The Way Things Are

By Ken Lehnig

The room wasn't much. It was dingy as every thing is on this god-awful Rock. Gray dust found it's way even into closed places covering everything in an ultra-fine film. The Hostel was one of the best in the enclave. There were four mining camps on The Rock each about five hours travel distance from each other. He looked around the room, bed clean sheets and old coverlet, ugly painted four-drawer dresser, bed stand and a lamp with an exposed bulb. He giggled at the lace doily on the dresser. He went to the window and looked down on the dark street empty between shifts. Large half pipe Quans lined up in a row across the dirt gray street, homes and business's all as drab as the next. He remembered the home blue and green and water everywhere. He forgot the smell of the sea.

He sat on the edge of the bed and poured out the contents of his side bag: two tins of mystery meat, real meat no matter the animal who once owned it. He had eaten it before. It was consistent gristle free and not bad tasting. There was a can of some fruit and a can of some thing called Vegilly. The label touted it was multi-vitamined and mineraled. Two tins of custard and a bottle of pure water rounded out the fare. He fished in his overcoat pockets and pulled out the most expensive thing he had purchased a small bottle of an eighty-proof booze made from a cactus that some how took a hold in The Rocks soil. There was no real sun just a series of satellites circling the Rock and beaming down its weak rays fueled by burning hydrogen. The light was as dim as a full moon on their home world. "Not all bad I suppose." He muttered to himself.

She knocked on the door, as was her custom when he came to the Enclave. It was a business arrangement but it was always pleasant. He opened the door and looked at her. She hadn't changed much in the year since he had seen her. Maybe she was a little more life worn. She was still cute and petite, a blond haircut, short like his. She was made up like she was going to a social.

"What's with the paint?"

"Nice to see you too.

"Sorry, it's good to see you."

"Didn't know whether I was alive did you?"

"Well, the way things are."

"True! I dressed up a bit. I heard you were coming."

"How did you hear I thought it was a secret?"

She pealed off her jumpsuit and threw down her sidebag. She was wearing a nice near white lacy thing.

"Dinner too?" She squeaked.

"We are going to shower together."


"I have a half hour."

She looked down at the food on the bed. "Do we eat or get it on with the sudsy hugging?"

"Let's shower first."

"You want me without makeup, no perfume, no wig, no nighty?"

"We are going to do it naturally. I had myself smoothed because you don't like hairy."

"God you are sweet. I have missed you."

They did it wet and nice. They ate their feast and then they did it again. They fell asleep and she left before morning to avoid any embarrassment because they did hopelessly care for each other. She didn't ask for money. He sent her money each quarter-cycle to help make her life a little easier and to have her always clear her schedule when he came here.

It worked for them. It was the way things were.

He woke to the morning horn. The dim dawn came and cheered him a bit. The Group wanted to be rid of the false suns because it was expensive and a useless ritual that just no longer mattered. They were shouted down by the citizens, apparently it did matter.

At dawn social clubs opened that provided music, free cheap brew and a place where unattached males and females could legally commingle. There was no matting without permits. Doing so without a ticket got you ugly time in the pen. It was easier and less painful to get the permit. The fee for the permit included mate-safe spray and a contraceptive, no disease and no babies. He liked the new clubs. It was a simple reminder of home.

He wasn't here to work and his appointment wasn't till late this afternoon. He decided to have a beer and listen to some music. He heard there was a club close by that had a band that played old-timey folk music.

He wasn't disappointed; he drank a great expensive dark and tipped the band copiously. He was almost at joy and forgot for just a moment where he was. Tears of happiness rolled down his eyes. As the band played he remembered the before times. The bar keep brought him another dark saying that The Group allowed him an open tab. He looked at the frosty mug and saddened. He used to be a pilot, once upon a time, and he laughed. He was surely too old to fly even if he wanted to. He shook the hands of the musicians, once the most honored of his people. They all teared up at his leaving. He went to the bar and the Bar Keep told him he could have as many brews as he wanted. He told him to pour himself and the band members each a dark and dream of better place and with honor keep him in mind. He smiled and said, "Thank you honored Warrior we have been bettered by your grace."

"Thank you for your kindness but I am now a working man and that is the only honor I ask for."

The Keep and the Band all nodded and smiled.

The Group called him and he came as summoned. It would be an insult not to appear. He sat upon an ornate tuft. The fact that it was a ceremonial pillow and placed in just such a position was troubling. The tuft indicated high honor and of grave seriousness. He faced a low-arced table designed so that all members of The Group were seated in front of him at exactly the same distance. The placement was showing The Group's deepest respect for their guest.

"You are a Warrior are you not?" The youngest female Group member blurted with a slight sneer.

"I am now a Miner, Group Member, with respect."

"I am sorry! That was rude of me."

He stood up and looked at her. It was a long silence. He had the right to kill her for the insult but he was tired and really didn't care, so he sat down.

Things quieted and the tension eased. His color returned to pink while most of The Group still remained viridescent. The young female stood up, walked out to stand before their guest. She fell prone face down on the worn carpet. The rest of The Group watched in silence. He looked at her lying at his feet and cried at the devotion to one so unworthy. She made a mistake often made by the young. There are so few young intelligent enough to take on the responsibility of the group. This was no time for the enactment of such a wasteful custom.

