One cannot imagine what the next day would bring when you go to sleep, thought the Global President of planet Asmaktu. The passing scenery which he saw from the window of the car was bleak, to say the least. The shops were open and people were going about their business of buying and selling, but there was a certain air of weariness about which was unmistakable-like a cloud hovering above a hillock, never letting the full benefits of the sun’s rays to reach the ground.
Like the people of the planet, the Global President also knows only too well the reason for this lethargy- their planet was dying. His statisticians have given him the figure of 70% as the depletion rate of resources- the reason was sheer lust, a plunder the scale of which would look foolish in hindsight.
‘If there is a hindsight!’
“I am sorry, what is it that you said, Mr. President?”
Mr. Solgarat hadn’t realized that he has spoken aloud. He looked up at the back of his driver’s head. He was a new one- appointed just last week-the security council keeps changing the driver so that no one person would get too much knowledge-sensitive matters are discussed within this car.
“Nothing,” said Mr.Solgarat. “I’m sorry, I don’t think that I ever asked you your name,” he added in a gentle voice.
“It’s Nikasa, sir!” the man-a young man, said all too enthusiastically. The energy in his voice saddened Solgarat for he knew that the energy would be quelled soon. All too soon.
“Where do you stay, son?”
Solgarat told him the name of the prefecture in which he lived with his family.
Yes, the entire prefecture would die down in a few months-maybe a couple of months at most. Solgarat could only barely suppress the moan of sadness which arose with the thought.
There just wasn’t enough resources to go around.
Taking his eyes off the driver he looked away, to the farthest horizons of the landscape they were moving through. The monoliths that dotted the edge of his vision looked like failed attempts at making the land more exciting, happier. As it was, they just put the stark desolation of the land in even sharper a perspective.
Before the president could dwell any more on such unhappy thoughts, Nikasa’s youthful voice announced, “We are here, Mr. President.”
The alien ship hovered just above the ground in suspended animation. The entire structure which rose to some 40 feet was sleeker than anything the engineers of Asmaktu has ever come up with. Hovering under the glaring light of the sun, the ship looked lonely, like a lover without his beloved.
A small door opened from which extended a flight of stairs. Solgarat was surprised to see how much the maneuver resembled what’s used on Asmaktun flights. Getting out the car he began slowly walking towards the ship.
“Sir, are you sure you want to go in there alone?” Nikasa asked one last time.
The president turned around, flashed him his best smile and said, “You can wait right here, Nikasa. Let me do this alone. After all they have assured my safety.”
Besides, I don’t want you to hear whatever is discussed in there, Solgarat thought .
Solgarat wasn’t surprised by the fluent Asmaktun in which the alien greeted him, neither was he surprised by the special chair they had for him-fit for a human of his stature.The aliens, after all have spent a lot of time studying the human civilization. The aliens themselves sat across from him in a different type of chair, fit for the three-limbed species that they were.
But he was rather surprised to see how casually they all behaved, almost as though instead of an intergalactic discussion, they were mere acquaintances from the neighbourhood catching up for tea.
He looked at the three aliens in front of him, each looked identical to the other though only the middle one-whom Solgarat took to be their leader ,spoke.
“I am glad that you decided to come on your own, as we requested,” he said(the president assumed that it was a he). “You know that you could have chosen otherwise had you wished. But we are glad nonetheless by this gesture of trust. For trust, in our culture is the basis of friendship.” The alien made a noise which may have been a polite laugh-or maybe it was just clearing its throat.
“I am glad that you are pleased,” said the president. A fourth alien presently entered the chamber-which was devoid of anything except for the chairs and table. The newly entered alien was akin to the others except that it was somewhat shorter in stature. It held a tray in its three arms not unlike the trays that humans serve food in. On the tray was a long glass. The mucky green liquid didn’t look like anything a human might consume though. And the planet’s president found the smell less than amicable.
Judging correctly the president’s trepidation, the alien leader said, “No worries. It’s chemically attuned to your species’ biology. I am sure you will like it.”
No point making the aliens angry. Solgarat took the glass and took a hit. To his surprise, the liquid tasted extremely good-not unlike the Ravcha fruit juice which is so popular among Asmaktuns.
