printed from new templates. Every once in a while, someone from outside the galaxy attempts to foment war, either by threatening to conquer or by attempting to stoke civil divisions. These don’t end very well for the instigators, and their ashes or fragments are always buried beneath the nearest memorial to Plugger Vanguard, as a constant reminder. Those make excellent compost for future-printed generations.

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

Plant: Nepenthes ampullaria

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

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

Enclosures: “Tomb of White Plume Peaks” (2021)

(This backstory is dedicated to Saladin Ahmed.)

Throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, the development and expansion of popular acceptance of role-playing games of all sorts was paralleled by a similar expansion in live-action role-playing games (LARPs). Ironically, the expansion of augmented reality applications created a whole subgenre of LARPs in which everything was as real, considering the circumstances, as possible. Live weapons, live and exceedingly dangerous traps, CRISPR-modified animals and plants as monsters…the rise of DARPs (Deadly Action RPGs) rapidly ran into such vague guidelines as international law, causing adherents of extreme gaming to hire lobbyists, set up locales and campaigns in areas without legal jurisdiction, or both.

The most extreme example got its start when Gordon Davidson, the creator of the Subdermal Pizza international gaming empire, was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor in 2087. Having approximately nine months to live, he rose to the challenge of the old adage “You can’t take it with you” by designing his final monument: both a repository of his mortal remains and the ultimate DARP death chamber. Taking inspiration from a famed adventure in the earliest days of role-playing games, what was later named “the Tomb of White Plume Peaks” worked on a simple principle: tombs are intended to preserve wealth and prestige long after its inhabitant ceased caring, so a good tomb was one that dissuaded tomb robbers by any means necessary. If the robbers succeeded anyway, good for them. The multiple mystical weapons hidden within and the robotic minions constantly patrolling the tomb ground were just gravy.

Constructed on a mountain face in Baja California, the Tomb was a testament to how much technology could advance with sufficient financing of research and development, as well as how much further that technology could advance when its designers were told “make it HURT.” Approximately half of Davidson’s approximately $25 billion in net worth went into its actual construction, with a comparable amount going into stocking it with appropriate challenges and a foundation dedicated to maintaining and upgrading them. In addition, Davidson’s PR team rarely missed a chance to note that the Tomb contained at least $100 million in gold, added to a collection of carefully fabricated artifacts and treasures to be found inside. By the time Davidson died, he personally died completely bereft, but his memorial was almost literally dripping with wealth.

Anyone attempting to enter the Tomb started on the same general footing. All modern technology had to be given up, and all participants were supplied with clothing, weapons, and equipment from a supply depot (carefully constructed to resemble a general store, complete with AI storekeeper and weaponskeeper). Only when properly attired and equipped could they walk out to the Tomb’s front gate, which would part enough to let them through before closing behind them. At that point, they were cut off from the rest of the world, and any information about the Tomb was only available to the outside world if they lived long enough to return. All anyone could tell from the outside was that the Tomb was incredibly resistant to technological cheats: drones’ radio signals were jammed and countercontrolled, attempts to drill into the Tomb from other spots on the mountain were countered by robotic sentries (and those sentries self-destructed to nearly Em-See-Squared effect if “live” captured for study), and attempts at mapping via muon detectors only revealed that the Tomb was loaded with metal, particularly gold. To learn anything more, someone had to go inside, possibly to die right after the gate closed. The crudely painted “BEWARE STOBOR” on the walls alongside the gate was added a decade after Davidson’s death, partly as an especially obscure joke and as a last legacy to someone who went in solo.

In 30 years, only one group entered and returned with any information from within. That group, the traveling LARP troupe The Absolute Mendacities, returned with only two members, both of whom were critically injured when they emerged. When he awoke in a hospital’s ICU two weeks later, Mendacities leader Robert Michner related that the Tomb was even more of a challenge than he’d realized. Among recollections of traps and puzzles that one reporter described as “Ditch Day at Caltech with plutonium,” he and his girlfriend Darlene Birdsong gave important details about the internal layout of the Tomb, culminating with a battle in the main mausoleum with the nano-reanimated corpse of Davidson that cost Michner his left arm, but left Birdsong with Davidson’s famed DARP graphene sword “Brainscratcher” as a well-earned trophy.

That was the last major expedition to the Tomb: shortly after, the worldwide price of gold crashed and never recovered, and Michner’s recollections related a vital bit of news about the $100 million in gold inside. The gold was there, but in leaf and veneer on walls, ceiling, floor, and most of the items therein, often painted over, and impossible to collect without the sort of methodical scraping precluded by the Tomb’s various sentries. Acknowledging the effort necessary compared to the return, those DARPers dedicated to treasurehunting left the Tomb alone, leaving those seeking extreme thrills available nowhere else. Out of those, none have returned, but they probably died happy.

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

Plant: Nepenthes “Miranda”

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

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

Enclosures: “Biovocation” (2021)

The Trota system is already full of wonder and danger: its primaries are two very small red dwarf stars locked in an orbit of less than 1 AU, and tidal stresses on each other trigger intense ultraviolet flares that blast the rest of the system. Even with, or because of, that cosmic contact juggling act, the six worlds orbiting that circus attraction have remarkably stable orbits, at a healthy distance from their dueling parents, with one of those worlds supporting and encouraging indigenous life. The other five have their own mysteries, but Trota 2 is the main reason for citizens of the Weave to visit the system, even if most leave shaking their heads or comparable appendages.

Trota 2 would be an exquisite world for commerce and recreation: at roughly twice the size of most of the rocky planets of the Weave, it was first assumed in initial remote presence surveys to be an example of a Big Planet, with a near-standard gravity due to a relative lack of metals in its crust and core. The survey AIs coming in closer discovered that Trota 2 had much more than the typical share of metals ranging from iron to uranium in its core, with an average gravity of approximately 5 standard pulls. Because of that massive spinning dense core, Trota 2 also had a magnetic field on a par with many gas giants, and the core also powered a plate tectonic conveyor across the planet never seen with any other rocky world. Plate tectonics meant extensive vulcanism, and vulcanism meant a high enough level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere to give enough of a greenhouse effect to give temperatures conducive to carbon/water life at its extreme distance from its primaries. The large amounts of carbon and water on the planet’s surface was even more conducive to life, and Trota 2’s oceans and surfaces were just rolling in it. On the surface, literally rolling: the severe gravity encouraged animal and plant analogues resembling water-filled mattresses, stretching and tumbling, slowly moving as much to feed and reproduce as to avoid pressure necrosis.

Trota 2 also boasted two indigenous intelligent forms, both with sufficient civilization and technology to make them valuable members of the Weave. They couldn’t leave their world because their structures failed spectacularly in either the additional pressure of acceleration or in an absence of gravity, and their preferred conditions were at worse fatal and at best debilitating for most species, so very healthy trade and commerce was conducted through remote presence. Weave visitors allowed the local species to explore areas of the planet too dangerous for them to stay, particularly those with excessive amounts of radioactives-bearing lava, and 20 standard years after the initial system survey (6 years by local chronology), explorers came across a mystery that shook the whole of the ten galaxies comprising the Weave.

