Comma and Osta journey to the remotest planet in the entire galaxy. It stinks. Literally.
THIS IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 3 OF "POSTHUMAN ENTERPRISES PRESENTS..."
(By Alan Marshall).
After they had rescued themselves from their precarious position, Osta used the napkin to soak up all the spilled vodka and Comma checked the environmental readouts on the console. She happily declared the planet safe enough to walk on and buzzed open the door. Osta watched her tread out of the Ladybird onto the mushy surface and then he followed cautiously behind her. ‘Wow. This place is weird,’ said Osta. His boots pressed into the ground as he looked around the swamp-like setting. Comma nodded her head in agreement and then asked Osta if he could smell anything? ‘Yeah,’ said Osta. ‘Nasty, huh?’
‘It smell’s like…like…’
‘Dog puke,’ suggested Osta.
‘Yeah,’ said Comma with her fingers over her nose.
‘Dog puke that has curdled and mouldered,’ said Osta.
‘Aha,’ said Comma, not really amused.
‘…and then been eaten by another dog with a bad tummy problem and vomited up again,’ carried on Osta.
‘Yeah okay,’ said Comma. ‘Hey! Over there Osta. Look! It’s the Kankers. They’re coming out of those shell-shaped buildings’. Osta looked in the direction that Comma was pointing and there they were: orange and blue blobs. They had no heads. They had no arms. They had no legs. They did have nodule-lined flappy things sticking out into the foul air, though, and these are what caught Comma and Osta’s attention.
‘They’re just as weird as the fricken planet,’ said Osta quietly.
‘They’re coming this way,’ said Comma. She spoke up to them with her arms outstretched. ‘Greetings Kankers. We are from Earth,’ she said confidently. The Kankers stood together in a crowd a few dozen metres away. They stayed still for a second and then started wobbling slightly and emitting strange gurgling sounds. ‘Osta, they are saying something. That weird sound is speech. Point the translator at them.’ Osta fumbled around in his pocket until he located the TransMax. He lifted it out and pointed it at the Kankers. The strange gurgling sounds were instantly translated into electronic speech by the translator.
‘Why do you frighten our trees?’ the nearest Kanker said. Comma and Osta looked around but didn’t see any trees. They saw shell-shaped buildings, some little swampy ponds with three-headed fish-type things swimming in them, and they also saw a lot of scattered blue mounds, but nothing that looked like a tree.
‘What trees?’ asked Osta, directing his question at the crowd of Kankers.
‘The Trees,’ answered a second Kanker. ‘The ones that you frightened.’ Comma spoke up to say that she and Osta didn’t see any trees.
‘That’s because you frightened them away,’ came the answer from the first Kanker.
‘Oh,’ said Comma apologetically.
‘With your smell,’ said a third Kanker. ‘You frightened away the trees with your stinking disgusting smell!’
Comma looked at Osta and Osta looked at Comma, both a little perplexed. Although he thought Kank to be the foulest smelling planet he had ever step foot upon, Osta attempted to be diplomatic. ‘We are sorry about that,’ he said. ‘We didn't realize trees could be frightened.’
‘By smell or anything else,’ added Comma as she grabbed the TransMax from Osta and thumped it a couple of times to make sure it was working properly.
‘So where are these trees you speak of,’ asked Osta, ‘so that we might prove to you our intention is not to frighten them?’
‘Trees are very important,’ said the first Kanker. ‘Trees give life.’
‘You scare them!’ said the second Kanker ‘You take Life!’
‘You scare them because you stink!,’ said the irate third one.
‘Well, our apologies about your trees,’ repeated Osta, trying to calm the crowd of Kankers.
‘Shut up!’ the Kankers gurgled together.
Comma looked at Osta and asked him if she had heard right. ‘Did they just tell us to Shut Up?’
‘Yes,’ said Osta confused.
‘Why?’ asked Comma. Osta shrugged. Comma looked back at the crowd of Kankers. They seemed to tremble for a moment and then stood very quiet and very still. She asked Osta what they might be doing.
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘They’re not talking to each other. They’re not talking to us. They’re just standing there, doing…nothing.’
‘What should we do?’ asked Comma.
‘Perhaps,’ suggested Osta, ‘we’d better do the same.’ Comma and Osta stood there in silence. They didn’t dare move a muscle. Their eyes were focused intently on the Kankers. The seconds past.
After a minute or so they noticed something happening. The small blue mounds dotted about the swampy environment began to wobble. Then, one by one, they opened up. Slowly at first, then with quickening pace, shafts of translucent blue ascended from each mound. Within a few minutes, a forest of blue columns appeared all around. Osta and Comma noted that these blue columns must be what they had seen from orbit. They guessed the forests had looked like they were appearing and disappearing because the blue columns arose and fell from the surface. ‘Very nice trees you have here,’ called out Comma to the Kankers.
‘Tree’s give Life,’ gurgled a Kanker back at her.
‘That’s what we would like to speak to you about,’ shouted Osta. ‘About Life. About what Life means to you.’
‘No,’ came the reply through the TransMax. ‘We want you to go away!’ Osta and Comma contemplated this disappointing response for a second. ‘And if you don’t quit from not going away,’ said another Kanker, ‘we will do something nasty!’
‘Yeah, go away smelly!’ joined in the irate one again.
‘Go away now or else,’ all the Kankers said together.
‘Or else what?’ asked Osta. Suddenly, one of the Kankers began to glow menacingly. It then trembled violently and shot out 20,000 watts of hot white light in Osta’s direction. Osta screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground.
‘Or else we’ll shoot you,’ said the Kanker.
The Kankers, as a people, have had very few alien visitors to their planet. Once upon a time some centuries ago a band of intrepid Weasel-beings from the planet Deyedka had stopped in for a cup of coffee but the Kankers took an instant dislike to them--saying they looked funny--before aiming a battalion of laser weapons at their spaceships and firing away relentlessly. The Weasel-beings left without their coffee and have not returned since.
A couple of years ago a diplomatic mission from the constellation of Musca also dropped in on the Kankers just to see if they might like a nice little spaceport built upon one of their moons. But the Kankers had also sent the Muscans scuttling for cover, pointing a vastly grown array of weaponry at them, and claiming that the Muscans were not welcome because they talked funny.
For good measure the Kankers blew up the moon that the Muscans had had their eyes on, in a concerted effort to be damn sure they would not come back.
‘Ahh. Jeeze. The freak just shot me in the leg,’ moaned Osta.
‘I can see that,’ said Comma as she patted down the flames of his lower trouser. She dragged him out of sight behind one of the blue mounds. The Kankers, though, seemed to lose interest in them. Instead of pursuing Osta, most were ejecting small incandescent streaks of light out of their bodies. Others were crashing bits of metal into other bits of metal. All were gurgling gleefully the same thing over and over: ‘Humans suck butt! Humans suck butt! Humans suck butt!’
‘You freaks,’ Osta yelled out in anger. ‘You shot me before finishing your warning!’
‘Shhh,’ said Comma as she took a look at his wound. It wasn’t that bad but she needed something to wrap around it.
‘Here. Use this,’ said Osta, his hands fumbling through his pocket searching for something.
‘Use what?’ asked Comma.
‘The napkin. Oops. I’ve lost it’
‘Okay…um,’ stuttered Comma. ‘Well, what about the Ladybird? If we reach it we might be able to escape. I can’t see it, though.’ Osta crooked his neck to look for the Ladybird but there was not sign of it. His bionic eye focussed in on what the Kankers were doing, though. They continued to clunk bits of metal together; bits of red metal and bits of white metal. Worse still, the shape the metal formed looked very much like a weapon.
‘Oh, you bastards,’ muttered Osta.
It wasn’t the fact that the Kankers were building a weapon that pissed him off. Nor was it the fact that they were making the weapon out of his own crashed space van. What really angered Osta was how they were glossing it up as they prepared it for use.
‘That’s my napkin, you freak!’ yelled Osta. ‘You shoot me and then you steel my napkin?!’ Comma told him to calm down. He couldn’t. ‘And we were even thinking about giving that to you as a gift!’ The Kankers ignored him, wheeling their new weapon into just the right spot.
‘That thing doesn’t look very environmentally-friendly,’ said Comma. ‘And I assume they want to test it on us.’ Osta nodded in agreement and sat against the blue mound. The mound squelched as his body melted into it. ‘We better get outta here,’ said Comma. Osta didn’t reply so Comma looked to where he was sitting. Her eyes fell upon the tips of two fingers sticking out from the mound. ‘Osta?!’ With a grotesque visceral squelch she shoved her hands into the soft foamy warmth of the mound, disappearing into it as easily as Osta had. In a flash she melted through it behind him.
‘Listen Professor. Your useless damn research aint worth fucking bugshit to the University!’ yelled Chancellor Smuts over the phone.
‘Um, sir,’ said Krollder trying to get the Chancellor’s attention.
‘We spent five million bucks,’ carried on the Chancellor ‘to send you to that stinking fucking jungle world and what have you to show for it?’
‘Chancellor, sir?’ said Krollder again.
‘Abso-bloody-lutely nothing!’ yelled the Chancellor.
Krollder told the Chancellor that the guy on the other end couldn’t hear him but to no avail. ‘The university needs marketable products,’ yelled Smuts down the phone. ‘We don’t need to know about starving aliens in far-off shitfuck colonies!’
‘Sir,’ repeated Krollder. ‘Your line is actually connected to Security.’
‘What?! Oh,’ said the Chancellor. ‘Why didn’t you tell me, you moron? Christ! Idiot--what do I pay you for, Krollder?’ Krollder wondered the same thing. ‘Go now Krollder! Go shoot that Professor!’ yelled the Chancellor.
‘You mean fire him?’ asked Krollder with a frown on his face.
‘Uh…yes. Fire him. Go fire him’
‘Yes sir,’ said Krollder as he walked away unamused by the fact that the Chancellor usually got the words shoot and fire mixed up.
‘Smuts here. Give me some good news.’
As Krollder left, a strange image forced itself into his mind: the Chancellor’s dead body dangling from a lamppost in the University square. ‘One day,’ murmured Krollder to himself.
‘Yes, that is good news,’ said the Chancellor through the phone. ‘Good. Yes. Yes, of course. Do it!’
‘Arrrrrrgh. Ooooof!’ said Osta.
‘Errrrgh, Ooooof!’ said Comma.
They had fallen through the soft blue mound and then dropped unceremoniously onto their backsides into some sort of cavern. They climbed to their feet and tried to look around. It was too dark to see much; just a faint blue light was transmitted by the underside of the mound they had fallen through. What they did manage to make out was the cavern was a long hollow tube. It had a suspiciously dank atmosphere with walls of hard fibre.
‘Welcome to my tuber,’ announced a dark scary thing in a dark scary voice.
‘Who was that?’ said Comma to Osta
‘It was me!’ said the thing, still invisible.
‘Who’s me?’ asked Osta.
‘A tuba?’ repeated Comma. ‘You mean we’re in a gigantic underground brass instrument?’
‘No, a tuber,’ said the thing, whatever it was. ‘You’re in an underground stem. Or actually, to be precise, you’re in a hollowed-out tunnel inside an underground stem. The Kankers used huge tubers to make mining tunnels. You’re in an old one, a dungeon tuber.’
‘But who are you?’ asked Osta.
‘And where are you?’ asked Comma.
‘And why are you speaking Earthling?’ they asked together.
‘I am an Earthling,’ said the thing.
The faint blue light inside the cavern suddenly brightened up to reveal the monstrous tenuous glowing being that had just spoken to Comma and Osta and the chains that bound it within a wooden cage.
‘Oh my God,’ said Comma.
Above the wooden cage, outside on the surface, other surprising events unfolded. These were not very pleasant events though. In fact, they were terrible, disgusting, violent events involving cruelty and brutality.
The results of these events will become known to you soon. Until then, it’s best to stay back in the cavern with Osta and Comma and the creature they have just found.
‘You’re a …a…’
‘A beech tree,’ said the thing. ‘I come from Earth just like you.’
‘Yeah but Earthling beech trees don’t talk,’ said Osta.
‘They do if they’re me,’ said the tree. ‘The Kankers have been doing nasty experiments; injecting me full of alien tissues, so that I can walk and talk and glow in the dark and do all sorts of things, even play the accordion, if I ever wanted to.’
‘Have you ever wanted to?’ asked Osta.
‘Who would want to?’ said the tree.
‘Well, it might be a neat party trick; an accordion-playing tree.’
‘I never go to parties’ said the beech tree.
‘Why not?’ asked Comma.
‘Because I’m in a cage and all the parties are outside’.
‘Why are you in a cage?’
‘So I don’t get away, I s’pose,’ said the tree. ‘Isn’t that what cages are for’
‘I guess’ said Comma.
‘Well, if it’s not for that,’ carried on the tree sadly, ‘I haven’t found any other use for it’. Comma and Osta were dumbfounded. ‘But, look around…’ said the tree with its branches pointing in all directions. ‘I’m not the only one. All of us here, we are all experimental plant species; all being subjected to disgusting weird Kanker science like mere…mere animals. Uh, sorry, no offence.’ The beech tree then introduced Comma and Osta to all the other vegetable beings lying chained up in the cavern. There was a flowering Cactus with his spines pulled out, a tomato plant with cube-shaped tomatoes fruiting all over him and also, laying in the corner, a bunch of rotting logs. ‘That’s my sister,’ said the beech tree. ‘She was murdered.’ Comma was a little confused. She didn’t understand what all these Earth plants were doing on Kank. The map she had bought said no humans have ever made contact with the Kankers. The beech tree told her that that was a lie; that the university had been funding Kanker research for years.
‘You mean someone from Victorious University has been to Kank?’ asked Comma.
The beech tree nodded his crown and then his big brown eyes suddenly became fearful. ‘You two aren’t with the university, I hope?’ The other plants in the cavern shuddered when he asked this but Comma pacified them, telling the plants that she and Osta were just two philosophers travelling around.
‘Sociologists of thought, actually,’ interrupted Osta. ‘Philosophers are all screwed in the head.’
‘Oh,’ said the tree. ‘Why’s that?’
‘You better ask them that,’ said Osta.
The tree looked perplexed for a moment before dismissing Osta’s advice. It then let loose with details about what the university had been doing. With massive VUW investment in Kanker photosynthetic technology, they had managed to get plant cells to do all sorts of things: make weapons, produce drugs, create energy. ‘They can even make cabbage taste good,’ said the tree.
‘That is impressive’, admitted Osta.
‘Aha, yeah, but rumours abound that the university is getting worried now because the Kankers have all this techno know-how. Maybe VU-Dub will likely do something about it before too long. Something drastic,’ said the beech tree menacingly.
‘Oh,’ said Osta
‘Anyway, my name is Beechy’ said the tree. ‘Not much of a name, I know. It’s like calling a dog ‘Doggy’ but I’ve become use to it.’
Far be it for me, a simple writer-bot, to criticise any form of vegetable life but cabbage is the certainly the most vile tasting foodstuff in the entire universe. Despite this indisputable scientific fact, it seems to remain a popular dish in Earthling cuisine. According to Osta the prime reason for this is the use of Cabbage as a tool in child oppression. Most children would happily go through the whole week obeying their parents every whim just so they could be allowed the one misdemeanour associated with not eating their cabbage.
Osta also believes that those children that positively refuse to eat their cabbage go on to become great revolutionaries. Precedents abound in this matter: Oliver Cromwell, Vladimir Lenin, Nelson Mandela; none of them were ever recorded eating cabbage.
‘Hi,’ said a plant to Osta.
Osta didn’t respond. He was pacing around behind Comma trying to convince her not to get involved with the plight of the plants. She had made up her mind, though, and barraged Osta with all sorts of tree-hugging nonsense.
‘I said Hi,’ said the same plant to Osta. Osta ignored it. In actual fact he wasn’t at all surprised the University was in up to its eyeballs with heinous Kanker technology. Comma, though, was flabbergasted and she was busily freeing all the vegetable captives from their chains and cages and organising an escape plan. ‘My name is Maxus megafetida,’ said the plant to Osta ‘but others call me Stinky.’
‘It suits you,’ said Osta.
‘What’s your name?’ the plant asked Osta.
‘I’m not going to talk to you so you needn’t know my name,’ he said trying to walk off.
‘Oh—why not?’ asked the plant.
‘Because your a plant,’ said Osta, ‘and an ugly little smelly one at that.’
‘Plants are people too, you know,’ said Stinky.
Osta stopped and turned to look at Stinky and all the other shrubs and flowers and grasses that were following him around, their big sad eyes seeking friendship. ‘No they’re not. They’re plants!’ said Osta.
‘Your so speciesist,’ said Stinky and he and the other plants moved over to Comma.
In the past it has always been the tendency of botanists to give plants long lumbering names. This tradition is dying out however due to the advent of several Galactic Word Limitation Treaties. These treaties have been drafted to accommodate those species of reader whose average lifespan is measured in the amount of words read. For instance, the Wahwoon Beings of the planet Wahwoon 13, whose single eyeball immediately self-destructs after having read its one hundred and seventeenth word. This does not have to prove fatal in all cases but it is particularly inconvenient when you have read one hundred and sixteen words and you find yourself driving towards a ‘stop’ sign in front of an explosives factory.
Wahwoon statistics show the most common cause of death on the planet is through the reading of DANGER! signs, since the Wahwoon reader is immediately blinded by the sign warning them about whatever situation they were just about to enter; approaching too near a cliff face, for example, or lighting a firework while it was in one’s mouth.
Because the Wahwoon beings seemed unusually capable of getting themselves into such dangerous situations the Wahwoon landscape has become covered in even more DANGER! signs; millions of them are scattered throughout the city streets and country roads. This, itself, seemed to do nothing but exacerbate the problem because it makes everybody read more words.
Anyway, Comma had learnt from the imprisoned plants that it was possible to get out of the tuber tunnel by climbing out through one of the blue mounds that she and Osta had fallen through. According to Beechy, the mounds were the left over remains of long-dead ion trees; the huge animated blue columns that form Kank’s forests. If Comma could gather all the plants together, Beechy promised to let them climb upon his long limbs out through the mounds to the surface. To prepare for this, Comma instructed all those plants that wished to be rescued to form two lines. On her right she wanted the walking plants. On her left she wanted the non-walking plants. ‘How can we move to your right if we can’t walk,’ said a crocus bulb. Osta came along and kicked the crocus to where he thought it should be.
‘Okay,’ said Comma, ‘now all the walking plants, please piggy-back the non-walking plants and climb up Beechy’s trunk.’
One by one they squelched through the underside of a blue mound. Comma instructed them to remain well hidden so as not to be detected by the Kankers. Eventually, Comma and Osta also made it up Beechy’s branches and dragged and squeezed and squelched the beech tree to the surface as well. What was waiting for all of them at the surface was more than a little shocking.
‘Oh my God,’ said Osta.
‘Oh my God,’ said Comma.
‘The Kankers are all dead,’ announced Osta. ‘Slain down where they stood.’
‘And the place is surrounded by UniCops,’ said Comma.
‘And there are hamsters all over the place,’ grunted Beechy.
A native of Kank would’ve spotted the strange assemblage of experimental trees and bushes hiding behind the blue mound with ease but the Earthling UniCops probably thought they were part of the environment and left them alone. This gave Comma and Osta time to argue with each other without being noticed by the UniCops.
‘What the hell are the UniCops doing here, Osta? How the heck did they find us?’
‘Perhaps they’ve come back for the weapons,’ muttered Osta.
Osta had his suspicions about how the UniCops might have followed them. Little furry suspicions but he didn’t let on just yet. Instead he fended off accusations hurled about by Stinky that he was a Unicop spy. Osta told Stinky to go pollinate himself but the feisty little plant wouldn’t stop hassling him. ‘Or perhaps,’ said Stinky ‘you are a university biologist come to do more weird experiments?!’
‘Don’t move you ugly little bastard,’ said Osta. ‘He stomped over to Stinky, grabbed him around his trunk and shook him. Out of his branches dropped a fluffy little hamster. With a mad look in his eye, Osta jumped up and down on it repeatedly, squishing it beneath his boots. The hamster gave out a plaintiff cry with each trample and all the plants gasped.
‘Erh, if that’s the way you treat animals on Earth,’ said Beechy, ‘I am glad I’m only a plant.’
‘Is not an animal,’ explained Osta. ‘It’s a biobot.’ He lifted his foot to show all the plants the squashed mechanoid remains on the sole of his boot. ‘How many animals do you know have radars for ears and lasers guns in their nostrils, hmm?’ The plants saw for themselves the electronic guts of the squashed hamster. Comma looked at Osta with a puzzled look on her face but instead of giving her a long explanation he just instructed all the plants to shake their branches. A few more hamsters dropped out and Osta rushed to crush their fluffy little bodies into the mud as well. ‘I got the hamster from the Neptune skymall.’ Comma nodded so Osta carried on. ‘But unlike all the other things, I didn’t steal it.’
‘I just picked it up in a UniShop; a course advice office,’ said Osta as he grabbed a couple of bright purple banana-lemon trees by their branches and shook them so violently that a fruity mush formed on the ground. ‘The hamster was a freebie’, carried on Osta. ‘You know, sometimes the UniShops give out free stuff: pens and calendars and …’
‘And hamsters?’ queried Comma, suspiciously.
‘Yes,’ said Osta matter-of-factly. Comma asked what sort of careers office would give out free hamsters. ‘They said they were for veterinary students,’ answered Osta.
‘So what are we going to do now?’ asked Beechy.
Comma looked at Osta and Osta looked at Comma. Both of them looked at the bright hopeful eyes of all their new vegetable friends and then over to the UniCops with their assembled weaponry and spacecraft. ‘Mmm. Time to eat some dust’ Osta said.