Mad old bark

Again?! Bloody pests, why can’t they just go easy, for a change? Indigestion guaranteed, with them around. There can be too much of a good thing. Food aplenty is good in principle. Makes you grow big and strong. But overshooting four seasons in a row, that’s an aberration. Mour feels obscene. Waking up to this kind of trunk expansion should be prohibited. Time to do something about this disaster. It has lasted far too long already. Shouting should help. A proven remedy, against all kinds of nuisances. But only in the presence of an audience.

“Veira? Iscas? Li? Anyone around? You lot turned mute, or what? What kind of bloody cycle is this? And why do I wake up to yet another binge? This was supposed to be ephemeral, right? Li, you promised it wouldn’t last much longer. Well, it ephemeral-my-root-rot does. So what now? Any ideas, anyone?” Mour feels the hot flush of indignation rushing through his bulky shape. That’s an advantage, of boom times. Surplus food allows you to get real angry.

“Relax, Mour. Shouting won’t help. Yes, the bloody nuisances are still around. Even more of them than in the last season, by the feel of it. So what? Let’s look at the bright side. At least we’re not going to starve, right? As long as we’re standing, we’re just fine. It’s pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Them going to such lengths to feed us? Who’d have thought. Valuable learning, in my opinion. For when we try again. Or if ever we need to survive seriously lean times. We just kick these off once aga…” Li would have gone on, in the cheerful way of the seriously senile.

Except Mour won’t have it. If there is one irritation he hates even more than being force fed second helpings on waking up, it’s unwarranted optimism. He cuts in: “Shut up, Li. I’m not in that kind of mood. Yes, we can and will survive this. We always do. No, that’s not enough. You’re old, you don’t understand. You’ve had plenty of properly balanced seasons to enjoy. But me, I’m young. I’ve had enough. I want a life. I want them disbanded, now. That’s the fourth season, Li. The fourth! In a row! This stupid experiment has lasted long enough. Triggering sentience in bipeds was a bad idea. A very bad idea. Our ancestors thought these would do better than the octopeds. Well, they don’t. Plain fact, case closed. Now we need to get rid of them. How do we do it?”

Li sighs. One is supposed to enjoy the presence of youngsters. But this particular juvenile has a talent for ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly nice season. Important not to shout back, though. He will have to spend his precious few remaining cycles in this hot tempered company. This calls for a didactical approach: “Glad to hear your vigor, Mour. You’re  right, the bipeds are a bit of a nuisance. But extermination, that’s not how we do things. One intervention on the mobiles every one thousand cycles, that’s the maximum the rules allow. And rightly so. These experiments need to run their course. Takes a while, to get a clear picture. Even with such a short lived species. You need to observe a lot of generations. The bipeds seemed to be going strong, not so long ago. Looked pretty sustainable, despite their upgraded brains. Not harmless, but susta…”

Mour won’t let a doddery senior interfere with his urge to kill: “Li! I’m not attending this party to talk science, for a wet heavens sake! I asked you how to get rid of the pests. If there is a rule against it, there must be a way. How is it done? What’s the trick?” Mour is curious now. Living in such a small group dominated by seniors is a tough fate for a young sentience. But there are nuggets of wisdom buried underneath the progressing dementia. The parties are much better on the other hill, where over two hundred kids celebrate their second birthday. Whereas here, you get a chance to learn things. All wisdom accumulated over the generations is of course accessible to all of them. But it takes many seasons to make sense of it. Li must be over forty. At least. He knows stuff.

“Did you guys even notice how the shoreline seems to have changed, again? Is that the waves rumbling closer, or what? Li, hate to interfere with your lecture, but this is an emergency. We’re still out of reach of the waves, yes please?” Iscas is tense, expecting the worst. His attention is fully focused on the Atlantic Ocean bashing the feet of their low cliff.

Hearing this shaky voice, Li recalls how nervous a kid Iscas used to be. Even before he got hurt in a thunderstorm. Happened when he was eight. Now he’s approaching twenty, and a penchant for a carefully measured approach has turned into an outright anxiety disorder. The ocean is down there, they are up here. No problem. Except… Li checks his sensors again. Mighty meteorite! There is a problem in the making, after all. Not with the shoreline. But underneath. Salt water is infiltrating the ground. Couple of cycles down, this could indeed cause trouble. Lethal trouble. Not for Li himself, he has grown his course. But the others better enjoy the good times while they last. Should he warn them? Rather not. Mour would waste the remaining seasons on shouting, Iscas on tearful screams. Not an attractive prospect, for an unaffected bystander. Would the imminent danger jolt Veira out of his sulk? He decided never to talk to them again five cycles ago, after one more row over the frequency of apocalyptic solar eclipses. Statistics and probabilities, they really get Veira going. He’s a mere thirty eight, but very convinced of his intellectual superiority.

“Li, I’m talking to you! And it’s not just me. Iscas raised a question, too. If we’re not allowed to exterminate the bipeds, is there at least a way to reconfigure them, to stop them stuffing us? I can feel your patterns, Li, you’re holding back. That’s not fair, not to share knowledge.” Mour pushes the one button than works on the oldie. Appealing to his fairness should do the trick.

Li is glad the shore issue has been sidelined. To keep the conversation on the bipedal pest track, he decides to grant his young companions a glimpse of their might: “It’s of course possible to reprogram the bipeds. They’re DNA based, like all live forms. And they like to eat our fruit. Perfectly easy, to introduce a DNA altering agent. We sent them brainy, we can of course switch them back. Some of them. That’s the problem, Mour. The clever ones tend to survive. Once you’ve triggered sentience in one kind of mobiles, you have to wait it out, preferred option. Or to induce intelligence in the next kind, hazardous plan b option. Let’s say, for example, we decided to upgrade the biwings currently nesting in your crown, Mour. It would be pretty easy, to turn them more clever than the bipeds. And their generational rhythm is even faster. Shouldn’t take them more than a couple of cycles, to replace the bipeds as the dominant species. But they’ll probably fuck up, too, in the longer run. That’s the problem, with mobiles. They can’t handle sentience…”

Mour cuts in once again: “You’re kidding, Li, aren’t you? These little tweep tweeps, they can’t possibly be turned intelligent? They would never be able to handle an upgrade. Wouldn’t know what to make of it. What’s so funny, why you’re laughing?”

Li calms down to answer: “See, Mour, that’s the whole point. That’s why we do it. It’s interesting. You can’t anticipate what they’ll make of it. Not even a mighty statistician like Veira here can tell you in advance what the civilization of a particular species of mobiles will look like. It’s so creative. The ultimate art. For example, the octopeds, most guys daring a prognosis would have guessed…”

The breeze is on once again, the early morning lull is over. A bright sunshine day, not one cloud on the horizon. Even the mighty Atlantic waves seem to be rolling in more gently than usual. So peaceful. Such a contrast to Li’s tale. Apogees of vice and violence characterized the Tarantulean. The octoped civilization went after everything. Each other. Other species. On and off planet. Exterminated a full eighty percent of life forms, before they were brought down by a virus they had engineered as a biological weapon. Only minuscule shadows of their former selves, dumbed down and harmless, grace the planet these days. Good riddance.

Li enjoys himself. What a wonderful cycle. Lecturing the kids is his favorite pastime. One of the last remaining pleasures past middle age. And the Tarantulean was at least an interesting period. Totally different scale of entertainment. Rooting through the records of the octoped exploits as compiled by generations of diligent chroniclers, Li once again regrets to have grown in the wrong era. The bipeds are so boring. Not even achieving space travel. Nor making any serious attempts at living underground or underwater. Just crawling the surface in ever greater numbers. Plain boring lack of ambition. All mobiles turn vicious, once endowed with intelligence. Seems to be an eternal rule of nature. So be it. But they should at least strive to make it an interesting kind of vice. But the bipeds are just boring. Like the ones that come trampling up the hill.

“Dad, there is a sign. Can you read the sign, dad? Is that Portuguese, dad? What does it say?” The kid has reached the top of the cliff ahead of his parents and longs for anything to disrupt the tedious hiking routine. Nothing but stupid landscape to look at for at least an hour, that’s not a holiday, that feels like a punishment. They could at least have put up some interactive educationals, to make up for nothing of interest ever happening here.

Dad has put out his smart phone to make sense of the sign and provides clarification: “Yes, Darek, this is Portuguese indeed. But only the second part, the explanation. The first bit is Latin. ‘Oliva Europea’ is the Latin name of the olive tree. Wow, now look at this, who’d have thought? The tree in the middle, the big one, it has been carbon dated to at least 1,960 years. Two thousand years old, can you imagine? This tree was here before Columbus set sail for America. Wow!”

His wife cuts in, slightly impatient: “Never mind Columbus, darling, you’ll only end up confusing the boy. What daddy meant to say, Darek, is that this tree witnessed the time of Cesar, when the Romans ruled Europe. Like in your comic book, you know?”

Dad is glad for the search engine once again assisting with dignity preservation. It’s his role to introduce his son to science as he’s perfectly able to perform: “It also says here that there seems to be more to the humble olive tree than the banal appearance suggests. With something called a PCR method they have discovered that the trees undergo subtle genetic changes. Every thirty five years, their metabolism speeds up and a peculiar pattern occurs. This tree being 1,960 years old, the pattern will have happened 56 times. And guess what, it’s on now.”

The boy dutifully looks at the trees once again. Nothing happening. Boring. He longs to get back to their holiday apartment. There is an old computer with a wicked game. You get to kill huge spiders.