Initial Survey Report: Planet 6MQ441 (Bakeneko), Alaraph System
Logged by: Dr. Savine Abolafiya, Chief Xenoecology Officer, Y.S.S. Duchess Anne
Attention: Captain Agathe Ganizani, Commanding Officer Y.S.S. Duchess Anne
Mineral Interest: Iron, copper, diamond, cobalt, scandium, praesodymium, yttrium. Only diamond in desirable quantities. Nothing sufficient to offset cost of extraction.
Sentient Life: None
Strategic Significance: None
A small, warm world orbiting the white subgiant Alaraph. Average gravity is more or less comfortable at .85 Earth normal, but highly variable depending on how near it passes to 6MQ440, 6MQ439, and 6MQ450. Twenty–hour day, 229 day year. Abundant organic life. Excepting the polar regions, the planet consists of one continuous jungle–type ecosystem broken only by vast salt and fresh water rivers. See attached materials for information on unique flora if you’re into that sort of thing. You won’t find anything spectacular. It does not behoove a xenoecologist to sum up a planet as: trees big, water nice, but I know you prefer me to keep these reports informal, and I have become both tired and bored, just like everyone else. If you’ve seen one little Earthish world, you’ve seen them all. Day is mostly day; night is mostly night; dirt is dirt; water is water. Green is good, most any other color is bad. Lather, rinse, repeat. The fact is the Alaraph star has a whopping eleven other planets, all gas giants, and each one of them will prove far more appetizing to the powers that be than this speck of green truck–a–long rock.
My team came back calling it Bakeneko due to a barely interesting species of feline megafauna they frequently encountered. The place, I’m told, is crawling with them. Dr. Tum found one sleeping in their cook–pit. We’ve been calling them lions. As you’ll see during the dissection this weekend, the species does somewhat resemble the thylacoleo carnifex of late Pliocene Australia.
Except, of course, that they’re the size of Clydesdales, sexually trimorphic, and bright green.
Imagine a giant, six–toed, enthusiastically carnivorous marsupial lion with the Devil’s own camouflage and you’ll have it just about right. The “male” can be differentiated by dark stripes in the fur as well as the mane. The “female” has no stripes, but a ridge of short, dark, dense fur extending from the crown of the head to the base of the tail. The third sex is not androgyne, but simply an entirely separate member of the reproductive circus. We have been calling it a “vixen” for lack of better terminology. No agreement as to pronoun has been reached. The vixen is larger than the male or female and quite a different shade of green—call it forest green instead of emerald green.
The lions represent the only real obstacle to settlement of 6MQ441. Though I have tried to keep my tone light, five attached casualty reports attest to the danger of these creatures. They are aggressive, crepuscular apex predators. There are a lot of them. They show some rudimentary, corvid–like tool–use. (Dr. Gyll observed one wedging a stick between the skull–plates of a goanna–corollary animal to get at the brain. Dr. Gyll does go on to note that he also enjoyed the flavor of the brain more than the meat.)
At present, I recommend a severe cull before any serious consideration of Bakeneko as a habitable world. See supplementary materials for (considerably) more on this topic.
Moving on to the far more pertinent analysis of the Alaraph gas giant archipelago…
A lion moves the world with her mouth. A lion tells the truth with her teeth showing.
One lion rips the name Yttrium from the watering hole. She chews it. She swallows and digests it. She understands her name by means of digestion. One lion’s name signifies a lustrous crystalline superconductive transition metal. This separates one lion from lions not called Yttrium. One lion called Yttrium drinks from the watering hole and digests the smallgod MEDICALOFFICER. She understands the smallgod by means of digestion. She feels the concept of honor. Lions who digest other smallgods do not always know what their names signify. One lion gorges on the bones of the smallgod. The bones taste like anatomical expertise and scalpelcraft. She slurps up the blood of the smallgod. The blood reeks of formulae and the formulae run down the throat of one lion to fill her belly with several comprehensions of anesthetics and stimulants and vaccines and antibiotics. She gnaws at the meat of the smallgod. The meat becomes her meat and the meat has the weight of good bedside manner.
