Aphelion Issue 229, Volume 22
June 2018
 
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The Terraformers

by Sergio 'ente per ente' Palumbo

Edited by Michele Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story

(Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield)






"One change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others."
by Niccolo Machiavelli



"Can I offer you another?" the 50-year-old human customer named Gherardo, asked the other being who sat at the same circular table. The man sported a striking bald head and wore a suit made up of a transparent jacket with a yellowish shirt underneath, along with a pair of trousers displaying a continuous change of shades, in line with what was fashionable. He also had two striking biotech eye-appliances, by means of which he immediately and continuously recorded everything that came into sight, placing it in holo-storage.

"No, thanks," the alien known as Nle-ttt-r replied, moving the empty drink container away while continuously looking around as if he was afraid of being spotted by someone he didn't like. The former soldier, dressed in a shabby unimportant dark-gray suit, was from the Klahf species, and his facial features looked very similar to a man's face from Earth, even though he had nothing in common with humans at all. It was the same as a reddish sedimentary rock found in North America reminding someone of a kind of stone found in Australia, as a matter of fact, but differences inside the body were much deeper, of course. By chance, the Klahf representatives and humans had many traits which apparently looked alike, starting with their typical height, the extreme whitish skin and their overall build. But their internal tissues were another thing, along with their wide blue-and-orange irises and their seven-fingered hands.

The Mare Inebrium Bar was busy, as was common at night, and the varied groups of different alien regulars came and went, drinking, eating and speaking in their own languages. And oh boy, how they talked and talked! They seemed to have so many things to tell each other, especially when the alcohol started taking complete control of their mind, putting their mouth in motion without any restraint, of course.

This lively and very famous bar wasn't full of ordinary humans or common alien tourists, of course. For example, next to the small table where Gherardo, the journalist from Earth, and Nle-ttt-r presently sat, there was another table full of fifteen-legged, ill-dressed TlTww from the distant planet Lwih. They were sipping a very characteristic drink for their species, and as soon as they ingested that freezing, smelly grayish liquid, they began emitting weird smoke from the spaces between their thin greenish teeth, that rose up slowly to the top of the lounge room. Then, all of them apparently rejoiced and laughed as if that strange ritual made them feel at home, for a while at least. Their home-world was volcanic, in fact - made of ashes, fire, dust storms and unbearable weather for humans. They had all probably been born about eighty years ago, given the typical beige twin beards dangling from their wide noses.

Some of the other customers stared at those beings, with only a few of them looking as if they might have known a little about that usually secluded species. The TlTww would probably be cavorting that way for most of the night, until they eventually got falling down drunk, finishing the long night by lying on the floor.

Everywhere you looked the place was full of strange regulars and occasional customers like diplomats or salesmen who came here for many different purposes. Some were wishing to simply have a little fun, or wanting the pleasure of tasting a robust local drink, or aiming to close a trade deal worth millions, or perhaps aiming at settling completely some less than legal business deal. And they all growled, cried, laughed or cursed in the strangest dialects in the entire galaxy, truly. Some were wrapped in fabulous colorful clothes, while others were covered in furry hair that reached the most unexpected body parts at times. Their eyes came in all shapes and sizes and glimmered in the light or were just left in shadow by the dim table lamps that were spread around. If it wasn't close to Carnival time, an onlooker might think it would be here very soon; even though even on Earth nowadays, given what it had became, it was very unusual to spot a venue, either during the day-time or at night, that was occupied only by common two-legged Earthlings.

"You were telling me about the activity of the company your military team had to protect on that distant world.what was its name? Grivb-5?" Gherardo inquired of his alien guest, then he sipped his light beer, his vivid dark eyes reflecting on the surface of the unusual shape of the glassy mug.

"Yes, that's correct," the other nodded. "They were very experienced at making and positioning the automated machinery meant to start the process of modifying the world's atmospheric conditions, turning the climate and surface of another planet into something similar to that of our native world, in order to make it habitable by Klahf-like life, in the end. We call it Klahf-forming. "

"Ok, we Earthlings call it terraforming," the journalist pointed out.

