by Jackie Cannon
"How long before we get there?" asks Jenal, sleepily.
"We're almost there," says Nir. "Just a few more hours."
"It's been so long since we've had fresh meat. Can't we at least sample some before freezing it for the trip home?"
"We'll see," responds Nir noncommittally.
"The children starve. At their age, they need fresh meat to support their growth," pleads Jenal.
"Yes, my dear, I know. Everyone hungers for fresh meat and blood."
Just then, they hear a soft sound behind them.
"Mama, I'm hungry," cries Ji from the doorway, awake after her nap.
Jenal rises from her seat. "Come, Ji," she says, with a sideways glance at her mate, Nir, "we'll get you something."
"Can we eat the fresh meat?" Ji asks.
Jenal shakes her head, "No, sweetie. We're not there yet. A few more days, that's all. For now, you have to suck on the replicate blood pack."
"Nooo," whimpers Ji, "I'm tired of that fake food."
"Ji," says Nir sternly.
Ji sighs heavily, but offers no more complaint. She turns toward the dining area followed by Jenal.
Nir uses the communication system to contact the other ships in the shield crew, "Nir calling Shield Crew, how's everyone holding up?"
Owa responds, "We're okay. The children are having a tough time, though."
Nir nods to himself before replying, "Yes, Ji just awakened wanting fresh blood. I know it's hard, but we're almost there."
Burta joins in the conversation from her own ship, "Yeah, we're all hungry for fresh meat. Our people waste away the longer they go without it."
Nir interjects before the conversation gets any more depressing, "Well, it won't be long now. In a few hours, we'll be there. We just need to test the sun shield to make sure it works, so the meat will freeze properly for the trip home. I may let Ji sample some of the meat, maybe a small piece. I don't think the company will mind. With this harvest, we're bringing home enough food to feed everyone on our planet."
"Yes, all twelve billion," adds Owa. "It's a start. But if our population keeps growing, we'll need to continue searching for new sources of food."
"Right, but we'll face that when we come to it. I know, I know; we need to plan for the future. For now, though, let's concentrate on harvesting the food," finishes Nir.
"Agreed," says Burta, "and it will be easy since we're freezing it first."
"Right, Nir out."
"Just a few more hours," Nir says to himself, "and we'll have more fresh meat than we've had in six years. Enough for the children to have several helpings, with plenty left over for the adults."
Nir can't help but lick his lips with his triple-spiked tongue thinking of all that meat waiting to be harvested. He settles into his pilot's chair to relax and enjoy the last few hours before arrival.
"Nir calling, we've arrived in system. Continue heading toward the sun," he instructs Owa and Burta, "no detours to the planet. It won't do us any good to make our presence known. We'll just scare the herd, making them harder to find after freezing. Is that clear?"
"Yes," respond Owa and Burta.
All three ships head toward the huge sun at the center of the planetary system. Each ship carries one third of the shield they're going to use to block the sun's rays from the planet. Once the shield's in place, it won't take long for the planet to begin cooling. The meat will freeze in no time.
After another hour, the ships arrive in position.
"Everyone have their heat visors in place?" asks Nir.
Burta responds first, "Heat visor activated and working fine."
"Same here," adds Owa. "Let's get started."
Nir laughs, "All right, deploy your sun shield and lock the pieces in place."
Each ship releases its part of the sun shield and maneuvers it into place. With the magnetic locks activated, all three pieces lock together easily.
Nir gets back on the communication channel. "Good, all the pieces are locked. Now, back away and I'll test the expansion mode."
The ships reverse engines and travel to a safe distance away from the sun shield. When the expansion mode activates, the shield expands to ten times its present size, creating a huge circular metal disk. The disk blocks the sun's rays from reaching the herd planet.
Unfortunately, it affects all the planets in the system, but that can't be helped. The people on Nir's home planet starve. They need this meat. And, it's the only source of fresh meat within this particular system. That herd must be harvested.
"Activating expansion mode," says Nir.
