“Angrom Terra Incognitus” – Eulogy of a High Civilisation
Something a bit different this time. I wrote this short piece of prose a month back for my friend Nick to read out at a spoken word event. The theme was all to do with the environment and conservation, so I put a bit of a twist on it. I heard the feedback was positive – helped largely due to his vocal prowess no doubt – and so, in the spirit of bringing out new blog content, here it is. Hope you enjoy it!
I look at you, staring absently into the horizon. I nudge you gently in the ribs. It’s enough of a jab to break you out of your dreams.
“Come, hunting time approaches. Have your wits about you.” I toss you a crudely carved spear into your hands. You’re a bit wet behind the ears but I’ve told you this on more than one occasion. I slowly edge forwards, hidden by the debris, my scent overpowered by the burning metal. I don’t need to beckon you to follow, at least: that much you are capable of.
“What do we hunt today?” I hear you ask behind me. You’ve actually asked me this a hundred times. And the answer is always the same.
“We’ll be lucky if we get a rodent that isn’t irradiated but beyond that, I’ve very little clue.”
I grunt uneasily in my crouching position. You’re really asking me if we’ll find some quality game meat or some delectable vegetables. I shake my head to myself. I’m not sure where you get these odd fantasies.
“You have much more than hunting on your mind, friend. Perhaps we should leave it until later. It’s suicide if you haven’t got your focus about you.
We retrace our steps through the debris, finally settling on making our temporary camp inside some wreckage. What it was before, I have no idea. Perhaps it was once one of these flying machines, which used to allow the old ones of our kind to journey high into the skies.
We sit down wherever we can find a suitable space; one free of protruding metal parts. We stretch our weary legs.
“Tell what is on your mind” I gaze at you, a gruff look carved onto my face
“My dreams…” you slowly look up at me. The expression on your face is pathetically innocent and pained. I should’ve expected this to crop up again.
“You mean the dreams of the time before this?”
“Yes…” you shift uncomfortable in your seat.
“And what is it you see?” I’ve asked you this before but something feels different this time around.
“Green…lots of green. And other colours. And people…like us, but not the ones we encounter. Not ones with deformed limbs or melted skin.”
This piques my interest. I’ve shared some of my own dreams with you when I first met you, but very little. This land has its way of sowing mistrust, although you are different. You trusted me from the day you met me, which still confuses me to this day.
“I’ve been piecing these together with the sparse texts we’ve found in our travels.”
“The From Before Scriptures, you mean?” my hand cups the side of my face, my usual thinking position. The From Before Scriptures are texts which you and I recover when we find them, trying to piece together the knowledge of the Before Time. I ask you to tell me more about your dreams.
“Wherever I am…it is beautiful. I know it is the Before Time, I can sense it. I am flying above and below this strange but exotic world. Towering brown structures with a burst of green adorning the top. The From Before Scriptures call these ‘trees’. A host of creatures make their homes on them. Many circle up above with feathery wings and razor sharp beaks…so colourful and majestic. Some that I saw on the trees themselves were so little that I expect you would need Strong Glass to see them properly”
I nod, eagerly listening to your vivid tales. We found some Strong Glass once. I remember marvelling at the detail I saw the world: everything, so much closer and more defined.
“And the grounds below are teeming with life as well. I see many strange furry rodents scuttling in and around ground-trees, though there is only soft green and no hard brown that makes them up. Looking up at parts of the tree, furry-men play.”
“Yes, yes,” you clap your hands excitedly, “they remind me so much of us, minus the effects of the radiation. But they are smaller and have a third wavy leg much lower down their back”
This makes me raise an eyebrow.
“And beyond that, I see many places with less green to it but more grey. Metallic structures and those of brick, some towering quite high. Many Before People live here, I see them walking around, in some cities hurrying past each other. Some wear interesting garments…I believe the scriptures referred to them as suits. But there are many different types of garments these people wear. What I found really peculiar is that many sit in metallic structures, with 2 round parts made of some rubbery material at either end. Smoke billows from these machines. They often sit in groups, and these structures carry them around. Some of the debris I see around us often reminds me of them. As odd as this all is, it is truly a spectacle…”
You check to see if I’m still listening. I am, more than I have ever listened to your dreaming babble before. Because this is not babble.
“Do you ever wonder how our planet turned into this from that?” you ask me, unsure of whether I will even answer.
“Oh, I…” I cut you off by opening my mouth again.
“No, I believe that I know how it came to be. In my dreams.”
Normally, hearing about my dreams excites you. But not today. There is something else about you today.
“Will you share it with me?”
I nod and hesitantly start describing my dream, with my own supplemented knowledge from the scriptures.
“The Before Time…you must understand that they had complex and frankly odd ways of governance. Many Before People conducted rituals that they called ‘elections’, where they chose a series of people to make big decisions for them. I struggle to understand it both from my dreams and the scriptures. The Before People also used something they called ‘muh-nee’”
“Mo…ney…?” you say the word differently to how I thought it would be said.
“Yes, pieces of paper or metal they exchanged for goods, like food, and services. It seemed that the Before People almost worshipped this ‘muh-nee’”
You snort. “They did not hunt? Not that I am a great huntsman myself but how else could they survive?”
“By using machines and many Before Labourers to produce large amounts of food. Only, as the scriptures go on to detail, this food was never given out evenly. Most of the food often went to the regions with the most ‘muh-nee’ ”
“Savages. Barbarians. We give our hunt to any we encounter, especially if they are less well fed than us” I can see that you’re troubled but there is little good that can come out of blind rage directed towards the Before People.
“But interestingly, in my dreams, I see certain Before People noting how the elements were changing. Perhaps these were the shaman of the Before People: wise and intellectual individuals who studied the world around them in more depth than other Before People. “
“So the Before People knew? They knew the elements were changing?” you look shocked.
I shift about in my seat. I can never sit still for too long.
“The shaman amongst them gathered much information about the way the elements were changing. I saw this in my dreams and inferred it when reading the From Before scriptures. But the shaman faced a colossal challenge. There were many who fought them – denied their evidence – and even more who did not care. In my dreams, they looked as though their heads were buried in sand…as if that would make it all better”
“But why? Why would they ignore the wisdom of the shaman?”
“We can only guess. Perhaps they knew that they were responsible for the changing elements and could not handle the guilt, instead choosing ignorance and inaction. The scriptures go off on many tangents. I speculate that they distracted themselves from the real problems by imagined ones.”
I nod wearily. “One particular scripture comes from an island tribal region called ‘Briht-ayn’. The Briht-ayn tribe’s governance, their elected elders, seemed volatile to say the least. At one point, they had both a Chief AND a Sub-Chief in governance at once.
Your jaw drops.
“A Sub-Chief! I’d imagine he had to be little more than a mere puppet”
“Indeed. But this scripture goes onto say that the Briht-ayns once had a very large debate amongst the elders, in the midst of the shaman attempting to convey the seriousness of the changing elements. It lasted a long while between the elders and much was written of it to inform the rest of the tribal populace, though these records are lost.”
“And what did they debate about? How to survive the changing elements, surely?”
I laugh, perhaps a bit too awkwardly. “No, not quite. It was about whether one male was allowed to engage in formal relations with another… as a lifemate under a ritual known as ‘mayr-age’”
“WHAT?!” you nearly fall off your makeshift seat, “that is barbaric! ….you mean to say that an entire tribal region debated about this when the elements raged around them?!”
“Yes, and it gets worse. In one of the most powerful tribal regions, a prolonged debate centred on metal weapons of which only came death. This tribe grew accustomed to these weapons despite a worrying number of tribe members using them to inflict devastation across the tribal populace.
“Primitive fools! To turn on another tribe is bad enough. But to turn on one’s own tribe? They would not find peace anywhere”
“Yes, quite,” I flex my arms to provide some distraction to this macabre tale, “but that is what the shaman were up against. They protested and protested…until…”
I cannot carry on. Thankfully, you intervene.
“Yes, I have had the dream. The elements grow ever more out of control. The Before People had abused the Earth Fuels for much too long. The trees I saw standing majestically now fell in their masses. Mild heat turned to sweltering infernos in some regions, as did cold breezes turned into raging blizzards. The land…it could not handle such mistreatment. The shaman had lost and the Before People gradually faded away. It is said that they harnessed something called ‘new-kleeuhr power’. They did this using giant towers and metal structures”
I cough into a curled fist, splattering a red-green substance onto it. “I expect that is the reason for the radiation now. The scriptures note that this energy was very volatile…powerful but dangerous. And I have dreamt that one tribal region uses this energy to nearly destroy another.”
You stand up and yell: “You mean the Before People KNOWINGLY used this energy ON PURPOSE against each other?”
“The shaman never had a chance against the Before People’s tendency to their own self-destruction, did they?”
“Perhaps not. But the Before People had many chances to adapt their ways to the changing elements, perhaps even to quell them enough to survive…”
You finish my sentence for me: “But they did not. They focused on trivial issues of male interactions, death sticks…even starved needy tribes to feed ones already sated. How could they expect that they could ever survive? How?” You leave the question hanging in the air.
Finally, you speak: “Do you think there are other planets out there that have met the same fate?” you seem to be shaking. More than when I asked you to hunt an irradiated beast for the first time with nothing but a dull rock.
“I hope not…as bitter as I am, I’d wish this fate for no peoples.” I chew
“Or…worse…do you think there are planets that are doomed to this fate?”
I let loose a howling cackle. You look at me, puzzled at this outburst.
“More are the fools who let themselves be the harbingers of their own destruction, like our Before People. Look around you! Fallen empires and civilisations everywhere…remnants of ages past. And what do we have to hope for but dreams that taunt us? We will soon pass to the earth and perhaps we will be the last ever descendants of the Before People. But, I ask you, friend, who would knowingly wish this upon themselves?”
You are silent. Finally, you speak again.
“I hope there are not others out there, in the Dark Beyond, who will share our same fate” you are fond of staring wistfully at the Dark Beyond: the shining lights there, ‘stars’, they entrance you.
“If there are those who are on their way to the same fate as the Before People, then I simply say this to them: heed your shaman, for they seek knowledge for the sake of survival and prosperity. Cease your petty bickering. Elect elders who are characterised by inaction and caring for their own elevated statuses. But do this soon. Heed the elements and do not deny your responsibility for changing them.”
For a moment, I almost think there is someone else listening apart from you. But that moment is fleeting, lost before I can even truly acknowledge it.
We sit in silence for a long time. Then, you ask me an interesting question: “What was that last line you read in the last From Before scripture which made you laugh so much?” you ask me, hesitantly.
My smile is wide and open mouthed, but devoid of humour. My teeth are crooked and rotten. They were like this yesterday and they will be like this tomorrow.
I answer you slowly: “A Before Person’s writing. Near the End Days of the Before Time. Much of it was scrawled and undecipherable. The part I could make out said simply this:
“We spent all of our lives fearing Hell, so much that we did not realise we were well on our way to creating it.”