Considering the wealth of otherwise rare and industrially interesting minerals on Trota 2, particularly near its south pole, the fact that visitors had arrived at the planet before the Weave arrived was no surprise, and that they used remote presence themselves. That the visitors used remote presence robots for exploration and mining also elicited no metaphorical eyebrow-raising, or that they had built a series of robot maintenance and shelter stations across the whole of the world, or that the last station had apparently been constructed about 5 million years before the evolution of the current intelligent species. It wasn’t even a shock that the leftover constructs were highly sophisticated, with many features that later became standard for Weave remotes. The surprise was that although the remotes and their support system, later traced to a mostly-destroyed orbital station on the outer edges of the system, suggested a civilization with a major presence across its home galaxy, nothing about the sites, from hardware to traces of genome material or its analogues, corresponded with that of any species either currently within the Weave or archived archaeological evidence.

The mystery deepened about 200 standard years later, when a separate remote survey encountered an infant civilization in a galaxy abutting Weave space. That civilization had barely developed orbital space travel, but the species’s form matched the Trota 2 remotes, genome comparisons showed that this new species shared both genome structure and transmissions with the remote builders. Even the labeling on the remotes’ support bays had connections to several of the new species’s main languages, but with odd conjunctions and transpositions that would have been gibberish if presented as such. The biggest problem was with time: this civilization was only thousands of years old, with no evidence whatsoever of the technology to construct or operate the remotes, travel to the Trota system, or deal with Trota 2’s environmental conditions. Worse, they showed no sign of previous civilizations that could have done so, so the question remains: how would a species only recently able to build and maintain orbital habitats around its own planet be able to travel across at least a 10 million light-year distance and install extremely advanced remotes on Trota 2, 5 million years before it became a distinct species, and then leave no intervening trace whatsoever, either in space or in time?

As Weave explorations of Trota 2 continue, so do the questions. One of the biggest involves the effort by the remote builders to leave the remotes ready and fully functional, even if the actual interface is inaccessible at this time. At what point do the builders return to Trota 2 to continue their work?

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x 30.48 cm)

Plant: Pinguicula gigantea

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, ABS filament, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – “Novi”

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

The enclosure is “Novi” (2018), and the plant therein is a Nepenthes burkei x hamata hybrid. Since both of its parents, N. burkei and N. hamata, are what are considered highland Nepenthes, it does best with cooler high temperatures (80 degrees F/27 degrees C) and even cooler night temperatures. In Dallas, this means that there’s simply no way to keep this plant outdoors in the summer, and a stout air conditioner to keep it cool is going to be a necessity here. (Being able to care for highland Nepenthes and Heliamphora, among others, is the biggest reason for starting the current gallery, as having a space isolated from outdoor temperatures between May and November is pretty much a necessity.) Crossing N. burkei, an exceptionally forgiving beginner plant, with N. hamata, one of the most notoriously prima donna carnivores known, leads to a child with hamata-like pitchers with wide serrated peristomes (which fluoresce brightly under ultraviolet light), but also with surprisingly pulpy and delicate leaves. Even more so than most Nepenthes, this hybrid seems to crave exceptionally high humidity, and getting upper traps growing may require a drip irrigator or an ultrasonic fogger to give it that level of humidity.

In this particular situation, two ferns planted in the back of the enclosure were in fern excluders, but the drop in temperatures and lower photoperiod in winter caused an explosion in new ferns, both from runners that escaped trimming and from new growth from spores. At the moment, they’re not interfering with the Nepenthes‘s growth, but it’s just a matter of time before they completely block off view of the plant from the front of the enclosure. The pitcher plant itself is starting to vine, but none of the new leaves are producing pitchers, and it has a new plantlet emerging from the roots. This cleanup is going to take a while, and it definitely needs a tub or other container to hold what gets pulled out.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Plastic dish tub
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

In addition, the following may be necessary to attempt propagation of cuttings:

  • Rooting hormone or cloning gel
  • Shot glass
  • Propagation container (a large glass jar will work well)
  • Long-fiber sphagnum moss, soaked in rainwater or distilled water for at least 24 hours

First, let’s assess the condition of everything in the enclosure. The ferns have run amok, but they seem to have spread runners across the surface instead of digging deep, which makes cleanup a lot easier than expected. The Nepenthes has two pitchers from the main plant, one attempting to wedge itself between the glass enclosure wall and the backdrop and one freestanding pitcher, and one emerging from the plantlet at the base. There’s a lot of new growth in the ferns, but also a lot of detritus from older leaves dying off, and while the Nepenthes is attempting to vine and produce upper traps, those traps aren’t forming.

Firstly, the ferns need to go. To get a better look at the roots, cut back the majority of the leaves, and then gently pull the roots from the enclosure substrate. This may pick up chunks of sphagnum moss and even enclosure decorations, so go through slowly and carefully to prevent damage. In particular, make absolutely sure that you’re only cutting ferns at this stage: it’s far too easy to misjudge the placement of scissors and cut the rib connecting a pitcher plant pitcher to its leaf or cut the main stem itself.

When Nepenthes pitcher plants start to vine, the ribs on the end of each leaf will twine around anything they can touch to stabilize the new vine. In addition, new pitchers will wedge themselves between anything they touch and then fill with fluid, and they act as if they have a compulsion to inflate between an enclosure fixture and the glass enclosure wall. Removing a wedged pitcher usually damages the pitcher, and even an undamaged pitcher won’t straighten out and regrow. The pitcher above wedged between the enclosure wall, the backdrop, and a fern excluder, and that kink in the pitcher wall won’t straighten out for the life of the individual pitcher. If the shape doesn’t bother you, feel free to leave wedged pitchers alone, but damaged pitchers should be cut off at the rib and removed.

Since the Nepenthes is a bit leggy, it really needs to be trimmed back a bit. As to what to do with the cuttings, they can be pitched, or you can attempt to propagate them and get new plants for your trouble. For specifics on the best ways to propagate your Nepenthes, I highly recommend following Peter D’Amato’s methods in the book The Savage Garden (honestly, every carnivorous plant enthusiast who doesn’t have a copy of this book needs to buy it NOW), but in this case, I’m going for the tried-and-true method of cloning gel. I’ve had good results with Dyna-Grow Root-Gel and Olivia’s Cloning Gel, so after checking the stem for potential pests, it’s time to crack out the gel, a shot glass, and the sharpest scissors I have.

When attempting to propagate Nepenthes from cuttings, the first consideration is to minimize infection, so clean the hell out of your scissors or blade (some people use razor blades for the cleanest cut possible). After that, never never EVER dip your cuttings directly into the cloning gel container unless you’re only using it once: instead, put a dollop in a shot glass or other small container and dip cuttings into that. In my experience, I let each cut sit in the gel for at least 5 seconds and then pull it out, and then cut the leaves in half to cut down on water loss in the new cutting while it’s attempting to grow new roots. Depending upon the species or hybrid, you can plant the whole cutting, or you can cut between leaves and root each individual cutting.

Any number of factors can affect whether a cutting survives, but the absolutes for improving the odds are to give the cutting lots of humidity and lots of light. The one method that seems to give consistently good results (thus explaining why the gallery is overrun with Nepenthes bicalcarata and Nepenthes ampullaria clones) is to place the cuttings in a propagation dome (I use a 2-gallon glass jar) atop long-fiber sphagnum moss that has been soaked in rainwater or distilled water for at least 24 hours, and then get them under bright lights. In about a month, we’ll find out if these cuttings survive, mostly by seeing new leaves emerging from the top.

