by Bill Bowler
Part 2 and Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
It was three quarklogs ago. My father had returned to our chambers full of worry, emitting anxiety on all wavelengths.
“What is it?!” I burst out. “What happened?”
His antennae were twisted, “A ship has come.”
“An alien ship, not of this world.”
“Can it be true?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“What do they want?”
My father’s aura turned grim, “They seem to be an intelligent species but who knows? The Control Group has met in emergency session. But it’s late, Gaag. Enough for now. Get some rest, child.”
My father moved off slowly to his stasis pod, his thoughts and feelings a tangled web of contradictions that I could not sort out. I had never before felt him in such conflict. I returned to my own chamber but could not stabilize. My rate of discharge continued to increase; too many ideas and images crowded into my macronucleus. Who were these aliens? Why had they come here? What did they want from us? Eventually, though, fatigue won out over alarm. In the comfort of my pod, I entered repose.
The next period of activity began abruptly when some ruckus in the tunnel interfered with stasis. Hate and fear permeated the atmosphere and someone was banging on the entrance to the neighbors’ chamber across the tunnel. I went to our portal and peered out from behind my father.
A Control Group Enforcer, with the splendid red sphere insignia tattooed on his thorax, was at the neighbors’ portal across the tunnel with three unmarked deputies. The Enforcer was large, strong, obviously pure and of superior lineage. His many eyestalks, determined, dark and fierce, swept the tunnel and focused on the portal. He banged again on the entrance with his powerful proboscis.
“Open up! There is nothing to be afraid of!”
No answer came, only waves of fear, and the portal remained secure. His patience exhausted, the Enforcer drew his weapon, fired, and the portal was breached. The deputies pushed in. It was a shock to see. Our two neighbors were joined in mid-conjugation in the shadowed rear of the chamber. The deputies grasped them, tore them apart, ripping the cytopolasmic bridge between them, and dragged one of them, howling in pain, out into the tunnel, while its mate cowered in a dark corner.
These neighbors were an inferior sort, unintelligent, slow, weak and sickly. They gave off an unpleasant odor and appeared physically deformed. They didn’t belong in a top sector like ours. Their type was being systematically removed for hygienic reasons and relocated to the frozen side for training. Sector by sector, the Class A regions, which face our star in perpetual light and warmth, were being purified.
The neighbor trembled in the hallway. It was pathetic to sense such cowardly and demeaning behavior, even in an inferior specimen, as our bodies shared traces of common material suggesting we were distantly related and separated, perhaps, only by deleterious chance mutation. To our shame and horror, mutation still occurred and vestiges of inferiority still surfaced from time to time even in the most pure and developed of family lines.
In the tunnel, the Enforcer struck the neighbor across the eyes with the butt of his weapon. Crunching, splattering, sickening sound waves filled the space. The neighbor fell back against the wall, oozing fluid through a wound. His mate quivered in the depths of the compartment, wailing in agony. The Enforcer struck the neighbor again. He collapsed to the ground with a groan.
“Take him away,” said the Enforcer.
Two deputies grabbed the neighbor, tearing cilia out by the roots, and dragged him roughly down the tunnel towards the exit, leaving a trail of leaking protoplasm. He was limp and offered no resistance. His distraught mate, panic stricken, rushed out to the tunnel and transmitted after them,
“We forgive you.”
In disgust, I turned from the sordid spectacle back to my own chamber. The sooner this purifying of the population was over, the better. The plan was sublime, the theory solid; but the implementation was unexpectedly messy. It turned a beautiful concept into an ugly incident.
I had to prepare myself for sessions at the educational facility. Tattoos were not permitted at my age but I was so proud of the red sphere insignia on my Youth Corps enforcer prod. I knew that only superior students were granted the privilege of carrying the prod and the honor of displaying the Control Group Youth Corps emblem. It was not for inferior or defective throwbacks, nor even the merely ordinary. Only the select, the finest, the superior few, the most pure, destined to rule and lead, were chosen.
The receiver in our compartment was on in the background. It was picking up normally scheduled transmissions, an item about great advances the Science Wing was making in developing new screening techniques. A pure population, with the complete suppression of inferior and sub-optimum characteristics, seemed achievable in only a few generations if sufficient resources were dedicated to the problem.
Then it struck me. There was no mention of the alien ship. No announcement, no coverage. How could that be? An event of this magnitude? I began to wonder if I had somehow misunderstood my father? Had he been joking? Teasing me? But no, his anxiety and confusion had been palpable. The Control Group must have its reasons for delaying release of the information.
At the educational facility, everything was routine. We absorbed selections from Nobgop the Pure’s Collected Works: History of the Control Group; Guide to Superior and Inferior Traits; The Theory and Practice of Purity. Not once did the mentor or any official at the facility mention or even hint at any ship having arrived from the stars.
But following the educational sessions, my friend Zandox and I were returning through the central pathway to the nest area when Zandox transmitted on a low frequency,
“Did you hear, Gaag? An alien ship has landed. From outer space.”
“My father told me,” I replied. “But there’s been no announcement. I was beginning to wonder if it was true. How did you find out?”
“My brother is a censor at the Truth Dispersal Service. The Control Group met in emergency session and determined that unregulated broadcast of the raw data would be too disruptive. No information is to be released without personal clearance from Nobgop.”
“Nobgop knows what he’s doing,” I transmitted back. “Something like this could wreck everything. Better to let the leadership handle it. But I wonder what they want, these aliens?”
Zandox was the first ranked student in our class and, like me, in training for an Enforcer position when he reached maturity. “The question is,” he transmitted, “whether the aliens are a superior or inferior breed.”