“So, about this proposition that you were talking about?” Solgarat said after putting the glass on the table.
“Oh, yes, the proposition…Well, I think we should get right down to it. After all, you planet doesn’t have much time left!”
No need to rub it in, thought Solgarat but nodded, forcing a smile onto his face.
“Well, you see, Mr. President, we are in a sort of predicament,” said the alien.
“And I thought that you were here to help us with ours.”
If the aliens realized that it was a joke, they didn’t show it. Or maybe staying silent is how they respond to jokes.
“Please, carry on,” said Solgarat, mindful not to blush in front of the aliens about his failed joke.
“Yes. So, there’s a predicament. Recently, a mountain erupted in our planet. No, no, I apologize. That’s not where I should begin. Let my start again… You see, life on our planet has come so far that almost all of our kind live a very comfortable life..A ‘chill-out life’ as some of your people may call.”
Solgarat nodded, unsure whether that was a joke or not.
“Now the wealth means that it’s really hard to find people willing to do menial tasks- like clearing the streets of garbage. That wasn’t much of a problem until a series of fracking incidents had an unforeseen side effect-fissures were formed on places we never expected and out of those fissures oozed out something from the planet’s core-it was smelly, disgusting to look at. We called it Kerograga, named after one of the most disgusting demigods in our mythology. Yes, we do have a mythology and religion, just like your people-though we have just one, so we don’t fight on behalf of gods.”
Lucky you, thought Solgarat.
“ Now, due to its overwhelming stench the demand for removal of Kerograga was high. But even then they didn’t come out and clean anything themselves- the conditioned mindset was too hard to get out of, I presume. They asked the government to clean up the stuff for them- our technologists came up with inventions to do it but the inventions were all only partially effective-there is something about cleaning up mess which requires a biological agent, I suppose.”
Once again the president wasn’t entirely sure if the alien was joking or not. But he leaned forward, intrigued, wondering where this was leading.
“But the problem solved itself-so to speak when the awful stench abated after a few days. The garbage remained on the streets but people could ignore it as long as it didn’t bother their olfactory sense. And so it remained for a while..until recently a mountain erupted on our planet.”
The alien stopped and the one sitting next to him took off from where he dropped things- an eco-specialist, perhaps, thought Solgarat.
“A big mountain at that. Since the mountain was way out from where people live, our scientists didn’t think that it could affect the citizens’ lives. But the eruption gave rise to an inordinate amount of coloka- something like nuclear radiation in your world. Now, it is common enough for some colaka to be ejected in an eruption but at this level, it’s unprecedented. And soon after the eruption, mysterious deaths began to happen. Seemingly healthy citizens would pass away all of a sudden, this confounded the physicians and other scientists. Eventually, it was noticed that all these deaths happened around those places with an accumulation of Kerograga.”
Here, the second alien stopped and the first-the leader alien took over,without missing a beat.
Perhaps, they are twins who could finish each other’s thoughts, Solrgarat felt like laughing but kept mum for diplomatic reasons. He heard the alien speak as if he was listening to a fictional recording- one which nonetheless would have great real life ramifications on the earth.
“The theory is that the coloka which the eruption has spewed has affected the Kerograra which is in some way causing the deaths of our people. “
“You mean the stuff mutated?” said Solgarat.
“Something like that,” said the alien. “At least, that is what we believe. We have tried sending in automata to clean up the thing but to be honest, we have not been too successful with it. We have solved intergalactic travel but not scraping dirt off the floor-not to the level of cleanliness that’s required here. For we have found that even a small amount left behind killed people off.
“We did send in people to do the job-equipping them with special body suits which he hoped would shield them from the radiation. But we hoped wrong. And as you can imagine there is no way we can send more people to do the job in good conscience.”
The alien paused, raised its sole eye towards Solgarat.
“You still haven’t made your proposition,” Solgarat said, looking to one Alien eye to the next.
