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geography

Evert

by George Salis

This planet’s surface is a churning ocean of lava, with tsunamis of melted iron, nickel, and other heavy elements orchestrated by a metallic moon. Scans reveal the ocean floor to be a mantle of silicate stone overlaying a metamorphic and sedimentary crust. Deeper still is a troposphere, ending in the center as an exosphere, a core of light gases that include hydrogen and helium. You determine that this earth is inside-out, with unknowing anthropoids living on the inner surface.

Before the Great Evaporation, in which the oceanic core of the earth was absorbed through the crust as a fine mist, the inhabitants were a subaqueous species, half fish and half human. With the waters reduced to lakes and rivers streaming across the inner surface, millions of the merhumans drowned in air, clutching their throats and puckering their cerulean lips, while the fortunate ones remained submerged in the residual H2O. With the passage of evolutionary time, the aquatic creatures gained terrestrial abilities, discovering a new version of the world formerly lost to them. The nonexistence of light made this self-enclosed system an earth in negative. Thus the inner surface was a fertile soil devoid of flora and explored by eyeless anthropoids. Sensitive hairs as translucent as glass enveloped their bodies and gave them the ability to see by physical sensation. A mere breeze would cause meteorological images to bloom in the brain, a simple touch would manifest an object as three-dimensional in the mind’s eye, and so they were able to charter the whole of their internal domain.

For nearly five thousand years they persisted by consuming protein mud that lined the lakes and rivers, until the first flora appeared, plants and algae that grew through scotosynthesis. The anthropoids then developed agriculture, fertilizing their crops with a potent distillation of darkness, which stimulated development to the point where plump stalks became entangled in the sky with those cultivated on the opposite sides of the earth. Planet tendons capable of feeding hundreds or more, a necessity in a prospering population.

The advent of science in their civilization coincided with the propagation of a plague that wilted most of their crops to ashen husks, the gray flakes swirling in the wind like snow in a globe. Experts of physics, botany, and other fields collaborated in response to the emergency and concluded that the plague must be starved, which would mean the destruction of the anthropoids’ primary food source. Therefore, they invented a plant that, although it would die in the dark, could feed on an eccentric electromagnetic radiation. Theoretical physicists called it “light.” To banish the plague without a doubt, and to ensure worldwide growth of the new plants, they enacted an ambitious plan. Just as their ancestors had forged the foundations of air-breathing through sacrifice and mutation, so would they begin the arduous process of light-seeing. This time, they possessed the aid of science and foresight. They edited DNA so that above the nostril, which was a crescent hole in the hirsute skin, they generated a concave patch of photosensitive cells that took up half of the face and all of the forehead. Furthermore, they deleted the genes that gave rise to the glassy hairs of the body in order to prevent stimuli from competing. When they had bred two generations of smooth anthropoids with nascent eyes, they performed the next step of their plan. The invention of the sun. And so the inner exosphere was set afire and with a radius of ten miles it illuminated all.

The presence of the sun catalyzed the evolution of their sight to where the sensitive patch morphed into a compound eye, glistening with necro-greens and plasmid purples. The synthetically-enhanced beings became the sacred caretakers of the blind, for it was discovered that the transparent hairs of their ancestors were inexplicably linked to the former darkness, and no amount of artificial shade was enough for them to salvage their sight-by-feel. To remedy this injustice, a system of feeding or famishing the fire was developed, so that they could turn the sun on and off at will. After a vote, it was determined that the sun would be on for ten hours then turned off for another ten, ad infinitum. On some occasions, the sun would be off for a week or more, as during the six-month mourning of the assassination of their leader. But this tradition was halted when the elderly eyeless anthropoids failed to return home amid dawn and were later seen scrounging in groups of three or four. Some claimed the more feral traits of the old ones’ personalities, traits still biding in the brains of the eyeful, had usurped control, while others said that a collective degeneration of the brain, due to age or a new disease, had stripped them of their higher faculties. The truth was revealed when a wandering group of seniors was found in a forsaken temple and captured. Between grunts they condemned in shrieking voices the world of unseeable light and used primordial purrs to express their longing for absolute darkness. It was decided that a system of underground homes and tunnels would be dug. Afterward, a farewell parade was held, wherein thousands cheered or wailed with grief as their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents descended into a new realm of soil and perpetual night.

