The sun dawned as the two moons finally descended to return come night.
The lands were swathed in misty fog and the soggy soil with the morning dew. The entirety of the landscape was a flat plain, save for some mountains and hills of small forests upon which the trees and plants grew; trees with the leaves collected at the base like bushes, whereas their roots shot upwards into the sky; Plants whose leaves shined bright yellow in the dark then flashed indigo when the sun came. These growing things made the air fresh. It was clean, so clean.
When one lives on a City World, the change in the quality of what you breathe in is unmistakably noticeable, yet one could not help but notice among all this cleanliness was the faint odor of gasoline; The smell of burned emissions so foul and bitter one could taste it. It was merely from the Harvesters out in the field, their gray, unnatural rhomboid shapes sticking out sorely in the flat-lands. They were humming along seeding the rice in the soil and harvesting the ones which could be harvested. Such was so on these "Gaia" worlds, worlds classified as untouched, as untainted by human machinations; as virgin as the hen in a chicken coop who will be squeezed dry by producing eggs then later eaten when it is no longer ripe, stripped to the bones for its meat.
While the Harvesters droned on in the field-converted flatlands, unaware and unfazed by the potential environmental damage vigorous automated farming would do to the planet, two sentries watched them move back and forth across the furrows from a hill elevated slightly above the rest of the surroundings; from there they could command the entire area, waiting for signs of the other Houses who might try to sabotage their Harvesters. It had happened on several occasions, in the end the ‘vermin’ always found themselves at the wrong end of a Plasgun. The guards walked back and forth across the hill enjoying the cool early morning before the day grew any hotter. “Wish all mornings were like this” said one of them. He was a hired Guardsman, a rookie of sorts, who was of a well-established family and only volunteered so that he could earn his rice honestly, though his father was rich. He was one of those men who take on adventures in foolish bravado to prove that they are men of strength. “You should try going to a desert planet then where they mine the uranium, Tobias!” his comrade said jestingly. Unlike Tobias, this man was less jocular and more taciturn. He was an old sergeant, and a jungle-like beard spread across his face where the helmet and visor did not. “Never, never in a million years, Garesh!” Tobias cried, horrified. “Then what’s with the complaining?” said Garesh raising a quizzical eyebrow. “You’ve just been here three days and you’re losing it! Did you really think that the Houses would give you a cushy post flying around in some Groundship or flying around with some filthy-rich noble?” he paused, then went on jeeringly “or maybe you expected five-star barracks with a nice shower and luxury accommodations and a private room? Hell man, this is the Infantry Division! If you wanted something cushioned and clean, then you should have applied for a Navy Position!” “I wasn’t expecting anything!” huffed Tobias. “I don’t want to get into Navy. Messy business. Everyone’s either bribing or blackmailing you, plus never really paid attention to my classes in Star Charts and Ship Management”. “Lucky bastard!” Garesh said enviously. “I learned how to fire a rifle at six and take a Plasgun apart and put it back together when I was ten; I only learned how to read and write much much later. I wish I had gone to school instead of some rich tool who didn’t even bother with it!” An argument was well underway “Im so sad” Tobias said with mock pity. “I grew up in a City World, you were raised in the Frontier, that’s life mate! Being rich is no great honor, y’know!” “Ha!” cried Garesh. “That’s more shit than I’ve ever hauled all my life! ‘rich is no great honor’!! you piss me off, you golden jughead!” Tobias was indignant at being called a ‘jughead’ and, dripping with anger, he retorted thus: “Life isn’t glamorous! Try being with people who pretend to be friends with you then stab you in the back! People who go after you just because you have something you don’t! Secrets! All secrets! forced into marriage too! What the hell! What the hell!” he was in a full rage, flailing his arms and legs, limbs flying all about like an angered baby. He continued for a while, then stopped when he saw Gareshes’ cold eyes staring into his soul, telling him to ‘smarten up’ and be a ‘man’. There was no exchange of words; the looks were enough. As Tobias regained control of himself, Garesh spoke. “Sure Idon’t know how that is” Garesh began, silently, in ever note of his voice was barely suppressed, long held rage, and each word was dripping with bitter acid. “People have quite literally tried to stab me in the back while I was on my watch rounds, and I tell you it bites because I recognize them…sometimes it was a fruit seller who I talked to earlier, or that laborer I shared bread to; They were all in on some secret organization one way or another….I've met people who would pay me a whole year’s pay on the spot if I let them in the barracks and have a ‘talk’ with the officer or his junior. Forced marriage? You don’t even want to know the details of how I married an infertile desert witch from Arr---” “Stop” interjected Tobias, shuddering, tears in his eyes. “Enough. Fine. I guess we do have a lot in common…” Both fell silent, embarrassed, avoiding each other’s eyes.
They sat beside each other, albeit not too close. For a while they did not speak, as they were engaged in deep thought, absentmindedly fiddling with their Plasguns or listening to the dull rumbling of the Harvesters at work. Finally, Tobias spoke: “Why do we do this?” “We guard because that’s our job, ‘ulol ' ” said Garesh playfully, hoping to bridge the gap caused by awkward silence. “No, I mean…why are we here on this planet?” “Were here to feed the people back home who are starving, don’t you remember? The Food Voyage? The Houses recruiting everyone?” “Bah, I know that, I know that…its just..” “what?” Garesh said cautiously. He was not a man of forward thinking and politics, unfortunately his fellow sentry was all of that and more, and getting into conversations with him would always lead to something political or philosophical. “We aren’t even the ones making money, yet we are doing the dirty work…the harvesting, the accounting of the rice, yet how much of it actually goes to us? We were promised heaps, and they have delivered nothing…im sure that from all your time as House guardsman, wages and rations have never sunk this low to the point of barely having enough for tomorrow….Why is society ordered like this? Why did Mao allow it? “Mao aint gonna give a crap, because he isn’t real” “But the Holy Red Book—” “Pah” said Garesh, waving his comment aside. “Holy book or not, he aint real. A piece of paper isnt proof, just a bunch of words written with meaning” “What then” Tobias said, “If it has meaning yet it makes no sense, what is meaning?” he was getting more and more philosophical. “We are harvesting the planet now all right, and its doing us a good turn, its saving billions from starvation, but what happens in a millennium from now? What happens when the planets in this system are finally exhausted? what then? Will we move on to other worlds and decimate them? Already our City planets are suffocating, will some more millennia choke them? Is there not greater alternativse to---” “Enough! Enough!” Garesh yelled in frustration, shaking his head and waving his hands at Tobias; a yell from him was so gruff, so commanding that it was heard even those of higher stature would silence themselves when he told them so. “Enough overthinking!” Garesh said, panting and breathless. He tried to shut them out, but Tobias’ power of reasoning was powerful and it was hard to shut his arguments out. “We’re soldiers…men…were not supposed to discuss this…we don’t need to…at least for now…for now…soon, maybe…but…” At this precise moment, the belt-radio sounded, and they forget their philosophical dilemma.
“Do you copy? Tobias? Garesh? Listen, we picked up several high-speed targets en route to a harvester. Proceed with caution. “Copy that” Garesh said, sighing.
He picked up his Plasgun. He let the discussion slide. another time for it then.
© Jakobi Miles, 2018. All rights reserved.