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Demon – Coming Attractions

The location scout was the first into the valley.

Like most of Gaea’s genetically tailored beings, the scout did not have a sex. It had no mouth and no organs of digestion. What it did have was a pair of cinemascope eyes and a magnificent spatial sense.

The scout clattered over the valley on spindly rotors, hovered, and turned slowly. It saw a rushing river beneath twenty-meter cliffs. Above the cliffs was a plateau of sufficient size, and ringing the plateau were trees more than sufficient for the needs of the approaching Crew. It felt warm contentment, like a kitten who has found a bowl of milk. This was the place.

It flew over the trees, spraying them with an attractant pheromone. That done, it made several passes over the plateau, dropping spores. It settled at the edge of the plateau, already beginning to feel tired. Its rotor withered and fell away. Walking on long, feathery legs, it circled the location, stopping every hundred paces to poke a seed into the ground with a long sharp organ growing from its belly.

With the last of its strength it made its way into the woods and died.

In twenty revs the plateau was covered with bushes a meter high. Spaced around the location were klieg trees, already twenty meters high and getting bigger at the rate of two meters per rev.

Forty-five revs after the death of the scout the advance party of carpenters, teamsters, and vintners arrived. Carpenters were hairless animals the size of grizzly bears, all alike except for their teeth, which were widely specialized. Some had beaver incisors, capable of gnawing down a tree with a few dozen bites. Others had a single projecting tooth two meters long, notched on one edge, which could saw beams and planks from raw timber. There were carpenters with trapezoidal teeth. These could bite the end of a plank in tenons, ready for dovetailing. Others had drill-bit teeth. Twisting their heads vigorously, they could ream out a mortise.

In Gaea, a team of forty carpenters was called a union.

All the carpenters had quite human hands, except that each finger ended in a nail shaped for a different utility. The palms of the hands were as different as human fingerprints. Some were hard and horny, some were deeply grooved or pebbled, while others were smooth as a jeweler’s rubbing cloth. With these hands the carpenters could plane and sand wood to a wondrous luster. The distance from the end of the thumb to the end of the little finger of each carpenter was exactly the same: fifty centimeters.

In a few revs, the platforms, soundstages, archives building, and scores of chapels had begun to take shape.

The vintners were one-purpose creatures. All they did was move onto the location and devoir clusters of small white grapes. The plants that bore the fruit were not grapevines, but the fruit were, for all practical purposes, grapes. The vintners ate them all, then fell into a torpor from which they would never emerge. But in thirty revs they could be tapped for an excellent white chablis.

The teamsters were something else again. In a place where a union of carpenters was well within the norm, the teamsters stood out as weird.

Teamsters looked something like hippos, but were five times the size of elephants. They were land whales mincing along on six legs just thick enough to support them in Gaea’s low gravity. Three of them arrived at the valley and started eating the plants that had grown from the scout’s spores.

There were many kinds of plants. Each variety went to a different stomach. The teamsters had eleven separate sets of digestive organs.

When the field was cleared, the teamsters moved to the side and fell over, somnolent as the vintners. Their legs withered until the animals were little more than bulging bladders lined with row upon row of nipples in a bewildering variety of shapes and colors. But the teamsters retained their mouths for a little longer. They would eat the union of carpenters when construction was done.

Gaea’s operations were always tidy.

Things started to really pop when the production crew began trickling in.

There were hordes of skittering little bolexes, brainlessly pointing themselves in all directions and whirring fruitlessly, too stupid to know they needed re-loading. They spotted the teamsters and began fighting for a teat like piglets after a weary sow. Their excited cries sounded like meet! meet! meet!

Close behind them were the arriflexes, accompanied by producers, and behind them were the lordly panaflexes, each with its attendant executiveproducer. The production species hung back with nothing to do while their photofaunal symbiotes gorged on silver nitrate, pyroxylin, and other chemicals, each going to its proper holding bladder. All the producers looked much the same, except for their size. The execs were the largest and the only ones with a voice. From time to time, for reasons having nothing to do with communication, one of them would grunt unch, unch.

As the bolies, arries, and panas chowed down, others of the Crew filtered into the site, dodging carpenters, who were putting the finishing touches on their work with Swiss Army fingernails. There was a gaggle of twenty-meter booms, stalking through the chaos like solemn storks. Groups of grips and bestboys quickly broke up, guiding others to their work sites. Painters sucked stains and dyes from the teamsters, then spread them over the bare wood with their long perforated tails elephants arrived, pulling rumbling carts full of costumes, props, carpets, make-up, and portable dressing rooms. These were real Earth elephants, bred from imported stock. In Gaea’s gravity, elephants did not lumber; they pranced, supple and frisky as cats.

