Copyright © 2014 Toby Bain
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, without permission from the author.
Captain Billy-Bob Freedman engaged the auto-pilot and prised his considerable bulk from the cushioned leather chair.
‘Welcome to Planet Aruvia boys,’ the captain enthused, aiming a smile at the crew.
Whoops of delight filled the flight deck. The crew converged on the captain, exchanging handshakes. All except Lewis Ross; who remained in his seat. Such high-school conviviality made him feel sick to his stomach. He turned away in disgust, staring through a porthole at the planet below. Aruvia was an idyllic paradise of dark brooding mountains, sweeping farmland and placid green rivers. This splendour was set under a flawless blue sky and two bright yellow suns. Its beauty made their mission all the more despicable.
The imposing voice of the captain exclaimed that everyone aboard the ship should remember June 25th 2395 as an historic day. Ross, a tall slim man with dark hair who was in his element listening to baroque music in the comfort of his quarters, was the antithesis of the gregarious captain. This time, though, he nodded forlornly. It was indeed a day never to be forgotten.
As the ship began its slow descent the captain returned to his seat, studying an array of screens on the centre console. With a contented sigh he said, ‘It’s just like I remember.’
Thirty years ago, while cruising solo around the galaxy, the captain had found Aruvia quite by accident. Freedman had spent a few days on the planet meeting the natives and scouting the land. Aruvians, he’d reassured the crew, were placid, generous folk.
Ross, usually one to drink in the knowledge of others, had done a stellar job during the journey of avoiding the blast radius of Freedman’s considerable voice. In fact, until he’d seen the planet with his own eyes, he’d hoped, quite guiltily now, that the co-ordinates punched into the ship’s navigational system were wrong. But, as the ship’s landing gear engaged with a pneumatic hiss and the craft nestled on solid ground, Ross felt the familiar suffocating feeling of helplessness.
Ross was one of the few surviving alienologists – experts in extra-terrestrial culture – left on Earth. He’d been required by the World government to join the ship’s crew. In most circumstances this was an endeavour he’d have eagerly undertaken, for Ross was of the opinion that humans and aliens could live in perfect harmony, each species thriving as long as they followed strict societal rules such as non-violence and cultural respect. The circumstances surrounding this visit were different from all others he’d undertaken. Earth, ravaged by years of nuclear war, was – more by default than design – experiencing its first taste of peace for generations. The self-appointed World government was tasked with repairing the uneasy harmony between tribes, countries and continents, a job made easier because 99% of Earth’s weapons had been spent levelling every major city, killing billions in the process.
The war did more than just decimate the population: it poisoned the environment. A new report by scientists predicted that the radiated air, already as refreshing as shattered glass, would become insufferable within the next 12 months. Humans needed to commandeer a new planet. But there was a catch. Earth, with its flagging weaponry stash, was equipped to fight a war with only the most docile of species. Mars and Venus were too powerful. Pluto was uninhabitable. Aruvia, according to Captain Freedman, was perfect. He’d even managed to talk the government into leaving the fledgling World Army behind. They could keep the fragile peace at home while the explorers roamed Aruvia and laid the groundwork for an invasion.
As the ship’s main doors opened a burst of air cleansed his nose and his palette. It smelled of earth, salt and tasted of pure love for the land. Ross had hoped the World government would use the downfall of Earth and the exploration of Aruvia to employ civilised values like peace, co-operation and understanding – resisting the temptation to fall into destructive patterns of behaviour. But he knew enough about human behaviour and culture to understand that humans and peace were like oil and water. And that was amongst each other.
The crew marched down a ramp into blinding sunlight. As he followed, Ross knew he had a few days to change the future of the Aruvian race.
Earlier that day, as the dual suns rose above the black mountains and cast their bright spell on Aruvia, Sheraté the Third awoke from a particularly reassuring dream. Her parents were consoling her, reassuring her that they still loved her and that her actions were a necessary duty to the Aruvian race.
Dreams are a precious connection between Aruvians and their ancestors in the nether world, yet despite the reassurance of her parents, Sheraté’s sense of guilt weighed heavy as she left her hut. She whisked aside the curtain to her brother’s hut. It was empty. She held her nose to the cool morning air. Not only did she pick up his unmistakable scent, she caught the aroma of something else: the smell of mischief.
Sheraté, a farmer’s daughter, had long golden hair and a tanned complexion. She bore the slender, athletic figure of someone used to rising at dawn and tending to the land. After her parent’s departure from this life she had, according to Aruvian laws, been forced to look after her 10 year-old brother, Frisk the Second. It was no easy feat. He was as elusive as a column of smoke. Frisk stood at the edge of the sedate river. He was jabbing the surface of the green water with a makeshift spear from a fallen tree branch in an ungainly attempt at catching fish. The leathery orange skins of several lava fruit lay discarded a few feet from the riverbank.
‘Brother,’ she said upon approaching the boy, ‘you know it is forbidden for us to kill a living soul.’
The boy turned and smiled. Frisk, his thick blond hair hanging about his face like a mop, was in her image. Unfortunately, his personality was as far removed from hers as tomatoes were from fish, for he lacked the two virtues Aruvians admired above all others: discipline and honesty. Sheraté despaired that the family’s efforts at nurturing her brother had hitherto failed to dissuade him from a path of mischief.
Frisk the Second continued to look amused at her chagrin. She repelled his boyish grin with a hard look. ‘You know what’s to become of you if you continue your errant ways.’
‘I’m playing,’ he said, turning back to the water. The branch, now broken, was discarded into the river. Frisk dipped his hands into the water, blindly thrusting at the green liquid. Suddenly he withdrew them and seemed rather startled to find them empty. ‘They’re slippery creatures,’ he said. His voice contained all the excitement of someone rather enjoying this game.
‘Stop that at once!’ A solemn edge in Sheraté’s voice forced him to turn around. Frisk tracked his sister’s gaze to the lava fruit. ‘Now you have taken your oath,’ she said, ‘much is expected of you. Yet already I see signs of insolence and dishonesty.’
‘I found the lava fruit,’ Frisk implored. Wiping his hands on his tattered shorts the boy strode up to her, smile in full flow. ‘I found them,’ he insisted.
Sheraté shook her head and gave him a disbelieving look. ‘You took your oath just yesterday and have already broken two of your vows. You have stolen from the fields and now you have lied about it. The elders will not take the news well.’
Frisk seemed on the verge of crying until something in his countenance changed. His face hardened. He stood erect and forked his hands through his blond locks. ‘It’s our field and our lava fruit. So what if I took some?’
‘The farms feed all of Aruvia, not just you and me.’ She grabbed his narrow wrist. ‘Do you want to end up like the others? The only way you will learn is by attending your first Declaration. If you have any inkling toward common sense you will take note of what happens to younglings who break their vows.’
THIS STORY IS AVAILABLE IN ITS ENTIRETY IN THE KINDLE E-BOOK ‘OUT OF THIS WORLD’.