And we’re back, with more space rock nonsense.
Remember how in the last chapter–okay in every single chapter so far–Rory demanded answers about Cyrus’s weird behavior and everything that was going on? Well buckle up, because you’re about to get the exposition dump of your lives. Rory and Doctor Z are sitting on his couch, which she thinks he probably got from a garage sale.
Dr. Z was a humble man even though he’d won a Fields Medal, the Hubbard Medal, and the international Balzan Prize.
Okay…has this ever happened? I tried to find out via google, but I had no luck. It seems unlikely to me, because the Fields Medal is for math and the Hubbard Medal is for exploration. The Balzan prize kind of covers both of those, so probably people have won that one and the other ones, right? Is this like an EGOT thing?
He expected to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry one day for his thirty years of research on the calcium-sensitive proteins within cells and their biochemical language.
That’s kind of ballsy, to expected you’ll win the Nobel Prize. He’s like the Kanye of chemistry. Except Kanye is way more interesting.
But for over a year, he’d been obsessed with newly discovered, unusually regular radio signals coming from an unknown object in the Galaxy M82. His oldest and most trusted friend, Lucius Brahmberger, a renowned astrophysicist, had discovered the signal, and together, they had begun investigating the anomaly and Eric von Däniken’s paleocontact hypothesis.
Is this how science really sciences? You just start out in math, then wander over to chemistry for thirty years, than suddenly oh, space looks interesting, I’m going to give up all of this other work I’ve done and bop on over there? Because if that’s how scientists really work, I picked the wrong fucking field. That sounds perfect for someone with no attention span. Rory goes on to tell us that Brahmberger disappeared seven months after he first got the radio signals, and Dr. Zoidberg kept doing his research for him. He thought maybe he would find Brahmberger on the other end of the trail of space breadcrumbs or something. A secret government person told Dr. Z about the meteorite that landed in Antarctica, so Dr. Z rolled on down there, then came back with the rock. Dr. Z figured the meteorite was the same one that was sending the signals, so… This still doesn’t explain why Dr. Z has the rock. It’s specified in the text that he went to an Antarctic Special Protected Area, so he had to have an in to get there. Yeah, he had a “secret government contact” feeding him information, but how’d he physically get into the site? The secret contact was like, “Hey, I’m leaking information to this guy, can we get him a plane ticket and a permit?” Plus, those sites are already crawling with scientists and military, so why would they let Dr. Z leave with the rock? While we get two big paragraphs explaining how he knew about the rock, we don’t get any explanation as to why he was given this rock, or why it left the ASPA in the first place.
He lectured to his classes, giving no one any reason to ask questions.
Oh, that’s it? He’s just sneaky about it? Well, that explains everything. Except how he got the rock back to the states, but whatever. I’m seriously hung up on this whole “secret government contact” and nobody knows he took the rock with him until the government just finds out and has to come after him. Did the “secret government contact” put the rock on the plane and fly Dr. Z out of there, too? Too many people are involved in the chain of command here for the space rock they’re all studying in a remote location to just go missing. So, now Dr. Zoidberg is about to get all the answers he’s been looking for, and Rory is about to get all the answers she’s been hounding Cy for. Cy says:
“The specimen is dangerous, Dr. Zorba. It’s the last piece of a long-dead planet, Chorion. The planet had suffered civil unrest for years before wars, planet-wide devastation, and finally, what we had always thought was a plague led to its demise. The planet had been quarantined for decades. All of Chorion’s inhabitants are extinct.
“The remnant, your specimen, is something I’ve been tracking for a very long time. It contains inactive parasites, and given the right environment, those parasites could spawn. Earth was the perfect place for the remnant of Chorion. Fortunately, the mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere keep them inert, so there was no danger of the parasites reactivating. I tracked the specimen here with the intent to bring it back with me so that we could properly…dispose of it, just as we did the rest of the planet.”
I sighed. “We don’t have time for this.”