Thereafter, the progress of inner-surface civilization was embodied in the system of communication and transportation connecting ground and sky. Although careful to avoid the sun’s fire, they had installed thick, knotted ropes that muscled messengers climbed to deliver packages and letters to the other sides, flipping at the halfway mark due to the major switch in gravity. Spacious baskets had been tied to the crisscrossing ropes at various intervals for resting or sleeping. Many citizens trained themselves to climb, too, for it was a cheaper way to travel, although dangerous, and usually resulted in fifty or so deaths a year, with some falls suspected to be suicides. Later, the Pigeon Express was established, in which birds were bred for their size until large enough to be mounted. Riders of the Pigeon Express could be seen diving and rising through the air in all directions. Eventually the climbing ropes rotted but were replaced by steel cables as support for a new innovation of travel. That is, massive elevators capable of containing a few hundred people. In these elevators the poor were amassed in claustrophobic seclusion from the rich, who relished in the pleasures of a movable mansion. Except for the near sideswipe of two elevators, the only tragedy that occurred was when an elevator rose to the halfway point and then fell up, brakes broken, crashing into the terrestrial sky of their destination, killing everyone on impact. Shortly after they invented a network of pneumatic tubes that could deliver people back and forth in a matter of seconds, a universal debate began to take shape, concerning, not the center of their world, but the outside of it, the beyond.

Due to their location, they knew nothing of outer space. The earth was their sky, trees and lakes and rivers their constellations. Geologists were the equivalent of astronomers. But when a study of seismic waves revealed an odd hollowness of indeterminable size beyond the density of the ground around them, theories arose. Most thought the universe was made of dirt, the omnipresent terra, and that the emptiness was due to the existence of other worlds, other spheres, possibly much larger or smaller than theirs, perhaps harboring alien life. The alternative claim was that the hollowness was a deceptive echo from the orbicular walls of an impervious crust, a cosmic depth limit calculated at 299,792,458 meters. Only a few scientists conjectured that the universe was mostly empty space, with soil as the exception.

In response to a proposed drilling project that would answer their insatiable questions, an old man and his disciples began to build a gargantuan ark in preparation for what he called the Great Inundation. He professed that to puncture so deeply into the skin of the great god Lutum would send forth floods of His bleeding wrath. Overall, opposition was in the minority and the drilling began, implementing a colossal vehicle with a bulky corkscrew mouth that was capable of ingesting dirt in great quantities and expelling it as an ultra-fine powder from a hole in the rear. It took only a couple miles for the drill to open up a subterranean metropolis populated by a humanoid species with centipede legs, thousands of them crawling across pillared buildings. Nothing of them was familiar but their eyeless heads, which reminded the inner surface population of tall tales their great-grandparents told them regarding relatives that lived underground and masticated clumps of darkness. Scientists began to study them but their underground realm was not the source of the detected cavity, the mysterious emptiness, and so they continued to drill much deeper. Increasing heat registered by instruments installed within the drill was interpreted differently: as the theorized spheres of other civilizations, glowing with the energies of industry; as globular crucibles of perpetual light, suns for the taking; or as an overheating of the drill itself, a misleading malfunction. Thus they drilled deeper and deeper until they fissured the surface of their inside-out earth, draining the lava ocean. “It’s the destined hemorrhage of the great god Lutum, His livid blood,” cried the old man as he stood on the deck of his ark and embraced the viscous rush of the blinding red ichor.

With time, the molten center of this earth will be pressurized into solid nickel and iron, preceded by a liquid outer core and a mantle, while the drained surface will flourish with flora and fauna in the presence of atmosphere-accumulated water, until an inversion of gravity will cause the boundaries between layers to become porous – and the process repeats.

