Under Review

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #130, where we write about the image below, from A_Lesik at Shutterstock. I’m sorry, over here we are getting regular bulletins about Greece at the moment, so it feels too raw to write on the subject directly. But here is a flash along the same theme, which instead of taking us to dark places, hopefully takes an amusing tangent.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, nature, smoke

Description automatically generated

“The Apostles made another proclamation. Redouble our search for an overspill. They reckon it’ll be easier just to evacuate this planet rather than try to fix it.”

“Redouble?”, queried Subordinate Xanthrax. Though the two had worked together almost four hundred years, and developed a relationship which was far more amicable than professional, Captain O’Sarin had never really studied Xanthrax before, but did so now. It occurred to him that with a speckled skin of four shades of green, an absurdly large mouth set in an even more absurdly large head, that Xanthrax might have been uniquely ugly, were he not a Skydlodyte drone.

For Xanthrax, the exact clone of the other 58,382,583 Skydlodyte eggs hatched in that same batch, was not unique in any way.

Furthermore, to O’Sarin, also being a Skydlodyte, Xanthrax just appeared, well, normal. In fact, not at all dissimilar to himself. He did, though instinctively convulse as he caught Xanthrax’s breath, revolting due to the Skydlodytes’ carnivorous predilection tor raw chicken, And, bizarrely, to cheese.

“Sir”, continued Xanthrax, as his tongue involuntarily flicked, a smile appearing as he caught a distant whiff of Gorgonzola. “Are we counting from the last redouble? Or the one before that? Or, before that? That would make us…” Xanthrax’s forehead furrowed even deeper, and turned a rather attractive shade of ultramarine. “Oh no! I don’t even know the word! What is it when you’re working sixteen times harder than before?”

“Alright, Xanthrax”, calmed Captain O’Sarin, “that’s enough. You know what they’re like. Politicians -no matter who we elect, not a brain cell among them. Anyway”, continued O’Sarin, “you’d better update me. Have you discovered any more possibles since your last report?”

Xanthrax’s forehead took on blue hues once more. Expounding even more effort, this time, however, he went further, finally settling on vivid cyan. As though constipated, he strained, “I’m just accessing that report for you now, sir”, as he squoze an eight-inch brown hard disk tube out of his bottom. On the front of the disk were emblazoned the words “The Ultimate Ram Disk Corp.”. Xanthrax handed it over to Captain O’Sarin, who attached it to the USB port on the side of his neck. A black LED on his ear lobe blinked, although since black was its natural colour anyway, it was difficult to determine whether anything was actually happening.

“It really would be easier, sir”, complained Xanthrax, rubbing his sore backside, “if you would allow me to telepath these reports.”

“Telepathy?” O’Sarin was indignant. “Don’t mention telepathy, Xanthrax. Not after that time with the ambassador’s wife!”

Xanthrax spewed a perfect disc of apple-green sputum, which in other cultures might be mistaken for a cough. “Ah, yes, sir. If I remember rightly, the ambassador was not pleased.”

“Not pleased? You remember wrongly, my friend. The ambassador most definitely *was* pleased! I had just about warmed her to fertilisation temperature, and then *he* comes along wanting to join in! Talk about a cold snap!” O’Sarin smiled ruefully into thin space, as though contemplating what might have been.

Xanthrax spluttered once again. The rush of aqua fortis, as O’Sarin felt the ball of phlegm pass within six inches of his reptilian ear, jerked him back to reality. “Ah, yes. The report.”

The next few minutes were like watching O’Sarin attempting to simultaneously digest a Rubik’s Cube, and to solve it in record time, a series of heartfelt grunts alternating with deep sighs.

“Tell me more about this fourth one.”

“The fourth one, sir?” He tested Xanthrax’s own memory. Xanthrax stalled.

Impatient, O’Sarin snapped. “KR193-03, man. Come on, you’re supposed to be on top of this”. Xarin gave an involuntary snap of his tongue.

That magical word, KR193-03 sparked a by-now familiar flicker of turquisy recognition, which gradually became stronger.  Yes, Xanthrax *did* vaguely remember that particular planet.

“That galaxy, KR193, a dozen planets, all of which orbit around a single yellow dwarf. Nothing special, just the same as the 69,264,105,938 other galaxies we looked at so far.

“That third planet was interesting, though. Mostly iron, a molten core which seems to heat the place. They also get energy from this star. It orbits on a tilt, though, so there are great temperature variations.

“The top layer is a mixture of solid and water.”

“Water?”, echoed O’Sarin. Both were aware that water was a key requirement for Skydlodyte survival.

“Yes, sir, it seems to be mixed with what we know as diarrhea but filtering it will be easy enough. It will be just like the olden days, before we invented the TorrentPlugger.

“The other thing, sir…”, Xanthrax waited for the grunt, to ensure that O’Sarin had not fallen asleep. “The planet has an atmosphere. About 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen. Just imagine how invigorating all that nitrogen rich air would be!

“The sticking point, though, as you will have read…” Had he been paying attention? “… is the temperature. Great regions of it are simply too cold.” Even the most elementary infant knew, Skydlodytes required a temperature of at least 30° to reproduce.

“So, what actions have you taken?”, quizzed O’Sarin.

“We first discovered them seventy years ago, we since monitored the planet, dispatched the occasional reconnaissance craft. And, it has ice caps at its top and bottom. We’ve been regularly targeting those with our frymatrons. We’ve made some inroads, but there is a way to go. They’re doing so much for themselves that our, er…, encouragement… has no chance of being detected.”


“The dominant race there call themselves humans. Not particularly advanced. The most interesting thing is its rectum – they seem to have evolved to communicate through it. Our scouts have analysed some of them, just to probe this, er, gift.”

O’Sarin realised that the briefing was complete.

“Tell me more about your monitoring.”

“Well, we monitor temperature, of course, and the planet is becoming hotter. It’s still not hot enough for us yet, but it will be worth pursuing in the future.”

“Hotter? Why?”

“Well, they seem to have found this substance in the ground. They burn it obsessively, it produces energy. We analysed it as a form of carbon. And, the more they use this substance, the warmer the planet becomes.”

“Interesting”, pondered O’Sarin, adding, “they’re doing the job for us.” Pausing, he looked up to address Xanthrax directly. “Let’s keep scouting it. And let’s see how they’ve progressed in, say, ten years?”

As he closed the virtual file, O’Sarin’s eye caught the tiny image at the bottom. “Looks pretty”, he shivered, before closing the file. “What next?”

A Photograph of earth, taken from space.


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