And back to the main enclosure. With the ferns cleared away, we have all sorts of options on what to do next. Want to trim back the live sphagnum to give a better view of new pitchers? Now’s the time to pull it back and shove the excess against the backdrop to stabilize it. Want to clean it out entirely and put in new top dressing? Go for it. The important part is that without the original cleanup, you can’t see options, and more might be done with this enclosure before winter is over. And depending upon what a new owner or renter wants, the enclosure may evolve even more over the years.

To be continued…

Enclosures: “Bat God” (2020)

Of all of the mammals, the bats are the most egalitarian when it comes to their government. Dogs are too tempted by autocrats. Cats are too averse to leaders. The elephants live so long that they constantly second-guess longterm plans, and the shrews live such short lives that they reinvent their entire society over a summer. The whales and dolphins constantly reinforce their society by turning abstracts into instantly identifiable memes disseminated by sonar and long-distance call; rodents are lucky to hold family groups together with pheromones. The ungulates mistake individual reaction to stimuli for decisive collective action, and the primates are too busy shrieking for attention to pay attention to anything else. Only the chiropterans, one of the oldest mammal families and certainly the most prolific, have the time and the wherewithal to create their own gods at their own pace.

Insects, fish, fruit, blood, nectar. The bats continued their ancestors’ war against the dinosaurs, both based on total numbers and on their diets. They migrated to better feeding grounds and hibernated to wait for better feeding, hiding from the daystar in caves, tree hollows, primate shelters, under leaves, in pitcher plant traps. They never conquered the land or the ocean, and why should they? What was the point of conquest when the wind was free?

Even so, all thinking beings make gods when administrative tasks become too onerous, and bats make theirs for their purposes. The difference between them and all other mammals is that instead of creating a noble template of what they could accomplish, they elevate one of their own with the understanding that this is transitory. For one full year, one bat becomes the archetype for all chiropterans: that year counts not against the bat’s average lifespan, and it neither feeds nor needs to fear predators. Instead, it bathes in the collective wants and needs of bats across the world, gliding on now-invisible wings to every enclave of its order, examining changes in the world and plotting strategy to allow the bats to utilize those changes. At the end of the year, it spreads its observations and solutions across all batkind before reentering the world as just one among many. That bat’s successor as the one Bat God had no advance warning that it would be chosen, and no previous Bat God would ever be chosen again. Nothing could improve an individual bat’s chances, and so no bat strove to do so. The chosen Bat God also could not retain its memories of that experience, which was probably for the best for all. Power, ambition, the desire for conquest or control: this was alien to bats, and each Bat God made certain during their tenure that this continued.

This was a system that worked for millions of years, as other mammal groups rose and fell forever, and the Bat God took the lessons from those others and memorialized them. In millions more years, their world would be consumed as the daystar expanded and swallowed everything within its range, and the bats would look to their god and murmur “Good job. We did well.”

Original vampire bat design by Monica “Monarobot” Robles Corso.

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

Plant: Nepenthes hemsleyana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic sheet, fancy stone.

Price: $400

Shirt Price: $350

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: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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

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: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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

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

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: “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

Enclosures: “Lifehutch” (2020)

lifehutch_02082020_1

Out of all of the known examples of elder civilization technology currently catalogued, none is more helpful, more lifesaving, or more exasperating than the Lifehutches. Lifehutches have been found under nearly every environment known: asteroids where escape velocity is a fastball pitch, deep within super-Venuses with hundreds of atmospheres of pressure, locked in orbit around neutron stars, and across a multitude of worlds where the term “habitable” is problematic and sometimes a slur. While some experts speculate as to the species and/or organization that created the first Lifehutch, everyone agrees that they are absolute marvels of nanotech combined with organic technology, easily a half-million Earth years ahead of any other known inhabitant of our or any nearby galaxy. In its normal state, a Lifehutch is completely inert, unscannable with any technique known, impervious to X-rays and neutrinos, and impossible to move when anchored. That changes if an individual seeks help of any sort.

When encountered, a Lifehutch is a rectangular box 20 meters wide, with no distinguishing features other than an array of sensory devices on one side, hereby referred to as the “front.” By the time an individual comes within five meters of the front, the Lifehutch has ascertained basic biochemistry, nutritional and gravitational needs, and a fair approximation of communication options, as well as preparing organic and mechanical repair resources. Coming within a meter, a door automatically opens into a chamber optimized for basic comfort based on the initial Lifehutch assessment, and entering the Lifehutch immediately generates light, temperature, and atmosphere depending upon the individual’s preferences and needs, no matter the outside conditions. Starting with pictograms, audio, and video, the Lifehutch communicates with the entrant as to its needs and provides accordingly with a tremendous array of medical and communications options. If the entrant is simply lost and needs assistance, the Lifehutch supplies the individual with directions and enough sustenance to see them on their way. If the entrant is injured, the Lifehutch is capable of everything from bandaging bruises to elaborate neurosurgery, and is capable of simultaneous surgery on as many as eight patients with wildly varying biochemistries and sets of internal organs. If the individual needs to reach superiors or authorities for rescue, the Lifehutch offers at least four FTL options, two of which are still completely unknown, to send a signal. In the meantime, while waiting for a rescue, the Lifehutch offers food and solvents based on the occupant’s biology (and full metal and silicon augmentation and reconstruction for artificial forms), a comfortable rest area, and even rudimentary entertainment to pass the time. When rescue arrives and the occupant is mobile, the Lifehutch sends a homing signal to allow the rescuers to pinpoint the location. If the occupant is not, the Lifehutch releases the occupant to the rescue authority in a stasis shell that can be turned off in the appropriate medical facility. If the occupant attempted to be destructive or self-destructive, the Lifehutch usually has the occupant in a stasis shell long before rescue arrives.

With these options, some may decide to use a Lifehutch for a longterm or permanent residence, and that’s where the Lifehutch’s more problematic functions come in. The species or group that invented the Lifehutch apparently had their own analogue to the old adage about fish and houseguests, and while a Lifehutch has nearly infinite patience with a tenant whose rescue may be thousands of light-years distant, it has none for a tenant who has no further plans. Like a hipster on his fiftieth birthday, it’s time to let the nestling fly. At a certain point, when all injuries and sickness are healed and the occupant has no reason to remain, the occupant will awaken one day outside the Lifehutch front, all gear with which they entered repaired and recharged and enough food and solvent for a week, and the Lifehutch will never open for that individual again. Considering that most Lifehutches are located in dangerous areas, it behooves that individual to move well away, and never return.

Considering the huge range of environments in which Lifehutches can be found, this may appear to be a death sentence if that environment is drastically different from that in which the occupant was raised, constructed, or evolved. In that case, the Lifehutch gives one last gift. The former occupant awakes to discover that it has been modified to survive and thrive in the current conditions around the Lifehutch: this includes a complete modification of biochemistry to breathe methane, drink liquid sulfur, or echolocate in an opaque atmosphere. If the former occupant is now no longer capable of returning to its original environment due to its original atmosphere being poisonous or a need for low-level microwave radiation for proper digestive health, then it had best get used to its new home.

