Deep in the Horseshoe Nebula, there were two more or less livable planets circling a Class G star called Rednod 5. These planets were typically referred to as Rednod 5-A and Rednod 5-B. 5-A was a desert planet with only one sizeable ocean. 5-B’s surface rippled with the glinting waves of its enormous, planetary sea. Even from seventy thousand light years away, it was easy to tell them apart.
In the course of its three billion year existence, 5-A had developed some relatively intelligent life, the Klunods. The Klunods weren’t particularly competent—they hadn’t attempted space flight and their experiments with nuclear energy all ended catastrophically—but on the other hand they were a relatively peaceful race. When they fought, it was usually just over females and their wars tended to be over within a couple of weeks. Once peace returned, the Klunods re-committed themselves to the drudgery of work in the day and composing free verse poetry at night. Some of the poems were actually quite good, if a bit florid.
Life on 5-B was quite different. The Blovats, who were amphibious, lived on the one relatively small continent in the middle of the planet’s global ocean. This island teemed with all sorts of life—Furmers, Buglemouthed Gits, Giant Poisonous Shrims, and so on. But even among all the vernal weirdness of the island, the Blovats stood out with their long blue tentacles, fishlike heads and monumental egos.
The Blovats were a precocious species. They’d brought everything worth ruling on 5-B to heel in relatively short order. For example, they had zoos and kelp farms and computers and derivative markets and an extensive cosmetics industry. Their favorite form of performance art involved polychromatic skin displays, where Blovat artists manipulated their natural camouflaging mechanisms to spectacular, almost pyrotechnic effect. In some of the larger cities, there was a skin performer on virtually every street corner.
Ultimately, the Blovats learned of the Klunods, and here is how it happened: Blovat scientists created a powerful telescope and aimed it toward their sister planet. Through this lens, the Blovats watched as the endless plains of 5-A rippled with windblown mossballs and stoic Klunod cowboys wrangled herds of triangular flooglits and Klunod businessmen commuted from their low-slung pyramidal houses in the suburbs to their low-slung pyramidal offices in the cities.
The Blovats thought the Klunods’ existence to be rustic and somewhat pointless. However, once they’d learned of the Klunods, the newly-discovered species became a sort of planet-wide obsession. Virtually every front page of virtually every waxy Blovat
newspaper contained at least one story concerning the Klunods. The Blovats were especially fond of comparing Klunod society unfavorably with their own. Blovat articles often concerned subjects such as Klunod governmental dysfunction, Klunod wastefulness and profligacy and the Klunod practice of culling their litters with rubber mallets.
After a while, the Blovat polity became divided in two factions. The first group wanted to visit 5-A in the name of science. Another group, now bored with Klunods, adopted the slogan, “Really, I’m Just Not That Interested.” These two
Blovat factions and their elected representatives clashed for a while. Ultimately, they reached a compromise: Instead of building a dozen giant space ships capable of taking twenty Blovats to 5-A and bringing forty Klunods back to 5-B, the Blovats built a single robotic space pod, which they loaded with recorded messages concerning the origins of the cosmos and the virtues of free capital markets. They also threw in a few choice videos of their polychromatic skin displays. Then they launched it into space.
Now, 5-A had no flying life aside from winged, tick-like parasites called orsurgrumblers. Consequently, in the cosmology of the Klunods, the sky was menacing and inhospitable. It held no gods. Instead, the Klunods believed that beyond the clouds there was an endless void filled with the wailing souls of the slothful. (They had a corresponding belief that Paradise was at the center of 5-A, where dutiful souls lived out an eternal, languorous retirement.) So, when the Blovats’ robotic spaceship burst through 5-A’s atmosphere in a ball of flames, the Klunods fell into a blind panic. Those closest to the landing site actually squirmed all over each other to get away, giving off a big blast of their defensive goo. The whole place became a slippery mess.
Many of the Blovats pretended to be horrified by what they’d done. Maybe they hadn’t thought things through as thoroughly as they could have, they said. Perhaps they could have foreseen the Klunods’ unsophisticated reaction to the space ship. Perhaps, being the technologically superior species, they should have introduced the Klunods to the idea of alien life more gently, over time. But the truth was that, deep down, the Blovats found the sight of the Klunods oozing all over each other to be pretty amusing. They really couldn’t help but secretly laugh. Honestly, how could they blame themselves for frightening the Klunods with something as simple as a robot droid filled with a message of technological progress and enlightenment?
For their part, the Klunods might not have been the brightest species in the universe, but they were nothing if not resilient. So, a couple of days after the probe arrived, the Klunod leaders—a deliberative body called the Dunglebuss which met in a huge, transparent petri-dish-like building—made a plan. Or rather they made two plans. First, they ordered the construction of the largest magnifying glass in Klunod history, some thirty gnobinks across, in order to peer into the sky and see what else was out there. And second, they covertly sent a team of Klunod commandoes to sneak up on the Blovat droid and destroy it.
The Klunod special forces attacked the probe with their favorite weapon, which looked like a spatula but shot out a moderately powerful electrical jolt. These commandoes swarmed the droid, hacking off its tentacles with their spatulas until finally one of them accidentally whacked off the antenna, rendering the whole droid lifeless. Then a Klunod mob fell on the defenseless robot and tore it to scrap. All the bits and pieces were taken home as souvenirs.
