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Cafe Esplanad, Helsinki, Finland

In the Roger Otip story “Executioners from the future” (which was originally titled “Ignorance is no defense” but the former title was felt by the publishers to be more marketable in Yankeeland and more likely to lead to a movie deal) the judges and the bailiffs (who carry out the arrests) and the jury are all presented as being very short grey skinned individuals with large black eyes, like the popular image of aliens. Apparently Otip was hoping that Tom Cruise would play the lead prosecutor but Cruise turned down the role because it didn’t fit with Scientologist ideology, and perhaps also because he didn’t like the idea of playing a character who is 4 feet 7 inches tall, several inches shorter than Cruise himself. Perhaps what he really objected to was the following passage in Otip’s screenplay adaptation:

“The prosecutor draws himself up to his full height and looks the defendant squarely in the navel.”

Cruise’s agent had suggested that this was unrealistic. Wouldn’t the prosecutor be standing on a raised platform or something when cross-examining the defendant? And another thing: if he looks the defendant squarely in the navel doesn’t this suggest that the defendant is naked?

That last point was meant as a criticism of Otip’s logical consistency, but if the agent had read the story and not just the screenplay he would have read several pages of explanation as to why all court proceedings are conducted without clothing. Otip had deliberately left this detail out of the screenplay, hoping it could be added in a later draft once all the contracts were signed. He knew enough about the Hollywood system (having read Dr Wheeler’s “Hollywood, Politics and Society” several times over) to know that a major star like Cruise would not willingly agree to appear as a 4 foot 7 inch bug-eyed megalomaniac with a tiny grey shrivelled penis. The idea was it would all be done in post-production using CGI. On set the actors would be wearing skin-tight jump suits, though the actors playing the defendants would be naked. This could easily be explained to the hopefully star-studded cast by telling them that the court wanted to humiliate the defendants, whereas actually Otip’s intention was precisely the reverse. He wanted the prosecution to emphasize the physical disparities between themselves and the defendants in a “look what you’ve done to us” kind of way.

Several generations after the holocaust the survivors moved underground in order to avoid the carbon eating nanobots that plagued the surface. These had evolved from the self-replicating nanobots humanity had launched into the atmosphere as a last-ditch attempt to reverse the effects of their carbon burning. In an admirable display of international unity the United States and China called a truce in their war over Taiwan (of which little remained anyway after the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945) in order to collaborate on developing a strain of carbon eating nanobot to take out of the atmosphere some of the carbon dioxide put there by two centuries of fossil fuel burning. They would ingest carbon dioxide in the way that plants do (due to the global increase in temperature there were now not so many of them doing it) retaining the carbon and excreting the oxygen. This was very successful, more successful than the most optimistic of scientists could have hoped. Within five years carbon levels were back to their pre-industrial levels. Another five years and temperatures were falling noticeably. Another ten years and the polar ice-caps started to reform, sea levels were dropping – the sky scrapers of New York became visible above the waves – and some ski resorts in the alps re-opened. It was a triumph of humanity over nature.

But no one told that to the carbon eating nanobots. They’d eaten all of the carbon in the atmosphere and they were still hungry, and there were now more of them than ever, including new strains, less fussy strains which did not only eat atmospheric carbon dioxide, they ate almost all carbon compounds, including, but not limited to, the carbon compounds that living organisms are made of.