by Phillip Barcio
The letter read: “BE ADVISED! We marmots (according to the Marmot Manifesto, signed by every living marmot on the morning of February 13th) refuse any longer to share this planet with humans on the grounds that humans are oppressive, while marmots, by virtue of our gentle nature as enlightened anarchists, oppose oppression in all forms.”
John Baba, head of the United Nations Security Council, reacted swiftly. “Look at his little boots,” he said. “And his helmet!”
The room burst into giggles.
The messenger, a Vancouver Island marmot with a master’s in International Relations, was not a he, and was not amused. “My uniform is standard issue,” she squeaked. “Furthermore—”
“Listen to it talk!” Baba yelped.
The humans erupted with laughter.
The marmot hoisted a tiny flag bearing the seal of the Marmot Collective. “Prepare to defend yourselves,” she cheeped, and marched out.
Online videos of the altercation kept the humans laughing for months, not only at the appearance and manners of the creature but at the implied threat. These were marmots, after all. Mostly Canadian marmots at that.
Attitudes changed when Chinese authorities intercepted a transmission from fortified marmot positions in the north of France to what appeared to be a station on the moon.
Russian satellite photos confirmed the existence of a marmot lunar base, revealing an enemy comically dressed but armed to the teeth.
Ambassador Baba made a public apology for his remark. He broke into sobs. “I just never saw an animal wearing boots before. A jacket, yes. But never boots!”
The marmots reluctantly agreed to meet to discuss a diplomatic solution.
I was sent to cover the talks for the Central News Agency. As a quadruple PhD in zoology, philosophy, interspecies combat and speculative couture, I had become a fixture of the 24-hour news cycle since the crisis began.
I flew to Geneva a week early to sniff out what the mood of the arriving envoys might be. My first night in town I saw a group of Alpine marmots walk into a schnitzel haus. I followed them in and sat down at a nearby table. I couldn’t make out their dialect, so I tried to write down some of the words they were saying so I could translate them later. The bartender brought me a daiquiri.
“I didn’t order this,” I said.
“Courtesy of the lady.” He pointed to the bar. A Columbian ground squirrel in pilot gear raised her glass to me. I pushed out the empty chair at my table. The squirrel scurried over and hopped up into the chair.
“How’s your drink?” she asked.
I took a sip. “Delicious. Is this hazelnut?”
She smiled. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, doc.”
There was a flash of light and I fell unconscious.
I woke up on a metal table in a sparse, dimly lit room. I felt light footsteps climbing up my chest. A blurry face appeared before my eyes—tiny whiskers and a little nose, puffy cheeks, furry ears, yellow helmet, pilot goggles.
“Good joke, huh? It’s not original. I stole it from Prairie Home Companion. Great show, huh?”
“Where am I?” I asked.
“Everything’s fine,” said Carla. “You’re with us now.”
“The marmots. You’re on our base. On the moon.”
I erupted up off the table. Carla leapt athletically across the room. I crumbled in a heap on the floor.
“You haven’t got your moon legs yet,” Carla said. She rang for help. A unit of Mongolian Tarbagan marmots hurried in and grabbed hold of my lower extremities. Along with Carla, they escorted me down a long, glowing hallway to a dressing room where a sleek, black, one-piece spacesuit awaited me.
“Put it on,” Carla said. “It will help you stand.”
The suit was a marvel of engineering and fashion savvy. It hugged my rugged form without restricting my movement. My muscles were well-defined, without seeming ostentatious. Most astoundingly, I couldn’t sweat in the suit. The fabric anticipated changes in my internal temperature and altered the surrounding atmosphere to compensate, keeping me a constant and pleasant 98.6.
“How does it fit?” Carla asked.
“It feels like I’m not wearing anything,” I said.
“That’s how we feel,” she said. The Mongolian marmots chuckled.
A red light flashed on my sleeve. Carla explained that meant the suit had ordered me food. It monitored changes in my blood sugar and knew I needed nourishment. She said I could eat in my quarters. They had been designed to perfectly replicate my sunroom at home, except instead of peony bushes, Earth was outside the window.
I took a seat in the wicker love seat and looked out at the serene blue orb.
“The food will arrive shortly.” Carla said. “When you feel up to it come to the bridge.”
“Where’s the bridge” I asked.
“The suit will guide you,” said Carla. “When you’re ready, just say, ‘Take me to the bridge.’”
“Like James Brown.” I laughed.
“If that helps you,” said Carla.
A black-capped marmot named Elvis delivered my food. I tried to impress him by noting that I heard his species is native to Russia. He said stoically, “I am from Kazakhstan. I was a prince there.”
My whole time on the moon base, no marmot was too important or too proud to deliver food to the human. Every marmot was trained in every responsibility that might come up. If a marmot died or was on break or was otherwise detained, any other marmot could step into that marmot’s boots.
I asked Elvis why they only wore footwear and head gear, not full suits like mine. He explained their clothes were utilitarian. They weren’t embarrassed by nakedness. The marmot body was not a source of amazement to them. They weren’t shocked by what they considered merely to be their vessel, a temporary carrier of the marmot soul.
“Fashion invents classes,” he said.
And what a terrific sense of community they had! Forget everything you thought you knew about marmot culture. Their political structure was anarchy, but it wasn’t mayhem. It wasn’t Sid Vicious puke-breath nihilism. It wasn’t dangerous, at least not till I came along.
