Totem Poles

Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling

Book: Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bruce Sterling
 
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    Dirt Complaining and Dirt Harkening were a long-buried married couple.
    â€œI haven’t minded being dead one bit,” said Dirt Complaining. “But now we’ve got space aliens nosing around. And they’re curious about totem poles? Why did you men even make those things?”
    â€œWe were great artists,” said Dirt Harkening.
    â€œFools conjuring up cosmic forces.”
    â€œI miss potlatch,” said Dirt Harkening. “That’s what I’ve missed most, down here in the Earth’s dirt.”
    â€œPotlatch again,” said Dirt Complaining. “Ha! All you big chiefs, pretending to be above all wealth, so spiritual, so potent! Whose robes and amulets were you burning and throwing into the sea? Women’s crafts, women’s treasures!”
    â€œEasy come, easy go,” said Dirt Harkening. “With flying saucers in the sky, our whole Earth is in play. But come what may, dear wife—our squabbles don’t matter anymore.”
    â€œThe heirs of our dead flesh still walk the Earth, husband.”
    â€œThe living take no account of us. People have forgotten that sacred truth was captured in the mighty symbolism of our totem poles. Even though the saucers understand.”
    â€œYour totem poles were vulgar,” said Dirt Complaining. “Big phallic brags !”
    â€œWe artists like that sort of thing. A totem pole that stands up good and stiff—very fine.”
    â€œLet’s see how this ends,” said Dirt Complaining.
    *   *   *
    Ida lowered her combat binoculars. She had pale skin, a heart-shaped face and a bob of lustrous dark hair. “It’s a shame that nobody sees the point of our struggle. What if we’re wrong?”
    Kalinin adjusted his brimless fur Cossack hat. He was a bony, waxy-skinned warrior with high cheekbones and a great beak of a nose. “You and I will be heroes,” he said, looking tenderly upon Ida. “Once we learn how to kill this race of flying saucers.”
    â€œBut the saucers are saving the very Earth that mankind destroyed!”
    â€œIf you wash an apple before eating it, do you do that for the apple’s good?”
    Heaped with garbage, a chain of filthy diesel trucks lumbered toward the vast scar of the coal mine, here in the Donbass region of the Ukraine. One after another, with distant groans and screeches, the great trucks dumped their trash. It was high noon, with a glaring sun.
    The alien creatures had three primary forms—one for the air, one for the sea, and one fearsome form that infested the Earth itself.
    The air invaders resembled classic flying saucers. They haunted Earth’s skylines, absorbing pollutants. In their seagoing form, the saucers took on shapes like whales. They devoured poison gyres of floating plastic with their ivory teeth, and filtered toxins with their dark baleen. And the subterranean saucers were colossal, rubbery, saucer worms. They infested mankind’s mines and landfills, erasing every scrap of poison they found.
    Thanks to the aliens, the withered fields and rain forests, stricken by every form of human rapacity, were blooming again. Happy dolphins and gallant tuna swam the open seas. Wild pigs roamed the taiga like the wind. The planet’s molten poles were freezing again as the rising seas receded.
    The very largest of the chthonic saucer worms was here in a Donbass coal mine. Kalinin’s sworn goal in life was to kill this worm. For weeks, militarized Russian diesel trucks had been dumping nuclear waste into the mine, filling it with choice bait for the saucers. Lured by this bonanza of filth, an armada of the flying saucers had burrowed into the shaft and had merged their bodies to form a vast and lumpy worm.
    Sheltered by a rampart of wet sandbags, Kalanin and Ida watched one of the great, silvery saucers fly by overhead. Kalinin’s ragtag paramilitary warriors set up a rousing antiaircraft fire

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