Tony smiled at the memory. He had learnt several things from the encounter: Namely that communication can be difficult. Language can be a problem and persistence doesn’t always pay. He learnt that what went yesterday doesn’t necessarily apply today and that which interests you doesn’t always interest anyone else. He learnt that everyone is entitled to be in whatever mood they choose to be in and that nobody likes being made to feel guilty. He learnt that the oft-partner of hope is disappointment, that everyone has their own views and that violence is merely an extension of an opinion…and that beauty has a charm all of its own.—-
—-“They’re Stars, Antony,” she thought. Then she began to fill him with her wisdom and her knowledge. Understanding started to flood over Tony, Antony. All of a sudden he saw the hugeness of the Universe. He knew how the stars were formed and how their orbiting planets came to be. How he came to be. “You are Stardust, Antony,” she thought, and Tony, Antony, understood it to be right and true. Yet still she filled his mind, and it expanded as she did so with Galaxies and Supernovae, frozen Moons and gargantuan explosions. She filled his mind with other things also. Things even less tangible. Like Solar winds that blew unchecked into infinity. Of invisible forces that reeled in whole planets across the reaches of the Solar space and comets that silently hurtled on their own unique track, the tail always blown away by the never-ending solar wind, like a spinster holding her skirt down against the breeze, destined forever to whistle their lonely course through time and space, round and round and round until it eventually smashes itself to destruction on the surface of some astral object that just happened to be in the way. As of course it eventually must do, as dictated by the laws of infinity, which she began to explain.
The weight of the knowledge bowed Tony’s head until he was staring at the passing waves.
“It’s too much!” He thought, “I’m only an ant!” And he looked at the green phosphorescence that washed about them, and couldn’t help thinking. “What’s that?”
“It’s Algae,” she replied, and filled his mind with knowledge of a microscopic nature. Tony groaned. His ordered world now seemed a whole lot bigger. His mind pieced together the molecules that made the stars, and the quantum leap in relative size staggered him. A wave swept past his line of sight. Then another. Wave after wave after wave. For a single moment he understood the true nature of time and all it contained. Then his mind crashed, and everything became a wild splash of unrelated colour and sound.
“Without constant memory of the present,” thought the whale, “the present is meaningless.”—-
—-Their confidence filled him and he set his mind free. He closed his eyes and allowed thought to pour over him. He interfered with nothing. Content to let his mind play, he sat there, hardly an observer himself. After a while he began to think, to consciously throw thoughts into the pot. He threw in the animals he’d met and the differences in them. All the differences. Everything. He threw in communication and all the differences contained in that. He threw in Stardust and the Universe and allowed his mind to expand. Allowed himself to expand to the reaches of infinity, then he brought himself back with the simple question: “What’s the common factor?” He opened his eyes. The sun was starting its slide into nightfall. Time was pressing. Tony looked at the mutants and they looked back, and nodded and Smiled. He closed his eyes once more. “Help me!” He silently demanded. “Help me now!” His mind cleared, he thought again of all the animals he’d met. Now in more detail. Much more focused. “Think!” He grunted to himself, tight with effort. And he did think: “Elephant, lives sixty years, heart beats twenty-five times a minute. Other end of the scale? Elephant-Shrew, lives two years, heart beats eight hundred times a minute. Okay,” he thought, “what’s that then?” And he worked it out…788 million heartbeats for one, 840 million heartbeats for the other. “No! Close,” he thought, but not close enough. He shook his head. The Sun touched the tops of the trees, then began to diminish. The mutants remained still. All their power of concentration focused on Tony. Waiting. He turned his mind away again. Emptied it. “What’s missing?” He thought. “Where’s the constant?” He tried again, harder still, using his mind like a diamond-cutter.
Elephant, 60, 25. Elephant-Shrew, 2, 800, and all of a sudden a thought popped into his head.
It said, “Look at the size of the heart,” so he did. And well, an elephant must have a huge heart, and an Elephant-Shrew a tiny one. Okay…Then the penny dropped and he shouted aloud, “It’s the volume!” Then he laughed and cried at the same time and through his tears scratched in the sand those famous figures that were in time to become known as, “Tony’s Constant”:
Heartbeats x Heartsize over C = Life expectancy
He looked up at the mutants, “Have you got it?” They asked.
“Yes,” he replied, “I think so.” Together they hurried to the river bank. Dusk was upon them.—-
—-On the other side of the world, the dawn broke and not one bird sang a: “Good Morning!” to it. In the streets and suburbs the citizens woke to a deathly silence. The electricity was off, the water was off and the kids began to cry. Outside, rats and cockroaches roamed with newfound freedom. Looking for food. Finally, bands of angry men formed and made their way to the local supermarket. And to their amazement they found them unguarded.
“Hurray!” They cheered and rushed in. But the insects had already been and left and the stench of rotting, spoiled food hung in the air. Outraged, the bands of angry men howled with frustration and hunger.
“Right!” Said one, “I’ll go and get me a nice trout for dinner,” and he went home to collect his fishing rod and tackle.
“And where the fuck do you think you’re going?” Demanded his wife. Behind her the baby whimpered.
“I’m going to catch some food,” he replied.
“Hah!” She snorted. “Fucking men!” She thought, and called her mum. Who sympathized, and agreed that they were all bastards! And then they moved onto other things and her mum had asked how they were doing and had she heard the reports of wolves coming down from the north, packs of them? And crows!? Whereupon the daughter replied that she hadn’t and had her mother heard of the reports of hyenas from the south, packs of them? And vultures?! And no, she hadn’t, but they both agreed that it was very scary then they returned to the more familiar topic of men. “Bastards!” And her mother had enquired about her son-in-law, and the daughter had replied that: “…the bastard’s gone fishing.”