Rumors of the alien ship, of death rays and monsters from outer space, began to spread though not a single reference was made in the infomedia. Finally, on Fragbork, an announcement was made that Nobgop the Pure would address the superior classes on an urgent matter of universal concern and interest. All certified pure members and families of superior population strains were required to tune to the broadcast.
My father and I reclined in the central compartment of our living space and opened the receiver to the Control Group channel. The red sphere symbol filled our minds. Nobgop’s image appeared: his antennae beautifully proportioned; his large proboscis handsome, magnificent; his many eyestalks unwavering, firm yet benevolent, a reassuring and almost ideal image of perfection.
But I was astonished to see, next to Nobgop, the image of a strange, horrifying creature. I knew at once it was one of the aliens from the ship that had arrived. The sight of it sent a wave of illness through me. The creature was hideous and repulsive, pale, hairless except for a ridiculous tuft on its tiny head. Numerous small orifices gaped open. It completely lacked eyestalks and its two eyes were fixed, sunk into small holes, and blinking above a hooked protuberance. Ridiculous, irregular flaps hung on the sides of its head. No antennae. No proboscis. It was horrible. Disgusting. It lacked even rudimentary tentacles. Two grasping pseudopods branched from the creature’s upper torso and another two, larger, extended as support structures from beneath and provided locomotion. It was elongated in form and tubular, like a worm.
“Do not be alarmed,” transmitted Nobgop the Pure in ringing, commanding tones. “Please remain calm. As dreamed of by our poets and predicted by science, we have now made first contact with an alien species. Despite their... unusual appearance, they are intelligent, fully sentient, and technologically advanced. We welcome to our world these guests from the stars. Please pay attention.”
The alien switched on a small device and began to emit strange, guttural sound waves that came through as background static. But the alien tuned the signal and the small but amazing device translated the gurgling sounds into our own language,
“Greetings from Earth!” said the alien, twisting and contorting its repulsive frontal orifice, emitting screeching sound waves that could still be heard in the background, interfering with the transmission. “We have traveled six light years from our planet, which orbits a star near to your own.”
I suddenly felt faint and slipped to the floor. My father lifted me,
”Are you all right?”
“They are so horrible, so revolting.”
“It is an error to judge by appearances.”
The alien was still broadcasting, “In a duration equal to four revolutions of your planet around its star, a second ship will arrive. It will bring a delegation of scientists and engineers, with a small security escort. We come in peace and friendship. We hope to establish cultural and economic ties with your world, with you, our new friends, so that both our planets can thrive in mutual respect and prosperity...”
My father’s surface coating, normally clear, grew clouded and splotchy, his many eyestalks glinting sharp with disbelief. He turned to me, “Fine sentiments, but let us reserve judgment for the time being and watch what they do.”
In time, we grew more accustomed to the presence of the aliens. Our Science Wing provided them with specimens of plants and animals unknown on their planet; our Engineers showed them where to find minerals and elements absent in their world.
The aliens took an active interest in us. Their Ambassador monitored the deliberations of our Control Group and made a visit to Nobgop at his official residence. Aliens came into our educational facilities to observe and, eventually, to instruct. The differences between them and us were profound but, once the mutual physical revulsion was overcome, accommodation seemed possible.
It was not long after the arrival of the aliens that Nobgop announced Plan 9. Newsfeed from the Truth Dispersal Service had begun to feature more frequent and more troubling coverage of the acute problem with throwbacks. Removal of individuals was failing to halt the spread. Despite strict prohibitions that carried heavy penalties, defective inferiors were reproducing in greater numbers with growing incidence of mutation.
Plan 9 authorized the research and development of new, more vigorous screening techniques to identify throwbacks. Segregation and removal to the frozen side would be accomplished now by bulk transport of groups, rather than ad hoc, by individuals. Large numbers of additional Enforcers and Deputies would be trained for that purpose.
When the Enforcement Agency recruiters came to our educational facility, Zandox and I were understandably and, I think, justifiably proud to be among the first group of cadets selected for training at the Agency. We proudly underwent the induction process that ended with the tattooing of our thoraxes with the red sphere symbol. We traded in our Youth Corps prods and were issued lethal scorchers.
An infestation of inferior specimens was reported in sub-sector 16, a populous nest of standard and superior strains. Under the new regulations, the Sanitation Division organized high capacity transit vehicles. A body of armed Enforcers and Deputies was dispatched to load the vehicles and transport the inferiors through the Gray Zone to the retaining facility designated as their receptacle. It was the first mass operation I was personally involved in and it was quite exciting.
Transit through the Gray Zone was hazardous because of the permanently violent atmospheric conditions generated by the heat exchange between the warm and frozen hemispheres of our planet. High winds, dust and debris storms, and powerful electrical discharge from the atmosphere that reached the surface in huge bolts, cracking open deep fissures in the dry crust, all made transit through the Gray Zone next to impossible without specially designed and reinforced vehicles.
The Gray Zone was a natural barrier between the light and dark sides, and those banished to the frozen dark could never hope to survive any attempt to return. Occasionally, a desperate individual or band of inferiors was reported escaped from a training facility and heading towards the Gray Zone. But without exception they disappeared into the Zone never to be seen or heard from again.
When we received the signal to commence the cleansing operation at sub-sector 16, we closed off the nest exits, and began to round up the inferiors from their chambers and herd them into the waiting transport vehicles. Most of them, slow and dull-witted, instinctively obeyed orders and went docilely to the transports.
But there was one, a particularly deformed throwback with only a single eyestalk, who was emanating inappropriate impulses and challenged Zandox. Some of the others were beginning to align to the defective orientation and to resist the Deputies. The situation was threatening to spin out of control.
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler