曰本道久久综合久久爱It’s not as good as having Juneteenth an official paid US holiday, but Aretha Franklin on the weekend is pretty close.
曰本道久久综合久久爱It’s not as good as having Juneteenth an official paid US holiday, but Aretha Franklin on the weekend is pretty close.
After a short break, it was time to bring back the Flash Sales on the gallery porch, with considerations for the heat. Yep, for the foreseeable future, or at least until the end of September, the flash sales have moved to Sunday mornings, from 6:00 to noon. Based on the initial test on June 14, this should work out well for everybody, and the folks who came out definitely appreciated not having to be out in the afternoon sun.
As for further developments, expect a State of the Gallery update soon, as well as a new Newsletter, but let’s just say that flash sales are pretty much going to be the main Triffid Ranch event for a while. Between shows and events being cancelled and the current COVID-19 statistics, wearing a mask and gloves is still about the only option for a while. And so it goes.
In all of the hustle and bustle of multiple commissions and gallery appointments, it’s time to bring up that the front porch Flash Sales are back up for June. Obviously, because of the summer heat, they won’t be running in the afternoon: every Sunday in June, they’ll start at 6:00 am and run until noon or when we run out of plants. Feel free to come out to browse (masks are required), or to schedule a gallery appointment for later in the week. (If you don’t mind that the gallery looks as if Hunter S. Thompson is crashing in the break room, that is: a lot of work is going on, and it’s all coming to a crescendo at the end of the month.)
Speaking of the end of the month, keep an eye out for the next virtual open house on Saturday, June 27: details will follow soon. A lot of the bugs involving Twitch have been ironed out, and the Triffid Ranch YouTube channel is now live, so it’s time to try again. It’s still far too early to talk about a return to in-person open houses right now, especially considering the gallery’s tight quarters, but we’re doing what we can. And so it goes.
There’s a lot to be said about the current trope that so many kids into dinosaurs are really into palaeoart: as inaccurate as the Crystal Palace dinosaurs may appear to modern eyes (and remember that Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s reconstructions were based both on exceedingly fragmentary remains and on speculation on animals without modern analogues), there’s still something incredibly evocative about them that tickles the part of the human brain where they still exist today.
One of the few bits of unadulterated good at the gallery over the last three months involved going through the back storeroom and sorting through boxes that were packed frantically back during the Great Move of 2017 and hadn’t been resolved before now. Among many other things, one of those boxes contained a set of ultraviolet rock lights purchased in better times to examine fluorescence in both minerals and in carnivorous plants. No better time than the present, and it was also a great excuse to hunt for scorpions.
Regular readers may remember some previous experiments in inducing fluorescence in pitcher plants a few years back, but these had problems for multiple reasons. The first is that not all UV lights are equal: to get the right light frequency, about 380 manometers, shortwave UV lights are much more desirable than longwave UV lights. Most standard UV LED lights, such as those for checking UV ink handstamps in nightclubs and bodily fluid stains in nightclubs and other venues, are longwave lights, so while they’ll make tonic water and urine fluoresce, they don’t do a lot for getting a positive response out of most carnivorous plants. Shortwave UV lights, generally used for fluorescent mineral identification, produce the correct wavelength, but they’re both expensive and very hard to use. Most shortwave UV lights require alternating current and extension cords, meaning that they have all sorts of hazards when used in typical carnivorous plant habitats. Worse, those lights have to get in CLOSE to see plant fluorescence, and while some flowers will fluoresce at a distance under shortwave UV (aloes in particular), carnivore traps need to get that light within about three to five centimeters to fluoresce. Obviously, for basic identification and study of the phenomenon, especially in the field, another option was necessary.
Back in 2013, I tried an alternative with a violet laser pointer and a beam diffuser, essentially creating a UV laser flashlight. This had its own issues. The beam diffuser had to be adjusted constantly for best effect, which didn’t leave hands free to adjust plants, use a camera, or much of anything else. In the same vein, standard digital cameras at the time were beyond horrible for photographing UV fluorescence, so a lot of plans had to be set aside. The plan, though, was to run a demonstration of carnivore fluorescence at the old gallery in the summer of 2017, and we all know what happened there. The gear went into a box, the box went on a shelf in the new gallery storeroom, and it took a pandemic inventory and reorganization to pull the gear out again.