BUT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANTED YOU WANTED ANSWERS FROM HIM WE’VE HAD TO LISTEN TO YOU INSISTING THAT YOU WANT ANSWERS AND YOU’RE GOING TO GET THEM AND NOW YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR IT? I’m so glad I’m reading this on my computer and not my Kindle, because the latter would be in pieces on the floor right now, and there are way too many empty Coke cans and discarded fruit snack wrappers around my computer for me to reasonably lift it in a fit of rage.
“Hush, Rory!” Dr. Z said, frowning and waving me away.
“So, you’re saying you…you destroyed an entire planet?”
“We had no choice. It was overrun.”
So, continuing the massive info dump, the parasite is dormant because the host is extinct, these parasites can wipe out a planet in like two days, and Cy is from a planet called Yun. Underlines indicate italics in the text:
“Yoon?” I asked, trying to form my mouth around the word.
“Yes, Yun. Its meaning is similar to sunshine.”
“Boring. Not even any Kryptonite in this story,” I said, my chin resting on my palm.
“So, my planet had to blow up another planet, because we’re aliens.” “Ugh, this is so boring. Can we talk about pop culture references now?” Yes, Mary Sue characters are important for the development of young girls learning to write. Professionals, however… I mean, seriously. The “spunky” heroine is unbearable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned the page and found out that she was actually another daughter of Elrond, who has dazzling color-changing eyes and curves in all the right places.
Rory is going to end up paired with Draco Malfoy by the end of this fucking book.
The head of all the sciencey stuff on Yun got a signal from Chorion and had to go check it out, since it was coming from a dead planet. Their “Amun-Gereb,” Hamech, sent somebody over to find out where it came from, but they never came back. The signal that Dr. Brahmberger thought he was getting from the planet was really an SOS from the exploratory vehicle.
“What is a hammock?” I asked.
It’s a thing you put in your yard and lay in it.
“Hum-OCK,” he pronounced precisely with a slight accent. “He is our Amun-Gereb. He is a…like your President, but he leads our entire planet. He is king.”
So he’s not like a president at all, is he? He’s more like a king.
“Amun-Gereb,” Dr. Z said. “As in the supreme Egyptian god.” “That’s where Egyptians first heard the word, yes, from our exploratory teams, as they did Osiris, my namesake.” “Oh,” I said, nodding. “The ancient astronauts were real. The paleocontact hypothesis is correct! Please, Cyrus, go on,” Dr. Z said, engrossed.
Okay, so, this is a thing I’ve been thinking about, because I’ve been watching Ancient Aliens a little bit on the Netflix, and I started thinking about how weird it is, well, not weird, just racist, that we seem to feel that the only way–the only way–that a civilization of people of color could have possibly made these huge leaps of technological advance is with help from aliens. In our science fiction, we really do seem to be content with the trope that the ancient Egyptians not only were incapable of figuring out all those STEM fields they had on their own, they also couldn’t form their own culture. It had to come from aliens. That’s the conclusion a lot of people are content to settle on. Not that human innovation was responsible for the advances of this society on Earth, but that visitors from another planet is the most likely explanation. The only time we’re willing to accept the greatness and importance of the ancient Egyptians themselves is when we’re pretending they’re white.
Anyway. Exodus: Gods and Kings wasn’t science fiction, but The Fifth Element, and Stargate both were, and both featured that exact trope. They’re also two of the most celebrated science fiction movies of the last century. It’s so ingrained, Maguire probably didn’t have any idea that she was furthering this really offensive trope.
As a sidebar, there’s an episode of Futurama where the Planet Express crew delivers to an Egypt-like planet, where the aliens tell them all about how they visited Earth and met the ancient Egyptians. But the flip is that these aliens learned their culture and how to build pyramids and shit from the Egyptians, not the other way around.
Cy tells them about how the crew member who sent the SOS signal was already infected by the parasite, and she met a pretty grisly and painful end. Rory thinks about how Cy can still hear the woman’s screams, and how some memories never fade even if you try to get rid of them. But, you know. At the top of the page, this was all boring, until she could compare her own traumatic experience to it. Cy says he’s been studying humans since Heracleion was discovered:
“The underwater city discovered in 2000 near the Nile Delta?” asked Dr. Z.
So, remember Rory’s inane questions about how to pronounce shit? Writing Tip: Nobody talks like this. The pronunciation questions could have been cut, because they weren’t totally necessary. Instead, Rory could have asked what Heracleion is, and Dr. Zoidberg could tell her, and it wouldn’t feel so wonky. Here’s an example. Imagine if someone said, “I’ve been watching Doctor Who since the reboot,” and someone else responded, “The long-running British science fiction program which was rebooted in 2005?” instead of, “Oh, that show with the guy with the phone booth for a spaceship?” or something similar. It would sound pretty fucking weird, right? Anyway, back to Heracleion.
“It was an area of interest for our people around Earth’s three to four BC. Heracleion was a place our people visited often. There were many statues erected in my ancestors’ honor and many scripts detailing our assistance to the Egyptian culture. Part of my function is to make sure our civilization is protected, and the discovery of Heracleion was alarming to our council. Your oceans are vast and largely unexplored, and so for centuries, we weren’t concerned about the relics detailing our visits here, but once Heracleion was discovered, I decided to design a mission to extract any concrete evidence of our existence to prevent any unwanted contact.”
That’s another part of the science fiction Egyptians trope. The heroes of Egyptian myth weren’t borne of a need to explain the natural forces of life and death and the environment around them, but someone had to come from space to teach them to make these myths and put up statues. Also, if you don’t want people to know about you, maybe you should be like, “Hey, guys? The statues are flattering, but you probably should chill. You look a little desperate.”
Dr. Z thinks they should try to make contact and an alliance and everything.
“You have to admit, historically, humans don’t make the best neighbors,” Cy said. “It would become, What do you have? And then, What do you have that I can take? And then, the fighting starts.”
I rolled my eyes. It’d be fascinating maybe, if it weren’t a huge steaming pile of bullshit.
I can’t tell here if Rory means the entire alien story, or just the idea that humans are violent thieves. If it’s the latter, shut the fuck up, Rory. You spent this whole book telling us about how little you trust people because of the violence you experienced. So, Cy info dumps more about how the parasites redirected the SOS signal from Chorion to Earth, using the infected crew of the vessel. Now, the CIA has these parasites on the rock or whatever, and probably Brahmberger, and they’re going to make him reanimate the parasites or something. But why the fuck would they want to? And what’s the point of a parasite that kills its host that quickly? In two days, it can decimate a whole planet? How is it surviving? And I’m so confused. Chorion had been considered long dead for decades. Then a signal came from it. So Yun sent a vessel. And that vessel found an alien vessel, and the alien vessel had been sending a signal to Yun. And there was life on the planet, but it was alien life, aka, this parasite. This parasite that wipes out an entire planet in two days, but was somehow still alive and thriving decades after the planet was dead. But most importantly:
“We can’t let Tennison keep the specimen, Dr. Zorba. If he manufactures a sustainable alien atmosphere, and the parasites are reanimated, none of us will last long.”
Okay, so…why would he do that, then? Does Tennison know that the parasites could reanimate if he put the rock in the right environment? Or is the danger that he might maybe just accidentally create the right environment? I need more information here before I can decide if this is a situation that calls for panic.
“Tell us what to do,” Dr. Z said.
“Hold on, I have questions.”
Like, two pages ago you were all, “We don’t have time for this,” Rory.
Cy frowned. “I know you don’t believe any of it. I expected that. But we can’t stay here. They’ll be knocking on the front door any minute.”
