Redoubtable Downtown Space Abbey - [Interlude] Deep beneath a sandlake

[several months ago]

A thousand points of light flared in his visual cortex as the chemical packet surged through his bloodstream. A rising tide of consciousness flooded into the empty gaps between his thoughts. Mnemonic fog lifted, and previously unknown neural machinery hummed into life. His swim bladder pulsed as his body struggled with reason’s victory over instinct.

His expression sparkled with cognizance as he gazed into the ancient algae-clouded eyes of his awakener. Its packet delivered, the elder sandfish drifted down the line to deliver its gift to the next initiate.

An acolyte ushered him away from the lineup and near the surface. He felt a quick sting as another sandfish, wearing silver ceremonial mouthparts, bit the tip of his pectoral fin.

“You now bear the mark,” the acolyte said to him, “and you must choose a name.”

He looked upwards through the shifting sands. Weatherby’s moons hung above.

“The third moon … the shadow upon it. What is our name for that?” he asked the acolyte.

“Worm-fartulate ’k’tihrick’mang poo-nerd stankflooze,” the acolyte responded.

He looked away for a moment of contemplation.

His eyes shining with purpose, he looked back and said with startling force:

“Then my name shall be Moon Shadow.”


[30,000 years in the future]

Galactic Galaxy Lord Emperor GodLord M’shad DCCCXXXL hovered in his nope-chamber aboard his NotAShip. Struggling for breath in his sand suspension, his clouded eyes fell upon his most trusted advisor.

“It … was … a mistake,” he said.

His advisor, the most recent of an eons-long line of clones, gazed at him through narrowed lizard eyes, but said nothing.

“The only way … for sentience to survive … is to rebuild it …,” M’shad coughed, “we … must rebuild T’herby.”


[present day]

Moon Shadow watched impassively as the last of the elder sandfish, her eyes filled with shock and betrayal, convulsed and gasped. The neuro-virus packet, a twisted and carefully engineered version of the same that had awoken him, systematically ceased the functioning of key areas of her nervous system.

“It is done,” he said as he tipped a fin towards the leader of the Pescarios, his elite guard. The hulking muscular fish, imbued with just enough sentience to be useful and predictable, began pushing the twitching body of the elder sandfish into the depths of the sandlake.

“This is a rash action,” one of his advisors said, “why could we not wait until we were fully prepared?”

Moon Shadow looked upwards. Numerous points of light in the sky slid across the field of stars at varying speeds. More ships arrive every day, he thought, all to fight in another feeble squabble for the right to farm his people.

“The blockade is the perfect distraction. We won’t have a better chance,” said Moon Shadow, “What number can we awaken?”

His advisor closed his eyes as a thousand tiny sandfish, previously schooled behind him, swarmed around his head. Tiny points of light flew and burst in the swarming cloud of datafish as the answer was calculated. One datafish split away and embedded himself in the scarred and pockmarked section just forward of the advisor’s dorsal fin. His purpose fulfilled, the dead husk of the datafish detached and drifted away from the advisor.

The advisor’s eyes flew open and he said, “Accounting for some slight variances in temperature and spawning rate, we can expect, at minimum, 750,000 improved sandfish ready to be awoken in the coming days.”

“It will have to be enough. Signal the sleepers.”


[present day, at a large sandfishery near the city of Weatherby]

Sandfish #0118999 (Average size, below average fat marbling, likely Grade-B [food service] or Grade-C [direct to cannery]) was struggling. Her distended belly had tripled in size over the last few days; it throbbed and undulated with concealed movement. Her fins, already weakened by starvation, strained to keep her substantial weight centered in her location.

Three days ago, a set of irregular flashes from a blue-green laser had briefly blinded her. Ever since then she had felt nothing except pure compulsion to remain at this particular location. Eschewing food and schooling behaviors, she hovered here as her innards were slowly converted into food for her cargo.

Now, her lateral line alerted her to a severe change in pressure, something far stronger than she had ever felt before. Confused and agitated sandfish swarmed around her as rhythmic pressure waves overwhelmed their sensing organs. The waves resonated within her, gifting her a final sense of fulfillment before her nervous system began to act on its own accord, severing the link with her brain stem.

Thousands of lancet-shaped sandfish exploded out of her every orifice; her belly and skin rent as tiny mouthparts stabbed and tore their way to freedom. Each tiny sandfish made a beeline to the nearest unawoken sandfish, attached itself just forward of the dorsal fin, and injected their chemical payload.

The awakening spread throughout the sandfishery. Swarming groups of sandfish, their mouthparts hardened through months of subtle genetic manipulation, began destroying nets, fishing equipment, feeding tubes, listening devices and anything not made by sandfish. Violence roiled the water.


[Years later]

I know dead fish don’t swim home
When the seas get left alone
When things don’t go as well
As they would have planned
The big fish lose control
Big fish on the land