An excerpt from The Boviniad
by Nathan D. Jerpe
Illustrations by Maxwell Sebastian
BOOK ONE: THE INJECTION
A Venus arrival – Pantamoolian geometry –Exploring the interior – An invocation
Dream back, my pupils, to a vanished time,
when rampant did the groves of Venus grow
with multiplying vines and shooting sprouts;
when rain in fat droplets fell soft to nurse
her ranks of teeming moss, and a gauze
of golden cream enwrapped her like a shroud.
Confounding was her dance, and incomplete,
with steps reversed from what her siblings tread,
whom vast walls of distance had left untouched,
except for one, third closest of the brood,
across whom the sons and daughters of Man
had marched and sailed for an age, even then.
Through miles beyond the imponderable wells,
where gravitationís rope can bring all kinds
to clutch her breast, unbeknownst to themselves
and unrehearsed, where shrined in starry vaults
of space she seems a soft and distant ball,
the bovine blimps of old came drifting,
unannounced, slow and full of clout unspent,
perchance to hail from Saturn’s moons
or Pluto’s black and tenebrous caves,
or farther still, beyond the Oort cloud,
connected hence by wormhole gates,
although, truth be told, these children of Man
knew scarcely more of the bovines’ homes
than what intent they had in leaving them.
They were seven in number, and made no sign
to greet, much less strike down, their earthly hosts,
who in recent past had sailed for the Moon
to dredge the vast mares of Imbrium there,
while Venus garlanded with bovines turned.
The cows were city-sized, set still as clouds,
and gathered round the known libration points,
their soft hair warmed by the airless breeze
that hides in the furrows of celestial paths.
And from their pale rumps there erupted spikes
of colossal heights and symmetries,
like shards of a mountainous alpine range,
while far away in high cranial realms
beneath globulous eyes, unwinking and wet,
there came such miles of unrolled tongue
to where a bell hung round each neck, never rung.
Farther on then, on a median plane,
and down past the udders to hooves so large
they might trample to dust the very stars,
or sundering fall to valiant seas.
And thus gone to become islands of note,
filled up by men who would gouge them to load
their vats with keratin and glue,
while at the ports of less adhesive lands –
those dreamers, who lacked the means to send
the merest gift by Venusian post
might look to the cows in the starlit skies
with worship glowing in their stares.
Pantamoolians – in time would Man bequeath
this name to these first of the bovine fleet,
and proclaim the fourth, which as Delta we know
to be their chief, if only for her size,
and the fearsome spikes her valleys made.
Intrepid folk with a luxury of means
went forth to explore, quite cautious at first,
then soon without mishap coming closer,
their fears vanquished by plain curiosity,
and questions that would make a schoolmarm blanch,
so eager to know of the viscera there,
whether they would match those of earthly stock
or were fleeting instead, phantom spleens,
with luminiferous aether inside.
Swift the able seekers came forth to mount
their telescopes on all the ventral parts
where the views of Venus, though much improved,
were still beclouded in the eyes of Man,
who with ardor burned as much for her
as sheep from their herdsman cast adrift.
The inside was next, so often of a place
the last a guest is authorized to see.
They chose the tear duct for the first sally,
but subsequent tours proved the rump
far better, for mounting the needle and syringe.
The needle’s shaft was wide enough to host
a ship intact, and gave them the means
to breach the epidermis in a wink.
In light of this, merchants arrived in droves,
with scents of profits heretofore unwhiffed,
of slices to ship back home as gifts
for those most eager to impress their friends
with the joint of a starfaring beeve.
What was the harm, if some gathering crane
drew out, with its hooks, a pound here or there?
The cows were the size of dominant towns
and larded with much flesh to spare.
And so, such as it was, that in the wake
of such enterprising folk began to form
new companies arrayed with pleasure ships,
not so unlike those which had come before,
but with a mind to spare all pretense of trade;
instead these came with promises and cheer,
a chance for men of a commoner sort
to take in all the sights, to learn the names
of all the newly discovered places.
O heed us then, Calliope our muse!
as we are gathered here to sing the words
of this our epic tale – of one such trip
begun with good intent, but out of which
rich torrents of calamity sprang forth,
as from a sack with fruit too ripe to hold.
