As you may have noticed, my blog looks a little different today. I grew tired of the green and brown color scheme and changed it up. I also added a new category called Fiction. You can search it for any stories I post exclusively here. Let me know what you think in the comments.
The following is a science fiction story I wrote around the time of the election. I probably won’t find a home for it, so here ya go. The title came from a captcha phrase I got while logging into something; I don’t recall what. I liked it, however, and I thought it would make a good title (mine usually blow).
© 2016 by Elizabeth West
Hello, friend. I see you’re traveling to the same station as myself. Yes, the transport will be quite crowded. Please, sit beside me. There is room. I will move my things, and my extra limbs — there. Apologies for the space they take up. Yes, there are several of us here, traveling. Traveling…
You are from Earth? Near Sol? How interesting. I have seen pictures of it from our information network, but I have never been so far. It is a lovely blue, is it not? My home is a bit less vibrant. Mostly grey, but with brilliant crystalline purple sections. Our museum once held a large stone from Earth called a geode. It was a popular exhibit because the interior resembled parts of our own world. Perhaps long ago, the two evolved from the same sort of matter.
Ah, well, you would know then. Exo-geology is a fascinating field of study. I see…yes, long assignments can be taxing. You must be excited to return home.
I have heard a great deal about the civilization of Earth. How some live in abject poverty while others waste far more than they could ever use. It’s quite the interesting subject in our schools.
No, no, we do not travel much. Why would we, when we had all we needed? Oh those are not tears; I have an eye condition. You need not worry about contagion. No, I am not crying.
Thank you for the eye-cloth. You are very kind. I have heard of the caring of Earth’s citizens for those in distress. You want to hear my story? Oh, I doubt if it will interest you.
Very well then. We have plenty of time before the transport arrives. Would you like to share my beverage? It is fresh pellacia juice. No? Ah, you have coffee. A quaint drink, but effective if one wishes to remain alert.
To begin…oh, where am I from? Why, Ulgoter Plantarum. It is some distance from here. We live on the surface of the planet, beneath a black sky, the dome above us arching in a graceful and benevolent bubble. It is a beautiful world of vast sparkling plains. Though somewhat inhospitable to oxygen-breathing organisms, millennia ago, our society colonized it after our own planet’s star began to die, and we made our home there. It lacks resources, but it has several moons from which we draw water, metals, and other materials we need to flourish. Our society has always been uniform, but we idolize those with a meld of citizens from many worlds, including those humans who originated on the exoplanets at the edge of your galaxy.
Oh yes, we have heard of the abductions. Those were not Ulgotan activity. Many others in the system would perpetrate such misdeeds, I am sad to say.
Governance. Yes. That is the issue. That is where my tale becomes one of woe.
On Ulgoter Plantarum, we elect a planetary leader. Our democratic process rises above all others in the galaxy. Fairness, community, and openness prevail. We revere all forms of humans, all races, all alignments, and all non-humans alike. Those born in our civilization can rise to greatness if they possess the necessary qualities. Because we appear alike, our society conditions us from birth to accept differences. We have little enmity. Our population lives in agreement; those who would divide and conquer find themselves subtly ostracized and usually decide to take employment on the largest of the neighboring moons, Devanon, where the roughest of construction and mining operations take place, and colonies of hateful dissenters flourish, burn, and die. Quite literally. One can see occasional flares of explosions as they destroy each other. But we examine behavior, not speech; the more promises a candidate puts forth, the deeper the scrutiny of past deeds, or misdeeds.
Only once did we make a mistake.
We had few who wished to lead at that time. Most citizens were content with the way things were, save Devanon’s inhabitants. They issued constant complaints, which most Ulgotans ignored. The Continental Plains presented a candidate who seemed promising, who had served as their advisor to the council and whose reasoned ideas seemed to take both Devanon and the home world into consideration. But no one seemed inclined to challenge him, and Ulgotan law specifies that no office can be filled without an election, to prevent supplanting citizens’ choice. An opponent had to be provided. We trusted the governmental moon to do this.
When the council announced the choice, Ulgotans were surprised, and many were pleased. They had chosen the Japer. We all knew this entity; however, it had never been a council member or advisor of any stripe. In fact, it had had run the most productive of the mining colonies on Devanon, where the majority of citizen complaints were loudest. It baffled us why the council would choose such a being.
Japer is an old word for trickster, beguiler. I use it here because we — meaning many of us who had misgivings–never called it by its actual name. Its acumen brought the promise of new economic projects. Though vague, they seemed legitimate, and its unorthodox proclamations kept us entertained. It was of unpleasant appearance and demeanor for an Ulgotan, yet it seemed to know what we needed. At first.