The sun shield expands to form a circular field blocking out the sun's rays. It works perfectly.
"Good," Owa says, "it's working just as the scientists planned."
"Yes," states Burta. "How long before the herd freezes?"
"Not yet, Burta," says Nir, "you know this is only a test. We have to wait for the harvesters to arrive."
"Sure, it's just that I'm ready to eat fresh meat now."
Nir deactivates the expansion mode and the sun shield collapses into its original three pieces, locked in orbit some distance away from the sun.
"I know. We all are," adds Nir. "I'll contact the cargo harvesters now.
"Nir calling Cargo Harvester One, respond please."
After a few seconds pause, "Cargo Harvester One, here. Go ahead, Nir."
"The sun shield works perfectly. We're on schedule for harvesting. How far away are you?"
"Five days -- three, if we push it."
Nir laughs over the communication channel, "No, five days is fine. We've waited this long, we can hold out."
"Good. See you in five days. Cargo Harvester One out."
Nir closes the channel as Jenal and Ji return to the front of the ship. "Are we there yet, Daddy?" Ji asks, licking the last traces of replicate blood from her lips.
"Turning toward the planet, now, Ji," he says with a smile. "In ten days..."
"Ten days. Five for the cargo harvesters to arrive and five to freeze the meat once the sun shield is activated. Then, you'll have more fresh meat than you can stomach."
"I don't know," Ji giggles, "I can imagine myself stomaching a lot right about now."
"Yes, but you need to be careful," warns Jenal. "We've never had this meat before. We don't know how tough it might be to eat."
"The scientists say this meat is beyond tender," comments Nir, "though I'm sure it has its tough parts just like any other meat."
"Owa calling Nir. What now?"
"We sit back and wait," quips Burta.
"Unfortunately, that's exactly what we do," adds Nir. "You know the contract rules, Owa. We can't taste any meat until it's frozen. After that, we may thaw a few pieces and taste them to make sure our people can stomach it."
"Yeah, I know," admits Owa. "But I was hoping you'd say something different."
"You know me, Owa," laughs Nir, "I always play by the rules. That's why they put me in charge of the sun shield. Let's link our ships and wait for the cargo harvesters to get here."
"Okay, be right over."
Once the three ships link up, Burta and Owa's families join Nir, Jenal and Ji on their ship.
Ji takes the other kids back to the play area, while the parents rest in the dining section. Nir offers everyone a replicate blood pack. Burta and her mate decline, as does Owa's mate. But Owa accepts the offered food graciously.
"Hey," Owa begins, "it's only a few more days of this stuff. Then, we'll have enough fresh meat to feed everyone."
"Yeah," joins Burta, "I hear some of the mammals are huge. If we cut them up right, one of those should feed a unit of eight."
Burta's mate, Tili, adds, "Oh, I hope it's good meat. Remember that meat from Takaya. It had all those nasty little bones in it. Yuck!"
"I know," says Jenal, "Ji kept choking on those bones. I hope that doesn't happen with this meat."
"No," responds Nir, "This meat should be just right. I hear it's fleshy and full of blood. Just what our people need to survive."
"Good," says Burta, "I can't wait for the cargo harvesters to get here so we can get started."
And the families relax and enjoy each other's company after the two-and-a-half month journey.
Austin, Texas, Earth. May 25th. 2:15 p.m.
Panic reigns in the streets. People seek shelter inside buildings, race home to loved ones and fear the world has finally come to an end.
People turn to news channels to find out what's happening. Today, something happened that was unheard of in all of human history, and the only familiar explanation could not be the correct one.
When the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, its shadow creates a zone of darkness visible as such only over a narrow path across the Earth's surface and lasting some minutes. Today...event... darkness fell over the entire sunward face of the planet, but lasted only seconds.
Today, the sun blinked.
© 2011 Jackie Cannon
Bio: Jackie Cannon is a resident of Austin, Texas (neither frozen nor harvested so far) whose stories, articles, poetry, and web content have appeared in various publications.
E-mail: Jackie Cannon
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