Believe it or not, the revelation wasn’t due to the existing shortwave UV gear, and it wasn’t due to carnivorous plants. The main plan was to prospect for Texas opal along the Brazos River. Most Texas opal deposits aren’t what would be considered gem-grade, especially compared to Australian boulder opal, but it was once harvested in great quantities in the 1930s and shipped to Europe, where it had quite a popularity when sold as “black opal” in the days before World War II. Today, it can be found through Pennsylvanian marine fossil deposits, commonly turning up inside crinoids and horn corals, and like most other opals, it fluoresces a gentle peach color under shortwave UV. It’s one thing to see it in a static museum display and another to see it in situation, so the box came out to a ranch between Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto in West Texas in order to examine those opal deposits firsthand.
Well, inside the box was also a planned experiment delayed by the move to the new gallery. American Science & Surplus sells a lot of interesting items, with its only limitation being an inability to ship items outside of the United States. (I’ve spent the last 15 years searching for an international equivalent for friends seeking scientific surplus, and have yet to find anything comparable.) Among many other wonders, AS&S carries a wide line of 5-milliwatt laser pointers, including the violet laser pointer I was using. More importantly for those discussion, AS&S carries a set of kaleidoscope pointers. The red and green ones get quite a bit of use at music festivals and the like: twist a frontpiece and push the button, and you have your very own laser disco ball. Twist the frontpiece a bit more to spread the beam from many distinct spots to even more diffuse individual spots, and you have laser light going everywhere. Again, important for this discussion, AS&S sells violet kaleidoscopic laser pointers selling for $16US, and one of them was in the box of UV gear, untouched since 2017.
At first, it was just a lark. Turn it on outside and ask “Hmmm…is anything glowing?” That’s when a few pieces of scrap paper started fluorescing, but was that fluorescence or just good night vision? I had a way to test it, thanks to a few chunks of slag uranium glass brought along for the trip, so it was a matter of pulling them out, turning on the laser pointer, and then photographing the effect both with flash and without:
Next experiment: using others’ research. I had recently read about archaeologists using shortwave UV to spot damage to bones that was impossible to view under visible light, including damage caused while the organism was still alive or shortly after it died, and a feral pig jawbone discovered on the ranch was a great test. While barely visible under sunlight, the laser pointer revealed damage to the sides of the jaw, possibly from coyotes feeding on the carcass after the pig died. (At least, I hoped these were from coyotes.)
The real test, though, came from random fossils collected through the area. The real surprise wasn’t discovering that opalized fossils fluoresced under UV. The real surprise was finding several brachiopod fossils that fluoresced in different colors, which may require a trip to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park to test this further.
With this knowledge, it was time to go back to Dallas and the gallery to test the laser pointer on carnivores. After several days of examination with various genera and species, the real limitation wasn’t with the laser pointer, but with using digital cameras to record it. Even with a new iPad camera, generally considered one of the most sophisticated cameras available on the market, most carnivore fluorescence is only visible when the UV source is within about two centimeters from the trap, and most of it is invisible to the camera. Obviously, more research is needed, but several things turned up, including a few that wouldn’t have been obvious.
Firstly, while UV fluorescence has been observed with a wide range of carnivorous plants, the laser pointer only spotted fluorescence with several genera. Venus flytraps and sundews were known to fluoresce along the leaf surface, but the only fluorescence spotted with the laser pointer was along leaf edges, suggesting that the previously observed fluorescence may range in bands visible under multiple wavelengths of UV in order to attract multiple varieties of insect. Butterworts were already known not to fluoresce, but spots in the blooms of Pinguicula primulflora and P. gigantea glow extremely strongly, as do the blooms of bladderworts. The carnivorous bromeliad Brocchinia was particularly interesting: its traps display multiple arrays of fluorescing bands, but dying leaves on the outside of each plant harbor fungus or mold that fluoresces to black-light poster levels, an effect that I had seen previously on ginger plants in Nicaragua, and may assist the spread of spores via beetles or other insects. Most interestingly, while the trapping surfaces of the frail triggerplant Stylidium debile do not fluoresce, shining the laser pointer directly down the blooms reveal a small but bright fluorescing spot, suggesting the main attracting point for pollinating insects.