“Yes, the proposition.. As I told you, we have the technology for interstellar travel. More importantly, we have the means to transport a large number of people. We are going to require manpower to clean our land of the dreaded kerograga and there exists no species on our planet which could be trained to do that for us. We have seen that humans are physiologically apt to perform the task for us. In return, we would give them a permanent place to stay and they can continue in their profession-as the planet’s cleaners. Their successive generations could also continue in the same line.”
Before Solgarat could say anything, the alien added, “We would require about a million people for the task. We have the means to transport them all in just a few Asmaktun days’ time.”
“But what if my people are harmed by the radiation?” the president said as soon as the alien stopped talking.
“You came here on your own in a car without convoys because you were desperate enough to care less for your life, hoping for a solution to your planet’s predicament,” said the alien, again without missing a beat. “You are going to send the elite and the super-wealthy to another planet where you have carved out a space for them to live. This is information you have not let the others know-the majority who wouldn’t know about this until the high and mighty ones are all gone. The majority will be left behind to die along with the planet. This is where you stand, Mr. President. A million is but a fraction of the people you have. But still, they are a lot more than you had expected to save. With our proposal, they now have a chance of survival. And if they come out of it safe, I guarantee that they will get the benefits of being a citizen of our planet, subject to the terms which I said before, of course…Now, as the expression goes in your planet, the ball is in your court. But we recommend that you not take too much time to come to a decision. Yours is not the only planet on our radar which has a species useful to us, merely the closest.”
One doesn’t become the president of the United Continents of Asmaktu without significant negotiating skills. But Solgarat, for once found himself to be without many cards in hand.
As he was walking out of the spaceship, he felt rather than heard the ship slowly lifting up. Man’s first contact with an alien species happened just like many things were happening in Asmaktu these days: without the knowledge of the majority.
There really wasn’t much to discuss. But just for the sake of form, the president held a discussion with his ministers.
“They could have communicated their proposal over one of the communication channels,we didn’t like the president of the planet going in there on his own like that” said the Defence Minister, a burly man whose drinking problem hung heavily under his eyes. His family was not going to be in the ship that the government was going to use to ferry its elite off the planet. And that only made his drinking problem worse.
“Yes, but they preferred it this way,” the president spoke patiently like attempting to make a child understand something hard. “And much as I would like to say otherwise, I really don’t think we were in a position to demand anything.” Solgarat sounded tired, much like the feeble yellow light of the lamp which lit this room in the presidential palace. Through the windows, Solgarat could see the leaves of trees washed in the light of the evening sun. He longed to get out, to be away from all this responsibility, at least for a few minutes.
The discussion, to his delight, culminated soon with everyone in attendance-from the Defence Minister to the President’s security adviser arriving at the consensus that the aliens’ proposal was to be accepted.
Not that they had much of an option.
The uproar was worse than expected. Burning of public property, killing people holding opposing ideologies-robbing shops when no one was looking, these things became fodder for the news channels and part of the fabric of life on the United Continents of Asmaktu. Social commentators expressed amusement at the fact that everyone-regardless of which continent they were in and the cultural differences all behaved much in the same way.
They were the only ones who were amused by the proceedings.
Some of the deaths happened in the hands of the government’s security forces when those who were denied space on the ships-only the most able bodied were chosen, tried to breach the security that prevented them from doing so.
“All that we have fought for..peace, democracy, the right to live…everything has come undone,” the president said to the Defence Minister-who was not just one of the best in his ministry but also a close friend.
The two friends were sitting having tea at the veranda of the presidential palace. The president wished that it was a proper drink in his hand rather than a cup of tea but he knew only too well that the DefenceMinsiter was spiraling down a dark tunnel of alcoholism-he didn’t want to hasten that fall.
“You know, I am thinking how right it is for me to get on that ship and leave, when all these people are left behind.” Solgarat knew what the reply would be to this. It wasn’t the first time that he has expressed the sentiment.
Sure enough, his friend replied promptly, “That’s impossible! There has to be someone out there to guide the humans. And who better than you to do that?”
“And where did I lead the people of this planet?” said the president wistfully.
“You tried. The people ran with their lust,” there was an unusual amount of vehemence in the Defense Minister’s voice-perhaps all justified, though Solgarat. “This is a new beginning that we are talking about. A new place-and if I may be candid..”
