Posthuman Enterprises presents...

Above the Gleaming Polished Marble Steps

August 17, 2023 Alan Marshall Episode 1
Posthuman Enterprises presents...
Above the Gleaming Polished Marble Steps
Show Notes Transcript

May 1st, 3001 AD. Fresh from her graduation ceremony, yet mired in student debt, a young philosopher named Comma takes up a job offer as a research assistant for a dubious bloke called Osta. 

This is the script for Episode One of the “Posthuman Enterprises presents…” podcast. 

Written by Alan Marshall


 Many of us average people have been baffled by the immensity and complexity of this great big universe of ours. For my part, I get a head ache when I hear astronomers talk about how many things there are floating around in the cosmos. I forget the exact figures but there’s something like seventeen zillion stars in the galaxy and seventeen zillion galaxies in the universe or something like that. May be it was seven million. Or seven. Whatever, it’s an awful lot of stars and an awful lot of galaxies.

Then the space biologists chime in and tell us that around these stars revolve sixty-twelve trillion thousand planets that harbour forty-three thousand hundred different lifeforms. Or something like that. Again the figures aren’t important; it’s just the sense of your own insignificance that I want to get across.

Now, as we all know--and it doesn’t take an astronomer or a space biologist to work this out--most of these lifeforms trudge around trying to earn some sort of a living. Most of the really bright ones go off to invent new and improved techno-gadgets that change the world while the not so bright ones, like me, just carry on with menial jobs; in my case running a bar.  

Now, whichever category--bright or dim--that a life form might belong to, we all earn our various livings through a process that we conveniently label work. Work is an essential part of life. Most everyone does it. Sometimes we do it to avoid poverty and death. Sometimes we do it so we can buy the new and improved techno-gadgets.

However, I have discovered something interesting: not everybody works. There is another category of beings that somehow manage to escape work. Such people call themselves philosophers, thinkers and scholars but I refer to them as weirdoes, losers and know-alls. If you ask me, these people are actually afraid of work but be that as it may such thinkers are often nagged by a single profound question. What is the point of life?


Now, workers like me have usually got more important things to do than sit around gazing upwards poking fingers at the universe. The stars are stars. What do I care about who lives on each one and how they run their lives? 


One time, however, I did start caring--just a little. It was when I copped a young Earthling, named Comma, who sat for six straight days, and a couple of bent nights, chatting to some of the freakier customers in the darkest corner of my bar. After reviewing the FlySpy-cam recordings of her conversations it became obvious to me she had turned the asking of grand abstract questions into work. In short, she had made a profession of being a know-all loser weirdo.


FlySpy-cams are great investments—you should get one. My system’s a pair of flea-sized robots. They hover about to make sure that none of my customers are getting up to mischief. They also let me know who’s dealing, who’s broke, who’s about to erupt wildly; makes my job a lot easier.


One day, though, one of the FlySpy-cams had inadvertently jumped into an open bottle of Snotwine. I think it it said it had fallen in love with a real flea which itself had just fallen out of the fur of a bog-beast. Anyway, when it emerged from the bottle--totally intoxicated--it declared it had rights of its own and elected to just sit around and listen to Comma’s drunken stories rather than doing any proper surveillance. 


When I finally watched the tape that this particular FlySpy had recorded I was just about to phone up the manufacturer to complain when I noticed that most of the bar’s paying clients were also crowded around Comma, listening to her go on about life and politics and stuff. 


At first I thought all the customers were just trying to chat her up (she was a bit of a cutie) but it soon became apparent they were just as intrigued by her stories as they were with her smouldering charm. Anyhow, because of Comma, the drunken freaks stayed long enough in the bar for me to actually make some dosh. For this reason I hired a bunch of robo-writers to transcribe the recording. (Yes, I know, robo-writers aren’t exactly wonderful story-tellers but they’re non-union and they don’t drink up my profits like you organics do!)