It’s the four genera commonly referred to as “pitcher plants” that the widest range of fluorescence was observed. The Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, showed no fluorescence at all under the laser pointer, suggesting that any natural fluorescence might be at a different wavelength. South American pitcher plants (Heliamphora) show spots of fluorescence across species, usually centered around the nectar cup at the top of the pitcher, that unfortunately was impossible to capture with any digital camera I had on hand. North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) showed subtle but definitive fluorescence along the lip of four observed species and two hybrids, with suggestions that the observed brightness of white pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) in moonlight is due to reflectivity of visible light and not fluorescence under reflected UV. The greatest levels of fluorescence, though, were spotted in multiple species of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes), usually manifesting as a brilliant dark green under the laser pointer. Even under a digital camera, the whole of the peristome stands out under UV except under certain situations. Those situations include newly opened pitchers (fluorescence doesn’t appear in pitchers for three to five days, coinciding with the amount of time the fluid inside of the pitchers needs to be exposed to air before its acidity reaches its peak), and with species already known not to be carnivorous, such as Nepenthes hemsleyana and Nepenthes ampullaria.
For the most part, Nepenthes pitchers fluoresce very strongly using this technique. Below are photos in visible light and in UV of the Nepenthes hybrid “Bill Bailey” and of Nepenthes veitchii:
Obviously, this is just the beginning, as these photos don’t take into account fluctuations based on season, photoperiod, or average temperature, or if the fluorescence increases or decreases based on the amount of prey captured at that time. That said, for the cost of a violet kaleidoscopic laser pointer, testing this will be considerably easier, and can be conducted by nearly anybody. Let’s see what we find out next.
No Flash Sale this weekend (Saturday and Sunday are going to be full of essential projects), but keep an eye open for new developments. In the meantime, music.
So the month ended the way it began: low-key but with a promise. North Texas generally has a 50/50 chance of hitting really hot temperatures by the end of May, and we missed that by about a week. The spring sale and show season thus ended on a high note, and now it’s all about making plans for summer, as best as can be managed.
As mentioned previously, the Flash Sales will start again in June, but not the weekend of June 7. Between completing commissions, hosting gallery appointments, and some essential maintenance, June 7 is a day off, with the Flash Sales starting again on June 14 from 6:00 am to noon. Keep an eye open for announcements on another virtual open house in June as well: the issues with launching video stream open houses in April are behind us, and it’s time to get busy.
In efforts to improve both sculpting techniques and enclosure design, the Triffid Ranch library is full of books offering inspiration and advice on miniature perspective, ranging from the Vietnamese art of Hòn non b? to entirely too many guides on practical special effects from the 1970s. Sometimes, though, it’s a matter of going directly to the source for reference, which presented itself with a maintenance trip to my late father-in-law’s ranch in West Texas.
The ranch in question is atop the Edwards Plateau, which makes up a significant portion of the border of the Brazos River as it meanders through West Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The Plateau is on a thick base of limestone and sandstone dating to the Pennsylvanian Period, almost exclusively marine deposits but occasionally showing thick layers of conglomerate from the erosion of long-vanished mountains. Even the thickest layers are only about a meter thick: most are less than a centimeter thick, and many are paper-thin. Several roads lead the length of the ranch to the Brazos, and the limestone at the highest elevation is thick and strong enough to have supported two quarries that ran until the late 1960s. The rest, well, not so much.
Anyway, many of these ancient seabeds were shallow enough that they supported all sorts of life, as evidenced by innumerable fossils of crinoids, brachiopods, and horn corals. No vertebrate fossils have turned up, but plant fossils are abundant, usually consisting of Lepidodendron and other land plants apparently washed out to sea during floods. Some of the layers are so thin that they suggest ultrashallow lagoons that came close to drying out. All in all, the ranch collects about 50 million years of the history of Texas, just waiting for someone other than me to interpret what it says.