“Well, many people on board that ship are not going to be the epitome of morality up there. But there are also some of the best minds of the planet in there-if people are to sustain out there, they will need an ethical platform to base their actions on, and you are the ideal person to provide that.”
Once he said this much the Defense Minister leaned back in his chair and said, mostly to himself, “God, I wish I had some whiskey right now.”
“Sir, if you will come with me, it’s time..”
Solgarat turned to see Nikasa-his driver standing a way to his left. He was in his official uniform, his arms clasped behind his back, the expression on his face pleasant, ready to take him to the final departure point.
Solgarat could hardly bear to look at him.
One day in the new planet was twice as long as it was on Asmaktu.That only made Solgarat’s wait for the news all the more anguishing. On the sixth day, the president got confirmation that the humans have successfully cleared the alien’s planet of the mess.
“Now our citizens are all safe thanks to your people, who are also now ours,” the alien leader’s face on the communication console didn’t give off any expression as he said this-not that the handful of minutes he had spend communicating with the aliens have made him an expert on reading their expressions. But Solgarat suspected that he was beaming with happiness.
“I am sure that you would like to see them well settled down,” added the alien leader. “We are in the process of settling them down. I reckon it would all be over in a few more days. And once it is over, we can send you a ship to bring you here if so you wish.”
“That would be delightful!” said the President, without missing a beat.
The ship was now so close to landing but in space terms such as “so close” could have a different meaning from when it is use in a terrestrial context.
The president had enough time to take in a few details of the planet he was about to land on. The surface beneath the swirling clouds was more reddish than blue as it is on Asmaktu. Also, compared to his home planet there seemed to be an inordinately higher number of mountains on this planet-if the jagged protrusions which look like pins stuck on paper from this distance were indeed mountains- there’s nothing to suggest that the artefacts weren’t created by the aliens for some unimaginable purpose of theirs.
Alien though it was, he was looking forward to setting foot on the planet’s surface-to see how the million were doing-the ones whom luck had given a second chance. As the sovereign people’s president, he never really expressed one fact to anyone, not even to his wife but the fact was that he was always partial to the ones who toiled the earth and engaged in manual labor. The ones who worked with their intellects could amaze you at times but never are they in possession of the simple ideology of working with your bare hands to bring things up. As one of the greatest Asmaktun artists to have ever lived has said, “There is no greater sophistication than simplicity.”
The way Solgarat saw it, working with your own hands is as simple as it gets. Perhaps an ideology born out of the fact that his own father was a carpenter.
“Mr. President, we are about to land,” the pilot’s voice floated in through the intercom. For a moment, Solkgarat was able to forget that it was an alien pilot who was helming the ship.
The landing went smoothly. There was a delegation waiting for the president but he couldn’t find the alien leader among them-Solgarat had noticed in their earlier meeting that the leader had an uncontrollable twitch on his cheek. None of the present ones had that anomaly.
When he enquired about it-not the twitch but the absence of the leader, the alien in charge simply said, “ I shall explain soon.”
And explained he did. “Your trip took five days. During three of those days we were unable to contact the ship which carried you due to technical issues-issues which were linked to the eruption that I just spoke of-the radiation it spewed effectively cut off all communication channels,”that was how the alien culminated. But it was what he said before that that had the president alarmed:
“An eruption happened again. One which our scientists didn’t predict. And this one was bigger than the previous one. Much bigger. We at first assumed that the kerograga hadn’t affected the people from your planet. But we were wrong. It did, but it didn’t become fatal-like it did with our people. Rather, it made them susceptible to rapid mutations: and when the eruption irradiated the atmosphere it began…
“We had to enlist our army to help tackle the..issue, if you may. Most of them have been annihilated, we had to..but a few survived, including the one we think is their leader. Thankfully, we have that one under captivity.”
Later, when Solgarat would meet the alien leader the latter would say, “I am terribly sorry that all this happened. But I really do not think it would be a good idea for you to see them.”
“What exactly did they turn into?” asked the President. Even he-who couldn’t read the aliens’ body language could tell that they were unsettled.