"Of course, it depends upon what world you come from. We have two companies on our planet that are specialists in it, having a very long history in transforming planets into habitable ones."

"So, how many of your friends were stationed there and what were your duties like?"

"We were all well-trained soldiers, one hundred overall, from the Space Army of our home-planet, sent there in order to keep the site under close surveillance where huge devices had been positioned on the ground. We would also protect the boundary of the place while the machinery required were doing their job to change the climate of that wild world. It was in the far outer arms of our galaxy and the process took about two-years."

"But you..."

"No, in fact.another local species already lived on the planet and its technological level was similar, more or less, to the RTKKT's Innovation Age."

"Which is similar to the Steam Age on Earth, perhaps."

"Probably so. Really, I don't know all of Earth's history, surely."

"Of course, I see," the man conceded in a smirk. "So, your company decided to set such a structure on that world, and was ready to change its atmospheric conditions, despite its managers knowing that such modifications would kill all of the indigenous alien population living there. Is that fair to say? And did they ask your Space Army for soldiers to be transported there to defend their site?"

"Exactly. That was what we had to do during our stay. In fact the aliens started attacking our encampment and tried to destroy it as soon as their scientists - although still primitive, actually - discovered what was happening to their planet and what our true, final purpose was."

"You never introduced yourself when you reached the surface nor asked for their permission, after all." said a thoughtful Gherardo, verbally poking at his guest.

"That company never said anything. It was their policy that any species that hadn't reached the same level of technological progress that our own species had achieved three centuries before were not thought of as valuable as us, and therefore could be destroyed. The laws of business have a higher priority than the ones concerning the poor, insignificant life of a lesser species that has never travelled across the galaxy." The Klahf had made his point of view perfectly clear in his peculiar cavernous tone. "After all, do you humans ask the tiny local insects to give way before you construct a house directly on their burrows or start building a road?"

"You fought for a long time. What was your daily life like down there?"

"It was a very difficult stay, and I really mean it. In winter, when we had to stop the continuous assaults of those aliens and also had to protect ourselves against the many wild creatures living in those jungles, there were moments that some of us thought we wouldn't make it. Of course, we were provided with all the most up-to-date weapons and special armors by our powerful Space Army, and were ready to resist for an extensive time period, without any support from our homeplanet, but we didn't imagine how fierce and desperate those aliens proved to be. The indigenous creatures never entered our military boundary nor were they capable of damaging our terraforming system - that kept doing its job to change the overall atmospheric conditions. But they wouldn't stop trying and many of them died over the course of those months. I had never seen such a resistant, strong-minded alien population before. I still don't understand where they got their strength, given the high casualties they were suffering because of our much superior weapons that could easily kill them from a distance before they got close to the site itself."

"So, are you saying that your company expected those indigenous people to stop fighting, stay calm and simply let you do your job? - a job that was destroying the climate of their world and ultimately resulting in all their deaths?"

"I didn't say that," the former soldier replied. "What usually happens on most planets is we just watch the machinery do its job and wait until everything is done. This is because, on most worlds we are sent to, there is no intelligent life that can start an uprising or try to stop the whole process. Of course, there is always some wildlife around, that at the time appears to be very dangerous and deadly, but a person can deal with those, the same as you can hunt and kill beasts while on safari in the jungles of our home planet."

"You mean it's easier because those animals can't take a gun and fire back at you," the journalist pointed out.

"Exactly," the other plainly nodded, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.

"But several problems occurred, after a while," the human reminded the other.

"Yes! Apparently one of the scientists from that alien species found something that proved powerful enough to destroy our star-radio communication systems along with our terraforming machinery, and in a last desperate attack they made use of it with some disastrous consequences. In fact, we ended up cut off from our superiors back on the home-planet, and we never could repair our communication system. So many of us started to become troubled and very worried. As you know, even the smallest insect can do you some damage before dying."

"What happened then? Did help finally come or was it something else that changed everything?"

"Actually no support troops came and we weren't reached by any spaceship that could transport all of us elsewhere. What happened was something we hadn't even thought of, and in fact we only discovered it much later, when we tried to get back to our world."

