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Friday, October 9, 2015

In the Vaunted Halls of Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Twitter and asked folks to send me very specific fiction genres.
"Call me Slamdrew. Dr. Dunkenstein was my father."

I don't know what I expected, but these are two of the responses I got:

I guess I asked for that, right? To be fair, it's the kind of response I would have given if someone else had asked. I asked a question, and those were legitimate answers. Unfortunately, the reason I was looking for fiction genres in the first place was so that I could do another genre mash-up.

So, here I am with two genres, much more specific than I had anticipated, and a self-set goal of combining them. Now, I did get some other suggestions, and I could have used those. But to me, that would have been taking the easy way. No, I would take on this challenge, and I would beat it.

In case you haven't figured out where this is going yet, spoiler alert: I did it. After several false starts, I managed to reconcile these two genres into a single, brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea. You're welcome.

In the Vaunted Halls of Heaven

In 1966, at the height of the space race, the USSR sent up a dozen capuchin monkeys in secret in the Voskhod 3 as part of a long-term viability test. Unfortunately, they lost contact with the spacecraft and assumed that the life-support systems had failed alongside the communications array. The government erased all records of the launch of the spacecraft and cancelled the Voskhod program.

Over the next 100 years of space travel and exploration, the little USSR pod went unremarked. The Russian government had projected when and where it would return to Earth, but either the calculations were lost or there was no one around to keep an eye on them, because when the Voskhod 3 did not descend from orbit, no one noticed.

Aboard the Voskhod 3, the monkeys not only survived, but thrived. The experimental atomic reactor kept the station going, but the small, steady aura of radiation induced strange mutations among the capuchin population. Their lifecycle shortened, and mutations quickly led to a much more advanced creature than was sent up. In only 30 years, they were already developing noticeable intelligence and advanced society.

By 2066, the capuchins aboard Voskhod 3 had evolved human-level intelligence and had begun collecting orbital debris to expand their own craft. When they observed a series of bright flashes, followed by a cessation of all electronic signals, they understood what had happened to the humans below: global thermonuclear war.

They were shocked, then, when in 2076, they received a new signal from the surface. The capuchins had long ago developed their own language, but they still spoke several major languages of the humans. But, although the signal came in a human language, the message was not human. In their rush to save themselves, the humans had developed very advanced nanoscopic technology. Unfortunately for them, they were still in the testing phases when disaster struck.

The beings on the other end of the signal were lab rats and mice that had been successfully augmented by the nanotechnology and had survived the destruction of human civilization. However, though these rodents were intelligent, they lacked the century of experience and cool reasoning that the capuchins had developed. The rodents believed that their nanotechnology was magical, and that they were now in contact with divine beings.

After much debate among themselves, the capuchins decided not to clarify the rodents' mistake, and assumed the mantle of deities. They had amassed a significant quantity of surveillance equipment, so they could look down on many parts of the world below, and even see through the layer of dust that coated the atmosphere.

Another 20 years passed in this way, with the nanotech-enhanced rodents spreading across the mostly barren surface of the Earth under the guidance of their heavenly guardians. But the capuchins were busy with their own projects, and while they did observe and influence the rodents, that was not their greatest focus.

Perhaps they had learned too much from humanity, or perhaps all civilizations are simply doomed to fall to their own hubris eventually. The last divine message was sent simultaneously to all magicians around the world: "Heaven is under attack. Ascend through the skies and come to the aid of your gods." Along with the message, the gods delivered blueprints and a location.

It has been months since the last mouse prophet or rat wizard was able to make contact with their gods, though their magic still works. Now, a team of brave warriors, clever tinkerers, stealthy (hopefully reformed) thieves, powerful mages, and wise priests are ascending to heaven in the divine craft to find out what has dared to attack their gods.

Can they survive the dark, echoing halls of the strange space station built by the capuchins? Are any of them still alive? And what bizarre experiment caused the station to deliver its final message, an automatic SOS?

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