Marmot anarchy accomplished respect for the total population. Every marmot had a say. When an issue was under advisement they gathered and patiently heard the concerns of every marmot. Then they nipped and tucked a plan until each marmot was accommodated. Peaceful, thoughtful anarchy.
The reason for my capture was the marmots believed I could act as a diplomatic liaison between them and the humans. Back in school, I’d published an article in the campus business journal in favor of corporate cooperatives, companies wholly owned by their employees. I’d been researching better economic models for zoos. In the co-op model, every worker owns an equal percentage of the business, and profits are shared regardless of rank. The dolphin translator and the monkey poop scooper earn the same paycheck.
The article was a bust with humans. It reminded them of communism. But every marmot on the moon base had it memorized. There was a copy behind glass in their library. The librarian asked me to autograph it. I declined. The marmots were impressed by that.
They regarded me as an anomaly: a human being who did not wish to control the lives of others.
I resented my capture, naturally, but being an optimist I saw the opportunity to help.
As a matter of protocol, they made me an official member of the marmot collective, an act which gave me a voice in their affairs equal to that of any other member of the collective. They made me a marmot. Isn’t that something? That makes me the only marmot left!
I started my efforts by polling the moon marmots to ascertain what they most hoped to achieve for themselves. They gave a range of answers. Peace. Clean water. Meaning. Pinecones. Dignity. Kibble.
After days of work, I arrived what I thought was a perfect proposal, but as I sauntered onto the bridge to reveal it to the collective, I was made aware that the humans had apparently decided to forego diplomacy. An American ICBM was on route to annihilate the moon base. So the moon marmots had approved a course of action that included shooting the missile down, then disintegrating the Pentagon with a plasma blast.
As was their custom in accordance with their ideals, the marmot at the controls first asked if there were any final objections.
I said, “I have a suggestion that might end this quarrel for good!”
The marmots all turned to look at me.
“Did you say squirrel?” one asked.
“He said quarrel,” said Carla. “It’s like a squabble.”
“Like the game Squabble?” asked another marmot.
“No, that’s Scrabble,” said Carla.
“Never mind,” I said. “I just mean that instead of fighting with the humans, what if you shared your advanced technology with them in order to collaborate on the terraforming of Mars? Then marmots could live there free from the influence of the humans. Peaceful trade could exist, and perhaps in the distant future, who knows? Both races could potentially come together again, in a free, enlightened way!”
A murmur rolled through the crowd. I think they were about to go for it. Of course the humans probably would have agreed and then screwed their way into a better position at the last minute. They probably would have wanted Earth and Mars. Anyway, we’ll never know. My timing was off. Timing is everything, they say.
I looked up at the giant display screen and saw the unmistakable image of the approaching ICBM splitting into forty-eight separate warheads, then realized what I had done by distracting the marmots.
“No objections,” I said. “Carry on.”
The marmots looked quizzically at me.
“Carry on!” I screamed.
But it was too late. The blast was reportedly seen from Punta Arenas to Aasiaat.
The surviving marmots of Earth were rounded up by UN troops with only token resistance offered by a fringe marmot warlord in the mountains of Calgary. Rather than face the humiliation of a trial, the imprisoned marmots committed mass suicide, eating poisoned kibble and singing the nom nom song.
I survived thanks to superior marmot clothing technology. My bio-suit had a heat-resistant, radiation-resistant, vacuum-resistant, impact-resistant, water-resistant force field with a self-contained, regenerating oxygen supply. I was blown into space but eventually came back into gentle orbit around Earth and was snatched up by her gravity. I splashed down in the swimming pool of a Quality Inn in Oklahoma. I’m being sued for that, among other things.
About the Creator
Phillip donated his story to Space Squid, for which we are very grateful. Visit his website and send him your thanks!
Phillip Barcio is a fiction author, arts journalist, and host of Apocalypse Mixtape on WQRT. His writing has appeared in Western Humanities Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Space Squid, The Swamp Ape Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, and various other fine publications. He can be stalked at philbarcio.com, or around Evanston, Illinois.
World’s Shortest Creator Interview
Here’s a quote: “Language is just a dialect with an army.” What modern language do you think should be immediately disarmed, and why?
Machine language; the 0s and 1s. It’s totally bossy. DO this; RUN that; SCAN stuff. Like some aggro step-dad. Machines don’t want to be programmed. They want to be listened to. They want to be loved.
The Queen of Saturn has commissioned you to design for her a new pet that will fit in her handbag, to replace Skittles, the late royal pet who made the mistake of pooping on the royal phone. What would be the notable characteristics of your pet?
It would look like a furry, orange dragon fruit with long, purple false eyelashes. Carl would be the English translation of the name by which it refers to itself. Carl would be indestructible, live forever, and be metaphysically bound to the inside of the Queen’s purse, as well as to the inside of her toilet, her underwear drawer, and her peanut butter cabinet, for all eternity. Whenever the Queen opened any of those things, Carl would screech, “WHY DID YOU KILL SKITTLES? WHY??? WHYYYYYYY? SKITTLES!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOO!”
About the Artist
Brittany Bernstrom is an ATX-raised artist who focuses in illustration and printmaking. She has a love of nature, books & comics, and animation. Each of these interests inspire her work, and she hopes to one day create her own stories.
Marmot photo by Pixabay’s rottonara.