SMUTS It’s the morning of a bright sunny day; May 1st 3001 AD, in the city of Woftus, on the planet Earth. On this bright sunny morning we find many hundreds of graduands perched happily on the gleaming polished marble steps of Earth’s greatest university; the Victorious University of Woftus, or ‘VUW’ as most people call it. Above the gleaming polished marble steps soar a dozen majestically spiralling seagulls. The seagulls are not impressed by the marble steps. Nor are they impressed by the greatness of the Victorious University. One particular seagull, called Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark by the others, had great juicy anti-student thoughts washing around in his his mind.


What the hell, are they doin’--the smart ass little fucks! They're s'pose to be feeding me sandwich scraps--not standing around in those pompous black robes. Grrr!


The wind wafted and whizzed past Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark in a manner humans might have thought rather inspiring but then they didn’t have to hover in it for hours waiting for scraps.


What's the point of being a city seagull if you can’t get an easy meal from the university students? Grrrr! I can just imagine what my cousin on the coast would be saying now: ‘Come back to the sea’, she’d be saying “

‘Live like a real seagull’, ‘Don't stay dependent on the humans.’ If I didn’t absolutely hate the damn sea--with its constant grinding noisy bloody waves—CRASH CRASH CRASH CRASH CRASH CRASH CRASH CRASH--I might agree with her!


Pausing for breath Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark just about gave himself time to calm down when he remembered what his traditional food was supposed to be.


And seafood! YUCK! I don't mind ripping out the gizzards of baby penguins--that's okay--but fish? Disgusting cold slippery things!


Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. He knew how to eat dead or dying fish; he just didn’t want to. This meant he had to beg for scraps from the wingless creatures that scurried around on the surface of the Earth like rats.


May be I should try the sympathy thing? Perhaps hop on one leg; try to look as though I am even poorer than they are. I might get a few crumbs from the social work students. Errgh. Why should I lower myself like that? I know what they really deserve...


With a delicate turn then a rushing whoosh,Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark dive-bombed towards the human that stuck out the most. Then…SPLAT!


‘Urgh…some bird just shat on me.’ 


Charles Smut was the Chancellor of Victorious University. He spluttered indignantly as the seagull poop--both the yellow urea bits and the streaky white bits--were smeared from his bald head to the palm of his madly flapping hand and then all over his head again. 


‘Just wipe it off with your handkerchief’, suggested Krollder, the Chancellor’s assistant.


‘It’s a ceremonial handkerchief, you moron,’ said the Chancellor. It’s not to be used for bird turd. Hey--give me that piece of paper.’ Before Krollder could say anything the Chancellor snatched the paper from the hand of his assistant and dabbed it at the bird stain. After getting rid of most of it, he threw the turd-squelched piece of paper onto the ground and then fretted around in his pockets.


‘Now, where’s my speech?’ the Chancellor asked himself.


‘Ah, that was it Chancellor’, said Krollder, pointing to the piece of paper on the ground.

‘Uh, you idiot! Why didn’t you tell me?’ asked the Chancellor tersely. ‘Now pick it up!’ Krollder was hesitating, on account of it being covered by bird shit and all. ‘Pick it up, idiot-moron’, growled Chancellor Smuts.


‘Yes sir,’ and Krollder did as he was told. The chancellor then ripped away the stain-covered paper before ordering Krollder to hand over his own handkerchief. Krollder began pointing out that this was his long-time special ornate ceremonial handkerchief but the Chancellor didn’t care in the least.


‘Shuddup, you super idiot-moron’, grunted the Chancellor. ‘I can't have excreta on my speech.’


‘Why not?’ whispered Krollder to himself. ‘You’re always talking crap, anyway.’


‘Stop your mumbling, moron Krollder, and introduce me!’


‘Alright’, sighed Krollder as he adjusted the microphone stand.


‘…And make it a good introduction’, whined the Chancellor.


‘Of course.’ Krollder tapped the microphone and then waited for the crowd to quieten down. ‘Greetings students,’ he said. ‘The world is full of all sorts of people. And here is one of them. Chancellor Smuts.’


A polite applause moved across the crowd as the Chancellor fumbled with the microphone. Krollder moved to help and the words ‘idiot-moron’ echoed out over the PA. Smuts then blurted out his speech in a manner quite a lot like a school prefect pretending to be important. 


You see before you a proud man. That proud man is me! I am a proud man. Of what am I proud, you ask?


No one asked. They all just stood in silence.






Long after the graduation celebrants had left, Comma was still there sitting on the marble steps. She was looking down upon the bandage wrapped around her arm. Underneath the bandage, the wound bulged and bubbled with purple slime, as though her new knowledge was not quite yet compatible with her body. Although intravenous education passed one through the drudgery of undergraduate courses a lot quicker than the standard three years, it did place an enormous strain upon the brain and body of some recipients. Comma, for instance, felt rather nauseous.

Despite this she leafed actively through the classifieds of the late edition Unipaper. Newly graduated, she now had to find work. No body seemed to be in a hiring mood, though. There was just one advert in the Personals and a bunch of stuff for sale.


FOR SALE: Single spaceline ticket to Alpha Peradni (used only once). $170,000 (Contact:


FOR SALE: Australia (slight nuclear waste problem) $50 ono. Contact: RH@21stC.COM


FEMALE:, Mature-minded 327 year old methanogenous gastropod from the planet Bavorka, several large broods to my name, seeks tattooed psychomorphic New Ager with penchant for Tantric dirt love and flesh-eating bacterial art. Contact: (no weirdos, please).


Comma threw the paper away in despair and its pages flopped messily into the flight path of a seagull, frightening the bird from making a landing and forcing it to re-circle in the air.


‘I know that face,’ said the seagull to himself as he flapped above the unipaper. On the back page of the paper was a photograph of a bald-headed man standing on a podium. Beside the photo was printed the man’s speech. 


Comma, too, noticed the photograph. She had been present when the speech was delivered that morning but she just realised she hadn’t really bothered to listen to it. She reached down to recover the paper but just when she touched it, a big plopping bird poo splattered on the Chancellor’s picture. Comma looked up but Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark was gone.


It was a terrible speech anyway--and just to prove it--it is reprinted below.


Of what am I proud, you ask? Of you!


I am proud of your computational skills. I am proud of your technical prowess. And of course, I am proud of your loyalty to the ideals of the University. 


Technology changes worlds. The Chembot-filled fluid that flowed into your arms for the last six weeks is a revolutionary technology. Students can now take degrees via six week intravenous sessions. No more boring lectures. No more boring books.


And with your help, we can now spread this technological revolution throughout the galaxy!  


Comma didn’t feel very revolutionary. She just wanted a job that paid hard cash. Grabbing her phone she checked the credits; just enough, she realised, to materialise a bug-butter sandwich and to make one phone call. After tapping some digits, the sandwich morphed into her hand. She took a bite and tapped some more digits. 


‘Hello? Yup? Is that the VUW employment office?’ asked Comma. ‘I am after a job.’ With her mouth full, she listened for the response from the phone-droid. ‘What sort of job do I want? Um…one that comes with money’, she said into the phone. ‘My qualifications? BA in philosophy.’ There was a short pause before the phone-droid got back to her. ‘No, I said philosophy. Phil-O-So-Phy!’ Another pause ensued. ‘No. Not ‘philanthropy’-- I want to earn money. Not give it away.’ 


As Comma said all this she heard little squawky whimpers to her side. The seagull was back. It was eyeing up her sandwich. ‘Yeah, I know they sound the same but they’re completely different’, Comma continued. ‘No! Not philistine! Philosophy!’ She waved the seagull away. For a moment it flapped into the air but soon descended again. 


