“Death by Strangulation” by Ian Muneshwar

Space Alien, by R. Lloyd
[Illustration: “Space Alien” © 2006 by R. Lloyd rrobot34@aol.com.]

Eleanor Wolfsson had a rather bleak outlook on the fate of the world, but for now she was concerned only with taming her unkempt hair. Strands of brown hair escaped from between her fingers as she tried to pull them back and tame the tangle with the delicate, golden hairpiece her grandmother had given her for good luck. She managed to capture some of her hair in the clip, but the rest evaded her and hung limp at her shoulders.

Forsaking the hairpin at the sound of the alarm clock on her desk, Eleanor raced over to the only mirror in her one-room flat and critically regarded her clothing, hands akimbo. Her many-layered gauze skirt, printed with a pattern of interlacing flowers, was complemented by a black blouse with opalescent buttons. Looking over her green horn-rimmed glasses, she adjusted the choker around her neck.

Preceded only by a thin, whining noise, a sudden roar screamed by and then dimmed into nothing. This time, the noise was so loud that she winced; her ignorance as a newcomer to the Global City hardly ever worked in her favor. The single window in her underground flat peered out onto Highway 63, and every time a nucleobus whirled by the explosive blast was deafening.

The scanner whirred softly under Eleanor’s finger as she locked the door to her flat, and she slipped into the sleek metal elevator silently. The elevator climbed upward swiftly, reaching its destination before Eleanor could finish polishing her glasses. The doors stood open, almost restlessly, as they waited for her to step out.

Her glider, 35101, was ready for her when she entered the hangar. It slid smoothly from the sea of other gliders, its propellers humming quietly as it buzzed toward Eleanor. 35101’s door snapped open and Eleanor entered, putting her reading glasses on.

The glider hummed away as Eleanor buried her nose in the latest issue of Botany Today. The magazine was filled with headings that continued to consume not only botany journals but also newspapers, editorials, microvision stations, and the minds of people everywhere. Eleanor thumbed through the magazine until she came to an article titled “Botanists around the world attend Conference in Boston”. She ferreted through her pocketbook with one hand as the other traced the lines of the Botany Today article while she read along with it. She procured an invitation from the pocketbook. It had been folded in thirds, as if it had been sent in an envelope.

35101 slowed to a stop. After three-and-a-half minutes of flying in a fast airlane, they had reached the Tollgates. The Tollgates were ominous structures: shiny, silver buildings whose windowless façades reached all the way up to the apex of the Dome. The glider entered the Tollgate dubiously, slowly propelling itself into the mouth of one of the gaping glider-ports; gliders had a natural fear of small, dark, closed-in spaces.

Eleanor discarded her botany magazine as 35101 entered the glider-port, and she clenched the invitation in her sweaty fist. The walls of the port were illuminated only by a distant light somewhere within the massive structure of the Tollgate they were in; Eleanor and her faithful glider were shrouded in almost complete darkness.

The glider flew onward toward the light, accelerating until everything spun past Eleanor’s bleary eyes in a whirl. 35101 finally slowed as they reached the end of the gilder-port.

“Global god be with you, ma’am,” the man at the end of the port said to Eleanor. He stood in a small booth on a raised platform at the end of the tunnel and spoke to Eleanor through a glass window.

“May He be with you also,” Eleanor replied, warily eying the man. She had an inbred mistrust of people who readily pledged their allegiance to the Global Government. The man was short, thin, and sported a scraggily goatee on the end of his pointed chin; she didn’t like him, but she still handed her invitation over. He looked at it in the light of his booth, and handed it back.

“You may pass through the Dome,” he replied. Just as 35101 began to speed away, the man called “Best of luck!” Eleanor figured she would need it.

* * *

They reached the edge of the Dome within minutes of leaving the glider-port in the Tollgate. The Dome that encompassed the Global City was a remarkable structure. Built out of metal, spun steel, and a high-pressure-withstanding glass, the Dome had the ability to protect the City from the impending doom of the knotweed plants. These sinuous plants began their growth twenty years ago: from six- or eight-foot plants, they now reached heights of several hundred feet, strangling and suffocating all life in their reach. Now, only large cities, such as the Global City and Boston, could hold out against the knotweed; only the Domes, encircling the cities like giant, metal spider webs, protected the world from utter destruction.

Botanists like Eleanor hypothesized that the remarkable growth of these plants began with rising amounts of pollution in the 21st Century. It was for this reason that the Conference in Boston was being held; the knotweed seemed insurmountable.

35101 slipped through an open portal in the Dome effortlessly, going onto the highways that led from city to city. Though Eleanor knew that the lands beyond the Domes were overgrown, she didn’t realize how far the plants had extended their radii: the highway from the Global City to Boston had deteriorated into a state of nonexistence. Knotweed grew rank, splitting the highway into sections of shattered asphalt that could not be crossed.

The plants had grown, too: giant stalks heaved out of the ground, dwarfing the trees that once lived there, their branches twitching hungrily in an unseen breeze. Eleanor admired the plants as 35101 glided above the broken highway. She hated what humans had done to the plants; she liked the green stalks and the patches of red that grew like stitches up the stems of the plants. She loved the broad leaves that sucked up the sunlight, and the massive rhizome roots that buckled the earth….

The branch came down so quickly that 35101 had no idea what hit it. Crushing the poor glider in its jointed clutches, the knotweed plant removed Eleanor and crushed her with another branch, just as a man might squish an ant between his fingers. The botanist and her machine were left in a compacted bundle that sat at the plant’s base, her blood feeding the plant’s massive roots.

The knotweed twitched once, and resumed its position.

* * *

Thousands of miles above the planet consumed by knotweed, an alien ship stood dormant in space. It had waited here for twenty years, brooding.

Within the ship, an alien stood before a window. It wasn’t an alien as we might think of them: it was a small, furry creature with large ears and compound eyes that reflected the world around it in thousands of glossy fragments. Its jointed tail twitched convulsively, moving a lever on the dashboard one notch higher. The lever read: 8rad∞___. In our language: Miracle Grow.

The Puffskins, for that it what they are called, had decided to colonize Earth not by force, but by plants. The knotweed could destroy disease, bacteria, pollution and — most important — human life, leaving a clean world ready for them to inhabit. The Puffskins did not think of themselves as particularly cruel, for the humans had it coming to them anyway; in fact, they were doing Humanity a favor.

A small beeping, much like Morse code, was emitted from a loudspeaker in the Puffskin vessel. Attending to the message, the Puffskin in the ship twitched its tail and moved the Miracle Grow lever as high as it would go. A beam of light flew down from the mouth of the ship and fed the hungry knotweed plants, filling them with the burning desire to grow. One by one, the great domes of Earth were crushed and the Puffskins moved in. *

About the Author: Ian Muneshwar, a native of New England, currently is studying writing and the fine art of living on a writer’s income.
Story (c) 2006 Ian Muneshwar TVH03@aol.com

About the Artist: R. Lloyd is an artist who couldn’t afford to go to the big colleges for training. With the exception of the art classes taken in high school, he is completely self taught, submitting to magazines for pro publication as early as he could hold a pencil.
Illustration (c) 2006 R. Lloyd rrobot34@aol.com

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