Platypus War, The
Nobody knows for sure if there really was such a thing as a platypus war. The origin of this strange story disappears in the shadows of ancient times, before the rogue nanoswarms destroyed most of interplanetary terragen civilization and its history. Whether true, partially true or fictional, it is widely known across the civilized galaxy, because the war itself is not as important as the story about it.
After the first feeble attempts of genetic engineering solidified into the important technology of geneering, a number of human scientists, and, afterwards, ais, experimented with provolving. This is geneering of non-sapient species to become sapient. The reasons were either purely practical: creating an interesting pet or useful race of workers, or the more idealistic learning the different perspectives of looking at the world or simply curiosity. Guessing the motifs of advanced ais with intellects unfathomable for humans is naturally problematic. After chimps, dogs, cats, parrots and ants, the provolving technology was used on the many more species. And the story claims, that one of these was the Australian platypus.
Provolved platypuses retained the fur, ducklike beaks and semi-aquatic lifestyle of their presapient ancestors. They became valued for underwater work, especially in cramped surroundings like inside machinery and in managing freshwater ecosystems. They were successful in many general jobs, too. Some learned new uses of electrical receptors on their beaks, with which the original platypus sensed electrical signals in the bodies of small animals. Platypus became respected doctors, especially in the fields of accident medicine, rehabilitation and neuropsychology. The provolved platypus community found their niche in the rapidly diversifying sapient civilization of Earth, and grew slowly. They inhabited stylised ponds and swamps and by themselves developed the earthworm-taste yeast culturing which provided them with food.
By that time, another provolved species was the flightless kiwi bird. Slowly it turned, that provolved kiwis competed with platypus in the field of earthworm-yeast industry, which was the main food of both. In addition, they started talking of drying the cozy platypus swamps and turning them into their own homes. And the story develops into the standard conflict between the two different cultures. Tensions erupted and platypus finally declared war to the kiwis. Kiwis responded by building dams and started quickly defeating the Platypus Independence Army.
The desperate platypuses resorted to genetic manipulation. They devised the virus carrying tweaked catabolic enzymes, which produce the heat in the body of warm-blooded creatures. The virus was delivered by war nanorobots to the kiwi army. The introduction of otherwise harmless chemical substance made mutated heat-producing enzymes go amok. Result was the spontaneous combustion of kiwis, which decimated their army and left the well-cooked corpses of the fried fowl.
As the story goes, platypus cheered on the defeat of their enemy. But kiwi engineers soon learned the technology, too. Their first attempt failed, as platypus submerged in the water and saved themselves. Platypus cheered again. Now the victory was clearly closing to their side. However, kiwis soon improved, that is worsened, the virus. It now caused the simultaneous combustion of platypus, on land or in water.
The war came to the classical stand-still, and large-scale use of self-combustion was officially banned. Afterwards, the spontaneous combustion virus was still used by the special forces, infecting the selected individuals. Afterwards, the infection was most often used as a blackmail, forcing the enemy individual to cooperate under the threat of combusting him. The attacked person was sometimes uncertain, if ey was really infected or was it a bluff. In other cases, family members of the blackmailed individual were infected.
The best known figures are the platypus strategist Splash-Splash-Yip, commando Veep-Plom-plop and young, genial female fighter Quack-Plu-Plam, as well as kiwi general Boopwoo, scientist team from the Eephweek lab and brave but tragic Skratch-Poov.
There are several versions, how the conflict itself ended. Older versions generally either say, that the two clades both destroyed each other and the land was divided by other clades, or that horrific, near-total destruction finally caused other sapients to pull the opponents apart. This was met with anger of both platypuses and kiwis which had to be en masse given corrected memories and send to the two different, distant orbital colonies. Culminating in the peace treaty and further coexistence it is the recent addition coming from memes of peaceful ethnic diversity and happy endings.
