A story dictated by Mus musculus

FICTION

In cat mythology, white mice were the second most intelligent species on Earth, after cats. Then it was dolphins, humans, dogs and everyone else. While infinite monkeys and apes developed tools, it was only humans who could be trained to use their opposable thumbs to write stories…

Mouse Ear

SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE ANIMALS

The original carvings were found deep in a forest, but debate varied over which were the first. In the space of a week, new inscriptions were discovered several times daily, all in woodland, all identical, but unlike anything recorded previously. Meanwhile, two school friends had uncovered what could be a key.

β€œHow does it switch on, Jay?” Kerry stared at herself, next to Jason, as they both looked back from the black glass-like sheet.

β€œI don’t know, Kay,” Jay replied, as he looked back at Kerry. β€œIt’s nothing obvious that I’m missing, is it?” He handed the pane of glass to her. About A4 in size, the glass was no thicker than a sheet of paper. β€œWhat’s it made of, anyway?”

β€œWell,” Kay said, moving it in and out from her face, β€œit’s got imperfections.”

β€œWhat, your face?”

β€œFuck you, wanker. No, I mean, the glass, or whatever it is, it’s not completely smooth. It’s like something from a dark and twisted hall of mirrors. See what I mean?” She handed the mirror back, and Jay looked at himself as he moved it in front of him. β€œEveryone’s ugly in the back of a spoon.”

Jay turned the sheet over in his hands. β€œI look the same on both sides,” he said to their reflections, β€œbumpy. In fact, I’d say I’m quite corrugated.”

β€œWell,” said Kay, β€œyour forehead often is.”

β€œEh?”

β€œYou frown a lot.”

Jay frowned at the glass sheet. β€œWell,” he said, β€œno matter how much I wish it to switch on, it won’t. There are no buttons, so there must be some other way.”

β€œYou actually think it’ll switch on? Jay, it’s just a sheet of some old material.”

β€œI know,” Jay replied, β€œbut it’s this weird stuff, and where we found it. It’s got me wondering.”

β€œWe found it buried in the woods, Jay. Lots of things are buried in woodland, and time and the elements change things. This could just be a part of something plastic, and the material has been melted, or eroded.”

β€œBut it was wrapped up. And it was near those tree carvings, like the ones on the news.”

Tree and stone carvings had been cropping up spontaneously in the previous few days. At first, pranksters were suspected, but it had become too elaborate. Now, the same conspiracy community which once surrounded crop circles had been stirred, and the internet was an ocean of theories.

The carvings weren’t any recognisable text, nor were they pictographs which gave any clues to their origin or meaning. They incorporated geometric shapes and patterns, like crop formations, but appeared on tree bark and rocks. Jay and Kay found the glassy sheet when they’d been metal detecting, and at first, the haul was just a soda can and some tin foil, but the foil was wrapped around the slate.

β€œAny theories on the news?” Kay wondered.

β€œOnly one,” Jay said, β€œa really out-there one.”

β€œTry me.”

β€œImagine we’re in biblical times.”

β€œYou wha’?”

β€œTwo thousand years ago, give or take: Imagine we’re there, or then, if you like.”

β€œOkay.”

β€œOkay.” Jay adjusted himself in his chair. β€œYou know I don’t believe in God, right? But no-one can deny that the bible might be based on fact, on actual events. Ancient scribes may have recorded actual historical events, but they’d have been limited in the terms they used and what was available to them, in the way they recorded things.”

β€œYeah,” Kay said, β€œyou’ve said. Imagine if you could’ve given one of those old guys a smartphone. They could’ve recorded it all and we’d be able to see what they saw. It’d solve the whole religion problem.”

β€œWell, yeah,” Jay agreed, β€œand if you gave them say, a mobile phone, or a tablet computer, they’d probably think it was some sort of sorcery, or it could be alien technology. And they’d probably write of it as some sort of magic mirror.”

β€œAnd that’s what you think this is?”

β€œIt could be,” Jay tried to assert. β€œIt just won’t switch on. If it’s what I think it could be, it’s either extinct through pure neglect or technology. Or it could be a technology so far advanced, that we just don’t understand it.” He held the slate to his face again. β€œHmm, never noticed that before,” he frowned.

β€œShow me?” Kay moved next to Jay, and looked at them both in the glassy surface, frowning. β€œWhat didn’t you notice?”

β€œThe way one of my eyes seems to take just a split fraction of a second to catch up. Only that one, the left one, watch.” Jay looked at Kay’s reflection.

β€œYou’re right, it does,” she said. β€œYou’ve got a lazy eye mate.”

β€œI think it’s pretty cool actually,” Jay said, looking from himself, to Kay, and back again. β€œIt’s like that one is taking things in more, while the other one concentrates ahead. Then the left one catches up and tells my brain all the other stuff it needs to know.”

β€œThat is pretty cool,” Kay said, β€œyou freak.”

Then something slightly unexpected, but entirely plausible happened: The slate crackled and sparked, first an arc of blue lightning, and the sparkle of a glitter dome. Then a graphic appeared on what had become a screen.

β€œThat looks familiar,” Kay said.

β€œKind of what I expected,” Jay replied. β€œLet’s see what the latest news is…”

The latest developments were trending, in news and on social media: Analysis of the designs found on trees and rocks, had revealed them to be neither carved nor burned into any surface.

β€œYour theory?” Kay wondered.

β€œThat,” Jay said, β€œthe carvings weren’t made from the outside, at least not by any method we understand.”

β€œMeaning how many things?”

β€œTwo, equally crazy ones.”

β€œHumour me, agent Jay.”