~

Bio:

George Salis is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below. After almost a decade, he has nearly finished his second novel, Morpholocal Echoes. He’s the winner of the Tom La Farge Award for Innovative Writing. He’s also the editor of The Collidescope, an online publication that celebrates innovative and neglected literature. His website is www.GeorgeSalis.com.

Yesterearth’s Morrow

by Ádám Gerencsér

Singapore Straits Times – 1st July 1947

Readers with any interest in current affairs will scarcely need reminding that today is the first anniversary of the appearance of those strange phenomena that marked the gradual unravelling of time as a constant and steadfast quantity, the steady progression of which all previous generations could rely on so safely as to take it for granted. This view is now considered obsolete, and rightly so, but it bears repeating how nigh impossible that would have seemed just over a year ago. Over the course of the past twelve months, thanks to the rapid advances of modern science and skilful observations made by vessels of the Royal Navy, we have gained a better understanding of the new role that the International Date Line has come to play.

I have taken the liberty to compose this recollection and offer it to our esteemed editor on account of my rather immediate proximity to the longitude in question. Not only as correspondent of the Straits Times in the Crown Colony of Fiji, documenting both momentous and provincial events as they unfold, but also as a simple resident who experiences daily the disturbing effects that still have the ability to startle as much as they did at their initial onset.

It started on the 1st of July 1946 (or the 30th of June, depending on one’s whereabouts) east of the Marshall Islands and gradually spread north and south thereof, fanning out like elongated ripples along the date meridian. Within a brief period that could not have taken more than a week, or two at the most, we found ourselves confronted with a novel and hitherto unimaginable reality: anyone crossing the international date line roughly along the 180° longitude eastwards no longer cuts across a mere imaginary division, but finds himself an additional day further in the past, or rather, on a past incarnation of the Earth that is now independent of the present. The traveller may than engage in any form of interaction with the inhabitants of that past world, a Yesterearth so to speak, without perturbing in any way the future time he had left behind. After interfering with the events on the other side of the date line, one may return to the present by simply retracing his journey and realise that nothing has changed on account of their actions, other than the fact that time has moved on during their absence. On their subsequent visit to the world of two days past, however, they will notice that their interlocutors remember them well enough and any seeds of future consequence they had planted there have come to fruition.

A world map based on Mercator’s projection distorts the proportions of the surface areas of the continents, by making landmasses at extreme southerly and northerly latitudes, such as Antarctica or Greenland, appear much larger than their actual size would merit compared, for instance, with Africa. So, when we wish to achieve a more proportional representation, we divide the map into equidistant segments that are thicker towards the Equator and thinner at the poles, as if peeling the skin off an orange, and lay it out flat. Our hypothetical map now stretches from Alaska in the West to Siberia in the East, and we know that, just as the gaps between segments of the Earth’s ‘skin’ are imaginary, the edge of the map is no true boundary, but in fact loops around and connects to the opposite end. Thus, in the world as we had known it until 1946, it was not possible to stray off the map of the globe, since a resolute straight line would take one around in circles, returning to the self-same point with each circumnavigation.

That, alas, is no longer the case. Beyond the eastern margin of our map lies the western edge of someone else’s. Of course, in a manner of speaking, our world is still round, and we may be so bold as to argue with some conviction that our present time is unique and one of a kind. For it has become evidently clear that while ships and aeroplanes making their way over the surface of all preceding Earths may travel both backwards by crossing the dateline eastwards and also forward in our direction by traversing the same line due west, the same is not true for vessels in our time. We can regress by two days on the passage from Suva to Samoa, but we may not proceed into our future, as it were, giving us the impression that we stand at the pinnacle of time’s arrow. That is to say, the future is not yet existent, or certainly not accessible, until we unlock it day by day as we stride forward in tune with our calendars.

