burstI wrote this story to try to convey a sense of what it is like to live in the shadow of a dominant culture that is indifferent, or possibly hostile, to your culture’s very existence.

No one has ever seen the Light Creatures.They just arrived one day, and made quite an entrance. The night of their first visit they stayed for less than a second, but destroyed twenty trillion dollars worth of houses, buildings, roads and other human artefacts, and killed two hundred million people.

We think they’re probably very large, and move at the speed of light, though the scientists say this is impossible. Although their devastation was a shock at first, we now think they didn’t meant it, it was probably just clumsiness or carelessness, them being so big and fast and all.

What they left behind were these gigantic strands of electrical energy, kind of like that ‘crazy string’ that comes in a spray can, or like enormous pieces of spaghetti dropped from the sky, but a mile around and hundreds of miles long. Thousands of swirling, dazzling, high-voltage strings of hypnotic, shimmering white, red and purple, brighter than the sun.

At first we were full of fury, but after awhile we realized we couldn’t fight back, we couldn’t kill them. Hell, we couldn’t even find them, didn’t even know who or what they were. The politicians called the visit an ‘attack’ back then, and there was talk of a ‘counter-offensive’. People blamed terrorists or communists or global warming. There was lots of praying for god’s forgiveness.Global conferences were held, by military leaders at first, and then scientists, to decide how to respond. The security freaks in government wanted trillions of dollars to build special rubber shelters that could withstand a direct hit from the strands.

When the scientists started saying it probably wasn’t an attack at all, and that our millions of dead were just incidental damage from the LightCreatures’ visit, the politicos and generals fumed. The scientists said that the strands were probably sign-posts, markers, graffiti of a colony of huge fast-moving creatures made of pure energy. They even suggested that maybe it was ‘leavings’, just plain shit that the Light Creatures dumped off and we just kind of got in the way. The politicians went ballistic when they heard that. They had this fantasy that we could stop comets and change the spin of the Earth’s core if we set our minds to it. They couldn’t handle not being able to do anything to avenge two hundred million dead.

The second visit came a few weeks after the first, and was much less severe, killing eighty million people. From then on, we started to expect that this would be a regular occurrence. The people who wanted to defend against theLight Creatures gave up, as there was clearly no defence. The people who saw the visits as a divine message also gave up, since the message was impossible to decipher. There was more evidence that the Light Creatures didn’t even know we existed.

We started to study the strands. If you lived between about three and thirty miles from a strand, it was like basking in the midnight sun. You never needed any lights and the temperature gradient at that distance was always comfortable, and safe. The strands and their electromagnetic field destroyed most of the electric power grid and communications systems, and with them much of the world’s political and corporate power structures. But we had water, and energy.

The third, and latest visit from the Light Creatures came almost a year later, just a few months ago. It was the worst yet, nearly a third of the planet criss-crossed in high-voltage ribbon this time, destruction in the quintillions of dollars and deaths in the billions. Surprisingly we handled this one well. Families had moved closer together in the interim, and local communities had replaced virtual ones, so during the third visit, which lasted maybe ten seconds, most communities were either annihilated, with nothing left to grieve, or left unscathed.

Some people say it’s been humbling. We feel like ants at the mercy of some big kid who might stomp on us, on purpose or by accident, or who might walk by, oblivious, and leave us untouched. There’s no point in worrying about it, the next visit, whether there will be one. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, lessen its impact. We can only go on with our lives.

Our new society is much more local, more egalitarian. In some ways, strangely, we have more control over our lives than we did before. We’re part of the decision of what crops get grown, what clothes get made, what medicines get ordered. We have more of a hand in our own lives. The strands divided us into autonomous communities but united us within these communities. Now that our world is so much smaller, we have a stronger sense of place, of where we belong.

Odd how such a destructive force could have liberated us from the prison of our culture. Life, and its satisfactions, are infinitely simpler, and more visceral, than before. We no longer look to the gods or the stars for answers. We understand that life is precious, and fragile, and serendipitous. We’ve lost everything we’d built for thirty thousand years, and found ourselves, our meaning, our answer, here, now, home.