Because of those ultrathin layers, I’d wanted to get photos of these for scale, in attempts to replicate this in enclosure form for future projects. Not only was this shoot intended for reference on lighting and accessory arrangement, but it’s also an opportunity to offer a slight distraction in trying times. Enjoy.
And finally, as a direct opportunity to aggravate Ethan Kocak of The Black Mudpuppy, it’s time to prove that if he wants to mess with us on horrible mashups, some of us will mess back:
The last of the afternoon Flash Sales for the season is this coming Sunday, and then we switch to mornings through the summer. See you then.
Some days, you get the hailstorm, and some days, the hail storm gets you. The biggest problem with trying a flash sale on Memorial Day weekend wasn’t the incipient holiday Monday or the likelihood of people sleeping in on a Sunday. The problem was with the wave of thunderstorms that hit Dallas that Sunday, complete with occasional hail. This wasn’t the best Flash Sale to date, but considering the walls of water that hit the gallery over and over that afternoon, it’s completely understandable that almost everyone stayed home and watched something that reminded them of drier conditions.
With that said, thank you to everyone who risked engine flooding to come out, and the current weather forecast for the May 31 Flash Sale is considerably better. Expect a lot of new plants that you missed from last Sunday’s dousing, and enjoy what will probably be our last relatively cool Sunday afternoon until the beginning of October. (Don’t worry: the Sunday Flash Sales will continue: they’re just moving to Sundays from 6:00 am to noon, because precious few people will want to be out after noon through July and August.)
The crew at Texas Frightmare Weekend created a monster. The move to Twitch for live video didn’t work out quite as expected (on phone and tablet, the app has a propensity to seize up either when ending a video feed or when other apps intrude), but it’s time to get back into the swing of things. In the meantime, we’re only about five years late, but the Triffid Ranch now has its own YouTube channel, so expect a lot of videos on plant care, odd species, and virtual events. It’s all very primitive and stop-and-go, but in lieu of live events for the foreseeable future, it has to improve. And so it goes.
The Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales continue: the May 17 Flash Sale coincided with a stunning day after about 24 hours of thunderstorms and torrential rains, so the porch opened up again, masks came out, and a grand time was had by all. Old friends came out, folks who came across the Triffid Ranch booth at Spooky Spectacle and Texas Frightmare Weekend last year, and new patrons looking for carnivorous plants…everyone was welcome.
With the impending change in weather, we’re looking at changes in how both the Flash Sales and the ongoing gallery visit appointments will be run for the foreseeable future. Right now, Saturdays will be an appointment open call: visits still require prior appointments, but the idea is that Saturdays are reserved exclusively for appointments, so coming out to select a new enclosure can be done throughout the day. As for the Flash Sales, these are going to continue through June and July, but they’re going to start early in the morning and end at noon: there’s not much point in being out in the heat when everyone else is avoiding the afternoon Texas blast furnace as well. As always, keep an eye on upcoming events: so long as the weather holds, the Flash Sales continue.
(One hint for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend sale: everyone seems to be in the mood for Sarracenia pitcher plants right now, and that’s next weekend’s focus. Expect to see a lot of Sarracenia on Sunday, because most of last year was spent preparing for a record run of Triffid Ranch shows, and the pitcher plants won’t wait for show season to start back up. In particular, if you’re looking for a lot of plants for a container bog garden, that can be worked out.)
With the likelihood of future shows this year becoming increasingly distant, at least before autumn, the good news about the last Triffid Ranch show before everything came down was getting to meet in person the lead singer for the Immortalz. Here’s looking forward to October.
The first third of 2020 has been quite the decade, hasn’t it? We should be thankful: it hasn’t gone full Mad Max: Fury Road (or even the Canadian version), and the current federal plan to open up everything was named “Operation Warp Speed” instead of the obvious “Operation Impending Doom 1”. Things are opening up slightly, and so many of us have gone from “hunkering down and waiting for instructions” to “taking care of each other because nobody else will.” Of course, we haven’t hit Memorial Day Weekend yet: as I learned 40 years ago this June, all bets are off when things start to get hot outside.
As for the gallery, both the need to care for plants and the need to reorganize continues, and the last two months led to a lot of cleaning and reorganizing, the likes of which haven’t happened since we first moved in three years ago. The reorganizing of supplies and accessories meant rediscovering all sorts of things buried in odd places, and their rediscovery means being able to use them all up. To that end, expect to see a lot of new enclosures, both originals and commissions (the latest commission is going to be a special surprise, so keep an eye open for updates), if and when things stabilize.
As far as activities at the gallery are concerned, for obvious reasons, the open houses aren’t going to be an option for a while, but the Flash Sales on the gallery front porch continue through the whole month of May. They may continue in the mornings through the summer: everything depends upon the weather, and trying to conduct anything in the afternoon and evening between the middle of June and the beginning of October in North Texas is just folly. In the meantime, they’ll run every Sunday in May from noon to 6:00 pm, always with a mask and a smile for car-side pickup.
Outside events continue to get interesting. As of May 15, the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo is still scheduled for the end of June, but everything depends upon both the city of Dallas and the state of Texas as to whether it gets rescheduled. That already happened with the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo: all convention events in Austin have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, so this year’s show was rescheduled for June 2021. The same applies for shows rescheduled for August and September: things may stabilize enough to allow big events to go on, and they may not, and all we can do is wait for word.
Because of that uncertainty, expect a lot of virtual events, especially now that a lot of the initial technical issues with the Twitch TV channel have been rectified. Well, kinda: Twitch still has issues with its tablet app freezing up at the end of a stream and not saving the preceding stream for later viewing, so it was time to join the early 2000s and start a YouTube channel as well. There’s not much there yet, as it just started, but expect a lot of strangeness in the very near future, especially with demonstrations of fluorescence in North American and Asian pitcher plants, as well as fluorescence in blooms you wouldn’t expect. (Most Americans have never seen an aloe bloom, so just wait to see what one looks like to a hawkmoth or hummingbird. It’s high time to crack out the fluorescent mineral lights that were just unearthed during the storeroom cleanup. (It’s also time to give the crew at Glasstire their five-minute virtual tour, so there’s that, too.)
Other than that, the main focus is getting everything ready for something resembling normal operation, and now that the shelter-in-place order over Dallas County has been lifted, the Triffid Ranch reopens by appointment. It’s time to get back to work.
(And before you ask, the cat at the top of the page is Benji, the greenhouse cat. No, I don’t know his real name. No, he isn’t mine: he has a collar and a tag, so he belongs to someone else. All I know is that most mornings, I find him camped out in the greenhouse, and he has a thing about perching on one of the benches and giving me the perfect Japanese cat print smile. I just can’t take a picture of it, because the moment he sees a camera or phone, he demands attention and ruins the shot.He and my cat Alexandria also apparently have a relationship: she has no interest in going outside, but she loves to camp out in the closed garage and talk to him through the garage door. Things could always be worse.)
For those encountering carnivorous plants for the first time, they tend to be shocked by the sheer range of environments in which carnivores live. There’s the automatic assumption that they all live in hot, swampy jungles, and express shock at discovering the number of species found in North America alone. The shock spreads when they discover that Venus flytraps can be found a day’s drive from Washington DC, and they really lose it when they discover the variety of carnivores in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Best, though, is when I tell them about Canada.
Canada may not be as rich in carnivores as the United States or Mexico, but it has considerable charms. The most famous, of course, is the purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, the flower emblem (the Canadian equivalent of the US’s state flower) of Newfoundland & Labrador. S. purpurea isn’t isolated to that area: it ranges due west from Newfoundland across Ontario (with that range extending south to Michigan and Minnesota) all the way to eastern Alberta, and then north to just short of the border with Alaska. On the west coast, the cobra plant, Darlingtonia californica, ranges well along the coast of British Columbia and south into Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Canada also has a wide range of sundews and butterworts in a wide range of habitats, and one of the most interesting places to view carnivores for sheer spectacle is in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta.
Alberta and Texas have a lot more in common than most people would expect. In fact, when getting off the plane in Calgary from Dallas, it’s hard not to wonder if the plane just circled around Iowa and landed where it started, especially if you travel to Calgary in time for the Calgary Stampede. During the Stampede, the only way you can tell Calgary and Fort Worth apart for sure is that one has more cactus and one has more Mounties. If you see lots of mesquite trees, you’re not in Calgary. That similarity stretches across most of the province: driving near Drumheller, for instance, the plains are so flat and the scenery so similar to North and West Texas that the only way to be sure that you’re in Canada is that the highway signs list kilometers and are written in English and French. All that fails if you head sufficiently west: I recommend doing it the way I did, in the middle of the night when the moon is rising, and you realize that something took a big bite out of the moon and won’t give it back. At that point, you’ve hit the Rockies.
When you’re that far west, there’s absolutely no reason not to visit Banff National Park, especially for those of us fascinated with geology and natural history. However, for butterworts, stop in the town of Canmore just outside of Banff, and head out to Nordic Provincial Park in the mountains overlooking Canmore. That’s where you’ll find treasure.
Backstory: my last trip to Nordic Provincial Park was in 2006, as part of a trip with my wife’s family. I’d never been to Alberta before (my grandparents were from Ontario, but I’d never been that far west), but had dreamed about it ever since learning about the gigantic bone beds around Drumheller and Edmonton as a kid. Caroline and I were already outliers in the family as far as cultural markers were concerned, as they looked at us like dogs being shown a card trick when we noticed a new bicycle trail freshly opened that was named “The Riders of Rohan.” The worst, though, was when heading up one trail, we came across the leftover bracket from a long-removed gate still attached to a tree, and Caroline asked what kind of spigot that was. “That’s for collecting pine syrup,” I told her. “Real Canadians eat their waffles with pine syrup, and maple syrup is just the crap we give to Americans who don’t know any better.” My sister-in-law has never forgiven me for telling her that, because she spent the rest of the trip asking for pine syrup and getting angry that the locals wouldn’t share.
Anyway, half of the family split up to take one trail that led to a mountain lake at the highest easily accessible elevation in the park, and the other half went on the other. This trail’s vegetation thinned as we climbed higher, with spectacular views of the valley and the whole of Canmore. Best, though, was the waterfall on an adjoining peak that blasted mist across the gorge and onto our trail.
Finally, at one point, we stopped to admire the waterfall, up against a boulder about the size of an SUV that had rolled down at some time in the reasonably recent past. It was still reasonably clear of vegetation other than some moss, but it also had a flash of blue-violet at the top. I got closer to investigate the blue, and discovered, snuggled in a patch of soil about the size of a toonie, were a pair of butterworts. Pinguicula vulgaris, to be precise.
This was reason to stop alone, but we figured “Let’s keep going up and see what everyone else found.” Well, that mountain lake was just covered with butterworts: the soil was little more than rock dust, with no real nutritive value, so the butterworts were at home, just blooming away.
As it turned out, they were a great example for people who were afraid of raising a carnivorous plant because they couldn’t keep one warm enough. If a P. vulgaris butterwort can survive an Alberta winter, it can definitely survive a Texas winter. And to this day, when doing slideshow lectures for garden shows and classrooms, I still use the same shots of those butterworts to demonstrate that they can be found in all sorts of odd places:
Another beautiful Sunday, another successful flash sale, and with it a plan for more. Since the general forecast for the month of May suggests that we’ll have relatively cool (for North Texas) weather through Memorial Day weekend, feel free to join the social-distanced and well-masked festivities on May 17, 24, and 31, starting at noon and ending at 6:00 or whenever we run out of plants. Each week, expect a different selection of plants, and if you can’t make it, deliveries are an option as well. (As of this week, the gallery tentatively opens for appointments and commission discussions, so to arrange a delivery or to purchase one of the new enclosures, give a yell.)
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.
Shirt Price: $300
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.
Shirt Price: $125