He started to sing an ancient song of praise and devotion to all the family clans and the honor endowed the First Compacts. The Group, each one, cried, for they have never heard it sung but only read the words in the Old Text.

He reached down and patted the young female's head with obvious affection.

"Raise up Group Member! No harm is done."

She with a tear stained face stood and returned to her seat behind the table.

It was the Senior Seat Elder that spoke after a time of honest silence.

"Please Elder forgive us. We shame ourselves in our ignorance of the proper protocols. It has been too long since we have been so honored by someone of your stature. We offer no excuses just…"

"Speak no more of it. Yes Dear one, I am a Warrior but there is no war. Now I am barely a competent miner. We shamefully sell the ore we mine to our former enemy."

The entire Group flushed red in shocked surprise. Then looking at each other for some way to respond. What he had done was the highest honor a Warrior could bestow. It was a revelation and put them in awe of the one they dared to have sit in front of them. A Warrior had spoken 'truth' to those chosen to hold the 'truth.' They knew it was a way for him to equalize all in attendance. Plain and free speaking now was demanded.

The Second Seat Female composed herself first. She appeared not much younger than the First Seat.

"Warrior we thank you from our hearts and souls. Do you agree that the way things are has become intolerable?"

He nodded.

"The Fourth Seat spoke." There is no one alive who remembers the war except you. We apologize that the extra privileges given you does not in the remotest way repay what you have endured."

The whole Group nodded assent and waited for a response. It didn't come. He was sitting with his eyes closed as if he was remembering those awful days. A full five minutes passed in silence.

Then he spoke quietly. "The way things are now are just so…"

"Just so…" The Second Seat rudely blurted in improper excitement to avoid another misstep by The Group. "We toil our days away in duty to each other. We can read the words of historians but it's not the same. Will you tell us the story Honored Warrior? Please!"

She stood. Her color was pale in Body Respect. She bowed deeply knowing the danger of this appeal. The others went pale and looked at the reaction of the Warrior. Then they too stood and bowed full at the waist. The Fifth Seat took a while to color properly; such disrespect to The Group will have him sent to the lower levels of the mines where he will die from heat exhaustion after a few years of toil.

The Warrior thought of words he had once read. 'How have the mighty fallen.'

He sat and allowed the full remembering to take him, shedding his miner's persona. Hormones flooded his body. His skin turned to Warrior purple. Even though The Group was to remain in the submissive position the Warrior heard gasps. He forgave them. The color had fallen to myth. He would no longer need to be protected from the bitter cold of this ugly Rock. Body horns and scales began to form. He shamefully screamed in pain singing 'The Song' to control his responses to The Change. His jaw extended, teeth grew to their true length and terror. He ripped off his jump suit tearing it into rags. He grew to three times his size. Claws grew from fingernails and a second thumb grew from the other side of each hand. A spiked tail grew from the tip if his spine. He howled for meat. He was exhausted and required an infusion of protein. The Group had only hoped for this honor but they had prepared for it. A huge tray of meat was placed in front of him. The aide placed the plate and jumped out of the way just in time to avoid the swipe of weak, but still horrible, claws. The Warrior devoured the meat in seconds. Then he rested in silence. The whole transformation took a little less than thirty minutes and during that entire time The Group kept their bowed position. Any sharp movement would have provoked the Warrior and then the meat tray would have not been necessary.

Finally the Warrior spoke. "All is well! I have become and am no danger to you."

The Group straightened, stretched and sat staring in wonder at what sat in front of them. He was massive and splendid. He was a fighting monster, a horror and the vanguard of pain and death to the enemies of the People. They were in awe and ashamed to have him do this for them. It was the most intimate thing a Warrior could share and the most dangerous for those who witness the transformation.

"We found them first. We had just achieved stardrive, as did they. In all the suns and planets of this galaxy our two races learned and grew on the exact same timeline. Not a day or a year or a century of development separated us. When the big beasts died because of a massive comet it happened on both worlds. When the little furred warm-blooded ones came out after the disaster it happened on both worlds. A bearded one came down from a mountain with clay tablets with the Word of God written upon them, pyramids and Saviors, Kings and Priests came like twins to both worlds. When the great empires died and the religions terrorized the world it happened on both worlds. Wars with arrows, wars with cannon, wars with tanks and trenches, wars with planes and bombs, wars with atomic weapons, wars with biologicals, wars of words, death and genocide, shamed both worlds at exactly the same time. Every political experiment, every philosophy, every noble and decent act, every time we touched God, it was mirrored by them. Every time the Devil took possession of our hearts and minds he won on their planet as well. Both world's were a polluted green and blue and in near ruin for our plundering and ravishings.