"So, please, be more precise about the events that took place on that distant planet," the human insisted with a strung up look.

"Well, one morning - it was about two years from the first day we had been dropped to the surface - after I had started my daily duty of surveillance and some of my co-workers had begun their usual task of trying to repair our star-radio communication system, we all heard a strange noise. We looked at the sky to see if any vessel was entering the atmospheric space of that world or whatever else was going on, and we noticed that."

"Noticed what, exactly?"

"The spacecraft was apparently releasing a sort of gas that was filtering down to the ground, spreading out widely in the sky before getting to the surface of the whole planet. Our continuous tries to get in touch with that vessel were unfruitful and it disappeared as soon as it had accomplished its task, whatever its purpose was."

"So what had it been assigned to do, in reality?"

"We didn't know at that time, in fact we only found it out many months later."

"Tell me about it - what happened next?" Gherardo pressed him.

"Well, you see, in just a matter of months, the climate of the world changed and the season which was usually warm during that period - unexpectedly became colder which was really strange. Actually, the change wasn't that bad for us, as it was typical weather for our body type, of course. Then, other big changes followed."

"And so."

"So, we finally understood! The atmospheric conditions of the whole Grivb-5 planet were turning into something different. It was as if the terraforming procedure had been activated on a larger, faster and really unprecedented scale.and it all was happening without our automated machinery, as we hadn't been able to completely repair them."

The journalist paused and raised his biotech eye-appliances to him. "What was your opinion about things at that time, when you discovered what was going on?"

"Really, we didn't know what to think about it all. Things were changing too quickly for us to understand." The Klahf made a face while widening his mouth.

"But, when a retrieval starship finally came for all of you, your team figured everything out," Gherardo added.

"Well, when they came, we were glad and jumped up and down for happiness, certainly. But it was what we were told afterwards, and especially what we found out later, that made us feel differently about everything."

"And what did you find out?" the human asked the other.

"Apparently - at least according to what the crew of the starship told us - the company that ran the site and that owned the machinery on the surface had been almost destroyed in a cruel trade struggle that involved many competitors on the holo-market. Those battles had left us impoverished and without many resources to continue their activities.

"So, our government had decided to turn to another company that was a newcomer in the field but appeared to be full of many smart Klahf researchers who had developed an experimental terraforming process for alien environments: it didn't require any costly machinery positioned on the ground! The process also didn't require the many long months of work on the site, with the assistance of several armed soldiers ready to stop any insurgents."

"Your job down there was done. And the jobs of all of your fellow terraformers on other planets were finished too," said Gherardo, pausing.

"Yes, you are exactly right. The politicians in our government considered they had waited long enough for us to use the machines we had been sent out with, and the other company had completed our task. Without any of us being able to communicate, some of them even believed that our military team had been finally overcome by the native species and had been wiped completely out. Since the company believed our support was gone, they decided to try another way - and that was why they had chosen to try the new procedure."

"That meant there would be no more drops to warlike alien worlds and demanding missions to adequately protect valuable automated machinery doing their job." the human journalist continued.

"Yes, in fact that also meant that all of us had to be reassigned to other duties. This wasn't bad, at first, given all the suffering and deprivation we had undergone while we were lost on that planet."

"But not everything was going to turn out right, was it?" Gherardo insisted in a low tone, while looking doubtfully at a sad Nle-ttt-r.

"No!" the other replied, and that exclamation came out of his mouth as a sort of cry he had kept hidden inside for so long.

"Tell me what you discovered afterwards."

"Well, as soon as the first two soldiers in our team were sent back home, we were informed some days after that something unexpected had happened to them. Something really very bad." Nle-ttt-r lowered his face.

"What?"

"They had killed themselves! We didn't immediately know what had occurred, as many thought it could be a consequence of a sort of PTSD, that same Posttraumatic stress disorder many military are affected by at times, especially at the end of long missions spent abroad under difficult conditions."

"But it wasn't just that, it was something different." the human forced the other to continue.

