Tuesday, 29 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 6)

The Stranger looked up at the imposing building which stood atop the long flight of steps. This had certainly been built to present a sense of power, he observed. And to instil a feeling of awe. Unperturbed, he started up the steps.

At the entrance to the portal, two armed guards stood sentry. They watched the Stranger as he approached their stations.

‘Good morning, kind sirs,’ the Stranger began. ‘I seek an audience with the Ruler.’

The guards glanced at one another. This was an unusual approach. Most people didn’t even try to speak to the Ruler, they were so much in awe of him. Here this man was, calmly asking them the question.

‘Er, let me see what I can do for you, Sir,’ Leftie answered, and disappeared inside the building.

Fifteen minutes later the guard reappeared, somewhat flustered. ‘Er, Sir, the Ruler says that you are to wait for him in his anteroom! Please follow me.’ And with that, the Stranger and the guard entered the building.

Friday, 25 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 5)

‘Despite these problems, over the years the Rigellians developed villages, and were able to maintain a good living out of the land they had settled in. The land they settled on, however, quickly became unproductive since they worked it very hard, and eventually they were forced to seek us out for help, regardless of their xenophobic tendencies. They needed help. We have been told by those who have adopted our ways that their planet of origin was far more fertile than this one, and that their usual farming practices do not work here. We offered to teach them our agrarian practices, but they refused, stating that their abilities to work the land had been tried and tested by their ancestors, and were perfectly effective. We gave up trying to explain to them that the land needed rest, and that growing different crop varieties also helped the land. They just would not listen.

‘Finally, the situation got so bad during the last century, with their land becoming completely infertile, that they migrated to our settlements so as to be near food sources. Although we welcomed this, as we did not wish to see them suffering, this was the start of the whole problem, since the ways in which they and we live are completely different. One of the biggest problems has been that, now they live near us, they receive non-biodegradable waste into their houses, and they do not neutralise it, but rather simply discard it – as they would their usual biodegradable waste. You may see no problem with this, but you can understand where we come from. The result of this behaviour is that their homes are often surrounded by an accumulation of waste that does nothing but breed germs and viruses. We know, because our scientists have analysed it.

‘But that’s all background to our present problems. You see, during the last 50 or so years, the population of the Rigellians has grown. We never excluded them from the management of the planet, but for the most part they didn’t take any interest in it, until now. Suddenly, about 10 years ago, one of their leaders decided to run for Ruler, and he won the election simply because they outnumber us.

‘Now, every settlement on the planet is run by a Rigellian – or a Denebian sympathetic to the Rigellians. You heard our leader earlier, telling us to disperse. This would all be fine, except for several disturbing rumours that have reached our ears. Some of these rumours are groundless – but many ring too true for us to discount them.

‘One of these rumours, and the most worrying one at that, is that the Rigellians still want this planet to themselves. We have found out that they are willing to exterminate us, if they cannot incorporate us or drive us off. As part of this aim, and this you have seen evidence of, they are changing all the town names to eradicate all memory of us. What we are afraid of is that they will try to continue to misuse the products of our lifestyle – the non-biodegradable waste – as well as their destructive agrarian practices, and will completely destroy this planet in the process. We love it to much for that.

‘But I talk too much! Let’s go inside for some of my wife’s wonderful cooking!’

And so concluding, the Stranger and Alsyn-Marks stood up and went indoors.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 4)

‘Several centuries after this, another colonial outpost from the Rigel sector found us. We welcomed them here, as we are an inclusive people. However, it turned out that they desired this planet only for themselves, and were determined to fight for it. It was their claim that they had previously inhabited this planet, but that it had been left many thousands of years before we arrived, and that they had simply returned to their old haunt, so to speak. We didn’t buy that story, since we had nowhere seen evidence of any former habitation of any sort during the centuries since we had landed. We tried to reason with them and to settle a peace agreement with them, but in the middle of the talks they attacked some of our defenceless villages, destroying everything. After that, we had no choice but to fight. We didn’t have the means to get off-planet then.

‘It was a hard war, but we won it – but only just. Those Rigellians who remained after the war, and still wished to settle here, were forced to settle in places we hadn’t already urbanised. They received some of the best land the planet had to offer.

‘Unfortunately, we quickly found that sharing the planet with them would not be easy. There were just simply too many things of importance to us that they did not – and still do not – understand.

‘For one, we learnt early on that they have no real sense of organisation. Oh, each of their villages had a ‘political’ leader who protected the village when necessary, but beyond that, each household worked as a closed system. However, do not make the mistake of treating them as individuals, because if you attack one, you attack all of them. They have this deeply ingrained sense of loyalty that ensures that they protect one another – even if, as we would see it, one of the individuals deviates from the intergalactic code of moral or ethical behaviour.