You just told the longest story in the history of exposition, but now there’s a sense of urgency? Rory asks Cy why he didn’t just take the rock the very first time he had access to it, and Cy tells her that he stuck around because he wasn’t sure how much “data” had been collected. He was worried that Dr. Z would hand over the “data” to NASA and they would send an exploratory vessel to the planet. The planet that…was…destroyed? NASA is going to send a ship there? And how does Cy know all of this stuff about our CIA and our government and humans, etc, but not realize how limited our manned spacecraft capabilities are? Then this happens:
“Why would the parasites redirect the beacon here?” “It’s a flourishing host.”
But how is it a flourishing host if it can’t survive in the environment? And if it’s dormant in the first place? I feel like a lot of stuff here just isn’t making sense at all. I’ve gone back and reread this chapter a few times and I’m still not understanding what’s going on. Because so far:
- Cy’s planet got a signal from a dead planet.
- They sent a mission there.
- The planet wasn’t really dead, there were these parasites.
- The parasites redirected the signal to Earth, where the environment isn’t suitable for life.
- Cy’s planet blew up that planet.
- A chunk of the planet just happens to land here.
- Where a scientist might or might not seize it and create an environment in which the dangerous parasites could live.
There seems to be a lot of coincidence driving these events. And you know, science fiction is riddled with coincidence. But usually not this many, and not with so much of the danger contingent on further coincidences that sound unlikely at best.
Cy hesitated. “I am scheduled to leave. If I am not at the rally point at the predetermined time, I fear…” His eyes lost focus as he retreated into his mind.
“You fear what?”
Cy stepped out of the darkness into the only trace of streetlight coming into the room. “Apolonia.”
I wasn’t sure if Apolonia was the parasite or something worse.
I bet it’s worse. I bet it’s his fiancé. I’m calling it right now.
Cy tells them that Apolonia is “emotional” and that if he’s not at the abandoned gas station by the Old River Bridge at the right time, she’s going to come looking for him. That would be bad. But he won’t tell them why it’s bad.
Rory asks Cy if he’s going to take the rock with him, but he says he wants to contact his people first. He can get the rock from Tennison later, and he doesn’t want to involve Dr. Z and Rory any further. Rory points out that they’re pretty much already involved, and Cy agrees that they should all stick together. Cy made a reference to Apolonia’s crew during the discussion, and Rory wants to know what he means by “crew.”
“Before I go running around in the dark in winter, I want more answers.”
Cy shifted, clearly impatient. “We can’t stay any longer, Rory.”
“Just answer this, and then I just have one more question, and then we can go.”
You know the scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show where everyone is like, “Janet! Brad! Dr. Scott! Rocky! Janet! Brad! Dr. Scott! Rocky!”? Well, I feel like that scene is this chapter. “We need answers! We don’t have time! Rory, hush! We need answers! We don’t have time! Rory, hush!” Just with Rory and Cy flipped some of the time.
“Crew might not be the right word. They’re more like a retrieval team. Apolonia is the daughter of Hamech. She’s a highly decorated soldier and leads the Jhagat, Yun’s army. She is the captain of her father’s best warship, the Nayara.”
I swallowed. “And she’ll be emotional if you don’t show up because…Apolonia is your betrothed, isn’t she?”
BOOM! Called it.
Fuck. He really was going to leave. If even half of what Cy said about this woman was true, how could Earth compete with a Xena the Warrior Princess?
Never has an analogy been so far off the mark. Xena: Warrior Princess took place in a mythical AU ancient Greece. Apolonia is a space princess and the captain of a warship. If anything, Apolonia is Princess Leia.
Cy tells Rory that he’s sorry, and Dr. Zoidberg is all like, have you two had sex, and they’re like no, and he says:
“Good,” Dr. Z said, taking another step toward Cy. “Or else you would have to worry about more than just Tennison. Let’s get you home.”
So, that’s what happens in this chapter. Everybody sits on a couch and talks about how much they shouldn’t be sitting on the couch while Cy explains the entire plot of the book to them and the readers.