β€œOkay, Kay. One: It could be that the marks were made by technology we don’t understand, which would suggest alien, either extraterrestrial or of this earth, as in, government. But we can discount the latter. They wouldn’t put on any show, other than to whip up hysteria, perhaps as a smokescreen. I dunno. So, aliens: aliens among us? Or visiting ones, leaving us messages, meaning what? Or,” Jay looked at the design on the tablet. β€œOr it could be, that the ones which look like this on the trees and the rocks… That’s theory two.”

β€œWhich is?”

β€œThat the carvings, inscriptions, or whatever; the words, pictures, designs; they could be made from the inside.”

β€œHow?”

β€œNature. I don’t mean colonies of insects, parasites or fungi. These are carvings on the outside, with no signs of being carved. So the opposite of that, is that they were pulled in from the inside.”

β€œWhat the actual?”

β€œNature made them.”

β€œYou already said that.”

β€œThe earth made them, Kay.”

β€œThe wha’? The actual planet. Planet earth, put the messages there?”

β€œIt’s a bit like self-harm, isn’t it? So what this could be, Kay, is messages in the earth, the trees, the rocks, from the earth, where they’re all a part of the nature of that planet.”

β€œSaying what? Jay?”

β€œI don’t know. Maybe telling us to fuck off.”

β€œUs?”

β€œHumans.”

β€œShit.”

β€œWe are. We’re so un-evolved, when you look at us, and all we could be, with all that’s around us. We’re ugly. Those ancient aliens who may or may not have made up the stories in the bible, they were probably a race so technologically advanced because they’d harnessed the natural, sustainable energy from their environment, rather than plundering it of all its resources for their own gain. I mean, we’re only just developing wind, solar and tidal energy technology. We’re having to, because we’re running out of coal and oil. But still, perpetual energy sources only serve a small proportion of our needs. And we use less than one per cent of the energy available for free on this planet.

β€œThose technologically advanced races, who may or may not have visited biblical humans, they were ones who’d become efficient through sufficiency. There are races out there who might have harnessed the natural energy of their parent star, with something like a Dyson Sphere. Look it up.”

β€œI know what a Dyson sphere is, and I can only begin to imagine what a race might be capable of, once they’ve effectively captured all the energy of their sun with solar arrays. Actually, I can’t begin to imagine the possibilities.”

β€œWhich is exactly,” Jay said, β€œwhat those biblical scribes would have found.”

β€œYour number two theory definitely has legs,” Kay confirmed. β€œHow would the ancient alien tablet fit in though?”

β€œOnly if it was that.” Jay pointed at the design on the screen. β€œThat being alien technology, like a magic mirror described in the bible.”

β€œBut it’s just showing that same design?” Kay suggested.

β€œBut look,” Jay said. β€œI’ve got a theory on how we managed to switch it on.”

β€œHow?” Kay looked at the same design as Jay on the screen. β€œOh, like that,” she said, as the pattern began to change. β€œBut how?”

β€œTwo heads are better than one, perhaps?”

They didn’t have to speak. It was the act of knowing, and the same like-mindedness which had switched the tablet on before. Perhaps the technology was ancient, advanced, or both, but it wasn’t redundant. It was woken by thought, specifically, the alignment of the thoughts of more than one person.

As Jay and Kay continued to watch the screen, the pattern continued to morph, into more complex and fractal patterns, perpetually zooming in on recursion. Then the whole screen changed, from screen saver to what was apparently an operating system.

β€œIt’s a bit like Linux,” Jay suggested.

β€œYou wha’? That,” Kay pointed, β€œis way more, Jay.”

β€œIt’s the only way I can think to describe it, as being accessible. Look, it seems to know what you want to do.” They both peered into the screen. β€œIt’s three dimensional, and if you look ahead, you can see bits going off to the side. It’s like travelling down a wormhole.”

And that was the best way the modern day scribes had to describe what they saw.

β€œLet’s see where we’re going,” Kay said, as they both watched the screen. β€œOoh, look. What’s that?”

The wormhole opened onto a scene, apparently from a remote camera, with an overlay of what could be coordinates and time, but in an indecipherable text. The main picture was a live video feed, of a field, with a row of large chimneys in the background.

β€œI wonder how we look around,” Kay wondered. Then something strange but expected happened:

The view on the tablet screen changed, as Kay (and Jay) willed some remote camera, perhaps in the countryside near a power station. Panning the landscape, they saw electricity pylons stretching into the distance, standing like frozen, bow-legged old ladies.

The pylon nearest the camera started to move, not by tilting, by lifting, first on one side, then the other. Soon, the pylon began to move forwards. A second pylon did the same, then a third, and quickly, a line of electricity pylons were walking through the mud beneath them, casting off electrical wires as they went. A battalion of iron old ladies, had lifted their skirts, cast off their bindings, and began a bow-legged march away from the power station.

The camera pulled away from the generator, which shrunk into the distance as the viewers were once again plunged into a spectral plughole, depositing them, through the magic of the mirror, in the middle of an ocean. As they thought about what might be around them, the camera obliged.

There was an oil rig, a steaming, fire-breathing skeletal leviathan. Suddenly, it held its breath, as the rig unplugged its umbilicus from the sea bed, and the natural elements in its man-made structure took on sentience.

The camera switched, gradually more quickly, around different scenes: Electricity pylons marching over fields, and oil rigs, swimming to shore, retro-futuristic dinosaur machines, striding through the landscape.

Β© Steve Laker, 2017.

β€œEveryone’s ugly in the back of a spoon,” with kind permission of LΓ©anie Kaleido (she has a YouTube channel).

This story is taken from my second anthology, The Unfinished Literary Agency.

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