‘Apparently, back in the Rigel sector, their society devolved from the intergalactic society it once was. Amongst other things, they became feudal, always waging war with those they disagreed with. This accounts for the self-preservation behaviour in the shape of the intense loyalty that we have observed. These behaviours also made them xenophobic, unable to coexist with other cultures and ideas. Another change was that, over the centuries, they forgot about science – except that of flying spacecraft and using weapons – to such an extent that they no longer recognise basic scientific concepts. Chief of these is the fact that they do not believe that they can be killed by things they cannot see. If they cannot see it, it does not exist. Therefore trying to educate them about viruses and germs that multiply in waste is often a – waste of time.

Friday, 18 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 3)

Quietly, and with dignity, the rotund man climbed down off the crate, picked it up, and walked over to the Stranger. ‘Good day, good sir. I see you are not from here. Are you from there?’

Assuming that by ‘there’ this short man meant Kensurit, the Stranger replied, ‘No, I am not from ... ‘there’, as you put it. But I would like to know more about what troubles you. I have observed that this is an interesting urban development, and I am here to learn more about yourselves.’

‘Well, then,’ the middle-aged man smiled, ‘You’re speaking to just the right person. My name is Alsyn-Marks. Welcome to Magdar. Do come with me, my dear fellow, and I will take you to my house, where you can sample my lady’s hospitality. There, I will share more with you.’

On the verandah outside his home, and having seen the Stranger comfortably settled into his chair with a cool beverage, Alsyn-Marks seated himself into the matching padded red chair, and began to relate the story.

‘Several thousands of years ago this planet was discovered by the Alsyn brothers. They came from one of the Denebian colonies that settled around Arcturus. They surveyed it, and found it to be suitable for our people. So they returned to their home-planet, gathered together many colonists, and moved out here. They brought everything they had, so as to start life over. This town, Magdar, was named after one of the other settlers, an old fighter pilot from the Shane Wars. You may have recognised the name? (the Stranger shook his head.)

‘Oh well. Anyway. This was one of the first places to be settled, and everything went well for many years. The population grew from the original five hundred thousand to several millions in that period, and we (when I say ‘we’ I mean my people – many centuries ago) spread out over the whole planet. Life was good, and we were each able to pursue our careers unhindered. There was a form of overall government, but it was largely for the purposes of ensuring that no-one was short on necessaries.

‘Then the Dark Times came. Some of our settlements hadn’t been neutralising their non-biodegradable waste, and a plague caused by some virus that grew in the waste ensued. Soon it spread through the entire planet, and decimated our population to several hundred thousand individuals. That was a very dark time indeed.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 2)

‘Who wants to be called ‘Kensurit’? We want nothing to do with them,” cried the red-faced, rotund man from his position on top of a fish-packing crate. This alone, in the middle of the town square, was incongruous, since – as everyone knows – Madgar was miles away from any fishing grounds. Even stranger was the fact that quite a large crowd had gathered around the vocal individual – and they appeared to be mostly in agreement with him. This observation was supported by the roar of approval the Stranger heard as he entered the square.

The orator drew in his breath for another enunciation, but did not complete his action as a ‘clip-clop, clippity clop’ was clearly heard in the silence. As one, the crowd turned around to fact the north-east corner of the square, and watched as a four-legged creature came into sight. It was quite tall, with a long tail, a bullet-shaped head on a long neck, and long hair down the back of its neck. The noise they had heard was the sound of it’s hooves on the cobbles. All eyes in the square silently observed the unfortunate beast headed straight for the fountain in the centre of the square, and the luscious green plants that surrounded it.

‘This is the limit! Now their animals roam our streets with no consideration for our rights,’ the orator seized the opportunity provided him. ‘I warn you – if they change our name, we will become …”

‘Who dares to question the rulers,’ a deep voice issued from a window high above the Stranger’s head. ‘They have spoken, and we will ALL obey. Back to work. I want no more of these protest meetings!’

With some dark mutterings, and an occasional ‘He’s just in their pay!’, ‘He’s with THEM – that will do us no good!’, and even ‘I’m going to leave this place if he stays here!’ the crowd dispersed. Finally, there was only the Stranger and the man on the fishing crate left in the square.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

What's in a Name? (Part 1)

A short story that I wrote back in June 2008, for my Mom.

On a world many, many light-years away ….

The Stranger gently landed his flighter on the top of the hill with a final burst of the ventral jets. He clambered in an ungainly manner out of the cockpit, and leapt lightly to the ground, clearly accustomed to the manoeuvre. Standing tall, he surveyed the urban sprawl that sprouted at the bottom of the hill on which he stood, expanding out in a northerly direction over the ridges and dales surrounding the valley bowl. Through the centre of the valley ran a river – or rather, it limped. Even from this distance the presence of numerous obstructions to the normal flow was evident.

To the Stranger’s left of the river, he observed neat, orderly roads, residences and what appeared to be a sort-of town-centre. It was a real gem to look at, the cobbled streets tidy and flowers in boxes at every window, To the right – he paused for a moment as he glanced in that direction – the overall colour was brown, which stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding land. There appeared to be little order to the ... chaos ... and it was, in fact, an eye-sore.

Unerringly drawn to this divided settlement, the Stranger started down the hill, intent on learning more about such a place of contrasts. He was not sure of why, but it was this curiosity that had caused him to land his flighter.