‘Yeah, I know they all start with Phil, yeah! But then so does Phil Collins and I am not one of them either.’ Comma threw a crust to the seagull to appease it. It rushed for the food, slamming the crust down its throat in milliseconds. It then started squawking again, louder this time.


‘What do philosophers do?’ said Comma as she echoed the phone-droid. ‘Well, they…um…they…um…’ The seagull got closer and squawked even louder. ‘They think about stuff.’ She waved again but this time the seagull didn’t fly off. It just came closer. A number of other seagulls also arrived.


‘Well, all sorts of stuff.’ Half a dozen seagulls now started whimpering at her feet whilst the first one,Swaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark, squawked loudly again. ‘Oh God, okay! Take that, ya pushy fucker!’ said Comma as she threw the rest of her sandwich on the ground. A violent tussle between all the seagulls began as they let off a cacophony of squawks and yelps and screeches.


‘No, I was talking to a seagull,’ said Comma. The phone-droid wondered what was going on. ‘A seagull!’ repeated Comma down the phone. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled. No, yes, I wasn’t abusing you. Look! Have you got any jobs in philosophy or not?!’ 


Comma sighed as the phone went on hold for a few moments. She moved her ear away from the receiver so as not to hear the vial soppy music she was being played. The seagulls had devoured the sandwich but were still hanging around hoping for more food. The phone-droid eventually got back to her.


‘A weapons delivery officer?’ Comma queried in bemusement. ‘Why the hell does the university need a weapons delivery officer? No, I don’t want it! Look, piss off!!!’ yelled Comma suddenly, her hands and feet waving around wildly. 


‘No, not you. I was talking to the seagull again,’ she said. ‘What? Philosophy assistant? That sounds better. To help write a book. Yes, I’ll take it.’






Comma made her way across the sprawling campus to arrive at the grimy grey door of a suspicious looking apartment. The adjacent apartment blocks had grand names like Great Elite Star Halls and Verity Verity Lovely Mansions written all over them, as well as cute little landscaped gardens surrounding their pathways.  The one Comma was in front was called Amoeba upon Agar and its weedy little garden had empty vodka bottles chucked all around upon it. She knocked on the door praying that a loser weirdo was not waiting behind it somewhere. 


KERCHUNK! went a lock suddenly. Then, after few seconds, came a voice from behind the door. 




‘Hi,’ said Comma, ‘I’m looking for a guy named Osta’. 




‘It’s about the job’ said Comma. ‘The philosophy job. You know, to help write a book ‘bout the Meaning of Life.’


‘Yes yes. Where’s the van?’ asked the voice impatiently. Comma was more than a little confused.


‘You have your own transport, yes?’ asked the voice. Comma shook her head. ‘You were suppose to have your own transport’ the voice insisted.


‘I didn’t know that,’ said Comma  KERCHUNK! went the lock again and then silence. Comma was just about to turn to walk away when there was another KERCHUNK! 


‘Well, come in! Quickly, quickly!’ The man with the voice grabbed Comma’s forearm and pulled her inside. He slammed the door shut behind her.


‘What’s the rush?’ grunted Comma. 


‘Is anybody out there?’ asked the man, a guy about thirty with long dark hair straggling down over a long dark rain coat.


‘Out where?’ asked Comma.


‘Out there. On the street,’ said the man as he checked the security monitors in his apartment. He then peered through the slits at the side of the door.


‘Well, of course there are people. It’s a street,’ said Comma. 

‘But no one in uniform?’ asked the man as he continued to peer outside. ‘No cops or anything?’


Comma jokingly asked if the man was a criminal. He didn’t answer her, which made her feel uneasy. He just kept quizzing her impatiently about a space van. 


‘No. I’m just here for the job. The philosophy job.’


‘Okay okay—you’ve got the job, don’t worry’, declared the man. ‘But we need transport. There’s a used spacecraft sales yard across the road. Have you got any money?’ he asked Comma with a desperate look on his face.