The lineage of Archibald Jenkins – Enjoying a Burgomeister – Patch radius strategies – Descending to the rump – A pair of spikes
To walk an eiderdown of spotted rump
with starry night all hovering above
came early to rise one Archibald Jenkins –
the son of Alastair son of Aster,
who was sired by Alfacadabras before him –
a citizen of Earth, and sometime holder
of poker hands fair to middling of worth,
who was dreaming of holidays to come.
Of all the injections heíd ever worked
this was to be his last, quite routine,
with the usual cleanup at the end;
and then farewell to their bovine host –
no underlings, hence, to ferret about,
no invoice stacks to riffle and stamp,
no work lists, lorries, radios to check,
and an end of all those budgets to sign
with those damned low-gravity pens.
Almost he could imagine home again,
his fingers wrapped round a Burgomeister,
so tall and full of froth, a balm for common men
but also for the great; his feet propped high
against a window’s wetted pane.
Then he would gaze upon fields, blissfully free
of cows and men; just the daffodilís smell,
the dawnís sweet breath of grass and thunder,
such were the pleasures to soon be his.
Now Jenkins ran the rump’s injection team,
his charge the patch radius, to lave and shear
its bristling hairs before the needle flew.
Prevailing wisdom had called for a space
a hundred foot wide, as well as could berth
some plenteous stack of ten-odd floors
that gently had toppled on its side,
but Jenkins, subjected to accounts, and time,
preferred to make it larger when he could.
Just a circle of pale and pink, no more,
though it oft-turned the guts of lesser folk,
the way it stared right into them.
No time to lose, a new ship had arrived,
and all the papers were spreading the news –
The Daily Charade, The Calcutta Times,
and a line in Komsomolskaya Pravda, too.
Even The Cowís Opinion ran a page,
so rash as to print in twenty point bold
the names of every passenger aboard.
Excited readers wanted much to know
what size the portholes had in all the rooms,
how soft and fine the water-filled beds,
and as for tea, was it brewed as they said
by automatic beverage machines?
Aside from all these questions, rumors flew,
of whose wife or pet would accompany whom,
and where the night promenades would be.
But those who were members of Jenkins’ crew
and even the needleworks team, up top,
they knew far better than to heed such mills
of flimsy gossip and propped up guff;
trips within the cow’s interior
were, if nothing else, a dangerous business,
made possible only by bilious guides
well-seasoned in lymph, and blood-swollen tides.
The dawn was coming fast upon the beast
as Jenkins – with a head of hair buzzed gray
and uniform to match, his shirt pocket stitched
with red-lettered pockets informing his name,
stepped into the elevator cage.
Some sixty full fathoms it ran
to join the station and its sprouting hubs
with the frosted hillocks of the beast.
He scans the downs with a vigilant eye,
all its wisps and nacreous cattail clumps,
with thoughts on gathering his crew, and his wits,
though unaware still, of assaults soon to come
from a dubious scoundrel indeed.
A lorry bumbles by, and signs of life
emerge from the brightening needleworks.
It looms a bulbous onion in the night,
graceful in its symmetry but for a pair
of aerotubes that go streaking out the side.
Like filaments partitioning the sky,
side by side, they race above the plain,
in haste to join the bulb out by the rump,
with the station and the welcoming docks
that sprout closer to the neck, and from whence
the newly minted passengers arrive.
Extruding from the bulb’s base comes the shaft
of the terrible needle, ramrod straight,
a lance as unwieldable as any
Giant had ever cast, beyond even
the thews of Ares in his prime, though well
he would rejoice to see it pierce
the tender spot where Septimus Mons
descends to converge with Upsilon Prime –
a pair of spikes that cannot be scaled,
though crews have tried, with miles of fastened rope,
and hopes not to hazard looks down below
where white tumbleweeds went frolicking by.
Nathan D. Jerpe is a recovering software engineer with a background in computational electromagnetics from Clemson University. He runs Roguelikefiction: a small press which explores experimental forms of text, narrative, and the spaces where video games and fiction intersect. In 2008 he released Legerdemain: a surreal computer role-playing game featuring a world drawn entirely with Unicode glyphs. He is currently at work translating volumes of weird epic poetry.