Soon, it showed a disturbing preference for the least civilized and most poorly educated of our citizens, most of whom populated Devanon and a few outer moons, claiming their rights had been trampled not only by its opposition but also by the government itself, and they must rebel. No more appealing to the council and following due process. “You’re shoved aside!” it thundered. “You have to take it back! What’s theirs is yours! Rebel! Rebel! Choose me, and I’ll help you!” It painted an ugly picture of the council, that they were power-hungry dictatorial creatures who soothed us with lies and kept us divided. “Restore Ulgoter Plantarum and Devanon to one!” the Japer cried, and its followers rallied.
This platform disturbed us. Negotiations with the council had kept the home world in harmony with the industrial moon colonies for many years. To see this break down was the stuff of nightmares. The denizens of the moons had the same rights and privileges as did those on the planet; they worked in the mines by choice. They earned a decent wage and had their needs provided for. They were not slaves. They enjoyed freedom of movement between the moon and the main population centers, when they could afford it.
An astute observer on our daily informational broadcast pointed out that contentment can breed boredom, and perhaps this was the reason for their rebellion, spotted and encouraged by the Japer in order to draw attention to itself. For it seemed to thrive on scrutiny and adoration both. We had never before seen a candidate who did not care whether it was loved or hated. Or perhaps, a few suggested, things were not quite so fair after all.
This elicited a vast divide of opinion at first. Those who favored it were the most vociferous and eventually prevailed. Dissenters insisted they had given the matter careful thought and had finally accepted the rightness of the Japer’s supporters. Perhaps the moons did have a legitimate complaint. After all, things had not changed on Ulgoter Plantarum for centuries.
With suspicion came investigation. It revealed that several of the more long-lived council members –though hardly a majority– had been manipulating negotiations to ensure their own interests received more attention and less scrutiny. They had been quietly appropriating the benefits provided to the moons’ populations, and credits earned for work given had not increased as the council had told us. Our fair-minded civilization reeled in a state of shock. A segment of our citizenry had indeed been betrayed.
Punishment? Oh, yes, our charter contained legal remedies for just such a scenario. All citizens of the colony had to do was agree by crystal vote to follow the procedure and have the miscreants sanctioned. Indeed, they were. We assumed the matter would resolve and the planet would gradually settle back into its former state of genteel acceptance.
We could not have been more wrong.
Led by the vocal dissidents in the planetary colony, fed by endless streams of rhetoric from the Japer itself, and incited by the collapse of trust in the council following the recent scandal, the unthinkable happened. The divisive Japer won the election.
No, no; I am all right. Yes, I would like more pellacia juice, thank you. Please allow me to refill your coffee in turn. I insist. Simply indicate when you have finished.
On the day of the Japer’s induction, Ulgoter Plantarum went into a frenzy. From the moons came reports of wild celebrations that lasted throughout the eight-day week. One could observe pyrotechnics from several hundred leagues away. They lit up the stratosphere in a dazzling display, visible even from the outer moon colonies (indeed, that had been the intent, since many of the workers there did not have enough credits to travel to the capital or even to Devanon).
On the planet itself, the mood leaned toward a sober contemplation. How could one faction, far from the majority, have succeeded? Analysis of the crystal votes revealed that less than 64% of Ulgotans had bothered to submit their stones. When the still-unbiased information network took a poll, it found the majority of those who abstained had done so due to a lack of confidence that the remaining council members favored Ulgoter Plantarum’s interests over their own. “Why should we?” many of them said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. First it was the moon; next it will be us.”
And things began to change.
Oh yes, I suppose it does make me angry to speak of it. I have never been able to control the blue flush. Everyone always knows when I am upset. I appreciate your willingness to listen, and your concern.
Yes, our resistance to change may seem difficult to understand. Earthlings thrive on upheaval. When things become static, you push them. Look at your science, your technology. You would not be here, sitting beside me, but for change.
Very well. I shall explain.
At first, the Japer had the most appalling ideas, ones that spoke to the very basest of our instincts, traits we had striven to eliminate over many generations. We despaired; our society showed signs of slipping backward. Debates raged furiously. The majority, I am thankful to say, exhibited much thoughtfulness and informed discourse. When the Japer, aided by the council, presented potential edicts, resistance happened swiftly but not without consideration. In this way, we managed to extract the best ideas and discard what did not work. We began to get used to it.