‘Fuck!’ said the man, disappointed once again. ‘Why not?’ Comma’s face snarled a little. 


‘This is my first day of work,’ said Comma.


‘Quite. So then…’ said the man, as his eyes darted all over Comma’s face; probing it for answers, ‘…shall we steel a space van or pay for it?’


‘Well—Osta, right?’ The man turned from looking out the cracks of the door and nodded quickly to Comma. ‘Well, paying for it might be more ethical,’ suggested Comma.


‘Puh!’ said Osta rolling his eyes. ‘Who cares about ethics?’


‘I do’, Comma said, if a little unconvincingly.


‘All right. Looks like I have to use my head,’ said Osta.


‘Yeah, you’ll think of something,’ said Comma.


‘No. I mean I’ll have to use my head--my brains--for payment. Hold this for a second,’ said Osta as he handed Comma a nasty looking little gadget. ‘Press the extractor against the back of my head,’ said Osta.


Instead of doing as she was told Comma held the mean-looking device at arms length and begged Osta to slow down. ‘Listen, can we talk a bit about the job before I start taking your brain out?’


‘Bit stuck for time, Comma. Have to get some brain for the space van!’ Osta then grabbed Comma’s hand and made her push the extraction device into his head. He instructed her to press hard and, with a grotesque sound, the sharp part of the device burned through his hair, burrowed through his scalp and drilled into his brain. ‘Good,’ said Osta with a noticeable pinch of discomfort in his voice. ‘Now pull it out slowly.’ 

With another sickening sound, like chicken guts disappearing up a vacuum nozzle, Comma lifted the device away from Osta’s head, the smell of sizzled hair and bone dust permeating the air. Osta asked if the device had registered brain tissue. Comma held it up to the light and the reading said four grams.


‘Four grams!’ yelped Osta. ‘Jeeze! Do you think I’m made of brain?’


‘What? You made me do it!’ said Comma defensively.


‘Alright, alright. Give me the vial,’ said Osta. ‘Aha. It should be more than enough. Now, in a moment, we’ll open the door and walk quickly across the street. Alright? Mmm? Understand?’ 


‘Yes. I know how to walk,’ said Comma.


The lock went KERCHUNK! once more and they opened the door.


‘Just walk normally,’ said Osta as he nervously looked around the street.


‘I always do,’ retorted Comma.






Perhaps it should be noted here that brain tissue is currently a very valuable commodity on Earth. This is largely due to the rise and fall of a momentarily fashionable neuro-theory in Earth’s recent past. Some years back it was thought that the bulk of the human brain was a redundancy; a mass of largely useless grey matter that just hung around waiting to go wrong. Madness, for instance, was theorised to be linked to redundant brain tissue becoming active. Coming up with new ideas was also evidence that too much brain was no good for anyone.


Nowadays, this theory has fallen into disrepute on Earth and all the baby-boomers from yesteryear are now trying to beg, borrow and steal the brain tissue that they had removed. Thus, brain matter is now trading at a higher rate than an equivalent volume of gold.  






‘Stop right there!’ the loudspeaker yelled. 


‘Oh Fucking Fuck!’ As the sirens of a half-dozen black hover trucks wailed loudly around them, Osta’s gingerly placed footsteps suddenly transformed into a madly-rushed sprint. ‘UniCops! Run Comma!’ 


‘What? Why?’ Comma ran too. The hover trucks screeched to a halt on one side of the street. Men with huge black helmets then pushed massive BeamWave guns out their windows. 


‘Stop immediately or we will open fire!’  Yelled one of the UniCops. Osta didn’t stop running. He weaved awkwardly but speedily through the passers-by toward the sales lot.  Comma did slow down for a moment, though, believing she could opt out of all this madness is she just calmed down and closed her eyes for a bit. ‘Run Comma!’ yelled Osta back at her.


‘But they want to shoot us!’ 


‘That’s why you gotta run!’ yelled Osta again. She opened her eyes, saw the hovertruck turrets pointing her way and started running again.


With their demands ignored, the men in the hover trucks started blasting away. They didn’t seem to care who they hit. A number of bystanders felt a BeamWave hit them smack in the face—and poof, they would disappear.  Students, mothers, old folks too, all ended up instantly transported from the spot they stood into the back of a hover paddy wagon. 


The BeamWave gun made street battles look a lot cleaner than they really were. When you ripped some poor old codger’s leg off with a badly aimed BeamWave blast, all you did was shoot again and he would appear in the back of your truck--detached from his leg, for sure, but safely apprehended and away from public view.


Osta made it to the sales lot. The sales guy came wandering out the door to see what was going on but – Zzzzap! – he and his surprised face disappeared into the paddy wagon. Osta set off to the nearest space van; a cute little red number with black-trimmed superdrive engines. He opened the door and dived inside. 


Comma was also in luck. Every time the BeamWave locked onto her, some hapless citizen stepped in front and was hit instead. By the time they had shot a dozen skateboarders, two daschunds and a shopping trolley, the paddy wagon computer was registered as full; blocking off the guns from shooting anymore. ‘Goddamnit—will you kick the damn collaterals out of the wagon! We got some hippies to shoot!’ Yelled one Unicop at another.


By the time the paddy wagons were emptied, Comma had made it to the red space van. Together, Osta and Comma pressed the auto-launch buttons and in a blinding whirling flash, the red and black space van launched skyward.


Space vans crashing through the atmosphere are noisy things; all those superdrive engines wailing, all those ozone molecules whooshing apart. So if one human was yelling insults at another human about what a stupid-ass criminal fuckhead he was for getting them both shot at by Unicops, it is quite possible that the other person wouldn’t have heard it. 


Space vans in space, though, are quite silent. Comma and Osta could certainly make themselves heard here.




‘I don’t know.’




‘I don’t know.’


‘Student loans?!’


‘I said ‘I don’t fucking know!’ The UniCops could be chasing me for any of those things,’ said Osta. ‘But because they are usually shooting at me, I never stop to ask. Right now I am alive with four grams of brain to spend so let’s calm down and go find somewhere to have drink.’


‘Aha…but what about the book?’ asked Comma.


‘What book?’


Comma reminded Osta about the information she’d got from the recruitment agent.


‘Oh yeah….um…’ dithered Osta.


‘Ahh but that was all garbage wasn’t it? You just wanted a space van?’


‘Errr yeah. Sorry,’ said Osta


‘Uh, I must have a big S painted on my head,’ muttered Comma. Osta looked at Comma tapping forehead. ‘Because I feel like a real sucker.’ Osta looked away. ‘I bet you’re not even a philosopher’ carried on Comma.


‘No. I am a sociologist of modern thought,’ said Osta.


‘Oh,’ said Comma. ‘Aint that the same thing?’


‘No, it’s not,’ said Osta. ‘Philosophers are all screwed in the head.’ 




‘You better ask them that,’ suggested Osta.




Osta was feeling a bit guilty about having lured Comma into his quite pathetic life so he tried to make amends. He asked what the book was supposed to be about. Comma explained that it was supposed to be about the meaning of life but Osta just sniggered. Comma asked him what was so funny.


‘Nothing,’ announced Osta apologetically. ‘It’s just a pointless subject, that’s all.’ Comma inquired as to why Osta might believe that.


‘’Cause there aint no meaning to life’.


‘There isn’t? How do you know that? You’re not even a philosopher,’ said Comma. She pouted for a few moments and then saw the sun rising silently and beautifully above the Earth. ‘I bet there’s a meaning to life lying deep and hidden somewhere,’ she said. ‘We just haven’t found it yet.’


‘And you wanna find it?’ asked Osta. ‘After a few drinks, I might decide to help you.’