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an extract from the novel
by Ian Watson

Worms, worms. A can of worms.

The majority of all animal species on Earth are not insects, as people used to imagine. No, they are worms -- tiny worms Mockymen by Ian Watsonwhich live in the ocean depths buried in mud. Nematodes. Millions of species of nematodes. The World of Worms, that's Planet Earth from a statistical viewpoint -- at least as regards Britain's place in the scheme of things.

Oh, and let's not forget about marine viruses and bacteria. A million bacteria in every gram of ocean mud. Ten times that many viruses. Maybe a million viruses in a drop of seawater. Basically, the sea is a virus soup. When we think sea, we human beings think herrings and starfish, because those are more our own size. Regardless of pollution and overfishing, the seas could never be chock-a-block with fish; and that is because of all those viruses.

Not killing the fish off, no. The viruses target bacteria. This pushes bacteria to diversify, resist, evolve new tricks. Even so, almost half of all bacteria die from viruses. The virus-infected cell bursts and spills its substance into the water to feed other bacteria -- instead of becoming a titbit for a protozoan which in turn is a snack for a bigger zooplankton, onward and upward to the herring. Take viruses away, and the sea could support many more herrings.

Basically, most diversity occurs down at the very humble level, with worms as the superstar giants.

From a host of newly-discovered nematodes come unfamiliar enzymes and molecules of pharmacological value to the Mockymen. What nature has devised during billions of years of evolution is so much more prodigal and surprising than whatever biochemists -- even superior alien ones -- might try to build from scratch.

With the exception of Bliss, we have no idea what exotic drugs and elixirs the Mockymen make from such substances, or what use they put them to on their own worlds and on other worlds within their hegemony. Nice word, hegemony. From the Greek: to be in the forefront. Biology is the power-science, the control key.

In return for our worms and whatnot we gain fusion, desalination, food factories (even if we don't quite understand how they work). Next year please can we have everlasting tarmac? Quite a bargain. We were going down the drain. Now we aren't.

Not that marine worms are the whole of it! From Brasilia and Jakarta couriers carry samples of weeds and beetles from what still survives of the rain forests. Most countries can yield a tithe of something alive, with some natural magic ingredient lurking in it, undreamed of by us but of use to aliens -- more prized than any works of Plato or Mozart or Leonardo.

What we do not gain is speedier access to the solar system or further beyond. As soon as the first human dummies became available, the six Mocky-lemurs of the contact team transferred their minds into young human hosts. Flexing their new muscles (as it were), the Mockymen insisted that the vacated lemur bodies be incinerated. We were not to autopsy any alien flesh. A signal sent the empty landing module back into orbit to rejoin the pod-ship. On auto-pilot the pod headed towards the sun, to burn itself up a few months later. We were not about to inherit a second-hand starship and hibernation technology.

In February 2010, after negotiations by radio, the landing module of the pod-ship had descended right beside the ever-so-useful United Nations headquarters in New York. Appropriate place: not quite 400 years earlier the Indians sold Manhattan island to the Dutch for a measly 60 guilders. Selling one's birthright for a potage of lentils, hmm? The nations of Earth were getting much more than that.

Bliss crystals are a nano-mimetic drug, so called. Human understanding of nanobiotechnology is inadequate, but Bliss was part of the price, for priceless aid.

Qualms about allowing a radical new drug to circulate? Why, Bliss would cleanse a heroin user of his habit, if he switched. Bliss would clean up a major social problem at the trifling cost of a percentage of users becoming dummies, serve them right. Nice to see euphoric faces on the streets instead of lawless addicts mugging you to pay the pusher-man.

Drug trials supervised by expert committees? Animal testing followed by human volunteers? Cut the cackle. Mockymen arrived in the nick of time to avert famine and chaos. Every plus has its price. Moreover, word was that the Brazilians and the French were about to deal with the Mockymen, so as to steal a march. Most of us shaky dominos soon fell into line, with the exception of certain Islamic countries. Let Bliss abound. Build transit stations. Recruit couriers with a tolerance or a penchant for pain. Forget rocketry, think socketry.

Nothing that the Mockymen promised us has proved false (so far). Just, we don't need to know very much -- ever -- about who runs the cosmic show.

Here's a possible yardstick for a sapient civilization: drug use. The inclination to meddle with your brain chemistry and get high, enlightened, or merry. Given half a chance, elephants get themselves drunk on fermenting fruit. My own favourite tipple is vintage port, fairly rare these days, although production of luxuries is picking up -- not everyone has to eat the messes of potage from the factories, nourishing and tasty though the stuff is. The natives of Passion and Melody obviously have a soft spot for their own treats, consequently for Bliss as well.

What do Mockymen get high on? Power, control, understanding the nature of life? Control of information certainly matters to them.

A year and a couple of months after the landing -- a year of bliss for umpteen drug users worldwide -- enough dummies had emerged, as predicted.

Random lottery as to who those were, according to the Mockymen. Very small percentage. Compare and contrast the death rate among heroin users. Loss of taste and smell after the euphoria? You never know what you lost till you lose it -- I think Bob Dylan sang that. Balance this inconvenience against the recuperative powers of a Bliss-body.

On Transit Day in timed sequence worldwide well-paid couriers sat upon discs, to be transmitted in a flash of agony to the two star- worlds. After a couple of days spent recuperating they returned, each with a Mockyman as mind-passenger. The alien hitchhikers transferred into waiting dummies.

Some couriers were loath to repeat the experience of transit. Enough were willing. They would become wealthy. A new aristocracy.

We're told that consciousness -- alert self-awareness -- plays a vital role in the transit process. A lump of wood cannot transit on its own. Nor a comatose dummy.

Huge distance is a factor, too. Interstellar distance. By all means leap from the space-time matrix of one star system to another -- but thou shalt not hop locally. London to New York or London to Mars would require huge energy and could 'disrupt catastrophically.' Call this the Perverse Square Law. We do not understand it.


© Ian Watson 2003, 2004
Mockymen by Ian Watson

Mockymen is published by Golden Gryphon Press (October 2003, ISBN: 1930846215,
A UK paperback is published by Immanion Press (November 2004, ISBN: 1904853129,

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