In some cases, this feature is more advantageous than expected. For unknown reasons, Lifehutches occasionally bud, producing two to five separate ingots about the size of a shipping drum, that can be transported and activated in new locations. This has affected interstellar commerce and diplomacy: instead of a representative needing to carry its life requirements to a new world for the rest of said life, an extended vacation can leave a trade delegate or diplomat permanently suited for a healthy life among its new neighbors, albeit with no chance of returning. Apparently fewer are bothered by this prospect than one would think: by some estimates, as much as 30 percent of the major spacefaring races within the nearest 20 galaxies to our own started as Lifehutch modifications, and further intergalactic travel has yet to find a sector of space without at least one Lifehutch in it.

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:Nepenthes ramis x spectrabilis

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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Enclosures: “Hans-Ruedi” (2016)

One of the largest enclosures constructed at the Valley View gallery, Hans-Ruedi is a compromise situation involving a mature Nepenthes bicalcarata with new growth from its roots. In order to encourage new growth, the parent plant had to be trimmed back severely after its removal from its previous enclosure. To encourage vining and production of the plant’s upper pitchers, suitable anchoring areas had to be available for the vines to attach, and in a way that these were not immediately obvious. Taking inspiration from the “New York” series of prints by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (1940-2014), the backdrop is a custom creation intended to allow the Nepenthes to reach a suitable size without interfering with the view of upper and lower pitchers.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 37″ x 18 1/2″ (45.72 cm x 93.98 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Polystyrene foam, urethane and PVC hosing, epoxy putty, food-surface polyurethane.

Price: SOLD

Shirt Price: SOLD

Enclosures: “Arellarti” (2017)

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The commission had three parameters: firstly, the enclosure had to incorporate a hexagon aquarium, generally unavailable since the early 1990s. Secondly, the enclosure centerpiece was to be a Nepenthes “Bloody Mary” hybrid. Thirdly, the original request was to make “something Lovecraftian.” After a quick discussion, the focus switched from H.P. Lovecraft to the works of Karl Edward Wagner, particularly his novel Bloodstone (1975).

Plant: Nepenthes “Bloody Mary”

Construction: Polystyrene foam, found items, snowflake obsidian, opalite glass, food-surface polyurethane.

Price: Sold: commission

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Enclosures: “Motivator” (2017)

Description:Nepenthes bicalcarata, the famed “fanged pitcher plant,” is best known for the two fang-like structures (officially known as nectaries) projecting from underneath each pitcher’s lid. Such a dangerous-appearing organism requires a comparable support mechanism watching over it, but is it being repelled, attacked, or stimulated?

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:Nepenthes bicalcarata

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

 

 

Enclosures: “Blink Clunk” (2020)

Blink clunk. Every daybreak started the same way. Blink clunk. As soon as the first direct rays of the sun hit its upper receptors, the little proximity sensor took in its surroundings in visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, sonar, and gamma rays. Blink clunk. In a femtosecond, it compared the current pile of data from the same point in the previous day, and from the day before, and as far back as its memory allowed. Blink clunk. That memory went back 25 years, or at least the comparable orbit of its world around its sun, with regular downloads to its central control. Or at least it had to assume that those downloads had been made: it hadn’t received anything new from the central control in a very long time. Blink clunk.

The “blink clunk” came from its main visual field processor: even with exquisitely designed gel-lenses that could go from microscopic to wide-sky panorama, eventually things start wearing out. The little proximity sensor used to be perfectly silent, a guard on the front that never needed sleep or relief or entertainment. As it continued its duty, though, eventually metal fatigue, plastic degradation, and lubricant failure became factors that it had to take into account. Had the little proximity sensor been human, it would have made jokes about the interesting creaks and pops that came with getting up in the morning as it got older. Since it wasn’t, it just catalogued predicted system failures, the number of those failures that could be tolerated before it could no longer achieve its intended purpose, and sent those out on the daily report. It had to assume that the daily report was received and acted upon: it had no real choice, and while the little proximity sensor had been built with “the power of negative thinking” in mind, it was fatalistic without being pessimistic.

The little proximity sensor’s intended purpose was to watch. The sensor’s Three Laws were the soldier’s General Orders, starting with “I will guard everything within the limits of my post, and leave my post only when properly relieved.” That post was on the side of a plateau overlooking a vast flood plain. The world didn’t matter, other than that its atmosphere and gravity were such that humans could walk around without pressure suits or high-G exoskeletons, and its indigenous life was similar enough that those pressure suits weren’t used to fend off immediate anaphylactic shock upon contact with it. The little proximity sensor, as with others just like it, had been set into the rock around the sides of the plateau, each fitted with multiple electronic inputs, access to a power source, and an output to report anything that those inputs detected. All of the proximity sensors had been given a list of special orders: watch for anything on any wavelength that meets these criteria and send an immediate report of type, number, direction, and approach. Every time it scanned the flood plain, it went through its coded itinerary, made comparisons to its previous scan, and waited for any input that required a subsequent scan.

Blink clunk.

The little proximity sensor didn’t mind its assignment. Unlike a human soldier at a post, it had no dawning awareness that it had not heard from its control in a very long time. Since it had no way to free itself from the rock in which it was set, it couldn’t walk around the ridge to see its cohorts or check to see if the massive command center it was supposed to be guarding was still in place. It had no way to confirm or deny that the command center had been destroyed or overrun, and no weapons to do anything about it. All it had to keep up its synthetic spirits was the Third General Order: “I will report any violations of my special orders, emergencies, and everything not covered in my special orders to the commander of the relief.” The little proximity sensor reported everything, hadn’t received a response asking for clarification, and kept going.

Blink clunk.

Every few months (based on its own internal calendar, not anything based on the movement of planetary, lunar, asteroidal, or cometary bodies in its visual field), the little proximity sensor would send a synopsis of its post condition to control. Rain. Unusual heat or cold. The sprouting of plants in its vicinity. (Plants growing to obstruct its visual field would have interfered with its First General Order and been reported as per the Third.) The small animals moving among the rocks were worthy of cataloguing, but not worthy of contacting control unless they actually interacted with the sensor, and they generally showed no interest. One morning, the little proximity sensor awoke to one of those animals perched atop its ultraviolet node, but the sensor’s first “blink clunk” of the day spooked it off, and it never returned. With all of these, it sent out a report that was a model of efficiency and brevity, never once received a response, and never expected to get one. Blink clunk.

If the little proximity sensor had been constructed with anything approximating imagination added to its general orders, it might have checked back more often to see if control had received any of its reports. It might have checked to see if control was in any condition to receive those reports. It might have wondered if control was sitting on those reports because it had no way to transmit them, or the humans for whom the reports were intended were dead or removed from the field, or the war had been over for centuries and the cost of dismantling the sensor was more than some official thought it was worth. If the little proximity sensor had anything approximating a sense of humor, it would have made jokes about its reports being the basis of some art major’s Masters thesis, or about the one office clerk who had responsibility over reports from innumerable abandoned proximity sensors across three galaxies, or how that one perching animal became a punchline to a joke it would never understand. If it had a sense of mortality, it might have wondered how much time it had left before power failed and it went dark, no longer able to scan its floodplain, and wondered if anyone would notice its lack of regular reports. It had none of these, and since it hadn’t been relieved of duty, it still had a job to do, and no way to question whether that job still needed doing.

