***Previous episodes of A Common Enemy can be found on the top menu, or start at A Common Enemy. A little sci-fi in progress. ***
Jeremiah flinched each time a rock hit the AV. While nothing would penetrate the vehicle shell, his sorrow was deep. He remembered seeing a movie when he was a child that in many ways had foretold the planet’s current state. That movie had the rich living in space, the poor like rats on the surface. Here money wasn’t the only necessity to be safe under impenetrable domed cities. One also had to be genetically blessed. No genetic conditions, no contracted diseases, born of genetically cleared and licenced to procreate parents.
He watched the camera feed on the screen. Walking skeletons covered in rags, their eyes sunken and their lips cracked. There was little food and water was rationed. The rabble existed. Jeremiah touched the bio-chip in his neck, wondering how many genetically perfect people had been overlooked in the initial implant process. What of subsistence farmers living in the country villages in African countries, or nomadic people in the Middle East? Had every one of these people been checked, or just those who could afford to go to the reading points? He knew the official line was every single person had been screened, but was he in fact just one of the lucky ones?
The screen zoomed in on a child clutching a piece of bread. This was a rare sight as bread was not generally available to the rabble. In country areas where they could still grow small crops and bake flat bread in fire ovens perhaps, but not in the teeming urban areas. Where had this child come from? He slowed the AV and drew alongside. Jeremiah activated the retrieval gear, the long arm reaching out, the mechanical hands grasping the child. The arm retracted into the holding bay, the child letting out an almighty scream. Once in the holding bay the bio scan ran. The child had no bio-chip, but all preliminary genetic scans were clean. Not enough to identify the child, although the report stated male, four years old, O + blood type and other general biological data Jeremiah wasn’t interested in.
Rosna watched the retrieval from the bridge. The Elengia had worked hard overnight, accessing many computer systems on Earth, including the one running Jeremiah’s AV. Although still working on deciphering the languages, Rosna and her crew could now see the inhabitants of Earth at close range and try to work out the situation. So far there seemed to be major differences between urban and country areas. In several country areas they were observing, the bi-peds were almost living a hunter-gatherer existance. In the urban areas there seemed to be heavily fortified clean areas: the rest were like slums the Elengia had encountered on the Distic world five hundred years ago. Clearly the people were starving. Many were ill or dying. Despite the fact the preliminary scans of the planet had reported a lot of water, these people were collecting a daily ration from designated points.
Palenda appeared at Rosna’s side.
“It seems these slum inhabitants may be useful to us”, he said, “They need help.”
Rosna had a troubled look on her face, one tendril tapping the arm of the chair in a steady beat. “What happened here?”, she asked. “There are signs of a war, a global war. We need to know the weapons used didn’t leave a residue that could harm our people.”
“Why did that vehicle just snatch that child? The computers scanned the child once the child was secured. Why?”
Reqist, their weapons analyst, had been scanning the planet for weapons. He zoomed in to examine the AV closely. “That vehicle is heavily armoured, both to attack with gas and project weapons and to defend the occupants. I can’t yet determine the gas. The projectiles we can deflect easily.” While the Elengia were fully equipped to protect themselves against every gas they had encountered, new gases were always an unknown.
Jeremiah, unaware his system was being monitored, continued his journey to the depot. He breathed a sigh of relief as the huge outer gates slid open to let him through. Five or six rabble slipped through at the same time. It was always the same, they tried to gain access to the government installations. The inner gates remained closed until the rabble were disposed of. The gas cleared from the chamber and the cleaners in their bright orange uniforms came out of a small side door with body bags and a large stretcher and removed the lifeless forms. They would be incinerated. No ceremony, no relatives advised. Just incinerated. The inner gate slid open and the AV moved into the compound proper.
The Elengia watched all of this in amazement. The psychology of a life form killing its own in such a manner was foreign to them, despite their extensive history of exploration and settlement across the universe. The Elengia were a healing people, killing their own just didn’t happen. Murder was unknown to them, although they had seen it elsewhere, but killing like this was completely unexpected. One of the younger crew members ran from the bridge: the rest could sense her vomiting in the bathroom. Most of them had at least one tendril turning yellow.
The thought of invading this planet no longer concerned either Rosna or Palenda. To them, this would be a mercy mission, saving these poor beings from their oppressors.
Rosna turned to the sound technician, Jeph, asking “Can we communicate with any of them yet?”
Rubbing his hearing cable, Jeph glanced up. “Yes, I can translate two languages which seem to be used by many of the bi-peds. I have not worried about the communications of the other forms of life yet as they do not demonstrate control over any other forms of life.”
“Reqist, do we consider our equipment will protect us from their gases?”
“As far as I can determine, Commander.”
Rosna reached for Palenda and they both closed their eyes. Their minds shared their thoughts. Rosna disengaged and opened her eyes, even her rear eye. “Prepare a landing party.”
“Reqist, you and Loma will lead the team.” Loma was Reqist’s mate and the commander of their military personnel. Loma would decide how many to take and who else would be in the party.
As Jeremiah stepped out of the AV, he looked up to the sky again. The lights he thought he’d seen wouldn’t leave his mind, yet now he could see nothing unusual. He shrugged and turned towards the depot entrance. Once inside he stopped at the medical post to inform them of the boy in his holding bay.
“He had bread in his hand, so he may have been abducted. Scans were clean. Check him out, will you?”
The medical officer looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “Another one? This is your third retrieval this month. Why don’t you leave them to die?”
Reqist, Loma and fifteen couples boarding the landing craft. Loma had decided to run this recon mission to a country area on a sparsely populated large island (or small continent) towards the bottom of the planet. The risk of an armed attack was lower and they might be able to gain historical information.
If Jeremiah had looked up fifteen minutes later, he may have seen the sunlight glinting off the hull of the craft as it flew over his city. But he didn’t.
Two hours and some 13,000 kilometres later the craft settled in a desolate park in what had been the once pretty country town of Ararat.
Reqist activated the translator and spoke quietly into the public address system.
“We are the Elengia. We come in peace.”
Then they waited.