“Really, Mr.President, it wouldn’t be prudent to-“
Solgarat cut him off, not worried if doing so was considered rude in the alien culture or not. “You were really gracious in bringing me here. Now, please allow me to see my people. I came all the way with the explicit wish to see them and nothing else.” His voice was firm, his eyes steady. Though he couldn’t read the aliens, they could read him well enough.
They took him to the transparent enclosure behind which walked, looking frustrated , a bundle of energy with no focus a four legged creature whose snout dripped blood-whether it’s own or someone else’s, Sogarat couldn’t be sure. The creature consistently frothed in its mouth and occasionally, it would bring one of its paws up and scratch off an itch from its forehead. Once every few minutes , the beast would looked at those on the other side of the glassed enclosure and growl. It was on those occasions that Solgarat felt that he could see something almost human in those eyes-human anger at injustice to be more precise.
“What are you all looking at!” the beast now roared. Solgarat flinched, more surprised by the ferocity with which the words were spoken than by the fact that it spoke the human language .
“Allow me to go in there,” he said without taking his eyes off the beast.
“I know that your species is prone to insanity-something that is never seen among us,” said the alien leader. “But I would never have thought that you would ever go mad.”
Solgarat turned to look at him. There was no madness in his face, just a neutrality which was the mask for the rapid pace at which his temple throbbed.
“I can talk to him. I am one of them.” Even as Solgarat spoke, the creature was growling inside its cage. But neither the animalistic growls nor the aliens’ exhortations were enough to discourage Solgarart, who was overcome with a powerful emotion-that of guilt. Though circumstances played its part the fact remained that the reason why the being inside the cage-and others like him came to be was because they had to be transplanted into an alien planet where a multitude of things- in the atmosphere or on the land could work against them: the bottomline always remained that they were not in their home planet. And try as he might to justify his decisions, the President was unable to lose the idea that perhaps, if he had managed things better on Asmaktu, it wouldn’t have come to this.
But all hope is not lost, he silently told himself. Animalistic though the creature looked like it was human nonetheless-if nothing else, the look of righteous anger in its eyes and the faculty of speech that it still possessed were testimonies.
If he couldn’t calm the creature down, it would surely be killed by the aliens.
“Now that you would not reason, you may go in,” said the alien, for the first time since Solgarat had met him, his voice sounded feeble. “But know that we cannot take responsibility for whatever happens now.”
The President of the United Continents of Asmaktu nodded. “I understand. Thank you,” he added.
As it turned out, those were the very last words that he would speak in life.
The President’s death by the beast was reason enough for the aliens to decide that the leader of the beasts should be ‘put down.’ It was decided that only a couple of them were to be kept alive-for the purposes of scientific research.
But plans are made by man or alien and life-or god, however you want to term it would have other plans. This principle became manifest in this instance as well. For what the aliens didn’t know was that the mutations perpetrated on the humans by the volcanic radiation was not yet complete, the final stage of which was yet to happen.
First, the beings disintegrated- each into a million tiny pieces as though their stability was a matter the universe was no more interested in. The aliens were actually pleased with this development, understandably enough. But their elation soon turned to despair when they learned that it was far from how the beings culminated in their evolutionary process.
The disintegrated particles all came together, seeping out through the chinks in the cages that held them, traversing great distances on the planet as though each particle had sentience of its own with which it followed a command that none else could hear.
And at the summit of the tallest mountain on the planet, they assembled. Nothing that the aliens tried could destroy them-none of their weapons were a match enough for this anomaly for which nothing had prepared them.
The assembled participates coagulated-merging into each other they formed a new species-one that stretched out and became one with the very ground of the planet, going deeper, and also enveloping the porous surface. And from beneath the ground they devoured all livings things-all their great wealth were no defense against death, and in mortality they finally had to come down to dust.
The planet remained without any other but this one life-form. Over the surface there was nothing but a heap of rubble but the planet’s surface was made of the carpet of particles, renewed over and over again as each unit got divided repeatedly.
And there they lied, being one with the land. And anyone that landed there were devoured, digested to make part of the planet’s core to keep the planet’s heart alive.
For the transformed beings didn’t compromise anymore. The land was theirs and theirs alone. In fact, they were the land. Everyone else was moot point.