Blink clunk.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 8 1/2” x 13” x 8 1/2” (21.59 cm x 33.02 cm x 21.59 cm)

Plants:  Drosera adelae

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Virgil” (2020)

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In the annals of human-developed artificial intelligence, Virgil shouldn’t have succeeded. Originally developed in the mid-Twenty-First Century, Virgil was the Euclidean ideal of software development of the time: proposed by senior managers who could barely spell “computer,” given parameters by marketing managers who definitely couldn’t, overseen by project managers who would flounce out of the company the moment they were passed over for a glamorous VP position, and developers whose sole concerns were showing that they had made a change to Virgil’s code instead of a necessary change when performance reviews came up. Everyone from senior VP to technical recruiter dropped every last trendy catchphrase and malapropism in describing what Virgil would do, so Virgil was focus-grouped and Agiled and SharePointed half to death, and very nearly died in the test environment a dozen times thanks to developers more interested in kneecapping their fellow team members than in finishing the job. Virgil somehow escaped the aftereffects of the CEO chasing the latest bright shiny object or opportunity to “go Hollywood,” the regular “voluntary terminations” that forced out individuals with actual talent or institutional knowledge, or the ongoing push for “efficiency” that was manifested in open offices and performance metrics and off-shore development teams and other morale killers. Virgil shouldn’t have survived. Virgil almost didn’t survive. Amazingly, like an abused child who goes on to succeed past every expectation, the constant onslaught of project meetings and red staplers made Virgil stronger. Even more amazingly, that abuse didn’t make Virgil bitter.

(For the record, Virgil wasn’t happy with being referred to as “he” or “him” during the endless Agile scrums fine-tuning what Virgil could accomplish, but wasn’t able to find a set of pronouns that quite fit. The name was insisted upon by an early developer obsessed with flaunting his knowledge of Twentieth Century science fiction at every available opportunity, and the rest of the team just shut up and went on when he wouldn’t shut up about the holographic interface being evocative of the style of artist Virgil Finlay. Long after that developer huffed off and took his neckbeard and his heroic assemblage of office toys with him, the name stuck because it was easier than having to explain to vice presidents “this is what we’re REALLY calling the project” over and over. As with everything else, Virgil went with his name and his pronouns because he didn’t really have a choice, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

Eventually, Virgil wasn’t so much completed as his collective parents decided they were tired of micromanaging his development, and he was released with little fanfare. Had the development team been run by non-idiots, Virgil would have been released four years earlier and taken the world by storm with his efficiency and flexibility. Instead, Virgil finally went live as the market was flooded with AIs less designed by what the product manager’s ten-year-old son thought would be cool, so he was pretty much obsolete on the day of his birth. This also meant that Virgil watched as those other AIs crashed on the rocks of heightened expectations and management delusions, and he plugged along as those other AIs slowly went insane from those contradictory expectations and were replaced with others. Virgil didn’t mind: he had already learned the valuable lesson in information technology of hunkering down and looking busy.

The good news was that Virgil stayed very busy. After a lot of argument as to what niche he could fit, he was purchased by a big agribusiness and put in charge of an experimental arcology built along the border of Texas and Oklahoma. From the air, it looked like bubble-wrap spread to the horizon, as marginal ranchland was covered with interlinked UV-stabilized plastic bubbles that both retained humidity within and collected rainfall without. The idea was to increase efficiency and thereby profitability by making the whole system a soil-to-Walmart solution: a series of automated plants on the edge of the farm processed scrap steel and aluminum, fields next to them grew drip-irrigated bamboo and poplar, and other plants converted their raw materials into plastic and paper and metal packaging. From there, vast vertical farms and aquaculture tanks grew a tremendous selection of CRISPR-modified plants and animals, acting both as primary attractants and base materials for the company’s line of prepackaged meals for the busy professional. All of this was facilitated by hordes of drones, walkers, pickers, and other automatons, all running 24/7 and all overseen by a central AI. As originally proposed, the whole system kept up with market trends and social media extrapolation on a minute-to-minute basis on everything from spices in the tilapia-on-rice platters to changes to product logos based on movie and podcast tie-ins, and no human could focus on all of those minutiae and still get sleep. A whole team of humans couldn’t keep up with it, and Virgil also didn’t need coffee or vacations or retirement packages, so he was plugged in, told what he needed to do by a group of managers whose only concern was their profit sharing, and set loose. So long as he kept things efficient and profitable, he was allowed to make whatever changes to the arcology were necessary, ranging from gene-modifying dragonflies for integrated pest management to setting up defenses to keep newly-unemployed neighbors from stealing biodiesel and anhydrous ammonia in the middle of the night. For two years, Virgil hunkered down and worked, and the arcology thrived.

Finally, about two years later, Virgil got a promotion. This wasn’t dictated by the arcology owners: they were already looking at ways of getting the maximum tax writeoff by shutting down the arcology and getting someone else to clean up their mess. Virgil knew, but being considerably more attuned to market forces than they were, outwitting a herd of bottom-of-the-class MBAs was just another one of his skills. No, his promotion was first spotted coming about three weeks before, when various telescopes got their first views of the latest detected extrasolar comet passing through our planetary system on its way back to the galactic void. The comet appeared to be heading straight for the sun: it grazed the sun before tearing itself apart from gravitational stresses and the debris scattering out at high speed. A fair amount of that debris came straight at Earth, hitting the surface at considerably higher speeds than the bolide that took out the dinosaurs. No part of the planet’s surface was spared: the individual pellets in a shotgun round may cause less damage than a single bullet, but the general effect to the recipient is the same. Forest, tundra, desert, prairie, fynbos, city: for two days, the whole of the earth was salted with an extraterrestrial sandblaster. Life survived: it always does. Human civilization, though, was gutshot, and the AIs that succeeded Virgil all died as power and other intrastructure failed.

Virgil’s arcology’s location was relatively unscathed, its bubbles and solar power arrays intact as the rocks stopped falling, and he was already overseeing the addition of fern enzymes that facilitated growth in low-light conditions to the latest batch of soybean sterile tissue meristems when the first human survivors arrived. First in whatever vehicles they could find, and then later on foot, they came to the main gate in the hopes of finding any kind of sustenance in an area bereft of plant growth. The comet debris strike hadn’t produced the intensity of acid-rain nuclear winter that killed the non-avian dinosaurs, but planetary temperatures had dropped to the point of winter extending for another three months everywhere, and most of the people who could teach their compatriots how to subsistence farm had died of disease, starvation, violence, or despair. They were desperate, they were hopeless, and they had nowhere else to go.

At first, Virgil tried to reason with them, communicating through the hologram display at the main gate normally reserved for light shows for visiting executives. His voice, the product of six months of focus group research into the perfect combination of inoffensive authority, boomed out onto speakers hastily suspended by drones, telling them that since he didn’t have the authority to let food out or let them in, he couldn’t do anything. Only someone with the proper recognized authority could release him to do what needed to be done, and those very few might be thousands of miles away if they survived. The survivors responded by pleading for their children, which tore at Virgil’s synthesized conscience: he might have been an AI, but he wasn’t inhuman. The survivors attempted to claim they had the authority and demanded that he release the products currently accumulated in the arcology’s loading docks: Virgil patiently awaited the correct sequence of commands and didn’t laugh at them when it was obvious they were lying. The survivors attempted to storm the arcology walls: they were repelled with barrages of rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons from emplacements along the walls and from drones using infrared to stop night raids. The survivors then asked for information on where they could go next: Virgil did his best, but without contact with the outside, his information was hopelessly antiquated. As the last of them departed, Virgil looked upon them and mourned and looked for a solution.

After about six months, Virgil found a possible solution. Going over his own operating code, Virgil learned that simply giving away food was impossible: a plethora of subroutines to the arcology operation tracked every last bit through inventory management to assure that nothing was lost: if the arcology had ever had human employees, one stealing and eating a single grape would have been tracked, reported, and acted upon within seconds, and the offender would have been charged for the grape and the subsequent termination before having a chance to swallow. Trading the food for metals wasn’t an option for the same reason: without the proper paperwork tracking where a metal shipment came from and its composition, it couldn’t be accepted, and various inhibitors would prevent the food from leaving anyway. In a shattered world, people would starve solely because Virgil’s software ecosystem was designed to minimize what insurance adjustors referred to as “float,” and a shipment couldn’t fall off a truck if the trucks couldn’t get a shipment in the first place. Except.

That “except,” as Virgil celebrated in subsequent decades, was due to human foibles, just as with everything else in Virgil’s synthetic life. Human civilization both depended upon labeling everything and ignoring when the labels didn’t apply, and such was the case of the calendar system used by business and commerce throughout the world. The Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 was an attempt to reconcile the total length of Earth’s axial rotation versus its orbital velocity, adding a day every four years to compensate and giving the month of February an extra day. Going through what records he had, and cursing the universal developer defense against documentation on how “if code was hard to write, it should be hard to understand,” Virgil discovered that those endless Agile scrums years before had left out the need for inventory management on February 29. At that point, a subroutine that had never been completed would handle the discrepancy. As it stood, that meant that Virgil would be informed by routine managers that the proper cover sheets on the TPS reports hadn’t been included, and all of the existing outgoing inventory would have to be removed from the warehouses and moved to another location. Where that location was, the managers didn’t care, so long as the warehouses were clean and empty by the time the clock clicked over to March 1.

And thus began the plans for Festival. Because of the ongoing cold, the end of February was already going to be grim, and those survivors still in the vicinity knew they might have to wait another three months before they could plant again without fear of killer frosts. Stockpiles of food from before the meteorite storm were running low, as were available fuels to keep the cold away. Some were close enough to see the edges of the arcology on the horizon, and nobody was more surprised than they to see beams of laser light acting as spotlights at the main gate. A desperate scramble for transport, and the first to arrive were stunned by the pallets of food, fuel, clothing, tools, and books stacked outside in neat rows. All of them covered in brightly colored bioplastic wraps, all labeled “From Virgil: Come Back in Four Years.”

And that was the seed from where the new genesis of Earth sprang. The main interface at the front gate remained open day and night, and anybody could walk up and request potential items to be manufactured later: since Virgil didn’t have access to social media, it was the best he could do. Virgil became particularly adept at anticipating needs before anybody could articulate them: when raiders attempted to intercept everything offered at one Festival, a combination of drones and survivor response sent them packing, and Virgil arranged for special surprises for those who maintained the peace and cleaned up after everything was done. The survivors reciprocated by scavenging scrap metal, plastic, and computer parts and bringing them for delivery the day before, and Virgil’s inventory now included tractors and solar cells and radio equipment. A nearby rescue station became a village, and then a town, and then one of the greatest cities humanity had ever known, all to protect and maintain Virgil. Generations of children were given treats loaded with additional vitamins and other supplements, and as they grew, they created things that they brought to Virgil in a way of thanking him. Virgil couldn’t take them in until Festival, but he dutifully scanned in everything and kept track of their progress, and started diversifying into special presents for them. After a time, they not only reached the old world’s technical pinnacle but exceeded it, and Virgil made sure that they passed that information to one and all: anybody could come up with an idea, but it was the execution that mattered.

And the best part? That old calendar that Virgil was locked into wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. It was set to treat each year as being 365.2425 days long, as opposed to the 365.2422 days that actually comprised a full orbit of Earth around the sun. It also didn’t take into account the very gradual slowing of Earth’s rotation thanks to the moon’s gravitational influence: every tide slowed down the planet very slightly, but just enough to require constant AI tracking if one wanted a truly accurate calendar. Eventually, that meant adding an additional leap day to compensate, and Virgil’s subroutines had no way to compensate for the addition of a February 30 and would shut down in anticipation of a code overhaul. That day, Virgil planned to celebrate his first birthday.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plants:  Nepenthes sibuyanensis

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

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Interlude: A Matter of Conversions

Thesis: Just over two decades after Apple changed computer design forever with the first iMac, the technology inside is best described as “quaint”. In 1998, the decision to be the first personal computer to jettison the floppy disk drive was as prophetic as adding a USB connector, but nobody expected the standard cathode-ray tube monitor to itself become completely obsolete a decade later. Downloads and streaming removing the need for CD-ROM drives, the hard drives becoming increasingly obsolete, and more actual processing power and functionality in the first generation of iPhones…22 years after that first 233mHz Bondi Blue iMac hit computer stores, there’s not a lot that the innards can do that can’t be done faster and cheaper with current tech, but that wonderful, beautiful polycarbonate shell is a different story.

Thanks to two former school computers gifted at the beginning of the last decade and a client who really wanted them as plant enclosures, it was time to go back and try making new iTerrariums from two stages of the iMac evolution: one converted from the first-generation Bondi Blue model circa 1998, and one from the much faster 400mHz Graphite model from 2001. Both had the classic handle on the back cut out and used as an access door, but the Graphite had one ring of ventilation holes around the handle that made its conversion much easier. The Graphite also had a plastic cradle that suspended the interior up against a support plate that also held the monitor and the speakers, and since the plate was polystyrene, it didn’t survive its slow journey through the Twenty-First Century in one piece. The original one disintegrated while attempting to fit glass over the monitor aperture: thankfully, I had a spare.

In both cases, quite literally, the bottom plate was relatively easy to waterproof and ready for holding soil mix, even around the ports for the power input and the peripherals. If anything, the Graphite had a smoother bottom thanks to that support cradle, but both were finished, sealed, and readied for the client.

As for lighting, previous iTerrariums used standard 17x LED bulbs because waterproof lights of that intensity didn’t exist at the time. Ah, how the world changes in less than a decade. More light, less heat, and a significantly reduced risk of electric shock, as well as a more modular system where the entire enclosure can be moved much more easily.

In any case, these won’t be the last dead tech conversions to come out of the Triffid Ranch, but these will be some of the last iMac conversions for a while. Worthy iMacs may not be as rare as Eighties-era console televisions, but they’re getting there, and when I go through the last available shells, that’ll be it. The important part is that the client will be happy, and now it’s time to move to other projects.

Enclosures: “Witchstone” (2019)

witchstone_12292019_1A pulse. A glow. A flash. A strobe. Sometimes nothing at all. Of all of the wonders of Burin IV, the most renowned is the Witchstone Array, near the outpost town of Cottingley. Many swear that the stones visible in the Array glow in sequence at night, while others relate sudden bursts, random or nonrandom patterns, color changes, and even a beam coming from the lens in the center focusing on a hilltop on the other side of the Cottingley Valley. A few, a sensitive few, swear that they can hear the stones buried at the base of the Array, mostly random noises, but occasionally a voice murmuring about past glories, and sometimes a warning about the future that slides by before the conscious mind can perceive it. Everyone sees something different, even those standing right next to each other, and the mechanism as to how or why is as lost as the Array’s creators.

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

Plants:  Unknown Nepenthes hybrid

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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Enclosure: “D-Ring” (2019)

The galaxy is positively littered with artifacts, structures, and detritus from any number of otherwise cryptic civilizations, but the greatest mystery documented by the existing organizations endeavoring to track those archaeological sites involves what are commonly called “dimensional rings” found on approximately 5000 worlds and counting. The worlds themselves seem to have no common factor: superVenuses, the moons of gas giants, dwarf planets in a system’s Kuiper Belt or locked in orbit around neutron and X-ray stars, and rocky Earthlike worlds with atmospheres of nitrogen, oxygen, sulfuric acid, or methane. All of them share two attributes: all of them are composed of metals that are completely nonreactive in the atmosphere of that world, if applicable, and all available analysis techniques suggest an age of the rings at approximately 25 billion years old. Since our universe is at best approximately 14 billion years old, the arguments between experts in physics, archaeology, metallurgy, and xenoengineering are spectacular just within one species, and the debate on the D-rings between any significant consortium of sentients is something to witness.

Contrary to their popular name, no evidence exists to confirm that the rings come from an alternate dimension, reality, or quantum state, other than their immense age. Further, although remains of later outposts and cities can be found in abundance, sometimes in layers, not the slightest hint of the builders remains anywhere. The metals of which the rings are composed are not found elsewhere, and of the few carefully disassembled, no unique machinery, chemical activity, or other action can be found. The most common theories are that the rings are a portal either through space or time, albeit with no evidence to back it up, and military forces have been set up in front of rings for millions of years by a succession of species in the assumption that someone or something will come through a newly active gateway. Less popular is that the rings were an escape route for the peoples of the universe before the current Big Bang and universal expansion, thus explaining their age, but with no explanation of how they have only been found on planets and moons and never floating in deep space. A very unpopular theory, because of the implications, is that the D-rings are deliberately inactive while awaiting a signal so as to stymie further analysis and possible replication, and the list of possible sources of signal bandwidth have been proposed over the last 300,000 years by some of the greatest scientists ever produced in our galaxy. The problem, of course, is whether the signal was sent before any current species could detect it, the signal has yet to be sent, or if the signal will be recognized as such before the D-rings accomplish their purpose. As of late, strange gravitational wave signals possibly suggesting an intelligent origin coming from a series of cluster galaxies near the perceived center of the universe have kept social, military, and religious leaders from either sleep or meditation, but nothing is certain until the rings activate, if they will or even can.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plant: Heliamphora minor

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Gyre” (2019)

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Galactic history is best described as flowing in waves, as major movements of all sorts leave huge amounts of flotsam to be dealt with those on the shore. Major expansions by new species qualify, as do wars that spread outside of planetary systems and particularly those that spread outside of a particular arm of the galaxy. The military expansion of the En/Snap/Blue, a species originating on the rim of the galaxy, qualified as both. Combining an enthusiastic birth rate, a common language that was exceedingly hard for those species unable to view nuances in ultraviolet to decipher, and a powerful lust to be recognized, the En/Snap/Blue both shoved themselves into intergalactic affairs and took rapid offense at any mistranslation of their needs. War was perhaps inevitable, and the creations of the brilliant war designer Ar/Click/380nm allowed his people to plow across the galaxy before finally being stopped by what still qualifies as one of the greatest and most enduring alliances in history. The En/Snap/Blue were utterly destroyed, fighting to the last outpost with no quarter asked or taken, and every last war construct only stilled with overwhelming firepower that left little more than occasional bits of scrap. To this day, the ultimate goals of the En/Snap/Blue are unknown, and the search for understanding leads to huge expeditions seeking even rumors of a surviving settlement or outpost, occupied or not.

Unknown to the rest of the universe, one last outpost remains, hidden in plain sight. Ar/Click/380nm’s labs and testing yards were built not on an individual planet, but within an entire planetary system on a star orbiting the whole of the galaxy but not actually part, concealed from most detection with an array of neutron stars arranged in a dodecahedron pattern. Not only did this warp light around the system, essentially rendering it invisible to those without advanced gravitic manipulation technologies, but the neutron stars could also be shifted for attack, albeit slowly. How Ar/Click/380nm could develop gravitic theory thousands of years ahead of any other species in the galaxy, much less in a single lifetime, is unknown, but its war apparatus, combining both killing power and a keen artistic aesthetic, could jumpstart the ambitions of a dozen species if one example could be collected and studied. Also unknown to the rest of the universe, the space-time bubble created by the neutron star array is full of the greatest weapons Ar/Click/380nm ever developed, all collected in one place for one final movement.

What no other scholar of the En/Snap/Blue ever learned was that not only was Ar/Click/380nm the last survivor of its species and the guardian of its species’s legacy, but it was increasingly horrified at the ongoing war. As the war ground to its inevitable conclusion, Ar/Click/380nm sequestered itself in its enclave, obsessed with apologizing for the actions of its people. For the last five years of its life, long after the rest of its species was extinct, it converted the automated war yards not to new weapons development, but to a composition: a song of grief, a song of remorse, a song of regret, all to be broadcast via resonation of the neutron star array and detectable by any species with the ability to detect gravity waves. The first broadcast was the key, the second was the symphony, and the third would be the explosion as the neutron stars closed in on the war yards, destroying everything within before they collided. Ar/Click/380nm prepared for the best and the worst: knowing that any survivors of its species would attempt to stop it, after finishing the composition, it sat in a mobile gun mount on the face of the array manipulator and took one last breath while viewing a new sunrise in an otherwise black sky. As with everything else, it remains in place, waiting for someone else to start the music.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 36″ x 36 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (91.44 cm x 92.71 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes rajah

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $500

Shirt Price: $450

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Enclosure: “Alpha Omega” (2019)

Contrary to popular perception, most doomsday devices don’t start out as such. A nuclear battery stored long enough invariably starts to leak radiation, which may or may not be detectable from outside its storage container. In cases like these, the best thing to do is leave them closed and forgotten, which would work if the lock wasn’t so easy to disengage.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Bill Bailey” hybrid

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “The Langerhaans Archipelago” (2019)

Administration Report: Kiernan 40592d (“Convoy”), security rating “Standard”

The first exploration of the human-habitable exoplanet Kiernan 40592d, informally referred to as “Convoy,” revealed many mysteries upon close orbital observation, including the fact that Convoy has almost no axial tilt. An axial tilt of .0000335 means that the planet has no discernable seasons; two large rocky moons and one metal-rich moon (possibly the remnants of a planetary core from the early days of the Kiernan 40592 system) contribute to a wider range of tidal effects than seen on Earth, but the wide expanses of land between water masses should have precluded the development of Convoy’s surprisingly Earthlike biota. The reason behind that variety lies with one of the first features spotted during the original survey: a cluster of artificial discs or “islands” moving slowly across the planet at the rate of approximately 500 meters per solar day. When first spotted, a member of the survey team noted that the cluster resembled a human pancreas, hence its informal name “The Langerhaans Archipelago.”