"Yes, it was! Many of us couldn't even imagine what the real cause was, and we only found out when we were called to a special building for a medical examination. It was only then that we knew what had really happened to them. And to all of us."

The journalist kept staring at the former soldier in an understanding look but didn't say anything, so the Klahf continued.

"Apparently, our two fellows that had previously killed themselves had done it on purpose, and not just because of some mental illness. Actually, it was an illness, but it wasn't due to something that had been temporarily going on in their minds."

"What did you discover?" Gherardo's eyes were very attentive now.

"It was us! It was our body and our genes! They had been modified, changed for the worst when we all had been reached by that new gas while we were still stationed on that world to be terraformed. Maybe the scientists working for that new company hadn't done all the necessary tests before finally proceeding, or maybe they hadn't even tried. You know that money rules such business deals and they were in a hurry to please our government. They probably decided to just take a chance, hoping that they could become the only business involved in such a profitable activity from that moment on."

"What kind of change were you undergoing?" the journalist forced the other to say something more.

"We were becoming rocky, and I really mean it! And it had started as soon as we came back to our home planet. You know, there are some peculiar minerals native only to our world that greatly interfered with the substance mixed in that gas, and the tiny particles they were made of were attracted to our skin so as to become part of our body and that greatly damaged us all. How could anyone imagine such a thing? The breathing process increased the rate of the damage, every single day. Therefore, it was obvious that in a matter of weeks the illness would have the better of us and would kill us in a very painful, terrible way."

"So, what did you decide to do?" the human urged the other.

"We were shocked at first, but we didn't know how to change the situation. The suggestion that we all were given, which soon became an order, was to stay away from our homes and be stationed in space until a real healing process might be found. So, we were forced to stay away from our world, possibly never to go back again. We left our dear parents, our wives, sons and even our friends.maybe forever. We were given the option to remain on the surface by being secluded within a special building and wearing a heavy suit all day long, which would have been unbearable for anyone, of course." the Klahf painfully acknowledged.

"Did anyone try to help you?"

"They told us that their best researchers were working to solve the unexpected problems, but no remedy was discovered during the next months. After a year, we knew that we had been left to our own destiny, really. After all, there were only a few of us, about a hundred people, and finding the right treatment for us was not a priority. It seemed that we were the only team of soldiers who had been at the site when the terraforming gas was dropped over the surface. All the others had been taken away before it happened. We were there only because of our inability to communicate with any of our other ships. So, it had merely been a very unfortunate accident, as the high-ranking officers told us all, but it had occurred anyway."

"Was that what their scientists told you in the end?" Gherardo continued.

"Not exactly: they told us to never give up hope, and that they would never stop looking for a treatment, but they did, anyway, eventually. In fact no remedy was ever found, and there is not a single medical institution that is still looking for it on our home-planet."

"So, you came to me, in order to have your poignant story known across the whole galaxy using my holoTV reporting, as a matter of fact." a nodding journalist stated while staring back at him.

"Yes, that's why I looked you up. I need you to spread the news, make our uncaring government pay for what they had done to us all, and make certain that company is stopped once and forever, along with our cruel officers back on our home planet. Even if there are only a few of us still alive, your help will be useful and our deaths will be avenged!"

"That's what I mean to do, in the interest of our viewers and to get out the truth, certainly." the man confirmed.

The Klahf smiled, very slightly, and in doing so, he displayed a child-like expression that Gherardo had not yet seen on his face before. That alien really trusted him, and the journalist had promised he would do everything he could to help their cause. After all, what else could he say?

*****

Once the relieved Klahf was gone, the human left the bar too. He knew he had been very lucky to find such an alien who wanted to tell him the whole story. Well, not because of the story itself, as Gherardo wasn't only a journalist, after all. Actually, Nle-ttt-r wanted for his government to be hurt and damaged because of what it had done. The former military also wanted that new company to pay for all the suffering it had caused him and his fellow soldiers, certainly. He had probably been searching for a solution for some time, but now he had become discouraged and had decided to make them all suffer for his present situation.