Pandemonium was taking shape.

Humanoids, androids, homunculi, and a few genuine human beings made their penultimate entrances, signaling it would not be long before the appearance of the Director Herself.

Some of these human-based and human-derived hybrids were workers, others mere extras. Some were the shambling undead, from which even the brainless constructs seemed to recoil. A very few were stars. Luther swept in with fire in his demented eyes and took his apostles straight to their spare chapel. Brigham and his boys rode in on horses to find the Temple not yet ready for them. There were recriminations, and conniption fits. Marybaker was there, and so was Elron. It was rumored that Billy Sunday was in the neighborhood, and perhaps even Kali. It was going to be quite a festival.

As each bolex, arriflex, and panaflex finished eating, the appropriate producer attached itself and the two moved off as one. Like the producers, the photofauns were enough alike that one could serve as model for all, except in size. The most important thing about a panaflex was the size of its single, glassy eye, and the width of its horizontal anus, which was precisely seventy millimeters.

A panaflex had only one urge: getting the shot. It would do anything to get the shot–take a ride on a copter, dangle from a boom, go over a waterfall in a barrel. Its unblinking eye ogled everything, and when it was ready, it shot film. Somewhere in its innards guncotton and camphor and other unlikely substances came together under considerable pressure to form a continuous strip of celluloid. That strip was coated with photoreactive chemicals to produce a full-color negative. The strip moved behind the panaflex’s eye and was exposed in discrete frames by a muscle-and-bone pull-down and shutter mechanism Edison would have recognized.

The producer rode on the back of the panaflex, facing the rear, ready for the emerging film, which it ate. Naturally, this required a close contact to prevent fogging by ambient light. It didn’t faze the producer, who was always hungry for film. By eating it, the producer also developed and fixed it.

When they in turn defecated, the product was projector-ready footage, which was why Gaea called them producers.

It was sixty revs after the preliminary scout first discovered the site and found it good. The flacks and hypes were returning from their forays into the woods, laden with game. These were ape-like creatures: two of the few predatory species Gaea had ever produced. Gaea was not good at predators. A hype would have fared poorly in an African jungle. But in Gaea, most of the fauna were not good at flight, either, simply because they had no predators. The principal source of meat, the smilers, did not have to be stalked–they didn’t run–or even killed. Meat could be harvested from them in long strips, doing no harm to the smiler. Many a smiler steak was sizzling in the commissary building as the first great feast was prepared and laid out on long trestle tables with immaculate white cloths and big crystal jugs of chablis. A breathless quiet fell over the site as all awaited the arrival of Gaea. It was broken only by the excited meet, meet, meeeet of the bolexes as they jostled each other for position.

The ground began to tremble. She came through the woods. There was a reverent gasp from the assembled Priests as her head came into view over the treetops.

Gaea was fifteen meters tall. Or, as she preferred to have it, “fifty foot two, eyes of blue.”

They were blue, too, though they couldn’t be seen behind the largest pair of sunglasses ever constructed. Her hair was platinum blonde. She wore enough heavy canvas, dyed light blue, to rig a Spanish galleon. The cloth was cut and sewn by tentmakers into a knee-length dress. She wore moccasins the size of broad-beamed canoes. In face and figure, she bore an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.

She paused when she reached the clearing and looked over all her subjects and all their works. At last she nodded: it was good. The lights on the klieg trees turned to face her and the massive lips parted in a smile, revealing even white teeth big as bathroom tiles. All around her, bolexes and arriflexes whirred admiration.

A chair had been built for her. It groaned as she settled into it. All her movements seemed slow. A blink took almost a second. The panaflexes had learned the trick of undercranking so that she seemed to move at normal speed while her minions scampered like mice.

Dressers scrambled up ladders behind her, armed with rakes for her hair, buckets of nail polish, cans of mascara. She ignored them; it was their job to anticipate her movements–something they were not always able to do. She looked at the big screen that had been erected facing her chair.

The Pandemonium Traveling Film Festival was about to begin. The klieg trees dimmed, turned off; the valley darkened. Gaea cleared her throat–a sound like a diesel engine–but when she spoke, it was pitched in the feminine range. Very loud, but feminine.

“Roll it,” she said.