The world Midas
Entering orbit we saw farms, roads, settlements, and industrial areas. Strangely, there was no radio traffic, nor boat or air travel; many islands and an island continent were not part of the world-spanning industrial system.
We dispatched landers to farms, settlements, factories, and one to the island continent. First reports were contradictory and puzzling. No-one reported any use of fire or metal; all were ignored by the natives, who were of a dazzling array of different species. This is contrary to Helbertian’s Corollary, which states that no planet evolves intelligence on two lines simulateously, it having too sudden an onset. However, most of the natives appeared to be unintelligent animals operating on instinct. Every lander agreed that they cooperated to serve the intelligent master; but the landers disagreed as to that master species’ identity.
On the farms Orange Hexapods ran things, while in the settlements Large Green Bipeds exchanged goods with the road-travelling Centaurs. Meanwhile the factories hosued bizarre Tetramanual Apods which fabricated housing modules, wove Centaur panniers, chipped stone reapers, and prepared chemicals from farm produce brought in by Centaurs and Bi-Tentacular Elephantoids. Where the Apods the sentients, or were they trained animals working for the Centaurs and Elephantoids, who took the final produce? Or was it all for the Biped traders, or were the Bipeds just trained messengers for the storehouse-guarding Black Squirrels, in whose immense watertight wooden structures were stored vast quantities of sugar, protein powder, salt, spices, vitamins, fertilizers, pest poisons, and herbal drugs? Or were the Squirrels just housekeepers for the ubiquitous Irdidescent Pantherium (the ‘All-beast’ or ‘Dragon’), which was fed and cared for by all? Or was the Dragon just a well-armed guard animal kept to keep down pilferage, to the ultimate advantage of the agricultural Hexapods? Or were the Hexapods just pets being milked by the Centaurs? Or were the Centaurs beasts of burden for the legless Tetramans? Round and round the circle went, with fractal twists and eddies.
Where were the sentients who constructed this fantastic living machine? It ran itself and somehow adjusted itself to disturbances and fluctuations. The unknown sentients had even provided a cross-species lingua franca of numbers, used by the animals to account for all exchanges. Where were the master inventors?
Gradually specimens came in, and we soon learned that none of even the major species had much neural development. Were the sentients in hiding? If so, then how does the system remain in uncontrolled equilibrium?
Incidentally, specimens were hard to get. Dragons guarded all large settlements and caravan/herds, making it dangerous to capture or kill any animals. Even energy weaposn would be ineffective against the Dragon’s mirror-bright scales. One Pantherium can take on any known predator from any world, and yet these jeweled, clawed, fanged, bestingered, iron-thewed, snaggle-toothed armored fighters are all herbivores! Or, rather, they, along with all other large Midas animals, eat only the concentrated dry food prepared by Hexapods. The sentient’s aim in this is clear; to standardize feeding, for food storage, for save on transport weight, and above all, to ensure the dependence of the animals upon the system. As such they have succeeded; there are no higher Midas carnivores, and few higher herbivores.
We could take no specimens, not even dead bodies, as these were all carted off to make fertilizer. Nonetheless we did get specimens, all through to one technician. Her actions were suspicious, so we kept close watch on her. One night she left the lander, followed quietly by Doctors Tzu and Jones. Arriving at a caravan camping by the light of a Bioluminous Bat, she uttered a peculiar sound. This common signal had not yet been decoded by our computers.
A Ble Rat emerged into the Bat-light and responded with a standard (undecoded by us0 response. The tech gestured at an Elephant’s pannier and brought forth a watch (pilfered from ship’s stores, we later discovered). The Rat made a gesture; the pannier was emptied; it contained a Centaur corpse. The Rat scurried from corpse to watch, sniffed both, and signaled in the planet’s mathematical lingua franca:
(this) (here) equals three (that) (there).
The tech indicated:
(negation). (that) (there) equals two (this) (here).
Rat: (negation). Two pont seven five.
Tech: (negation). Two point two five.
Rat: (sum) divided by two equals two point five.
Tech: Two point two five.
Rat: Two point two five.
Then they exchanged one Centaur corpse for 2.25 digital watches. Change for the third watch was given (after more haggling) in a few ounces of a certain powder that turned out to be the now-famous Mindzap recreational drug. Thus we uncovered the cause of a wave of petty thefts and bizarre pranks perpetrated by the technical crew.
The Rat inspected one watch closely; it strapped the ornament around its waist, then gestured to the Elephant and scurried back to the caravan. The Elephant trundled forth, picked up the Centaur, and followed the tech back to camp.
She had bartered for, and bought, the specimen, and this from a Blue Rat, known to have only a rodent’s intelligence! This was the key to the puzzle; the reason why no sentients were evident despite Midas’s elaborate market structure was that an economic sense existed in all higher animals there!
The ecology of all Midas, except the island continent, was integrated with economics, in fact was an economy! It evolves genetically, like all ecologies, but the driving force of trade (as monetized by the sucrose standard) had speeded up and elaborated its evolution to make it mimic an industrial society! In fact it was one, despite lacking true language, sentience, or organizing principle except for do-evolution, or the Invisible Hand of the Market, if you will.
Lander 17, on the island continent, proposed this explanation of the origin of this unique ecology/economy: now on the island continent, as on all Midas some hundred million years ago, there were two forms of vegetation, A and B, that grow in separate clumps. A certain territorial herbivore required both A and B, but usually couldn’t control a territory big enough for both kinds. They evolved a rudimentary quid-pro-quo food barter system; this proved a success, and later evolved into true money; then the species radiated into thousands of forms, filling all available niches.
Thus arose the class Economica. Midas has an old, well-developed, sophisticated and immensely prosperous ecology/economy; thus its name.
Chamber of Commerce epilog:
Trade with Midas is brisk, with metal tools, fertilizer and antibiotics going for Midasan Methuselah, Mindzap and Aphrodite drugs, which do work on humans as advertized. There are no colonization prospects, as the natives resent trespass, and enforce their resentment by sending Pantheria; and a full-grown Dragon can best a Star Class Battle Cruiser! However, some humans have chosen to ‘go native’ and hire themselves out as traders, chemists, farmers, workers, warehousers, etc. Few do as well as the money-wily natives, but at least all can get Methuselah, Mindzap and Aprhodite cheaply. Their population is fixed at a constant level; the niche for Humans is limited.
Some claim that the general level of intelligence in Midas’s co-evolved economy has been rising lately. Perhaps humans have provided an impetus. There may soon be several thousand new intelligent species. Some are excited by this prospect, others dismayed.
Who knows what the future will bring? For now, Midas appears to be a blue-chip investment.