Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba doesn’t know where the story you’re about to read came from. He was scoping out some Internet rabbit hole, more than half asleep, and the next thing he knew, this – whatever it is – was in his email inbox. Perhaps you, dear reader, can help YFNA make something of it.
The narrative starts abruptly, and doesn’t appear to be addressed to anyone in particular. Maybe the beginning was truncated through a progression of Facebook shares or something, and is now lost. Or whatever. Here it is, as YFNA received it.
“I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. I read somewhere about how some jackass had a fundamental disagreement with a guy swinging a crowbar, and wound up 1300 years back in time. But that was Earth time, and I don’t think this was Earth. Though its people looked like Earth humans, and spoke English. Assuming of course that I was speaking English. I could have been speaking Intergalactic Fortran for all I know. I understood what they were saying, and they understood me, whatever the hell language we were speaking. I think.
“Anyway. It was a planet, with rocks and water and plants and gravity and all that. And it was gorgeous! Gardens, and clean air, and clean water, and an obviously sophisticated transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, all as unobtrusive yet obviously well maintained and effective and efficient as any developer could ever want. It was a bloody fortune just begging to be made!
“And there was nobody using it! Agriculture and industry enough to support a megalopolis, and I’ve seen villages on desert islands with more peeps. All you needed to make that fortune was advertising to bring all the people that infrastructure could support (and maybe just a few more, what’s a little environmental degradation against profit potential, huh?) here and get them to invest in the place! Get me a local partner, and I’ll make that fortune, maybe even enough to let the local guy have a little bit of a piece of it. Hey, I’m magnanimous!
“That’s what I said to myself, anyway. And so I walked up to a building that looked like it might hold somebody important, and knocked on the door.”
“”Who’s there?” came a male voice from inside.
“There were steps from inside, and then the door jerked open – rather more of a jerk than was strictly necessary, you ask me. And speaking of ‘jerk’ …
“”That line, sir, is one of the most ancient and decrepit in the galaxy. You’re off to a poor start. State your business, and you’d better make it good.”
“”I don’t intend to settle for ‘good’, or let you do so either, Mr …”
“”You may call me Duke.”
“”Very well, Mr Duke …”
“”Um, thank you, Duke. As I said, I don’t intend to settle for ‘good’. We start with ‘better’ and end with ‘best’. ‘Best’ in your case is massive development of all this wonderful infrastructure here, to develop a powerful and expanding population and polity, not to mention multiplying the earnings potential of that population, and, of course, yourself.”
“”We do not permit this ‘development’ of which you speak. I don’t permit it, and the Council is wise enough to heed my wishes in the matter, and do so willingly.”
“”Sir Duke. What part of money do you not understand?”
“Duke did not reply. Instead, he left the doorway in which he was standing, and strode – stomped might have been a better word – to an outbuilding about a hundred feet to my left. An outbuilding which proved to be a stable. He saddled two horses, threw the reins of one of them to me, mounted the other, and rode off, beckoning me to follow. I had never ridden a horse before, and did not understand why we needed horses when the stable also contained half a dozen motorcars in gleaming condition and obvious signs of recent use. But my opportunity was riding off into the sunset, and out of my reach unless I followed. I do not know how I managed it, but I took command of the horse (or the horse of me, which was fortunate because the horse seemed to know what to do) and caught up with Mr Duke.
“We rode for what should have been far beyond the endurance of the horses, far beyond the endurance of me. But still we rode – until at last we crested a hill, and the lush landscape, fertile with greenery and technology (but, if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed was slowly degrading the longer we rode), suddenly gave out, and all before us was black, barren desert, as far as the eye could see.
“”This, Mr Opportunity”, Duke snarled, “is what came of the last time we listened to any of your kind.
“”What we have here is good. You, like all your kind, were self-serving enough to recognize that. We work hard to get things this way and keep them this way. We have learned, the hard way, to recognize the temptations that expanding populations subject us to, to spread the work among more hands and thus – for a while – make things easier.
“”But, moron, while that population is expanding, it is also consuming. Sooner or later, to the point where the resources that sustain the population are gone. Leaving that population the options either to perish in its dearth or to survive by obtaining their resources from someplace else.
“”What you see before you is the result of the collision of our expanding population with that of a neighboring nation, both desperate for the few remaining resources the other possessed. There were enough – barely – left of us to learn our lesson. So much cannot be said for that other nation. Come.”
“Duke led me back the way we had come, though just before we got back to what I suppose was either his house or his seat of government, possibly both, we turned off an ill-kept side road, the first I had seen, and after a few hundred feet came to its end in an even more ill-kept plot of ground with a few rotting stones standing in it, leaning at all angles and a couple of them flat on the ground.
“”This is how we deal with those of your fellows, Mr Opportunity, who do not immediately return from whence they have come. We keep this plot to show you your peril, and remind us of ours.”
“”There are so few, M … uh, Duke. And I infer that all of these are persons ‘from away’, not native to your community or your world. I am surprised that there are not at least some of those in your community who are less inclined than yourself to resist availing themselves of the advantages we offer, of more benefits for less work.”
“”Those, we obliterate. Themselves, and all those perfidious enough to share relationships of blood or marriage with them. We remove every trace that any of them ever existed. And we do this with the willing support of the community, for they perceive that the poison cannot be tolerated. And will not be. You will no doubt perceive from this that we are serious.
“”I am returning to my residence. I will have my horse now, thank you. If any member of the community lays eyes on you again, you will become one of these semi-standing stones. This I promise, to myself and to those I lead.” He and the horses rode off, he never deigning to look back.
“I remember no more.”
Yes, YFNA did ask Quilly, the queen of weird dreams, whether this was something that she had conjured up. “Not on your life”, she responded with a shudder, “this one’s all you. I want no part of it.”