One lion called Yttrium hunts in the steelveldt called Vergulde Draeck. As well she hunts in the watering hole. All lions hunt in the watering hole. The watering hole networks the heart of every lion to the heart of every other lion into a cooperative real-time engagement matrix. The smallgod inside one lion lays down the words cooperative real-time engagement matrix in the den of one lion’s brain. One lion called Yttrium accepts the words though they have no more importance than the teeth and hooves left over after a kill. The words mean the watering hole.
One lion hunts through her steelveldt in the shadow of burnt blueblack rib bones and sleeps in their shadows. As well she sees the watering hole all around her. The watering hole lies over the jungle like fur over skin. One lion stands in the part of the steelveldt where the million dead black snakes sprawl but never rot. She sees her paws sunk deep in the corpses of snakes. As well she sees her paws sunk deep in the cool blue lagoon of the watering hole. Comforting scents hunt in her nostrils and on her tongue. Ripe redpaw fruit. The brains of sunspot lizards. The eggs of noonbirds. Fresh water with nothing sour in it. One lion hunts alone in the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck. As well she hunts with every other lion in the watering hole. She hunts with one lion called Thulium. She hunts with one lion called Bromide. She hunts with one lion called Manganese. She hunts with one lion called Nickel who sired her and one lion called Niobium who bore her and one lion called Uranium who carried one lion called Yttrium in her pouch until she could devour the smallgod and enlist with the pride. In the watering hole every lion swims with every other lion. Every lion swallows the heart of every other lion. Every lion hunts in the den of every other lion’s brain. Two hundred thousand lions hunt in the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck with one lion called Yttrium. Ten million hunt in the watering hole. The watering hole has enough water for everyone.
Every evening one lion called Yttrium wakes in hunger. She washes her muzzle in the Longer Sweeter River which flows beneath the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck. As well she washes her muzzle in the lagoon of the watering hole. She leaps and prowls through the part of the steelveldt where husks of giant redpaw fruit lie broken open. Other lions also leap and also prowl. She greets them in the watering hole. In the watering hole they use each others’ eyes to find the answer to hunger. One lion called Yttrium finds the words triangulation, reconnaissance, target acquisition floating inside her. She thanks the smallgod inside her for this gift.
One lion stops. She becomes six lions. Six lions chase down a pair of sunspot lizards skittering through the burnt blueblack bones of the steelveldt. Six lions sight a horned shagfur. They forget the lizards. The shagfur lumbers across the part of the steelveldt where the hundred thousand dead silver scorpions lie barbed and gleaming. It does not hurt itself but six lions know the scent of carefulness. In the watering hole six lions turn their bellies to the rich sun. In the steelveldt six lions open their jaws. Their green muzzles wrinkle back over black teeth. Out of their mouths the water of the lagoon comes rippling. The water of the lagoon possesses blue heat and blue light. Six lions open their mouths and the water of the lagoon roars toward the shagfur. The shagfur flies upward. The shagfur’s neck snaps. Six lions suck the water of the lagoon back into their throats and with it the shagfur. They tear into its body and its body becomes the body of six lions.
A lion moves the world with her mouth.
Six lions stop. One lion called Yttrium pads alone across the part of the steelveldt where the wings of the billion dead butterflies crunch under her paws. As well she plays with one lion called Tungsten and one lion called Tellurium in the shallows of the watering hole. She bites the green shoulder of one lion called Tungsten. She feels the teeth of one lion called Tellurium in the scruff of her neck. One lion called Tungsten ate the shagfur with her. One lion called Tellurium hunts far away in the steelveldt called Szent Istvan. They growl and pounce in the sun. The sun in the watering hole shines dusk forever. The sun shines bright morning and day on the steelveldts. The watering hole forgot every light but twilight.
One lion called Yttrium enters the part of the steelveldt where the thousand dead squaresloths lie. Hot wind dries the shagfur blood on her whiskers. She feels the concept of holiness. Her paws leave prints in the home of the smallgods. Lions not called Yttrium lie or squat on their green haunches or stand at attention with their tails in the air. They lock their eyes to the heart and the liver of the smallgods. The heart and the liver of the smallgods look like the trunks of eight blue trees. The heart and the liver of the smallgods do not smell like the trunks of trees. The heart and the liver of the smallgods smell like the corpses of the hundred thousand silver scorpions and the light of the watering hole. Each of the blue trees belongs to one smallgod and not to the others. Each lion belongs to one smallgod and not to the others. One lion called Yttrium swallowed the meat of the smallgod MEDICALOFFICER. As well a million lions not called Yttrium chewed this meat in the watering hole. Many also own the name of Yttrium. Yttrium numbers among the one hundred and twenty one sublimities of the smallgods. With one hundred and twenty one words the smallgods move the world and so all lions call each other by these utterings of power.
