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Interregnum

William Squirrell is a Canadian writer living in western Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in numerous online and print venues and he has a novel forthcoming with Radiant Press. He is also the editor of the science fiction journal Big Echo (bigecho.org). More information can be found on Twitter @billsquirrell, or through his website blindsquirrell.com.
The previous age had ended in an orgy of violence, and humanity was all at loose ends. The seeds of the next dystopic compromise were only just germinating and nobody knew what to expect. It was all confusion and mayhem, everything quivering on the edge of annihilating chaos, total unpredictability. Grampamama Carbuncle and Vespa were stranded on the planet Graustark, out in the Widdershuns Drift where the economy had achieved a state of such entropic stagflation money no longer existed except as concentrations of non-circulating nostalgia. The only things left to exchange for other things were more things, but Grampamama Carbuncle and Vespa were still shocked when the smuggler refused to accept any form of payment from the two refugees but their gene blisters.
They returned to their hotel room to discuss the smuggler's proposal. They were the only members left on Graustark from a well-known and respectable family. All their other relatives had been absorbed into the massive cultural and genetic polymer known as the Cheese, a multinodal entity with a prodigious appetite for social climbing, which was incorporating into its dense rhizomatic corpus as many elements of the old families as it could. They desperately wanted to leave Graustark before they too were absorbed, but the smuggler's price seemed rather high.
"Our gene blisters?" said Carbuncle. "That is all we have left of our ancestors."
"The old world is dead," said Vespa, "a new one yet to begin. We will acquire blank blisters and start again."
The gene blisters were in their individual sterile bags on the table: sniffing around the shavings, whiskers twitching. One of them sat up and groomed the soft white hair of its long nose with little pink paws.
"Fifty generations of genetic material," said Carbuncle sadly. "And you, beloved child, never had the chance to breed your blisters with those of worthy partners."
"Yes," said Vespa. "A wealth of genetic material, but only just enough, it seems, to get us off Graustark and out of the Widdershuns."
Carbuncle sighed: "The family is extinct."
"Not entirely," said Vespa. "We still have Miesque. And the DNA in our bodies. The blisters are just vehicles after all."
Carbuncle's nose wrinkled at the mention of bodies.
Miesque, the family womb animal, was curled up on the bed, nose under a trotter, one big bat ear twitching in a dream. It had carried Vespa to parturition, and Vespa's mamapapa number one, and Grampamama Carbuncle, and most of Vespa's uncle-aunts and siblings and cousins as well. It was a venerable animal, but fecund enough to nurture a couple of dozen more fetuses if they could acquire the gene blisters to produce them, and to comfortably suckle those infants that came to term.
"Fantastic," the smuggler said when Grampamama Carbuncle reached under their robes and produced five transparent bags, each of which held a sleeping gene blister. "Just turn them loose."
"Turn them loose?" Carbuncle gaped.
"Sure," said the smuggler.
"But they'll run away."
"We're airtight," said the smuggler.
"The whole ship is contaminated," Carbuncle frowned. "There are pollutants on all these various surfaces and planes. They'll be compromised. Their provenance will be compromised."
"It's fine," said the smuggler and a gene blister popped up out of their collar and wiggled its nose at Vespa. "We're a discrete-ish system."
"What is going on here?" Carbuncle yelled. "What kind of a pervert are you? I will not sanction the uncontrolled breeding of our family gene blisters with some pirate's mutts."
"Turn them loose," said the smuggler. "Or you can stay here and be absorbed by the Cheese."
"Just do it, Grampamama," said Vespa. "The old world is dead, who knows how the new one will be."
So Carbuncle did: tears in their eyes, sick with shame, they peeled back the seals and gently shook the blisters onto the table. They stretched their delicate limbs, paws in tiny fists, and opened their pink maws in lazy yawns. They wiggled their whiskers, blinked their black eyes, sat up, and looked around.
The Mr. Prospector was crawling with blisters. It was such a horror show of promiscuity Grampamama Carbuncle refused to leave their stateroom unless they absolutely had to. They spent the trip cuddled up with Miesque working on a family tree. They tried to prevent Vespa from venturing out as well, but while the Mr. Prospector was small and rundown and entirely jury-rigged from salvage, it was still a starship to explore, and besides, Vespa had a prurient obsession with what the gene blisters now appeared to be: a seething organism the smuggler called "The Mice"; a synergetic interstitial network the manifestations of which appeared in the moldy old furniture and under the sink in the galley and in broom closets and in every crack and cranny one might look. They were a swarm of squirming, quivering, tickling whiskers and claws and noses. They crawled over the smuggler, delightful adornments, peering out of pockets, from behind hair, scuttling lumps like busy tumors underneath their shirts.
"Salacious," Carbuncle would hiss to Vespa at night. "Lewd. A hideous debacle. A gutter in which our legacy is terminated. A sewer."
But in the day Vespa was laughing and shivering with ecstasy as The Mice scurried about their person.
"Where are your womb animals?" Vespa asked and the smuggler smiled.
They took Vespa to the squalid mess of the bridge and from a corner piled high with chewed over laundry they produced a boot into which Vespa peered. At the bottom, nestled into the halfmoon of a dozing blister, nuzzling at its teats, were a half dozen hairless pink creatures each about as a big as Vespa's thumb.
"Baby blisters!" Vespa gasped.
"Yes," the smuggler said. "If our embryos are not exposed to the hormonal floods of a womb animal their genetic logics revert to more vestigial patterns."
"They turn into The Mice!"
"Not just mice," said the smuggler. "But mice loaded with many exabytes of genetic information, chains of data increasing in density and complexity with every generation."
They hopped from system to system, planet to planet: forgotten outposts of Empire; isolated mining colonies bypassed by emergent capital flows; Luddite bubbleworlds filled with gendered Christians; orbital refugee camps run by non-profit AIs; atavistic research facilities where the scientists had become philosophers. At every stop the smuggler would trade cargo for cargo, and, if possible, blisters for blisters. At every stop they would release some of their own stock into the biome they were leaving.
On a gas giant moon dedicated entirely to the production of pineapples, Vespa and the smuggler watched as a half dozen mice scampered into the flat, prickly, snake- and rat-infested fields that surrounded the launch pad. Raptors circled in orange skies, robotic harvesters conducted their violence on a horizon dominated by the gargantuan golden orb of the planet they circled.
"They'll never make it," said Vespa.
"If they are lucky they might," said the smuggler. "Just like you and Grampamama Carbuncle. And they'll breed. Desire will impose itself on action. Subjectivities will form in the spasm of unconscious reactions. Information will proliferate. Concentrate. Disperse. They will interact with other species at imponderably slow speeds. Accidents will happen. Like us, the mice are thrown into an existence beyond their comprehension. Like us, the mice will spread through the galaxy, minute episodes of a titanic organism. Like us, the mice will keep evolving and not know it."
The smuggler talked in perpetual riddles, stringing together words in combinations which Vespa could not rearrange into sensible thoughts. It was exhausting.
"Anarchy," said the smuggler. "Compulsion. Pleasure."
And in a flash of recognition Vespa finally understood what the smuggler was saying, understood what they were doing, understood that the question of what it all signified was irrelevant, understood that their flight across the stars was neither the end of one history, nor the beginning of another, but simply the most recent moment of an eternal recurrence in which each repetition was always different from the last. They finally understood there was nothing left to do but love the fate into which you were born.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020


"Interregnum" began as an attempt to write a far future science fiction story about economic behavior that was not simply a recapitulation of contemporary problems writ on a galactic scale. It ended as something else.

- William Squirrell
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