The fact was that the Klahf didn't trust any journalist native to his home-planet as he was afraid that he could be controlled or stopped by their cruel politicians. So Nle-ttt-r had turned his attention to someone living on another world, like a human journalist endowed with some great renown, for example, someone like Gherardo. What he didn't know was that this was exactly the move his government was expecting, and so they had chosen Gherardo for that duty.. In reality, he had been working for months with the present high-ranking Klahf officers, unbeknownst to Nle-ttt-r himself, certainly. The human had done so for two excellent reasons: money and the special relationship that linked their two species. They were not so different after all, their traits were very similar in fact, because of incredible circumstances that made their two races evolve in similar ways in different parts of the vastness of space.

Soon that lone surviving Klahf former soldier would be killed by the agents from the Space Army, and his sad story would be wiped from existence. No one else would know about the sad outcome of that new terraforming process and everything that had taken place on a small alien world many years ago.

Because you need to get rid of all the trash you happen to produce before going into a garden and having a pleasant day, as no one would appreciate a meadow which looked dirty or leaves that were buried in rotten food. That was why those powerful people back on the Klahf world were cleaning everything up by tracing down all the remaining soldiers from that team of one hundred unfortunate individuals, who had previously escaped their institutions and prisons. And the government really meant to do it without leaving anything unseemly behind them all, indeed.

