Polyps and Hounds and Yithians, Oh My!
An essay on trans-temporal ecology by Emeritus Professor Klaus Scholz (translated from the Greek by James Haughton).
I owe the inspiration for this ms. to many long discussions with my dear friend, Dr Nevil Kingston-Brown of the University of Melbourne. I regret deeply that the substance of much of these discussions is lost to me, and that the good Doctor will not be born for some 500 years and is thus unavailable for further correspondence.
We must realise that the universe contains many dimensions, of which modern science has only scratched the surface. Each of these, each set and combination, is inhabited by creatures for whom our three and a half dimensions would seem as bizarre and deadly as their home dimensions, of which the physicists tell us we see only a subatomic string, would be to us if translated there. Yet all dimensions influence each other, if only in subtle and subatomic ways, and the patterns of life, those self-organising systems of which my former colleagues Drs Von Neumann and Schrodinger wrote, are repeated in each combination of space, time and the other immeasurable depths. There are patterns that survive and/or reproduce, and each of these patterns requires energy. Many are capable of harvesting the ambient energy surrounding them, as our plants harvest sunlight. Yet many others find it easier to harvest the energy from these initial harvesters, and others will harvest from them, and so on in a great web spanning all the dimensions of the universe! Humanity is caught in a strand of that web, but in this paper, I mean to dissect a few of the spiders.
Upon earth, we have organisms that harvest ambient energy directly: plants. We have those which harvest the plants: herbivores, and those which harvest the herbivores: carnivores. This harvesting may take many and varied forms; while some consume the store of energy of the creature, as a man consumes the seeds of wheat or a tiger the flesh of a goat, others simply siphon from the flow of energy, as we draw upon the milk of cows or a flea sucks the blood. Of this latter case, we recognise two types: if the organism supplying the energy also gains some reciprocal benefit, we call it a symbiosis; if the organism gains no benefit but is simply leeched from, we refer to it as parasitism.
It is not unreasonable to imagine that these relationships will occur in any ecosystem, no matter how fantastic its dimensional permutations; and I mean to examine how they occur within the dimension of time. Time is the most mysterious of the human dimensions: we can only move through it one way and at one speed, but we can only look the other. Yet, as I know from bitter experience, there are creatures which can move and look both ways, and doubtless there are those not restricted to the one-dimensional line we inhabit, but capable of moving sideways in time, above and below time, as easily as we might move sideways in space. Time, as the dimension in which we are least at home, is the one we share with those things we find most alien, though they find our everyday length, breadth and height most difficult to enter.
I shall begin with those most well known to us, who force themselves upon us: the Yithians. Is there any doubt that no matter how intelligent and sympathetic to human morality this species may be, its role in the time dimension is that of parasite? Yithians freely move through time to steal the time and energy of others. While their raids upon the lives of homo sapiens are confined to a few isolated individuals such as myself, the Yithians freely admit to having parasitically colonised entire species, leaving the former minds of their hosts to perish in whatever struggle they were too cowardly to face themselves! Yet they maintain the bodies of those hosts, and bring up their young to share their parasitic habits in a sinister reversal of the cuckoo’s egg. Furthermore, their society is regularly described as a kind of “socialism”, a doctrine whose parasitic effects those who lived through last century can testify to themselves. The fact of parasitism is the key to the entire riddle of the so-called “Great Race”. Without this key, our efforts to understand and eventually overcome these monsters are doomed to founder upon the rocks of misapprehension.
Consider the facts. It is evident that the so-called “Greatness” of the Yithians in mastering time is still limited to acting in a one-dimensional line. The Yithians could not “sidestep” the extinction of their former hosts by the Flying Polyps, of which more anon, nor did their foreknowledge allow them to alter the event. Indeed, they accepted it with a sinister fatalism. Why should they care, when they could simply colonise another host? This fatalism and inability to act is what one might expect from the mind of a parasite, which relies upon others for its existence. What is most disturbing to contemplate is that by foreseeing the event, the Yithians may in fact have chosen it, limiting the path their time-line took across the rolling planes of the time-dimensions, to one in which their poor conical victims would be consumed by Polyps – and one in which we ourselves will obligingly die and be replaced by their new host bodies, the beetles. This is their true parasitism; they have doomed our future to consumption by Hastur and his puppet King by foreseeing it to be so. If there is to be any hope of averting this fate, we must attempt to go beyond the science of the Yithians, and move sideways.
Is there any hope for such a “knight’s move”? Surely meddling with the time stream in such a fashion would attract the attention of the temporal carnivore: the Hound of Thionadelos [unformed or invisible brimstone or sulphur: translator’s note] as wise Hypatia warned us? These carnivores indeed roam the time stream, and furthermore are clearly capable of the sideways movement of which I speak, as Hypatia did her best to warn us, given the infant state of science at the time, with her Euclidean references to the contrast between “angles” and “curves”.
It has taken the arrival of Dr Einstein before we had even a vague idea of what she meant; that Hounds come from the places where his curved space-time breaks down and becomes discontinuous, where worm (or Doel?) holes and black holes are found and the other dimensions of which I spoke can intersect with our own; yet coming from such dimensions where our space means less than nothing, they cannot orient themselves within our space without a clear dimensional mapping with which to attune themselves, so that confusing the distinctions between the dimensions as in Hypatia’s celebrated Spherical Chamber will repel them utterly. This is one limit of the Hound.
