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( Date: BB19.876.45)


And this, what is this red liquid,

that  costs as much as a Moon of Argus?


The Ikstat is leaning into his console.

He can smell the outrage coming

from the Masli Trader through the screen.


Ikstat Bas says: This red liquid? It’s a rare code,

dense and Avogadric (Vago Masli humphs) –

You must know the story. This species

from a live planet, Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha.*

are trade addicts, so rapacious

they dig up the planet’s beams to sell

to each other, burning down their house.

Yes, hard to say why – many are voracious, the rest lazy,

a few are natural coders.

When the Ikstat first noticed them they were sending

streams of code out in all directions…


But this is weird, the Plural Z Alpha species,

bipeds (yes, I know the Masli say bipeds are always

of dubious morality), these bipeds think their Burners

are kings, they worship combustion.  Their Coders?

Strangely they ignore their Coders and regard them

with the disdain that the Masli hold for Burners. 

A crazy species they tried to trade single elements,

lead, and even gold, and then thinking

they were clever, basic machine programs.


Of  course the whole Planet fell to moles of hydrogen,

all over carbon. Stripped of atmosphere bits

of Plural Z Alphas and their code were discovered for millennia, 

the code form we still use – quite lovely really, but this red fluid?


Ikstat Bas’s feelers sway like hypnotic anemone, one delicately

strokes his left eyebrow,  he shifts forward,

You might ask what it is not. The colour’s

deep from a quadratic of haem and globin,

a molecule that virtually trades in oxygen. 

Unload oxygen, it shifts from ruby glow to blue-ish red.

Then also, this liquid can defend itself, these white cells

teach themselves to destroy invaders.

(Yes, of course, some adaptations will take longer

but you need do nothing, when in place it learns alone.)

Leaks?  Self-sealing – there is a myth that the bonds

it forms was so highly rated that lovers

(Lovers? Archaic word – check your OED) cut

their hides, mingled this, their body fluid,

to seal their flesh together.


Vago’s wing cases ruffle like brittle paper,

Ikstat Bas coughs, makes the sorry signal

with his hands. Vago sits down.


But this stuff, their tribal word for it was blood

a word that meant both ancestors and life.

It is what made them, and crafty, with coding zipped

into its neat helicoid. A puzzle, not yet properly unpacked,

that gives all the protein sequencing for the species.

With this you can make filters, pumps, consciousness

–there is a theory that you might even acquire

poetry and music, to create and recombine

seamlessly. Yes, one or two have been re-engineered

but they are not right and all they do is weep.

* Space co-ordinates for Earth from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Originally published in Fishing in the Devonian (Puncher & Wattman, 2008)

Feature image by Giuseppe Donatiello & Tim Stone