The Curmudgeon


Monday, May 03, 2004

Planetary Survey No.7: God is No Vod

The desert planet Vultis B is peopled entirely by the Vods, which to the naked eye resemble smoothed-out pieces of transparent cellophane about twelve inches square. Through a microscope it is possible to discern an intricate pattern of veins, as fine as those in a fly’s wing, through which a thin fluid continually courses, throughout the Vod’s entire body. This fluid has never yet been analysed in satisfactory detail, but it is obviously versatile stuff. since the veins are the only structures observable, by microscope or otherwise, in the entirety of the Vod anatomy. No Vod possesses anything resembling respiratory organs, digestive organs, a nervous system, or a brain. They do not even have hearts, although this is one of the more explicable omissions as their own paper-thinness, together with the relentless heat from the Vultic sun, means that the mysterious fluid is kept at boiling point, and thus in constant motion, for the duration of its owners’ lifespan. The Vods' lack of pores does not entirely prevent evaporation, but their shrinkwrap-like skin is so closely knit that a Vod can survive for up to ten Vultic years before succumbing to fluid loss.

The Vods travel on the wind, which blows them like some ethereal litter across the endless deserts of Vultis. They appear highly sensitive to the strength and distribution of weather systems, and are capable of changing the speed and course of a journey by burying themselves in the sand during calm periods and then simply waiting for a convenient wind to come along. The weather on Vultis B is highly cyclical, so that even with this passive method it does not usually take too long for a Vod to get where it wishes to go.

It is not known how the Vods nourish themselves, although given their habit of burying themselves at night, as though to avoid the wind while the sun is unavailable, some form of photosynthesis, may play a role. They reproduce by gravitating annually towards the spiky mountain ranges with which Vultis B is dotted, and which the Vods generally avoid for the rest of the year. Here they do nothing for a week except allow the winds to fling them hard and frequently against the sharp rocks. In the weeks leading up to the reproducing season, the Vods will have become increasingly brittle in the area around the middle of their bodies, a process accelerated by the gradual sealing-off of all the veins in that area. This prevents fluid loss if reproduction is successful; otherwise, the blockages will dissolve in a matter of days once the season has ended. If reproduction is successful and an appropriately sharp rock outcropping impacts in just the right place, the Vod will split into two equal rectangles, which immediately become as independent from one another as the original Vod was independent from its fellows. It takes about one and a half Vultic years for each of these rectangles to grow back into the perfectly square shape which constitutes a fully mature Vod, and only at the end of this time, when all its four sides are of precisely equal length, will a new Vod attempt to reproduce itself.

The Vods' evolutionary history has been a matter of extensive, if hardly fruitful, speculation. The theoretical possibility that the entire species could have sprung from a single Vod has led to many pseudo-scientific imaginings, the most outrageous being that this first Vod must have been the first creature ever to inhabit the universe; that the fluid in its veins, and consequently in the veins of all its descendants, is the alchemists' Elixir of Life; and that therefore, in the words of the popular fundamentalist slogan, "God is a Vod". It is thanks to this kind of irresponsibility that the natural habitat of the Vods is now being disrupted by a constant influx of half-baked tourists. Not only do these people cause immeasurable disturbance when they land and disembark; they have also taken to bringing along small electric fans with which to create an artificial breeze and lure the frightened Vods out of hiding. Worse still, few of these tourists feel able to leave without their very own Vod, or possibly several, carefully cured and dried, to hang on the wall at home.

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. If God were indeed a Vod, this foolish multitude would have found itself well smitten long before now.