THE END


2014 Sergio Palumbo

BIO:
Sergio is an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the publicreal estate branch. He has published a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 700 pages. Some of his works and short- stories have been published on American Aphelion Webzine, WeirdYear Webzine,YesterYearFiction, AnotheRealm Magazine, Alien Skin Magazine,on Orion's Child Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, Farther Stars Than These, on Digital Dragon Magazine, on Kalkion Science Fiction and Fantasy Web Magazine, on Orion's Arm, on Quantum Muse, Surprising Stories, on EMG- ZINE, on The Speculative Edge Magazine, on Australian Antipodean SF,on British Schlock!Webzine, on Australian SQ Mag, and in print inside an American Horror Anthology, title: "Now I Lay Me Down To Reap..." by Sirens Call Publications, inside a British Sci-Fi Anthology, title: "Timeless Worlds" by Schlock Magazine, insidea British Sci-Fi Anthology, title: "Pulpateers" by the same publisher,insidea British Sci-Fi Anthology, title: "The Year's Best Schlock! Sci-Fi 2013" by the same publisher,insidea British Fantasy Anthology, title: "The Year's Best Schlock! Fantasy 2013" by the same publisher, inside a British Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "TALES OF THE UNDEAD - Hell whore Anthology". by Horrified Press, inside another British Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "TALES OF THE UNDEAD- Volume II - Hell whore Anthology continues. " bythe same publisher, inside a British Sci-Fi Anthology for short- stories, title "JUST ONE MORE STEP Anthology". by the same publisher, inside another British Sci-Fi Anthology for short- stories, title "DARK IN THE LIMELIGHT". by the same publisher, inside a British Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "PLAGUE." by Horrified Press, inside an American Fantasy Anthology for shorts-stories, title: "Limelight: A Golden Light Anthology" byChambertonpublishing, inside an American Anthology of Historical/Fantasy shorts-stories bythe same publisher, too, title: "Gaslight: A Golden Light Anthology", inside an American Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "Dark Light 2" by Crushing Hearts Black Butterfly Publishing, inside an American Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "Cirque d'Obscure" by the same publisher,inside an American Horror Anthology, title: "Temptations and other sins" by Fantastic Horror Press, inside an American Anthology of Urban Fantasy/Horror shorts-stories, title: "Blood and Guts: An Anthology of the Gross and Disgusting" byStatic Movement Publications, inside an American Horror/Steampunk Anthology for shorts-stories, title: "Dreadful Legacies" by the same publisher, inside a Fantasy/Sci-Fi Anthology for shorts-stories, title: " LocoThology 2013: Tales of Fantasy & Science Fiction- Volume 3" by Loconeal Publishing, inside a Horror Anthology for shorts-stories, title: " Undead Living" by Sunbury Press, and inside a new American Horror Anthology, title: "Mental Ward: Stories from the Asylum..." by Sirens Call Publications, inside an American Horror Anthology, title: "Slaughter House: The Serial Killer Edition - Volume 2",by the same publisher, inside an Australian Sci-Fi Anthology, title: "Star Quake 1- Best of SQ Mag's 2012"- Anthology, inside a Canadian Horror Anthology, title: "Blood and Roses" by Scarlett River Press, inside an Urban Fantasy/Horror Anthology for shorts-stories, title: "Miseria's Chorale" by Forgotten Tomb Press, inside an American Anthology of Horror shorts-stories, title: "Deadhead miles" bySpook Show Publishing, inside a new British Horror Anthology, title "Night Shade- Volume I. " by Little Bird Publishing, inside another British Sci-Fi Anthology, title "Barbarians of the Red Planet" by Rogue Planet Press, inside another American Urban Fantasy/Horror Anthology, title "Sweet Dreams and Night Terrors" by Silent Fray Productions, inside another American Urban Fantasy Anthology, title "Cursed Curiosities" by Barbwire Butterfly Books, inside another Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "Undercurrents of Fear." by the same publisher,inside another American Horror Anthology, title "The Dead walk" by Breaking Fate Publishing and will appear soon, in print, inside an American Sci-Fi Anthology for short- stories, title "Yarr!- A Space Pirate Anthology" by Martinus Publishing , inside an American Sci-Fi/Steampunk Anthology for short- stories, title "Altered Europe" by the same publisher, inside an American Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "Dark Light 4" by Crushing Hearts Black Butterfly Publishing, in another Canadian Horror Anthology, title: "Tortured Souls Volume 1" by Scarlett River Press,inside an American Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "Weird Western Yarns" by Western Trail Blazer Publishing, inside an American Sci-Fi Anthology for short- stories, title "Out of Phase: Tales of Sci-Fi Horror" by Sirens Call Publications, inside an American Anthology for short- stories, title "Automaton: A SteampunkAnthology" by Baird Speculative Fiction, inside a British Sci-Fi/Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "LOCH SHOCK." by Horrified Press, inside another British Horror Anthology for short- stories, title "TALES OF THE UNDEAD - Hell whore III Anthology. " , bythe same publisher, inside anotherAmerican Steampunk/Horror Anthology, title: "Steampunk Monster Hunter - The Dark Monocle" by Emby Press,in another American Anthology for Fantasy short-stories, title "Hidden in Your World" by Press, inside an American Paranormal Anthology for short- stories, title "Bloody Sexy" by Hot Ink Press, inside another British Steampunk Anthology for short- stories, title "Steamworld." byThirteen Press, inside an American Anthology of Urban Fantasy shorts-stories, title: "Pets are people, too" , byFey Publishing,inside an American Anthology of Horror shorts-stories, title: " Demonology" , byStatic Movement Publications, inside an American Anthology ofFantasy/Horror shorts-stories of strictly lesbian and bisexual female tales, title: "Magickally Delicious" bythe same publisher andthen inside an American Anthology of Horror shorts-stories bythe same publisher, again, title: "Love at first bite".

He is also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of his little Dioramas have been shown also on someItalian (scale model) magazines like Soldatini, Model Time, TuttoSoldatini and online on American site StarShipModeler, MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF .

Some Sci-Fi/fantasy/Horror short- stories by him in Italian have been published on Alpha Aleph, Alpha Aleph Extra, Algenib, Oltre il Futuro, Nugae 2.0, SogniHorror, La Zona Morta, edizioni Lo Scudo, Antologia Robot ITA 0.1, Antologia Il Segreto dell'Universo, Antologia E-Heroes, etc.'

The internet site of his Model Club "La Centuria": www.lacenturia.it

Here a brief presentation of Michele DUTCHER who edited the short- story:
"Michele Dutcher, aka Bottomdweller, lives in a carriage house in Old Louisville Kentucky with her border collie Daisy Dukes. She has a BS degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University with minors in theology & sociology and has been writing Science Fiction stories for about a decade. She edits all the first drafts of Sergio's short stories."


THE END



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