Being first among equals (and some in the colonial administration would indeed dispute even that proposition), our position brings great opportunities, but also imposes significant responsibility upon our statesmen. The lives of nations and empires now unfold in an entirely separate manner on all contiguous Earths, and the next general election back in the British Isles, to be held in 1950, might yield wildly different results in our continuity compared to the Earth of the day before yesterday. It is therefore eminently possible that the cabinet of our Empire might find itself at loggerheads with the British government elected in our immediate temporal neighbourhood. In fact, His Majesty of today might disagree with policies that are received approvingly by His Majesty of two days ago. The fact is that the political realities of life in the Dominion will inevitably develop very differently across every successive Earth each two further days down the line.

Your correspondent here admits to having made an involuntary, yet naïve attempt at bridging the date meridian and exploring some of the strangeness of the most immediate past just east of his stationment. In the spring I had received a telegraph dispatched by my former self from the world of two days ago. It had been transmitted to Samoa, which by itself was no mean feat, as communications across the Pacific have become impossible lest one was interested in sending messages across time. Telegraphs and mail to one’s contemporaries from an island west of the date line to another speck of dry land just east thereof have to ferry westwards around the entire globe, rendering a journey that formerly took less than a day into a voyage of Magellanic proportions. It is therefore incomparably easier to reach the French Polynesia of the day before than that of today. Laborious as it may be, the telegraph drafted by the man who is my equivalent in the neighbouring past was delivered by the post boat that makes the weekly crossing from Samoa. Without indulging in the tedious details of our exchange, which was hampered by delays caused by both dimensions of time and space, suffice it to say that our correspondence was short-lived and we finally agreed never to meet in person, but to live out our respective lives to the best of our conscience and abilities.

Not all contact is, however, this consensual. One hears all kinds of anecdote around the archipelago and beyond: of people trying to find their near-contemporary selves and bring them back voluntarily or otherwise to share their work or exchange places with them, of investors travelling back and forth with the intention of effecting parallel financial transactions and reaping the same profits several times, or of bereaved families striving to find their loved ones killed in accidents on a previous Earth where the same accident has not yet occurred and might never happen. The world market in commodities and resources has become confusing and at times almost untenable, and prices across near-past worlds may fluctuate in an unsustainable manner due to a potentially inexhaustible supply of material from across the datelines, while for the same reason scarcity may beset another globe. It is not unthinkable that in the future, some catastrophe or another great war could send millions of refugees fleeing to the next available future or past Earth.

On an encouraging note, one must not forget that there are those enterprising spirits who see Yesterearth’s developments as the opening of a new, endless horizon, the gateway to the exploration of the past – and not just one, but countless possible pasts. As far as we can ascertain, endeavours to traverse a long succession of datelines near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where distances are smaller but travel is unhindered by excessively cold climate, are limited only by the durability of the mode of transportation, the ability to procure fuel and, ultimately, by the life span of the traveller. We can only hope that our relative advantage of chronological primacy shields us from the worst excesses of the chaotic insecurity that must eventually arise on Earths further in the past, which are flanked on both sides by another world each two days ahead or behind them. Although news of full scale inter-temporal war have yet to be reported from anywhere, it is not inconceivable that one day the menacing powers of barbaric despotism and fascist banditry, which the valiant Allies so gallantly fought to defeat in this our last Great War, rear their ugly heads from the depths of the past and gather enough tenacity to conquer hundreds of planets up the chain to the present day, growing in strength and ferocity with each new acquisition. Should that day come, we do hope that our past compatriots would send warnings across the dateline well in advance, fully trusting in the brotherhood of free nations holding together steadfast even across several zones of time. And rest assured that the Royal Navy would be first to do its duty in the defence of Singapore, Malaya and the Crown Colonies dispersed throughout the East – whether in our time or that of Yesterearth. For we will surely not hesitate to deliver a pre-emptive strike across the meridian, for King and country, should a menace arise from the Pacific of a bygone day!

~