Then one day, the blow fell. Six cycles into its incumbency, the Japer announced a new development, an astonishing reimagining of the planet’s societal structure, and one that would forever alter the way we lived. There had been a breakthrough, it said, in the understanding of our planet. An exploration we knew nothing about had discovered new sources of raw materials. No longer would we confine a third of the populace to the moons; no longer would we strip them of their resources. Though hardly limited, they took time to replenish, time in which the workers lay idle and did not earn credits. This had been a subject of exhaustive debate in times past and various solutions were proposed; it was the main reason Devanon colonists could not afford to visit the planet. Many had originated on the moons and had never seen the beautiful sparkling plains of Ulgoter Plantarum for themselves.
No more, declared the Japer. The entire population of the moons could now join us. The first to come would be the construction workers. They would begin assembly of living quarters and section centers, and do the heavy work involved in opening the refineries. “To refine what?” we asked.
Yes, I hear that. I am sorry I cannot speak over it. Let us retire to this seat, further back. It seems to be coming from the front of the station. Our transport will soon be here; I will finish as quickly as I can.
Our purple crystals had always functioned as nothing more than scenery. As fate would have it, researchers at an industrial operation hired by the council at the Japer’s behest had discovered they contained a substance that would provide energy of a sort we had not seen before. It would power our cities, and we would no longer need to depend on the expensive moon operations. Our society could be one at last.
And so the work began. Much sooner than anticipated, which pleased the Japer to no end, the refineries were operational. The council and the Japer began to make plans regarding a changeover of energy.
Before they could do so, our scientists rushed to inform them of a dreadful complication. The threads of substance within the crystals that formed the basis of this restructuring contained a dangerous element. If released, as it would be during refining, it would slowly decimate the planet.
First, airborne particles would lower the temperature. Then, the remaining crystals would react. They would break down, lose their sparkle, turn as grey as their surroundings. In turn, they would release more of the element, poisoning the soil and liquid. Contamination would spread. As if this were not bad enough, the element would cause disease within the populace. Slowly but surely, it would destroy us.
To the scientists’ alarm and the chagrin of the population, careful examination of Ulgoter Plantarum’s records found that no one had ever performed a study on the planet before it was terraformed. Blame flew; information streams deteriorated into a cacophony of argument and supposition.
We seem to be attracting attention. I doubt this station sees many Ulgotans. I must hurry.
The Japer, as you might imagine, completely disregarded the warnings, even when the populace near the refineries began to show premature signs of the poison’s effects. It merely stated the situation would pass. Several of the scientists disagreed. They went underground. They made plans to stop the Japer, woefully unformed and even unbalanced plans. We–they needed a catalyst.
It came when an unfounded rumor surfaced. The Japer was building a ship. An escape ship. Only large enough for itself, its closest advisors and the cronies who ran the refineries, and its young. It meant to leave us to the ravages of the refineries, which continued to exude their poison. Nothing we tried could stop it. The refinery bosses bribed their workers with credits and promises of many more glorious things to come if they would not dissent.
The plan was laid.
Excuse me? One moment, friend; the station operative needs information. My transport card, yes yes. I have it here. Let me search…ah, here we are. All should be in order, for my colleagues as well. We are going to Dalion IV. No, this human is returning to Earth, to family. Ah, I see. Thank you for informing us.
I am sorry, my friend, for the interruption. Let us hope the transport delay does not take much longer.
What was the plan? It was a simple one, really. It started with a subversive attempt to stop the refining. When that failed, as we suspected it would, we engineered the definitive solution.
Oh, you are back. Yes, Operative. Yes, that is my name. I see there is no reason to resist. You have found us. My colleagues are not well. Please treat them kindly. The poison spread too deeply into their systems. They will not survive long after reaching K-6.
I am sorry, dear friend. Please, do not try to interfere. No, Operative, the Earthling had nothing to do with it.
What? Yes, I said Dalion IV, but we are not going there now. Our escape has been thwarted. K-6 is a prison planet, friend. The plan I spoke of? The only way to stop the Japer from leaving, and to cut short the awful suffering it inflicted on our beautiful world, was to destroy it.
When our first conflagrations at the refineries distracted the council, we infiltrated the Japer’s section. The ship, now completed, was loaded with credits. All the credits its cronies had promised to the workers. In fact, the entire treasury. You see, we had no choice. We stole the ship and passed the outer binary star just as the chemical reaction we instigated removed Ulgoter Plantarum from existence.
Could you please give me the eye-cloth? I cannot reach, as I am confined. Thank you. Thank you, friend. Please, do not weep for me. All that I told you took place over many of your generations. I am old, and I am tired. We accept our sentence knowing that we have liberated our planet from great suffering, not with vengeance, but with compassion. If you take nothing else from my story, take this: care for your world. Protect it. We are the last of our kind, but the Japer was not the last of its ilk.
Ah, here is your transport. And I see ours has arrived also. Farewell, my friend. Farewell.