The second part of the story took place after the civilization emerged from the near-destruction caused by rogue nanoswarms. A number of historians tried to piece together the lost history of civilization, and, among others, track the origin of self-frying kiwi myth. No traces of provolved platypus or kiwis were found, but so much historical sites were destroyed, that this lack spoke of nothing. At that time, a generally accepted interpretation was, that the story was the allegory of some ancient political conflict between two nations, which must have raged for decades in the Earth inter-planetary era.
This led to suggestions, what these nations could be. Candidates were, naturally, numerous. Soon, several nations started to interpret this as a reference to their own past conflicts, pointing to different episodes of platypus-kiwi conflict as a remembrance of their own and opponent's actions. Arguments broke of which conflicting parties should be seen as prototype of platypuses and which of kiwis, even if both are quite clearly portrayed as symbols and distorted by the time. These arguments became quite hot and lasted for decades. They periodically calmed down and bursg out again, which either mirrored the socio-political situation, was independent of it, or itself influenced the politics.
Now, almost 10,000 years afterwards, there are many opinions regarding if and how much of this story is true. Certainly, the technology exists and one could conceivably create both intelligent and combusting platypus and kiwis. Certainly, no direct evidence of such clades was found, but few scientist dispute, that they could easily become annihilated during the nanoswarm catastrophe, so this is no proof whatsoever of their non-existence.
Some groups, especially luddites, present the platypus war as an allegory to the fact, that innocent and useful biotechnological invention (provolved animal) can always have unpredictable and dangerous consequences. Far more common is interpretation that this story is primarily an archetypal story of ancient human conflicts with pacifistic theme to stop wars. The passage when kiwis use platypus weapon against them is frequently quoted as a reminder, that the conflict usually backfires into those, who started it.
Some historians generally support the latter interpretation, adding that this story originated before a modern multispecies and technology-oriented society developed. In the ancient, baseline human-centered times, both platypus and kiwi were probably regarded as rare and unusual. The thought of a bird suddenly frying itself could be also perceived as amusing. Therefore, the story might originally be a parody. Other historians put forward another explanation. Platypus is symbol of Australia and the kiwi of the adjacent New Zealand islands. For the long time, both were separate political entities. Could it be a reference to some real historical conflict in the ancient past? Yet other scholars point that at these times, the anti-geneering luddism and animal-right movements were powerful. Therefore, the story can be a very distorted luddist propaganda, or maybe equally distorted parody of that propaganda?
For the last centuries, the story gained surprising popularity in different versions, as a children's tale, adult satire, pulp action or tragic romance with the introduced thread of an affection between a platypus and a kiwi. Insightful study showed, that number of powerful ais helped to broadcast this story. All recent versions, although diverse, tended to push the suggestion, that beings with baseline intelligence have natural tendency for aggressive acts which are both uncontrollable and dangerous to themselves and other intelligent life. Also highlighted was the thread that there is also uncontrollable inclination of baselines to squabble long after the original cause of conflict disappeared. Presented in such a way, the story leads to the conclusion: baselines cannot successfully rule themselves and must be controlled by the ai. Therefore, the recent versions of the story are a hidden proof of righteousness of the current society, where ais rule humans.
Some scholars point to yet another aspect of the story. They see it as a reminder, that every group, no matter how peaceful and even humble, given right circumstances, suddenly turn into aggressive and dominating, but without abandoning it's humble ideology.
In the last decade or so, especially the last two memes become widely disclosed and publicised as attempts of manipulation. So, the history of the history of platypus war is nowadays taught in primary schools. It is presented primarily as an example, how facts can be interpreted in the subtle and almost unnoticeable ways. This is a warning, how far the "common perception of facts" can manipulate and influence the community. The story of platypus war is used to teach children distinguishing facts from interpretation and manipulation, as introduction to the memetics, and an example, how strongly memes affect the galactic civilization.
From Galaxy On a Holiday, Wega Press, 35634 LT.
Text by Jorge Ditchkenberg
Initially published on 26 March 2004.
Copyright by Jorge Dichkenberg (jerzyd-at-ibb.waw.pl)