Well, he wasn’t the only one fishing for his family food. There were others also; some with the quiet confidence of the experienced naturalist, whilst others were using more dynamic methods.
Now catching a wild fish is not easy, and it’s not done just by chucking in a lump of bread on a hook. Oh, no! It requires cunning and an understanding of nature. Camouflage gear helps, and some gadgetry can be useful, but it doesn’t matter how clever a fisherman you are, it doesn’t matter how much surplus army stock you carried, nor how much you wore. It doesn’t matter how cunning you are, or how many carp-alarms you have, you’re not going to catch a fish…not with a mob hurling high-explosives into the river from the bank opposite.
The fisherman with the rod blinked and tried to block out the blast and smoke of the explosions that rocked the riverbank. He was desperate to catch a fish. Knew he had to! Knew what his missus would say if he returned empty-handed.
“Stand back kids! Here comes Captain-fucking-Birdseye.”
So he fished harder. There was no way he was going home: sans poisson. “Fuck that!” He thought, and his belly rumbled. Then the bank below his feet erupted and the last thing he heard was, “Sorrreeee…” then he was dead. And that was the first human casualty.—-
—-In the towns and villages and cities, emergency services fought their way into super-markets and distribution centres, but all the food had been spoiled and was inedible. Except for the rats and cockroaches who blossomed, everywhere!
In the country the farms lay still, and in the fast-food outlets they supplied, the cash registers were silent.
Not so the ops room. In the ops room the black phone shrilled and the senior interested party answered it. “HAVE YOU SEEN THESE FUCKING FIGURES?!” Ranted a voice.
“Give me that phone!” A voice in the background. “Give me that phone or I’ll…”
Silence…then: BANG! Followed by two more: BANG! BANG! Then the smooth, well-modulated voice came on the line. “Hello, sorry about that. Treasurer seems to have shot himself. Oh, dear.” Then the connection was broken.—-
—-The three security guards were suspended without pay and subjected to a long and complicated inquiry that finally concluded that they weren’t remiss in their conduct that day, and they were reinstated. By that time however, two of the three security guards had been murdered, allegedly for non-payment of gambling debts, and the third had drunk himself to death down at the docks.
The corpse of the late treasurer was placed in a waste-disposal unit and disposed of. The new treasurer and his councillors were rounded up by the townsfolk camped outside, assisted as always, by the stewards, and charged with: High Treason. Murder. Attempted Genocide, and finally, of course, Perjury.
The immediate and natural reaction of the treasurer and his fellow accused was to laugh, then dispose of all their assets, and call their, “mates” to fix it for them. Unfortunately for them, their, “mates” had also been charged with treason and were themselves trying to call their, “mates” to fix it for them. Which resulted in a blitz of telephone calls, from police-cell to police-cell, until all the accused came to realize that they had indeed, fixed it for themselves.
In due course, the sentence for high treason was executed.—-
—-Those townsfolk who remained ordered themselves. As much as was possible, but the webs of power are very, very strong…it would all take a while. But they had the right idea: “For the people, by the people, and accountable to the people!”
Of course, necessity is the mother of invention and funnily enough, the solution to the immediate problem of food was solved with a scheme only new to those who’d never seen it. A market. Simple! Anyone who had any local produce to excess brought it into the community. Once a week, and sold, swapped and bartered it. Just like the old days. Why! Some communities began to turn the produce market into a day of fun. Fun for all! And that was a circle closed.
Some circles, of course, would never be closed. For those nameless millions who had died in the desert, the circle would always have a piece missing. A part unwritten. Left blank. A thread pulled from the tapestry of life, and removed. To leave an empty space, that touched nothing and led to nothing. Finished. And then all that remained was the memory of them. And when those who remembered passed on, the memory became a legend, a legend that would live as long as the insect kingdom lived.
The Up-streamers, as they became known, never came back. There were others too, who never came back:
The fisherman never came back.—-
—-Mainframe and his pals had also been doing some thinking. Some serious thinking. Based on the data-streams that poured in from Satellite and his pals. Well! It was complicated. Too complicated! They conferred and consulted and agreed that the worst thing they could do was to dive in madly. No! Not for them some cheap, knee-jerk reaction! They thought long, and they thought hard, then finally, and in pursuance of the solution to world strife, they issued an edict. Which seemed like a good idea: “Everyone take the day off!” This later proved to be so effective that after a few more calculations, they came up with a figure; twelve to the power of two, as being the maximum number of hours a human could go without throwing it all into the air. This translated into the recommendation, in pursuance of the solution to world strife, that everyone should take a day off every hundred and forty-four hours…Which seemed to work.
The events surrounding veteran fire-fly’s demise are hazy. Various things reported, and claimed, that he had left the safety of the jungle alongside the second airborne. And others confirmed that he had made the journey back, and there the truth becomes more difficult to see. Of course, veteran fire-fly couldn’t keep up with the pace of the reinforcements and reports confirmed that he had been overtaken, and had been seen sliding backwards. Others claimed they had seen him overtaking them, his light shining brightly as he was lifted by the cloud in which he zoomed. He was never sighted arriving at the power station, and he wasn’t reported as falling from the cloud. Finally, it all became a matter of chronological order and that was impossible. “Missing in Action,” was the final verdict, and the story began to be told. No doubt it grew in the telling, and was embellished, and exaggerated, and everyone had their own version and there were many. But curiously enough, the story that became the most popular, and finally, the only story, was the one where he was lifted, light shining brightly. Some believed he had been lifted so high, and shone so brightly, that he had finally made his home in the heavens, where he could bring a little light into all our lives.
But it was all a matter of belief.
Photo credit: Getty Images