Imagine the Blovats’ surprise when, looking through their giant telescopes, they saw their gift of cosmogonical knowledge and mercantilism ripped to shreds. They were flabbergasted. Appalled. More than ever, they considered the Klunods to be an inferior and, dare they say it, intellectually stunted species. So they spent roughly 1.5 Earth years talking this over and debating the best way to proceed.
Meanwhile, when the Klunods had finished their primitive magnifier, they positioned it on a mountain top and gathered around it, looking into the sky. For the first time, they saw another planet there. Not just another planet, but a sister planet, orbiting the same star. At the equator, there was a single large, green island. It looked like a pupil in the middle of the blue-green eyeball staring back at them. And on that island they saw the fishlike Blovats with their rubbery appendages and environmentally friendly cities loaded with bicycle paths and wind farms. They were sickened by the sight of it.
This provoked a time of great uncertainty in the Rednodian system. The Klunods became rather nihilistic. They were acutely aware of how far they trailed the Blovats, technologically speaking. It seemed to them that at any minute the evil fish from the enemy water-planet might attack and destroy 5-A, or conquer its populace, or kill off all the males and enslave the females for sex (this last possibility being the most common and widely-discussed speculation). So the Klunods poured all of their energy and national treasure into developing more powerful telescopes and interplanetary weapons.
But eventually 5-A and 5-B, which orbited Rednod 5 at different speeds, moved to opposite sides of the star. They remained in opposition for nearly .7 Earth years.
During this interlude, the Blovats once again argued about what they should do in response to “the 5-A problem”. One Blovat faction wanted to build a super weapon to sterilize 5-A down to the last atom, while the other wanted to send a second, less-threatening probe droid bearing a message of neutrality and separate-but-equalism. Then again, there was a tiny but vocal third party of Blovats who said, “Why do we even care about this? Those blobs of mucus don’t even have television.” This third party spent most of its time mocking the other two parties with performance art.
Neither were the Klunods idle. They applied all their inherent industry with single-minded dedication. By the time the two planets came back into view of one another, the Klunods had built something that looked like a giant, purple, cement volcano. It was more than 3,000 gnobinks tall with a large, round hole at the top. Clearly, it was some form of weapon. Blovat scientists estimated the Klunod cannon might be able to launch a projectile into space, perhaps something large enough to reach 5-B and destroy all life there.
Now it was the Blovats’ turn to collectively squirm and defecate on themselves. They began nervously watching the skies for signs the Klunods had fired their space cannon. At the same time, they rounded up several thousand of the most infamous Blovat political satirists and grilled them alive for their sedition. A military council was convened and it concluded that the Blovats really had no choice but to destroy the dangerous and unstable Klunods lock, stock and barrel. And it just so happened that they’d secretly developed a biological super-weapon just in case something like this happened.
The planets slowly drew closer and closer to one another. The optimal time for the Klunods to use their cannon—because of the confluence of their orbits and certain gravitational effects—was approaching. It might be in as little as a week. The Klunods seemed to be readying for this; they’d built a railway to the cannon and the cars that rode the rails disappeared fully-laden into one side of the mountain and emerged from the other side, empty.
The same was true of the Blovats. If they meant to launch their bioweapon, the time was drawing near, though their superior technology gave them a bit more leeway. They could afford to wait, but not much. They counted down the days.
Neither the Blovats nor the Klunods were even aware of the existence of Space Fungus. The fungus—which had previously knocked off entire galaxies—came into the Rednod system undetected. The granular spores traveled in clouds. To a distant observer, they looked like nothing more than flecks of interplanetary dust. Most simply floated in the vacuum of space for all eternity. But some few of them happened across the orbits of 5-A and 5-B, almost at the same time. When the fungal spores hit the planets’ respective atmospheres, they made a pleasant light show and then flitted down all over the planetary surfaces like snow. There, they infected every living thing on 5-A and 5-B—the furmers, the tods, the flooglits, the shrims—with Space Fungus of the Brain. Gradually, the fungus took over the bodies of the Klunods and the Blovats alike, using their grey matter for food and reproduction.
Because of the distance involved and the speed of light, the photons and EM waves containing the information about the apocalypse around Rednod 5 took almost 70,000 years to reach Earth. That is, the Klunods and the Blovats were already dead and had long been so when humans first learned of their existences. But the Hubble XCIII Deep Space Array got pretty good images of the final chaos on the planets and also caught the very last bit of the Blovats’ doomed broadcast news. So human scientists were able to observe 5-A and 5-B as the cloud of fungal spores approached, and then watch as all the Blovats and Klunods looked skyward, took in the light show, and then lay down on the ground, curling up in balls. They twitched spastically for awhile, then little white mushrooms grew out their ears and nostrils.
However, it seemed pointless to the Earthlings to pine over something that had happened so long ago, so far away, especially since it did not involve quick weight loss, firmer erections or multi-level marketing. To them, it was almost as though the events around Rednod 5 had never really happened. They were just a fiction. And so the humans refocused their space instruments on other, more interesting planets, never once suspecting that they too were under distant observation.
Tags: Anthony Spaeth