The other smallgods own the names of ENGINEERINGOFFICER and DRIVERMECHANIC and GUNNERMAN and GRENADIER and SQUADLEADER and INFANTRYMAN and SLUDGEWARETECH. One lion called Tungsten lapped the blood of the smallgod DRIVERMECHANIC in the watering hole. One lion called Tellurium sucked the marrow from the bones of the smallgod SLUDGEWARETECH. One lion called Yttrium hopes their child will feast upon MEDICALOFFICER like her when one lion called Tellurium finishes gestating it.
One lion called Osmium roars in the watering hole and in the steelveldt. He snatches the scruff of one lion called Phosphorus in his teeth and throws her to the ground in the home of the smallgods. His roar owns anguish. Her claws rake his chest. The roar of one lion called Osmium ends. Blood sheens his black teeth. The emerald shoulders of one lion called Osmium droop miserably. He tosses his mane at the four moons of coming night and cries out:
“Christ, Susie, why did you leave me? Wasn’t I good enough?”
Strategic Analysis: Planet 6MQ441 (Bakeneko), Alaraph System
Logged by: Cmdr. Desmond Lukša, Executive Officer, Y.S.S. Bolingbroke
Attention: Captain Agathe Ganizani, Commanding Officer Y.S.S. Duchess Anne
Aggie, it is the opinion of this particular unpleasant bastard that xenoecologists should not mouth off about the strategic significance of a planet just because they know a little damned Latin and can call an oak an oak at five hundred yards. I’ve read Dr. Abolafiya’s report and promptly used it for toilet paper. It’s so like her to miss the forest for weeping about the trees. I spent all last night sitting in my quarters reading page after page about some damn green kittens! Who cares? The plain truth was staring her right in the face.
The fact is the Alaraph System represents a unique opportunity to engage the enemy on our own terms. Its remote location removes any concern about collateral damage. Those eleven (eleven!) gorgeous gas giants provide some pretty lush gravitational channels and fuel resources so ample as to be functionally infinite. 6MQ450 (Savine’s idiots are calling it Nemea now) has a dozen terrestrial moons where we might even set up mobile staging domes and get some honest fighting into this mess. But it’s that dumb green ball Bakeneko that makes it work. It’s our lever and our place to stand.
Alaraph sits smack in the middle of a disputed sector. Sure, it’s hicksville, galactically speaking, and Alaraph is only barely inside the border, but the sector also includes most of the Virgo neighborhood, which is very much at the center of concern at the moment. Our bestest buddies drew a line around the big lady in the sky, and we drew a line around her, and then they drew a bigger line, and so on. The charts look like a hyperactive schoolkid’s drawing.
My recommendation is this: ignore Savine and her pretty kitties. Start settlement protocols. Make sure it’s all on known–code channels. We’ll probably have to actually put people in a ship with their spinning wheels and what–shit to make it look real. Hopefully we won’t actually have to land them, but if we do, well, it won’t be the first time. Hell, why not make it real? Build a base down there on Bakeneko, start churning out whatever we can. Barrack platoons. Make it look like we’ve got something we want in the jungle. Maybe we’ll even find something.
They will respond militarily to such a provocation. They’ve detonated stars over less. And we will finally get to choose the real estate on which to hold our horrible little auction of death. We’ll be ready for once.
As for the lions, honestly, I will lose precisely zero sleep over it. Let our jacked–up boys and girls play Hemingway down there with the big cats, they won’t be a problem for long.
One lion called Yttrium cannot move. She sprawls flat on her belly in the shallow of the steelveldt’s blueblack hip bone. The sky has fallen and broken her back. She whimpers. Everything whimpers when the monsoons come. Rain falls. The world grows heavy and hot. Every lion hides from the sky.
The smallgod inside her offers the words: Due to the orbital proximity of Nemea, Maahes, Lamassu, and Tybault, Bakeneko lies in the midst of a gravitational white water rapids and may experience profound shifts in constants depending on the time of year and local occultations. The words taste cool and hard and crunchy in her mouth. They feel like ice chips. One lion named Yttrium has never tasted ice. But her smallgod says that worlds hunt in the dark where ice covers every lonely thing.
One lion called Yttrium bounds through the tall grass of the watering hole. The sky in the watering hole still loves lions and does not crush their backs to jelly. One lion called Yttrium runs to run and not to hunt. One hundred other lions who digested the smallgod MEDICALOFFICER run so close by her she can feel the electric bristly of their fur against hers. As well seventy lions who gorged on the smallgod GRENADIER run. They feel the idea of unity. They wade into the lagoon when they no longer wish to run. They paddle and splash. One lion called Cadmium stands on the shore yelling:
“Form up! Form up! Secure the perimeter! Incoming!”
Several striped moths dance just out of reach of his jaws. They do not form up.
One lion called Yttrium experiences the sensation of a door opening and closing in a wall of ice. The experience takes place in her chest and in her muzzle. She has never seen a wall of ice or used a door. These ideas come from the same place as the names Nemea, Bakeneko, Lamassu, Tybault. The wall of ice slips down over her green fur and the door opens to swallow her and closes on her bones. One lion called Yttrium stops. She becomes one hundred lions.
One hundred lions standing in the water of the lagoon turn to seventy lions and scream together in hopeless misery:
“You said you loved me!”
Seventy deep green lions bellow back:
“I did! I do! You never had time for me. You loved your ship. You loved your war. You loved the idea of war more than the reality of me. I only joined up in the first place because I knew you’d never choose me over your commission. And I hate it out here. I hate puzzling out new ways to make people explode. I am alone. I had no one, not even you. So I found comfort and you want to punish me for it?”
“You went looking!” Weep the hundred lions. Water churns around their shaggy knees.
“Yes, Emma, I went looking. Does that make it feel better?” The seventy lions growl. Their ruffs rise. “I went looking and Lara wanted me. You haven’t wanted me in years.”
One hundred lions snarl in the watering hole. Their black tongues loll through black teeth. “She’s twenty–two! She’s a kid. She doesn’t know what she wants.”
“You’re thirty–five and all you ever want is another hour in your fucking lab.” Seventy lions called GRENADIER rumble in indignation. “And Simon. Or did you think I didn’t know about him?”
“Don’t leave me, Ben,” whimper one hundred lions as though even the perfect watering hole sun has fallen on their spines. “Don’t leave me. I’ll quit. I’ll come home. All the way home. It’ll be good like it was a million years ago. When I had short hair and you had piercings, remember? I’ll never speak to Simon again. Don’t make these last ten years a waste of time.”
“She’s pregnant, Emma. It’s too late. I don’t even think I want it not to be too late.”
One hundred lions called MEDICALOFFICER crouch in the shallows. Their eyes flash. Their tails warn. “This is such a goddamned cliché. You’re a joke. I hate you.”
One hundred lions hurtle into seventy lions. Claws and teeth close on skin and meat. The watering hole froths white water. One hundred lions stop as fast as they began. One lion called Yttrium licks her wounds. She does not judge them serious. She opens her jaws in the steelveldt. The water of the lagoon ripples out and lifts up a burnt blueblack bone with its blue heat and its blue light. The bone settles down on top of a hollow stone full of objects. Once one lion called Yttrium flung a hollow stone up and dashed it against the corpses of the billion dead butterflies that cover the floor of the steelveldt. Objects jangled out. She did not know them. She ate some and still did not understand them. The smallgod inside her said: those are dresses and shoes. Those are hairbrushes and aftershave bottles. One lion called Yttrium did not break the hollow stones anymore after that.
One lion called Yttrium has built three walls in this way. Other lions have done more. Soon she will make a roof that will keep out the sky. The lions change the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck with their mouths. One lion called Tellurium tells the watering hole that lions have changed the steelveldt Szent Istvan. With their mouths they built several places called barracks and one called commandstationalpha. One lion called Tellurium wishes to build more places. The smallgod SLUDGEWARETECH inside her requires big places. One lion worries for her. As well she builds their young. As well their young require big places.
But on monsoon days no one can work much except in the watering hole.
One lion called Arsenic crawls on his green stomach toward one lion called Antimony. One lion called Yttrium watches. Skinny pink fish flash in the water. MEDICALOFFICER calls them self–maintaining debug programs. One lion likes the flavor of the words and the fish equally.
One lion called Arsenic gnaws at dried lizard blood on his paws. He mewls: “I abandoned my kids, Hannah.”
One lion called Antimony licks his face. “I never had any children. I had a miscarriage when I was in graduate school. I was five months along; the father had already gotten his fellowship on the other side of the world and moved in with a girl in Milwaukee. I never said anything. Didn’t seem important to say anything. If I said something, it would have been suddenly real and happening and stupid instead of distant and not something that a girl like me had to worry about. I woke up in the hospital with a pain in my body like shrapnel, like a bullet in my gut the size of the moon. And I looked at my post–op charts and I think part of me just thought: well that makes sense. All I can make is death.”
One lion called Arsenic arches the heavy muscles of his emerald back. He rolls over and shows his striped belly to the sky of the watering hole. The smallgod SLUDGEWARETECH inside him howls and as well he howls: “I abandoned my kids, Hannah. They’re grown now and when I call they’re always in the middle of something or just running out the door. They don’t want to look at me. Nobody looks at me anymore. My wife just sent divorce papers to my office. Who does that? I called her over and over, just holding those papers in my hand like an asshole, and she wouldn’t pick up. I called one hundred and twenty one times before I got her. I counted. I was going to tell her I loved her. I was gonna make my case. I thought if I could make a grand enough gesture, I could still have someone to come home to. But the minute I heard her voice I just laid into her, yelling until my vision went wobbly. You knew what this life would be when you married me. I’m doing this for us. For everyone. For our girls. Christ, Susie, why’d you leave me? Wasn’t I good enough? And she just took it all like a beating. When I ran out of breath, she said: Milo, of course you were good enough. You were the best. But every time I looked at you, all I could see was what you’d done. Your face was my slow poison. If I let our eyes meet one more time, it would have killed me.”
One lion called Antimony touches her green forehead to the green forehead of one lion called Arsenic. This begins the behavior of mating. He accepts her. Violet barbs of arousal flick upward along his spine. Her heat smells like burning cinnamon. But their joining cannot satisfy. A lion mates in threes. The smallgods mate in twos and do not feel the lack of a vixen lying over those needful barbs. Two lions thrust ungracefully. They hurt each other with a mating not matched to their bodies. The smallgods do not care. The smallgod ENGINEERINGOFFICER inside one lion called Antimony whispers:
“Good thing we’re all gonna die tomorrow, huh? Otherwise we’d have to live with ourselves.”
Letter of Application (Personal Essay)
Filed by: Dr. Pietro S. Aguirre
Attention: Captain Franklin Oshiro V.S.S. Anansi
I’ve wanted to work with sludge my whole life. I suppose, if you take a step back for a second, that sounds completely bizarre. But not to me. Sludge is life; life is sludge. Without it, we’re a not–particularly–interesting mess of overbreeding primates all stuck on the same rock. To say I want to work with sludge is akin to saying I want to work with God, and for me it is a calling no less serious than the seminary. I grew up in the Yucatan megalopolis, scavenging leftover dregs from penthouse drains and police station bins, saving sludge up in jars like girls in old movies saved their tears, just to get enough to try my little hands at a crude recombinatory rinse or an organic amplification soak about as artful as a fingerpainting. I succeeded in levitating my Jack Russell terrier and buckling just about every meter of plumbing in our building.
But now I’m boring whatever poor personnel officer has to read through this dreck. A thousand years ago, people used to tell stories about taking apart the radio and putting it back together again. Now we puff out our chests and tell tales of levitating dogs. Let me spare you.
I believe sludge can be so much more. We’re used to sludge now. It’s as normal as salt. We’re so used to it we don’t even bother doing anything interesting with it. We use sludge as lipstick and blush for the brain. Cheap neural builds to brighten and tighten, a flick of telekinesis to really bring out the eyes, some spiffy mass shielding to contour the cheekbones. You can buy a low–end vatic rinse at the chemist.
To me, this is obscene. It’s like using an archangel as a hat rack.
There is no better place to continue my research than the fleet. My program to develop synthetic sources for sludge rather than relying indefinitely (and dangerously) on the natural deposits of chthonian planets in the Almagest Belt speaks for itself. My précis is attached, but in the interests of you, long–suffering personnel officer, not having to ruin your dinner with equations, I present a simple summary: I believe sludge can win this war for us.
One lion called Yttrium feels the concept of apprehension. Change hunts in the steelveldt and the watering hole. The monsoons broke in the night and the bones of every lion stretch up in the easy air. The day wants pouncing. The day wants hunting. The day wants scratching the back of one lion against the burnt blueblack rib bones of the steelveldt.
The smallgods want building. The smallgods want to form up.
One lion called Yttrium bounds down the part of the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck where the twenty thousand tin jellyfish lie dead and cracked apart. More of them crunch and pop under her paws. The smallgod MEDICALOFFICER sends the words mess hall into her belly. She opens her mouth and the blue light and heat of the watering hole flow out and strangle a sunspot lizard to death before it can squeak. The blue light and the blue heat pries open the lizard’s skull plates so that one lion called Yttrium can get at the brains. She laps at her meal.
A burst of dead jellyfish shattering. One lion called Yttrium leaps to protect her kill as one lion called Gadolinium and one lion called Zinc crash through the tin corpse–mounds. Their fur bristles. Their snarls drip saliva. They wrestle without play. Birds flee up to the tops of the tallest trees. Two lions land so heavy the steelveldt shakes. One lion called Yttrium searches for them in the watering hole. She finds them standing on either side of a warm flat stone. They do not move. They do not bristle. They do not wrestle or play.
“I don’t want you that way, Nikolai!” one lion called Gadolinium growls in the steelveldt. He has landed on top. He pants. His eyes shine.
“I’m sorry,” whimpers one lion called Zinc. “Oliver, come on, I’m sorry. It was stupid, I’m stupid.”
“I have a husband at home,” roars one green lion and the smallgod DRIVERMECHANIC inside him. “I have a home at home.”
“I know,” answers the smallgod INFANTRYMAN inside one lion called Zinc.
One lion called Gadolinium digs his claws into the chest of one lion called Zinc. “You don’t know anything. You’ve never stuck around with anyone longer than it took to fuck them. You swagger around like a cartoon and you think none of us can see what a scared little kitten you are. Well, I got news for you—we can all see. I left more life than you’ll ever have.”
One lion called Zinc twists and springs free. Two lions face each other on steady paws. “You’re probably right. But it goes with the job. We never stay anywhere longer than it takes to drink a little and fuck a little and kill a little and pack it all up again, so from where I sit, you’re the idiot, making poor Andrew pine away his whole life back in whatever suburb of Nothingtown spat the two of you out. As for the swagger, I like swaggering. So fuck off. I was offering a little human contact, that’s all. It’s called comfort, you prig.”
Wracking dry sobs come coughing up out of the black mouth of one lion called Gadolinium. “I’m so fucking lonely, Niko. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world to say. I’m surrounded by people all the time and I’m so fucking lonely. I do my job, I eat, I stand my watch, and all the time I’m just thinking I’m lonely I’m lonely I’m lonely over and over.”
“Everybody’s lonely,” purrs one lion called Zinc. His stripes gleam dark in the sun of the steelveldt. “You don’t volunteer for this job if you’re not already a lonely bastard who was only happy like four days in his entire dumb life. So stop being dumb and kiss me. Tomorrow we’ll probably get our faces burned off before breakfast.”
One lion called Yttrium returns to the dish of the sunspot lizard’s skull. She feels the sensation of worry. She remembers other days and nights when every lion hunted as a lion and she heard no sacred speech for evenings on top of evenings. Now her ears ache and the sacred speech fills her own mouth like soft meat. One lion called Yttrium thinks these things as she begins the journey to the steelveldt Szent Istvan for the birth of her young by one lion called Tellurium and one lion called Tungsten. She wonders if the lions in the steelveldt Szent Istvan speak so often as the lions of the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck.
The light of the watering hole washes one lion called Tantalum. She stands in the lagoon. Her fur ridge stands erect.
“Form up! Form up! Secure the perimeter!” The smallgod SQUADLEADER inside one lion cries.
This time, one lion called Yttrium listens. She must listen. Her body knows how to listen. How to form up. How to understand the idea of perimeter. She turns away from the road to the steelveldt Szent Istvan. She never takes her eyes from one lion called Tantalum in the watering hole as she crosses back into the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck. She crosses the part of the steelveldt where the million black dead snakes sprawl but never rot. The smallgod MEDICALOFFICER send the words electro-plasmic wiring into her skull like a twig into the brain pan of a lizard. In the watering hole one lion called Tantalum roars:
“Enemy will come in range at 0900!”
One lion called Yttrium crosses the part of the steelveldt where the wings of the billion dead butterflies lie shattered. The smallgod MEDICALOFFICER writes the words navigational arrays on the inside of her eyelids. In the watering hole, one lion called Radium approaches one lion called Tantalum. The smallgod GUNNERMAN inside one lion rumbles:
“Nathan, this is a shitty life and you know it. We should have majored in Literature.”
One lion called Tantalum roars another form up! before answering: “Yeah? You ever tried to write a poem, Izzie? You’d get two lines into a damn haiku and quit because it didn’t shoot lasers of death and kickback into your teeth.”
One lion called Yttrium crosses into the part of the steelveldt where the hundred thousand dead silver scorpions lie barbed and broken. The smallgod MEDICALOFFICER wraps the words weapons hold around her heart.
One lion called Radium laughs so that her black teeth catch the heavy gold light of the endless dusk of the watering hole. “True. Drink?”
“Drink,” agrees the smallgod SQUADLEADER from inside one striped green male.
One lion called Yttrium crosses into the part of the steelveldt where the husks of giant redpaw fruit lie broken open. The smallgod MEDICALOFFICER pushes the words radioactive sludgepack engine core into her soft palate. Other lions stand in formation. All of them carry the smallgod MEDICALOFFICER. All of them crackle with the musk of aggression. Their mouths glow blue. One lion called Yttrium experiences the sensation of a door opening and closing in a wall of ice. The experience takes place in her chest and in her muzzle. One lion called Yttrium stops. She becomes six hundred lions.
Six hundred lions called Emma roar.
Progress Report: Project Myrmidion
Logged by: Dr. Pietro S. Aguirre, Senior Research Fellow, V.S.S. Szent Istvan
Attention: Captain Griet Hulle, V.S.S. Johannesburg,
Captain Bernard Saikkonen, V.S.S. Vergulde Draeck
This is a classic good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the project has achieved an enormous measure of success and is ready to deploy in small trials. I foresee few to no field issues. We recommend Planetoid 94BR110 (Snegurechka) for initial mid–range testing. There is a small colony of about fifteen hundred on Snegurechka, enough that any transcription errors will quickly become apparent. I have great confidence. We should be able to disperse the sludgeware into the atmosphere and, within six to eight days, have a squadron of about fifteen hundred fully–trained soldiers, networked into a cooperative and highly adaptive real–time engagement matrix, which will program itself to conform to the cultural expectations of the subject in order to create a seamless installation. The population should split, more or less equally, among the eight typoprints specified. No adverse medical effects are anticipated. The sludge works with the organic material at hand, enhancing and fortifying it. If anything, they should end up in better health than before.
Now, the bad news. It has not proved possible to separate the skillsets of the typoprints from the personalities of the personnel from whom we pulled the prints. In a way, this makes sense—the process of learning is a deeply personal and individualized one. We do not only retain facts or muscle memory, but private contextual sense–tags. The smell of the foxglove growing in the summer when we took fencing lessons for the first time. The smeared lipstick of our childhood algebra teacher. Arguing about the fall of Rome with a fellow student who later became a lover. We cannot separate the engineer’s understanding of propulsion from the engineer’s boyfriend leaving her in the middle of her course, the VR game she played incessantly to blow off steam that summer, the terrible coffee at the shop near her dormitory. We may yet find a way to isolate the knowledge without the person, but it won’t happen soon, and I understand that time is of the essence. At the moment, the process of print transfer suppresses the original personality to varying degrees, and, as time passes, the domination of the print approaches total.