"Then came another asteroid to both worlds and our races were almost destroyed. Those that survived formed Clans and Houses. Centuries passed, the First Compact was signed by all Clans and Houses. And the Enlightened Time was on us and we both made advances in science, the arts, and medicine. Every citizen of both worlds prospered and glowed in health and intellect. But there was a snake in both gardens. We had survived so God had blessed us. Religion again raised its organized best and demanded that we again expand and multiply. There were other worlds and we need not harm the paradise we had made by excess and wasteful actions. We no longer had to pollute, over fish, deforest, or deplete the liquid energy deep underground. Both worlds' rich and prosperous ministers preached the blessedness of science, our superiority, and our right to find other planets to exploit. Then we went to the stars by the thousands in a religious frenzy, with biological computers and Gods good grace.

"They found a living world first. The third planet of a world circling a yellow star we called Ce-este. They had settled just six months before. There were one hundred fifty thousand squatters on our world. Our beautiful blue green world that God had promised us. We of course carried weapons on our ship. We rained down terror on the unfaithful and slaughtered those who did not die in the bombardment. We settled it in their place. Then they came seeking vengeance and wiped our colonists out most cruelly. We could not let them have this planet so we came with a weapon of consummate arrogance and evil we brought a world killer. We blew up the planet and all upon it. We destroyed the only inhabitable world within the reach of either species.

"And so the War started. It lasted two hundred years. War in space is tedious and each engagement took an enormous amount of time to develop. Once started it was no less bloody and horrifying. They and we needed warriors suited to space battles, long lived, durable to changes in environments and pressures, terrifying and powerful killers, nightmares to look upon and in their brains the enhancement of a modifiable biological computer. The war was being fought to a standstill. Each world kept the battle in space, hiding the location of each other's world. They found the world we destroyed first and they found our world first. They killed everyone on our planet with a nasty slow acting virus.

"Although we were alike in most ways there were differences. When we created Warriors a genetic variation showed up in the whole of our species eukaryotic cells. A viral based metamorphic agent that created the Warriors escaped the labs on our world in an altered less virulent form. It had no effect on our population and wouldn't have for some three hundred generations. But it did leave a chink in our immune systems.

"A frozen parasite that arrived, carried on a rouge comet fragment, smashing into their world twenty five thousand years ago found a symbiotic relationship living inside the gut of the enemy. It stabilized their genome and fortified their immune system. We had Warriors first because they had to unlock the affect of the parasites over all beneficial effect. They captured one of our pilots and found the difference. They invented the world killing bug and the antidote. God had incredibly blessed them, not us. Even the Warriors were vulnerable to the disease. They took over our planet in lieu of the one we destroyed.

"Our long-range expeditions came back, after such a long trip, those two hundred thousand souls in those great star ships found no home in the stars. They were captured as each ship entered the system. When all were home fifty thousand were publicly executed. The rest were sent here to The Rock.

"I survived because I was stranded alone, in an escape pod, for a five years, frozen and dreaming of victory. Instead I was found, thawed and sent to this Rock to share the punishment for what our species did to theirs.

"We have been here six generations and I have suffered this tedious life for more than four hundred years. We will never be more than the number we killed on their colony. We will never be Clan and House again. We will never be allowed into Heaven for our sins. We will dig in a great gray hole here and forever in the afterlife. God has judged us and found us wanting. We all pray, none the less, for some small mercy.

"I was the only Warrior to survive of our world. Their hero Warriors came home from war, knowing that there would not be another enemy to fight, asked to die. This was granted with the all the Honor and Glory they deserved. Their last Warrior to die said "The way things are, may God forgive us and let us into Heaven.

"That saying has stuck, even with us, in another form. Our revised prayer and curse is; the way things are, may the bastards find an enemy in the stars more horrible and more powerful than we. Amen."

The Warrior's face beseeched The Group to let him rest, to let him die. He knew he was their people's last symbol of hope and they would never grant him his request.

"Thank you for the truth. We dare to ask you one last favor."

"Speak!" He said.

The First Spoke. "Above the table to your left you will find an alcove. In it is a spherical object. It is a bomb. It is a very powerful device, which we have secretly built. We ask you, Warrior, to detonate it when you see fit. It will put our species to rest. The contest for survival has played out between the Humans and us. We are without hope. The Clerics believe that it is the same throughout the Universe, the will of God. He creates three beautiful worlds, on two he raises sister species and the third he leaves open. It is the truest of Trilogies. Space separates these worlds from the other sets of three. Each time there is a Holy War and one Species survives. Maybe there is still a form of justice. Maybe the winner can learn to travel further and faster and find another sister world that has won their contest and they must fight it out. And on and on till there is only one race, a race of Angel-Beasts who will be humbled by God for there arrogance and madness."

A gong sounded a deep mournful tone.

He asked The Group for accommodations and privacy. He returned to the shape of a miner. It took an excruciating three days.

So now he sits in his room. He worked in the mine for another year. He did it in humility so that if God could forgive them he would come as he was made in his mother's womb.

He opened the drawer next to his bed and looked with pride at his shed fighting horns and tail spikes. He moved his bed, threw back the rug and opened the trap door. He had dug a vault and lined it with lead, in it he had placed the device. Taking out the bomb he sat down and put it on his lap. He cried for all those who died.

The bomb will turn The Rock and all on it into dust.

The way things are.

He pushed the sequence and the red button. With the flash his last thought was

"Thank God!"

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Ken Lehnig




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