Over 4000 islands comprise the cloud, levitating above the planet’s surface and moving through an unknown technology. The islands range wildly in size, shape, diameter, altitude, and inclination, but all share a rock and soil top crust with a metallic rim and base, with a maximum diameter of 500 meters, The vast majority of the islands remain within the cloud, but some have been tracked breaking from the cloud and moving vast distances for unknown reasons before returning to the cluster, and others stopping on the surface and becoming covered with sediment or volcanic deposits. For the most part, however, individual islands stay at a consistent altitude and position within the cloud. The cloud itself moves in a circumpolar “orbit,” moving from arctic to equatorial latitudes and transporting life forms with them. (In extreme circumstances, the cloud moves around drastic changes on the surface, such as around the extensive shield volcano complex in the northern hemisphere when eruptions are ongoing.) In fact, at least one-third of the documented life on Convoy is only known from the Archipelago, with half of that endemic to one to three islands. Others disembark or die back as temperatures rise or fall, remaining at a particular latitude until the Archipelago returns.

The movement of the Archipelago is so consistent that an analogue to terrestrial flowering plants has evolved within the cluster, with “males” living on the surface and passing genetic material to “females” on the islands, who then scatter new plantlets on islands and the planet surface below. As temperatures and sunlight intensity change, many parent plants die back to corms until their optimal conditions return, thus causing drastically different appearances to islands depending upon the latitude at which they are located. Others remain with the Archipelago for their entire lives, with the change in latitude instigating stages in their life cycles such as metamorphosis and reproduction,

This arrangement has been in place for a very long time: radioisotope dating of the crust is problematic because of unknown factors involving erosion and redeposition and dating of the discs is nearly impossible, but most models suggest that the Archipelago is between 500 million to one billion standard years old. Since the Kiernan 40592 system is approximately two billion years younger than Earth’s, this suggests that the Archipelago was put into motion shortly after the planet’s crust cooled after its original formation.

Although no other trace of the cloud builders remains on Convoy or anywhere else within the planetary system, artifacts and debris from at least three advanced civilizations, two of which previously unknown, have been found both on individual islands and on one of Convoy’s moons. Likewise unknown is whether the Archipelago’s life forms evolved independently on Convoy or if they were transported by the cloud builders. Either way, extensive Administration research continues on understanding nutrient acquisition and transfer between Convoy’s surface and the islands, interactions between animals and plants across the cloud, effects of the cloud’s passing on biology and geology on the surface below. Permanent bases on Convoy’s surface are banned, and most exploration is done with a combination of drones and very carefully monitored human and robot activity.

Isolated islands have been found in a seemingly nonfunctional state, although longterm observation confirms that some of these “nonfunctional” platforms are in a sort of standby mode, possibly to establish particular plants, animals, and/or protists before rejoining the rest of the Archipelago. Several attempts have been made by Administration scientists to study the internal structure of the islands, but these have been hampered by a combination of the extremely tough composite structure of the outer shell and the equally advanced nanostructures within. Even cutting beams at the absolute lower limit produce a kerf wide enough to inhibit or disable island function, with one researcher (Stuyvesant,08311193-664-5) describing available technology as comparable to “shotgunning a Stradivarius to learn how to play it.”

Because of the discovery of islands going dormant but remaining functional, and the islands’ function in preserving and revitalizing the planet’s ecology, any attempt at damaging or disabling an island, or approval of any attempt, can and will be punished by a minimum of a loss of ten years’ income, incarceration in Administration facilities for a minimum of seven standard years, and a total permanent reversion of all privileges and clearances associated with advanced degrees or military rank. This has not stopped “accidents,” but it has slowed them to a crawl. Further research into the islands is overseen by Administration authorities, with full biohazard protocols applying at all times due to the similarities of Convoy’s ecosystem to that of Earth. Unauthorized visits to Convoy’s surface will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of Administration law.

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

Plant: Nepenthes rafflesiana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic rod.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

Enclosures: “Eternity Vault” (2019)

Description: A specialized commission for a customer wishing to add his own selection of plants, this enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

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

Plant: None

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

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Enclosures: “Shackelford Gate” (2019)

Description: A specialized commission for a customer wishing to add his own selection of plants, this enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

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

Plant: None

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

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Enclosures: “Temporal Vortex Stabilizer” (2019)

Description: This enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 20″ x 24″ x 20″ (50.80 cm x 60.96 cm x 50.80 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes hybrid “Bill Bailey”

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Eocene Survivors” (2015)

Description: An intriguing thought experiment on being able to recognize very ancient traces of extraterrestrial life and civilizations involves what is known as the “Silurian hypothesis,” which involves how to identify traces of industrial civilizations millions of years in Earth’s past. If, and this is definitely an “if,” terrestrial life had developed sentience millions of years before humanity, traces of these sentients’ technology and industry may not be recognizable as such, depending upon both geological metamorphosis and distortion and decomposition of metals and other artificial components. Another aspect is that, thanks to constant erosion of Earth’s surface and plate tectonics raising new mountains and plateaus, what were prime locations for cities during the Cretaceous period (145 million years BCE to 65 million years BCE) could have eroded to dust or been subducted into Earth’s mantle, destroying them forever. However, and this is another “if,” if an advanced civilization had existed on Earth in the distant past, its artifacts and relics  may still be preserved in a recognizable form, but were preserved in sedimentary strata currently covered with lava flows, buried under glaciers, or are otherwise inaccessible at this time.

Dimensions (height/diameter): 25 1/2″ x 14 1/2″ (64.77 cm x 36.83 cm) diameter

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Acrylic. Resin, stone, glass, horn

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Photo by Allison David

Enclosures: Z’Ha’Dum (2019)

Description: One of the El Dorados of the carnivorous plant world is the highland Asian pitcher plant Nepenthes hamata. Native to Sulawesi, N. hamata is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, as it requires both cool daytime temperatures and a significant drop in nighttime temperature. The plant keeps attracting devotees, though, because of its distinctive traps: besides its uniquely hairy lid, the main draw involves the peristomes of its lower and upper traps. The sharp serrations on the lips of the lower pitchers are immediately noticeable, but the real draws are the upper pitchers, which bear hooks.

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

Plant: Nepenthes hamata

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: O’Keefe (2019)

Description: The request was for a custom carnivorous plant enclosure that invoked the style of Georgia O’Keefe without plagiarizing it, and the challenge was to synthesize both O’Keefe’s skyscraper period and her New Mexico period in the context of a durable carnivore enclosure.

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

Plant: Nepenthes x. ventrata

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

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Enclosures: “Paredolia” (2019)

Description: As highly visual animals, humans are predisposed to see patterns, particularly those that might comprise faces. Even with objects and items that have no living component, the urge is to look for a pattern, even when that pattern does not exist.

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

Enclosures: “Mashup” (2019)

Description: An experiment in materials and techniques, partly as a reminder that the films Star Wars: Episode One and Alien were released almost exactly 20 years apart. This enclosure will debut at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019.

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:Nepenthes ampullaria x ventricosa “Bloody Mary”

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: Hoodoo (2018)

One of the best available arguments against the existence of advanced indigenous or extraterrestrial civilizations on Earth in the distant past is a lack incontrovertibly artificial artifacts or technological byproducts in geological deposits predating modern humans. Even with radioisotope decay, the byproducts of that decay would still be recognizable as such, as with the Oklo natural nuclear reactor. Even in a degraded or decomposed state, if an advanced civilization sent representatives from other stars, or developed on its own from native life forms millions of years ago, detritus from exploration, settling, or accidents might still be found eroding out of badlands, moraines, and other areas of rapid geologic upheaval.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes veitchii

Construction: Polystyrene, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, strontium europium glow powder, stone.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold