- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Threat-Hamster Papers Part 1
You have 37 words to save the human race
The fungoid looked pleased with itself. Its thousands of tendrils shimmered excitedly as it announced the guest of honor.
“Insipidia Threat-Hamster, “ it trilled.
The various Growns and Breds, treasuries of hybridization of all terrestrial life, resplendent in flashy ceremonial fabrics, milled decorously. Growns tried to maneuver their various shapes into less intimate proximity to each other. More than a few had found themselves parents as a result of just such stray contacts. Give birth to a talking toadstool over breakfast and see what it does to your relationships.
Growns, life forms housed in birdhouse-like cranial units perched on pylons with dignified six wheel star casters, or golden-embroidered air cushions. They applauded as they could, enthusiastic rustlings, sibilant hisses filled with approval, and whistling respect. Their protective razor wire was decorated with yellow tassels for the occasion, they’d polished their housings, and bought deodorants.
Breds, in their designer coverings, a mass of mostly uncompromising, understated, formwork, and implied prestige, made noises of welcome to the undisputed social queen. Breds, being freestanding, sexually produced beings, had different fashion criteria. The rivalry was never nasty, but always intense. It was natural that the two types would try to outdo each other in ceremonial excess.
The various beings had spent hours of indecision trying to dress for status. It’s not so easy when you don’t know what species you belong to, and have to try for a fashion statement based on hearsay. Handicapped by the fact that they contained the anatomies of plants, birds, animals, algae, fungi, mosses, fish, and bacteria, as well as a few socially acceptable viruses, the choice of accessories alone was enough to daunt the most ruthless debutante. What goes with a pseudopod? How do you highlight a coniferous face? To what extent are you prepared to reveal your antennae? Why? Does the chintz curtain clash with your tail?
Pomp and circumstance, at each others’ throats.
Broadcast around the world, this gathering was the ultimate refinement of the Scientocracy. A few cameras, microphones, and other utilitarian oddities protruded from the morass of glamorous monstrosities. A collection of Domos bustled about. Miniature Growns, generally menial servants, they were housed entirely within various machines, most of which resembled lampshades. They spent more time trying not to be crushed by the guests than working, but soon overcame that problem by perching their cameras on the guests. This created a minor status war of itself, much to the satisfaction of the Domos.
Insipidia, a Bred, approached the lectern, several tons of her, rhino sized, a tiara on her almost-human head, the slug-like body in a cotton floral print tubular dress. Couldn’t see her tail at all. She had learnt, those that knew her thought. Even the slime trail seemed to be evaporating demurely.
The assembled bundles of sentience, heads of various branches of the Scientocracy and other distinguished ambivalences, were dazzled. Her gray arms flashed with precious sea shells and a few kilos of diamonds and gold tastefully worn. Slithering through the applause, she delivered her address, her mild, gently modulated voice sliding among the crowd. Beautifully spoken, like most gastropods, she resonated with…….. well, breeding.
“It gives me real pleasure to open this annual meeting of the Scientocracy. I welcome the distinguished representatives of the Plagiarists’ Institute, the Pedants’ Progressive Society, and The Heirs of Management Science, as founders of the Scientocracy, and representatives of the other esteemed organizations which give so much to our work.
I look forward to your invaluable insights, and I know my father, Mordant Threat-Hamster, would applaud your dedication. For my part I am happy to report that the Threat-Hamster Administrative Breeding Facility has had a bumper year, with over two hundred and twenty million new Growns taking their place in society”.
(A thunderous outbreak of self-approval followed, which Insipidia, true to her ideals, took as an indication of zeal in the Scientocracy’s quest of pushing back the boundaries of the world’s deficiencies. In which direction they were being pushed was another matter).
“When humans began the great work of Rational Offloading which resulted in the modern distribution of the burden of commerce and material production to other life forms, none could have foreseen the great destiny which was to come. Who could foretell that humanity would be able to escape forever their fatal addictions to work and compulsive, obsessive, domesticity?
That last great and noble human leader, Carping Nag, founded the Scientocracy twenty five years ago today. His aim was to raise science above the pitiful, demeaning, sphere of mere application and use, into a shrine of sensitive, dignified, formality and decorum.
(Firm, decisive, applause for self-interest).
The so-called governments of that day are now gone, replaced with a safe and stable bureaucracy equal to the task. There are no courts, because there are now no laws or crimes, nor persons able or willing to commit them. An idyllic world, a safe world, a world free of arguments! What an achievement in a mere few years! (Unrestrained cheers of triumph).
The human population has stabilized in this brief period, from 12 billion down to about five or ten, perhaps twenty, million, retired from daily tedium, and well housed in quaint palaces. Where the others went we do not know, but we wish them well, wherever they are, and hope that they have found Certainty there.
The silly idea of space travel has been banned as unhygienic, and not nice. The few hundred thousand humans that did go into space have not been heard from since and are presumed to be living somewhere else. (Faultless reasoning; it had taken a lot of people sitting in a room for years to think up that description of the sudden departure of most of Earth’s human scientists and artists). We hope and trust that they too have found Certainty.
Whatever the work, whatever the tasks or difficulties, we know that we shall overcome them. We look forward to Certainty, Domesticity, and Absolute Bliss. Thank you all for your untiring efforts.
I now invite Sark, Coordinator of Information Ideology, to speak”.
She sat down, more or less, amid dutiful applause, next to the local protrusion of her boyfriend/partner, Rilando, an elegant, effusive, multi colored gelatinous being in a maze of see-through glasslike tubes, who was gargling with love and approval. Rilando had been piped in for the occasion.
Sark arrived at the lectern in typical style. The most famous and most influential Grown on Earth, the public face of the Scientocracy News, daily seen all over the world. Also arguably the most sincerely hated, responsible for coordinating and censoring the production of mass information systems globally. Sark was almost unavoidable, and implacably gave public interviews with on any, and seemingly every, subject, but mainly Sark.
Famous bores of the 21st century could have taken lessons from Sark. Each nuance of every public appearance was a sensory trial-by-ordeal of affectations, whims, and self promotion. Worse, it was impossible to get Sark off air. Sark once took to the airways with a dissertation on its early life in the vats, on the basis of questioning the morals of the young generation of Growns. (Any ideological pretext will do for an expert). While this four hour horror was being broadcast, the Grown and Bred public somehow was not told that nutritional supplements were going to be halved because part of the planet formerly known as South America had caught fire, and was proving difficult to put out.
Sark, on the subject of Sark, was once described by an associate Grown as being similar to the Pacific Ocean dropping in and using the kitchen sink. There was a question of capacity…………
Housed in an Alpine chalet, the very latest model, its squid-like features reposing on the little balcony at the front. With its gleaming protective electrified razor wire and a blazing reflective orange drapery underneath it, covering the food and excrement pylon, its casters burnished with gold, it was quite the epitome of fashion. (Tentative applause with mutterings).
Sark stared into space, apparently ignoring the throng. Let them mutter. This will liven things up a bit, it thought.
“Humans are more than “retired”. The humans have come to the end of their demographic cycle; they have lost market share. All they ever do is have sex and indulge in filthy unproductive practices with which we are all too familiar. We are low on humans and unless they start breeding for themselves we can’t replace them”. The shrill and abrasive voice stopped expectantly.
Insipidia interrupted. Sark……… always Sark………never mind the niceties, the little pest had to be stopped.
“When you say, “Have lost market share”, whatever do you mean, Sark?’
“They have Failed To Come To Reproductive Dinner; Been Removed From The Great Daily Double Of Life; Not Inserted The Progenetive Tea Bag In The Cup Of Existence; Forfeited The Hereditary Ampersand; Are All Doomedsie-Poos”, said Sark, to a genuinely stunned audience.
The use of the immortal phrase, portentously reminiscent, left trauma in its wake. Even its potential utterance was cause for terror. To actually say it was of great significance.
What, no mutterings? thought Sark.
“I leave it open to the meeting to discuss how we might persuade them to breed,” it went on, looking insufferably calm and unflustered.
The last sentence, leaving the entire issue hanging, was normal practice, normally used to make the delegates feel wanted. In this case they were speechless. The sheer lack of discretion! The one subject generally acknowledged to be off limits, broadcast globally, contradicting Insipidia………unthinkable….. Sark left the lectern looking abandoned after a nuclear attack.
Insipidia was mortified. She could have taken the soft option of not being quite mortified, but being her, she had to be mortified, on principle. Anyway, Sark had shattered her glowing introduction. Her father had warned her about Sark, years ago. She turned to her trusted lover in his inspiring portable tank.
“Rilando! Sark says the humans are all Doomedsie-Poos!” She gave a look of bovine dejection, quite impressive on a slug.
Rilando, gurgling in his tank and maze of tubes, a gelatinous benevolence, was sympathetic. One thing Rilando had always loved about his large and empathic friend was her caring nature. Not many people could love a gel for who it was.
“Ah, don’t worry dear, I was once Doomedsie-Poos myself. Could be worse.”
“Yes, true, but dear, you were a solid then.”
“My point exactly. Best thing that ever happened.” Rilando, a being of several cubic kilometres of dripping if likeable irrelevance, overall found no faults with anything much. Apart from a fear of plumbers, he was in no danger of anything much, either. He ate another eel cheerfully.
In the glue-like silence that followed this exchange, Insipidia fretted.
Her problem was in fact that in the absence of humans, the entire purpose of the Scientocracy and her father’s breeding vats would be gone. As it was, the 50 billion of them serving a few million humans were fairly well employed, if she said so herself, but……………….?
The Scientocracy had managed to exist for decades with only a few humans, but it was culturally and logistically geared to relate to human needs. Growns were so strongly psychologically attuned to human society, and trained to function in the idiom of smug urban bliss devised by Nag and supplied by her father. They would suffer withdrawals from humanity, if deprived of the dear little things. They might even try stealing humans from each other.
No, it wouldn’t do at all, and she must take action. Her father had a terrible time when the humans stabilized themselves ………..well, really, began to vanish……..the silly creatures. Sark would bring this up. The topic above all others which the Scientocracy was unable to resolve, and had now spent two decades trying not to mention.
She considered Sark. Imagined that brain, in its Alpine chalet, mounted on its mobile frame………….always somehow intrusive …….. better to keep Sark guessing. A more suspicious being would have noticed that Sark had timed its “revelation” far too well to be a coincidence.
Others might have noticed that anything Sark said was given weight, because of its constant appearances on the media. The person that tells you the news tends to have the same value as the news.
Irritatingly, Sark was a very senior Coordinator, and Insipidia couldn’t get rid of it without her father’s approval. This was complicated by the fact that her father had now been absent and uncommunicative for some years, and she really had no idea where he was. She had been duly deputized by her father, but on a vague basis, and there was plenty of room for Sark to get round her within the organization.
A very difficult situation, now much more so. Sark knew that its statement couldn’t be ignored, and that Insipidia would have to react. She also knew that when she reacted Sark would be waiting with some new development. She decided to ward it off with options, the theory being that an excessive amount of choice can destroy any logical argument.
“It can’t be that hard to produce a few more humans. Can’t we replace them, or clone them, even recycle them?” A cry truly derived from the heart and being used to producing sentient beings by the millions.
Sark’s dark olive face with its wide yellow eyes peered out from its housing, a few tentacles appearing to snap in annoyance, if not too obviously. Sark didn’t invent the art of being patronizing, but had done a lot to perfect it.
“…….Oh, you’re serious. No, no again, and no, I don’t think so. For example: replacement; with what? The other natural life forms? They absolutely hate us artificials. How do we sidle up to them and say, “Excuse us, we’ve run out of humans, would you mind filling in?””
“Even the squirrels?” Some straws are for grasping. At least the squirrels had a culture to work with. Insipidia secretly liked the squirrels.
“Especially the squirrels. They’ve never forgiven the Scientocracy for losing all those humans and doing them out of an audience for their game shows. Anyway, we’d have to reconfigure all Growns to service them instead of humans. How can a Grown commit piracy, gather acorns, compose rhetoric condemning the Scientocracy, and sweep out holes in trees? Their housings would get all dirty. Squirrels don’t want or need our civilization; ask Chinga.”
Pity, though, thought Insipidia. She’d almost succeeded in liking that idea, even if the squirrel pirates in her lake were getting a bit frisky.
There had been for some time now The Squirrel Issue. The squirrels had grown large in the last few decades, and their culture had developed astoundingly. They had produced a technology very rapidly and developed it to about 20th century human level. Their leader, Chinga, was demanding a continent or so for the exclusive domain of the squirrels. They wanted no part of the Scientocracy, humans, or any other Abusive Atavistic Anthropoid Atrophies, as Chinga described it.
The Scientocracy preferred not to deal with either the issue of the vanished humans or the squirrels. Both problems were far too hard on the intellects and aesthetics of beings designed to live in an urban stasis. The missing humans they desperately wanted never to have to ever again try to find. The failure of the previous effort was so embarrassing. The squirrels they preferred not to think about at all, as Sark knew perfectly well, and was using it against her. Any pro-squirrel ideas would be well out of place in this gathering.
Sark was still speaking.
“……We can’t clone them because Nag destroyed the cloning database information in that final fit of pique. We’ve never tried cloning anyway because the breeding vats made the techniques obsolete. There was nothing that actually needed cloning. Added to which humans were considered able to replace themselves, and had some strange aversion to cloning of each other.”
“They were worried about abuse of the processes. The fact that all technology has always been abused seems not to have occurred to them. Even now, one of the most dangerous weapons available is a box of matches.”
Human thinking was a total mystery to non-humans, however well attuned to their culture they might be. There appeared to have never been any rational basis for any human thought, but such as human thinking was, it infallibly sprang up as an obstacle to new ideas anyway. Insipidia digressively remembered something called philosophy, a field in which any idea could be reduced to slush, then usefully forgotten.
Sark ground on.
“Recycling might be possible, but when they die, they decay, unlike Growns and Breds, and they can’t be re-used. I really doubt if we can develop an entire science able to breed humans in the few years or decades we have left before they become extinct.”
Insipidia wasn’t about to allow Sark to hog the floor and calmly pronounce the fate of the Scientocracy.
“Well, think about it. We can’t have the whole world being put out of business just because there are no humans around.” Any degree of irony or contradiction in the statement was lost on all present.
“At least”, she added pointedly, “squirrels are relatively friendly. What if some other species moves in?”
This was a nasty not-very-veiled reference to the rats, which tended to eat Growns alive, given the opportunity. She noted that Sark hadn’t missed that.
‘Er, yes, quite”, muttered Sark, “Perhaps there is something we can do with them……..”
Sark was not pleased. The idea of upsetting Insipidia’s conference had been a sort of holy grail, and now more work had rolled in. Sark had hoped that there would be an instant demand for further enlightenment on its own views on how to solve the problem, modestly orated to the watching billions. Insipidia had sidetracked the issue. This reduction in options removed any possibility of that speech. Sark was also truly scared of rats. Diligent Prudent Conscientious Obfuscation was called for here. Committee-adept to the core, an offload was obvious to Sark.
“I suggest we appoint Prestigiousilia, as Head of the Practical Dogma Unit, to conduct a procedural study to examine ways of dealing with this crisis,” said Sark primly. In committee tactics, this is known as “To cast one’s bread upon the waters in hope of getting a bakery in return”. From a management point of view it translates into somebody else coming up with the unacceptable ideas.
Politically, this was an acceptable and useful out for Sark; the PDU was an important plank in the Scientocracy, and Sark was in Information, after all. Added to which the whole idea of squirrels replacing humans would be subjected to the sort of morbid theoretical scrutiny that it deserved. Only a pedant can make life and death issues truly boring.
Prestigiousilia was ecstatic. What it lacked in objectivity it made up for in mindless agreement. Its algal head blooming with fluorescent and slightly moist joy, it ranted lyrically, its casters clanging against whatever part of the very large stage it happened to collide with in mid-monologue.
“Oh, there’ll be earnest task forces and wise study workshops and demographic claques……… and onerous recitals……… administrative dirges…….” Being products of management science, enthusiasm was built into the psychological structure of Growns and Breds. The most mundane task was habitually greeted with raptures bordering on the obscene.
This loquacity lasted well, noted Sark happily, always ready to pile on encouragement when Prestigiousilia seemed to be running low on synonyms. Even the Plagiarists’ representatives gaped at the quantity of clichés Prestigiousilia now produced.
In order to save her increasingly adjective-addled mind, political face and stymied conference, Insipidia had to call a halt. She couldn’t oppose the study, since the “revelation” regarding the disappearance of the humans compromised the Scientocracy, which was supposed to be running the planet. To do so would imply that the Scientocracy was doing nothing about a real crisis. Nor could she contradict Sark without something resembling factual information, however accidental. Sark’s single destructive statement now forced her to face an issue her father had been unable to deal with. In fact, he’d failed utterly.
More defensively, she still had to ensure that Sark was kept busy enough not to interfere with the process of actually solving the human problem. She didn’t believe that it was that bad. Humans knew how to breed, didn’t they? There were still millions of them, after all. She would take care of this herself.
Sark knew that the whole of Grown and Bred society was based on maintaining a nominal human civilization. What she didn’t understand was how Sark could possibly benefit from verbally crashing that society into a truth it didn’t want to know. There had to be more to it.
The squirrels could be quite a handful……..pawful…..tentacleful…. They would keep Sark very busy. Her sense of humor revived.
“ I approve. The study may proceed. The squirrels will be evaluated as replacements for the humans,” she said magnanimously, startling Sark, who’d got quite mesmerized by Prestigiousilia’s incredibly energetic, if by now aimless, tirade. This was not to Sark’s liking at all. Squirrels did hate artificials, and they particularly hated Sark, and went to great lengths to tell Sark about it, even putting up a giant billboard saying so. Exactly what the enormous pylon was doing to Sark in that picture was still a major topic of debate in the Scientocracy.
“ I appoint Sark as Head of Information on this study, to be called Project Doomedsie-Poos. Sark will liaise with Prestigiousilia on a daily basis and maintain data integrity throughout”. She’d add a few other burdens later. She also deliberately left out any actual functional details regarding what the Project was supposed to achieve, how, with what, and when. Let Sark figure out those problems before trying to solve the one it had created.
More sincere applause, this time for burying Sark.
They adjourned for lunch. Insipidia wondered whether the humans could be encouraged to breed voluntarily, or would have to be persuaded. She wished she were home.
 Famous tantrum-cry of Carping Nag, who used to utter it incessantly while refusing to elaborate and jumping up and down a lot, destroying scientific databases with a fine indiscretion.
 Humans had derided this technology as the product of trial and error. Humans generally did describe anything done by “animals” as trial and error. Of course humans never tried or erred at anything.
 Nobody questioned the need for some species for them to serve. Life would lose all meaning.