It doesn’t have to be bad news. The original squad consisted of basically stable personalities. They grew very close over the series of brief but intense missions we devised in order to achieve and log a full typoprint. (Casualty reports attached. Unfortunately, the final mission proved to be poorly chosen for research purposes.) They functioned excellently as a unit—they screwed around a lot, but these kinds of small squads usually do. Besides, no one expects these sludgetroops to last all that long. They are the definition of fodder. What difference does it make if they miss some guy back in Aberdeen for a few minutes before taking a shot to the head?
Six hundred lions called Emma race across the steelveldt Vergulde Draeck. Eight hundred lions called Ben lope across the part of the steelveldt where the husks of giant redpaw fruit lie broken open and oozing.
“You said you loved me!” bellow six hundred green lions called Emma.
“You never had time for me!” comes the battle cry of eight hundred lions called Ben.
They collide. Black claws enter fur and flesh. Black teeth sink into meat. Many lions open their mouths. The blue heat and the blue light of the watering hole rips out of their great jaws. It twists through the static–roughened air. The sludgelight seizes one lion called Osmium and one lion called Nickel and one lion called Manganese and one lion called Niobium and one lion called Tungsten and dashes their brains against the floor of the steelveldt.
“I am alone.”
The jungle shakes. The jungle buckles. The jungle burns. The watering hole cannot handle so much information at once. It shivers. It cuts in and out. This also occurs in the steelveldt Bolingbroke and the steelveldt Duchess Anne and the steelveldt Johannesburg and the steelveldt Anansi and the hundred groaning steelveldts of the world.
“Don’t leave me,” shriek a million gasping emerald lions. “I’ll come home. All the way home. It’ll be good like it was a million years ago.”
“It’s too late. I don’t even think I want it not to be too late,” answer a million striped and bleeding lions too exhausted to stand.
Situation Report: Planet 6MQ441 (Bakeneko), Alaraph System
Logged by: Captain Naamen Tripp, Y.S.S. Mariana Trench
Attention: Anna Tereshkova, Chief Prosecutor
Bakeneko has been profoundly impacted by the disastrous engagement in the system. The planet is covered in the toxic wreckage of some seventy–three ships lost in action, many the size of cities. Spills of every kind have contaminated the environment and several species are rapidly approaching extinction already.
Of perhaps more concern is the population of marsupial lions first documented by Dr. Abolafiya aboard the Duchess Anne. They seem unaffected by the increase in ambient radioactivity or chemical pollution. Their aggression, if anything, has increased and gained complexity. However, they show signs of contact with a new strain of sludgeware of which we had been previously unaware. The planet is swarming with lions forming into standard military units, building barricades via kinetic sludge, retreating and attacking one another utilizing textbook ground strategies. They communicate in subvocal patterns that strongly imply the presence of a rudimentary neural link matrix. No implications are necessary to conclude that they have come in contact with telekinetic sludgestrands. Orbital observations show the lions have begun to deliberately alter the architecture of the crash sites according to an agreed-upon plan.
I have no explanation for how this could be, and yet it is. Nothing we have developed could affect a population of millions of animals in this way. I suggest you ask Dr. Aguirre what the hell is going on. I understand he is in custody.
I can only recommend a strict quarantine of Planet 6MQ441. There can be no further purpose to our presence anywhere near Bakeneko.
Four moons rise over the steelveldt. One lion called Yttrium opens her eyes. As well she opens her eyes in the watering hole. She finds only quiet. Some death. But every lion knows death. The smallgod inside her sleeps. It found the idea of satisfaction. One lion called Yttrium understands. Blood always brings satisfaction. Perhaps it will wake in hunger again. Perhaps not. One lion feels the concept of contentment. The watering hole gleams fresh and bright. It has many fewer personnel to maintain. Its resolution surrounds one lion in evening light. In the smell of sunspot lizards. In the profound togetherness of nine million lions breathing in unison. Reeds move in the breeze within the heads of every lion left.
One lion called Yttrium stretches her green paws in the moonlight and begins again the long walk toward the steelveldt Szent Istvan. She longs to hear the first roar of her young.
(Editors’ Note: “Planet Lion” is read by Heath Miller and Catherynne M. Valente is interviewed by Deborah Stanish in the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 4A.)
© 2015 by Catherynne M. Valente