Another may be found in this question – why is there no record of a Yithian ever falling victim to the ravages of the Hound’s burning sulphur? Our visitors have told us that this is because they only send their mentalities, rather than their material bodies, through time; yet in this as so much else they deceive, for use of the Hadean drug to achieve the same effect has seen the loss of more than one mental explorer of the time stream to the Hounds’ hunger. The Yithians are shielded in some other way from the hunting dogs of Chronos, and I believe that I have fathomed the secret of that shielding.
Is the shielding a super-science mastered by the Yithians, but beyond the reach of we primates? I think not. In this we must consider again the parasitic nature of the Yith. None of their artefacts obtained and examined by us show any signs of elements in common; the lightning gun, the temporal communicator, the fiendish mind-wiper and the still guarded stasis cubes all have totally different aesthetics, design principles and even seem to operate using completely different scientific principles. It is as if they were all designed by different civilisations. And this is, in all probability, because they were. Why should a race that can draw upon and sequester the knowledge of every other race in the universe within their inaccessible libraries bother to invent or design anything for themselves? Something in the archives would “do the trick” as the Australians say. There is no Yithian super-science; there are simply the scavengings from a thousand parasite-infested civilisations. Yet the Yithians must have been time-travelling before they gained this knowledge, else they could not have gained it; and to do so they must have been protected from the carnivores. The answer must be something simpler; something a race of parasites could devise on their own.
I propose that the answer to this riddle is found within another, which furthermore supplies the “missing link” in my temporal ecology: the curious riddle of the Yithian’s relationship with the Flying Polyps. Consider: Why, if the “Great Race” could quickly develop (or steal) the technology to defeat the Polyps, namely the lightning guns, did they not exterminate the brutes? Why instead just drive them underground and then live right on top of the very creatures they must have suspected, and then known, would “rise up” and destroy them in turn, for several hundred million years? A sense of mercy? From genocidal parasites?
Let us consider what we know of the Flying Polyps. The name itself is suggestive, and we know it is an accurate translation of the Yithian term. Polyps, I am informed by my encyclopaedia, are extremely simple organisms which are unchanged in the fossil record for over half a billion years – a suggestive figure. They are usually anchored to one spot (as opposed to ours, which fly), possessing tentacles with which to sense and catch their prey as it drifts by. This prey is usually organisms so simple as to blur the distinction between plant and animal, but may also be more complex animals such as fish, which are seized and stung by the sensate tendrils. Furthermore, the polyp often forms a symbiotic relationship with some form of plant, enabling it to draw energy from photosynthesis more or less directly. Polyps also include the corals, which form great colonies of stone-like growths – like the pre-Pnakotic city of “windowless basalt towers” perhaps?
Yet our Polyps are rather different from these, even the amusingly named rugosa corals. They apparently originated from some other place, not Earth. They can become invisible. They can somehow cause winds to both “blow” and “suck” simultaneously. They can move about and warp their forms in a “plastic” fashion. These facts, particularly the xenoterrestriality, the invisibility and the “sucking wind”, suggest that the Polyps too are capable of distorting space-time and moving through it in ways of which we are currently incapable. Given the biological facts of the Polyp, it may be that the Flying Polyps are the ambient harvesters and herbivores of the temporal ecology. The Yithians may have initially thought that by cutting them off from the sun, the great source of most ambient energy, the Polyps would quickly die away. However, they had a further, much more useful feature. As space-time bending polyps they would feed upon anything that triggered their grasping tendrils, which must have extended into the time-space around their “anchor” – and this would include any Hound of Thionadelos which strayed into their feeding zone. The Polyps indeed were probably too simple to sense the movement of pure mentality through time; but a Hound would materialise to strike and be promptly snared by the Polyp. The death of either or both would not concern the “Great”. Thus the Yithians could turn the Polyps into one more useful species to be parasitic upon, keeping them cultivated but limited underground, as a man turns a jungle into a garden, and hiding amid their tendrils from the Hound’s predation, even as the clownfish in that film my great-niece likes hides in an anemone.
How then did the Polyps, which were fearsome but simple organisms, manage to “revolt”? After all, the plants in our garden do not revolt against us. On this topic there is still further research to be done. However, I have a few hypotheses – what if the extinction of the Yith-possessed cones took place not 50 but 65 million years ago, when the great asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs crashed to earth? Might the reverberations of that mighty event have ruptured whatever mechanisms the Yithians used to keep the Polyps sealed underground? Exposed to sunlight again after so long, the Polyp population may have boomed beyond Yithian capacity to control it, as an uncultivated garden returns to the wild.
A second possibility might be the effect of evolution. The Polyps were confined underground for more than 200 million years. Perhaps during that time they evolved to seek out new energy sources or evolved some new defence against the lightning gun. It is not the nature of a parasite to evolve unless its host does so, and the Yithians may have been caught off-guard by some such development. In that case, the training with our meagre stock of Lightning Guns, to which we have so patiently subjected our Dark Brothers, may be useless.
In the face of this danger, we must be direct. For too long we have tiptoed around the whims of our Yithian visitors. Our tendency as an organization to embrace the humanities rather than the sciences has left us incurious about these fundamental mysteries, in favour of the dribbles of history the Yithians dole out to us. But if our darkest fears are true and the moment of extinction approaches us, then we must know the truth about the Polyp’s rise, and any means are justified in extracting that truth.