Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Second Earth

by Sergio  “ente per ente” Palumbo

Edited by Michele Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

People having fun and laughing, negotiations going on or just concluded among representatives from different species sitting at tables full of colorful beverages. Profits being made by acquiring or selling merchandise coming from who knows what planets or moons situated nearby, or far away, in space and all sorts of legitimate (hopefully) or illegal business in the air. This is what the man saw as he looked about.

 He knew that customers here varied depending on the time of year and day, as he had been told, ranging from travelers to bankrollers, human and of many alien nationalities. Also, there were several members of the local community intermingling in the group. The lively and very popular place was said to be crowded no matter when a customer came in, and the man didn’t doubt that at all.

 While inside of one the large lounges in that lively venue at night, a person could think its walls and floors never saw the light of day. Perhaps that place didn’t need to receive warmth from the local sun, or to be lit by the rays that came from outside. After all, the artificial illumination and the many colorful shades that decorated the entire area made up for the present lack of the presence of Antuth, the sun of this planetary system that many also worshipped as a deity, the so-called Father of the Gods as they named it here.

Mare Inebrium Space Bar undoubtedly had its undisputed appeal and looked very attractive to all its customers, be they regulars or passers-by, temporary travelers that arrived here or walked near its entrance by chance and were motivated to enter and show their faces. Many were drawn to have a look, take a seat and drink or eat something from the almost endless choices of local and extraterrestrial main courses and snacks from more than one thousand planets. There were menu items to be selected at the tables while staring in admiration at the rows of alembic-like glass structures and wide tanks filled with color-coded ingredients necessary for many beverages or non-alcoholic juices that surrounded them, whatever was the trend of the month. Its endless diversity was what made this place really worth visiting, and gave the bar its great renown both on this world of Bethdish and elsewhere, along with the many legends that were told and retold about it - the bartender himself, to say the least…- along with his beautiful waitresses.

 Speaking of legends, Ulayman Tugrel undoubtedly was one of them. More wealthy than many human or alien tycoons had ever been and more renowned for his exploits – and some had been reputed to be very detestable by some, while other listeners simply didn’t care. He was also famous for his intellect which was higher than the vast majority of great academicians or scientists of both the past and present times. The sixty-year-old bearded man still had most of his hair dark and had always been proud of his tall seven foot stature, the same as of his slim physique except his heavy hips, of course. One of his main characteristics which had been with him since he was a child, was the strange shade and shape of his eyes, which were not really light brown but not entirely copper-colored either. Some said that he had accomplished this small deviation by having a few genetic modifications made early on. But others insisted it had been produced by having expensive medical changes and aesthetic operations done to get that result in the end.

 The fact was that he had always been against any treatment to have his body augmented or to delay ageing and prolong a fictitious youth. Truth be known, the color of his eyes remained their original color, though it seemed to vary a lot from one place to another according to the local lights, or the type of sun rays that struck them. They changed depending upon what planet Ulayman happened to be on, their color being more consistent on old Earth or aboard the closed environment of a starship, for example. This peculiarity had widely been written and spoken about, in several holo-magazines and in the media. When it came to his personality, all the people who knew him said he was an emotional man, very expressive, and that he tended to exaggerate things and complain too much about too many subjects at times. But the man didn’t hear people telling him this to his face, because the many he usually interacted with were his employees or other workers like technicians, academicians, researchers and scientists that operated within his many industries. Or, at least, that was how things had gone for most of his life so far…

 The top of his table, where he now sat alone, was full of half-empty dishes whose leftovers ranged in spiciness from the very mild to the very hot. That was the food he enjoyed the most – and the quality of the produce used and the preparation here were without question – especially since it was always accompanied by snacks and delicious beverages like the strong light blue wine from Harvnak’s vineyards orbiting the Sea Moon of Nlede. Eating here had certainly been a very satisfying experience and he had long ago concluded the Mare Inebrium had a well-deserved reputation. One of his acquaintances had clearly told him some time ago: “Rest assured, you will be able to sample five-star cuisine that uses only fresh local and alien produce year-round. I can guarantee you’ll never be disappointed.” Anyway, the man seemed to have other thoughts on his mind right now, as he kept looking around.

 While sitting at his table, Ulayman enjoyed listening to the song that was presently being performed by a band of voluptuous Fhltls hired for tonight, or possibly for the whole week – the man didn’t know. They were singing poetry-like lyrics that seemed to be part of a ballad of a time gone by. All the same, the music that accompanied their alien words perfectly mixed together and gave their listeners a sensation of wistfulness, calmness and satisfaction.   

As he looked around briefly, he was stunned to spot a very unexpected group of customers at a table not far from his. The unusual party included both noteworthy Insurrectionist generals and Intergovernmental leaders from a planet called Dlekthk. They sat together sipping a glowing pink liquid, possibly known as ‘Night Calmness’, if the man remembered correctly. That sweet beverage was said to be what the members of that eight-handed species commonly drank when they signed a peace treaty or put an end to one of their bloody struggles. At least they would drink it while signing one of the many arrangements by that people before turning to war again, sooner or later, Ulayman delightedly meditated. He didn’t know which party would betray that treaty in the future, but he, or she, might be within the group signing the agreement right now, while secretly already planning their next bloody move as he (or she) emptied the glass together with the other signers. Unscrupulous guys on the left and good guys on the right, or was it exactly the opposite? It was difficult to say. After all, Dlekthk, in all of its history, had never known anything longer than a few brief years of peace, ending one war while preparing arms for the next one. This was how things went out there, but who was he to doubt their motives, or apparent actions, however? Right now they were happily drinking, hoping to eventually be drunk, before rising tomorrow and possibly changing their minds, deciding to start wars again once they got back home in that warlike sector of outer space…

 But, as he had already said, he had other things on his mind this night. The man took the bottle and poured another unsparing amount of alcohol into his glass, and kept thinking.

 *****

 Trixie, the tall, slim long-legged waitress of the Mare Inebrium with her long, light-brown hair and her usually short skirt moved among the tables in her continuous and experienced walk, frequently chatting with regulars from different planets. She did this with utmost ease, being able to speak a large number of alien languages fluently and without need of a translator. Usually all the patrons loved her, and she was happy to supply special service to her regulars, those customers who returned time and time again. It was all part of the game, and it also was very good for their business. After all, they had a perfect setting here to attend to a diversity of purposes, whatever was called for, and the venue was never boring, undoubtedly.

And yet…somebody seemed to be sad, not able to enjoy the vivid night. The observant waitress happened to see the despondent patron at a certain moment, as she moved away from a table full of expensively engraved wooden bottles of Trkahian liquors that had been just emptied, as she immediately turned her eyes to the left. Maybe that lonely man, because he was certainly a human, was already intoxicated. Perhaps he had run out of money or had some other problems on his mind now. This happened to many now and then, certainly. She had noticed this on a few rare occasions inside the many rooms available at the Mare Inebrium.

Once she got past that man, she saw another, larger table that was full of several entrees coming from various planets. One dish she recognized was prepared from rare Mars produce. The entrée had been cooked using a completely different culinary style from the style her customers were accustomed to, a style once common in an old Kingdom on Mars. The group was obviously hoping that tonight their stomachs would bear such deep differences with no bad consequences. As she went past the table, something came to her mind, and she noticed a small detail that she perhaps should have seen before. Maybe the woman herself was a bit inebriated as well, as she had downed a few drinks tonight that were offered by some regular customers, old acquaintances she couldn’t say no to. Was it really possible?

Undoubtedly, she knew that face and knew his name! A wary Trixie thought that many in this system, and many on other planets, had heard of him, or had seen his features on a holo-text, or on the media. She was amazed that she had not noticed him before when he had entered, but the waitress also knew that many celebrities made use of face-obscuring, collar—clothes as they kept their features partly hidden from the attention of common folks, and that was probably what he was wearing when he had come in that night. However, wearing a hybrid dark coat-pant suit like that one made others aware that the man who was dressed that way wasn’t a common individual, as he was certainly wealthy. In his case, he was clearly much wealthier than most of the population here, she’d dare say, indeed.

Focusing on the man who was cloaking his identity, thinking again about his present expression and his overall appearance, there was something different about how he carried himself, or maybe it was just a change in his personality tonight. He didn’t look like the man displayed on the cover of magazines and interplanetary news media. His beard seemed be uneven and irregular. His very peculiar eyes appeared to be tired and pensive, too. His hair was visibly untidied. Perhaps something was going on, Trixie thought. And she was curious about what it might be.

Though seemingly weary and sad, the man was listening to the song being performed by the band, and the waitress thought better than to approach him for now. She just waited. About 10 minutes later, the Fhltls ended their poetry-like music and another song took its place, filling the main lounge of the bar with renewed energy. It was at that point that she approached the human at his table in her typical easy gait. She had kept her long hair curly that week, and her right hand dandled a portion of it next to her ears before she came near and stopped before the famous customer.

 *****

 Being the proprietor of several moons, full of mining installations, Ulayman was clearly one of the richest individuals in known space at that time and undoubtedly had all the money he wanted, or needed, to make sure his projects were quickly completely.

 But something seemed to have changed. And the change had presumably happened long ago, though its effects seemed to put all of their weight on him now.

 His eyes expressed a deep sadness. The man seemed to have already had many drinks so far, which was good for the Mare Inebrium and their bottom line, but not very good for a human, of course.

 As Trixie still thought about him, she acknowledged her growing curiosity. She had a few moments now where she could take a short break. After all, something like this didn’t happen all the time, and she was very anxious to meet that man in person. She had always been. If not today, when? She might never have this chance again. So the moment had to be grabbed now…

“First time on Bethdish?” the waitress asked while approaching his table. “Or is this merely your first time in our space bar…?”

 “Yes, the first time ever…” the other replied.

 “And how do you like the place? Is everything okay?” 

 “Yes, I heard good things about this place from some of my friends, and I must say they were right, undoubtedly. The reputation you have is well-deserved of course,” Ulayman added.

 “I’m glad to hear that,” Trixie nodded. “Is there anything else you want that I bring you?”

 “Well, I’m okay…I think I will just sit here for a while and think about things.”

 “Alright, please make yourself at home…” the woman told him. “If I may ask, I think I recognized you… Mr. Ulayman Tugrel, the famous tycoon. Am I right?”

 The dark-haired man looked at her in silence for a few moments, before answering. “Yes, I know…my face can’t be easily mistaken for someone’s else.”

 “Sorry if I disturbed you, but I was really curious…I was also sure I knew who you are.”

 “And you were absolutely correct.” Ulayman nodded making a face.

 “If I may ask…you look a bit sad tonight. Maybe you’ve had too much to drink? May I be of help? Do you need an alcohol-protector or some other anti-intox pill? We can offer our customers many different solutions in case they want to immediately recover from an unwished-for bout of intoxication,” the waitress uttered.

 “No, not too drunk, not yet anyway. And about alcohol-protectors, I had the anti-drunkenness microchip suppressor removed from under my skin years ago. I mean, if you really want to spend the night drinking and having fun, may as well get drunk,” the man smiled.

 “Oh, thanks so much!” a surprised Trixie uttered.

 “For what?”

 “For that smile…it is the first smile I’ve seen on your face since I noticed you sitting here tonight. I was afraid you weren’t having fun, or enjoying our venue today.”

 A sort of silence seemed to openly fall on the customer. Then, he said, “Well, you appear to be curious about me, so let me invite you to have a seat, if you want to hear a story…”

 “A story?” the woman inquired of the man.

 “A story about me, and how I ended up being here tonight.”

“Well, I have a few moments before I need to get back to work, so yes, I think I will accept your offer, Mr. Tugrel. After all, I confess, I have always hoping I’d meet you in person one day.” So the waitress seated herself at his table.

 “I hope you haven’t heard too many bad things about me. Or my story will leave you disappointed if you already know too much about my life, and my mistakes,” the man said.

 “Just what I’ve read or seen on the holo-media.” But actually knowing a person is completely another matter, of course. Or so I think. After all, you’re a very rich person, and people like you always are always fighting with the Press. At least, I haven’t noticed any newsmen in here tonight.”

 “Yes, I was born rich, in a way. And I was already rich when I came to understand that I could become even richer as I started a program meant to send thousands of survey rover-probes to thousands of moons that had just been mapped in space, and not previously claimed by any intelligent species. Those moons were interesting sites where we could search for valuable minerals and important resources before building some real mining installations with crews.” The once quiet Mr. Tugrel had now turned talkative. The potential of those rovers capable of unceasingly exploring and covering the surface of those moons, and underneath them, for thousands of miles, and in a short time, had been clear as far back as at the first steps attempted by men, or aliens, into space long ago. But it had cost a large price, and the end results might be different from what expected at first. Because not all the moons are the same, of course.”

 Trixie eyed the other, eager to know the rest obviously.

 “But I had the resources and the means to get there first. Through my long-range-detect radio-telescopes and the amount of money I had via my companies, it wasn’t difficult to put that plan into action in a matter of a few years. It didn’t take long before the program itself proved very useful, and the first few hundred manned installations became active, once the expected profit margin was lucrative enough to give the go-ahead on those projects. Of course, those projects were created for the purpose of continuously excavating minerals, selling them to the orbiting cargo starships of varied proprietors, which would be called to the different locations at the proper time. In this way, materials could be brought to the most important markets in several sectors, situated almost everywhere. The plan had gone off without a problem, and with huge profits, in return.”

 “That all sounds great. You have accomplished so much, and it made you even richer than before,” the woman nodded.

 “But that was not all. I had a big dream in mind, and I really wanted it to become a real thing one day…” Ulayman said. “I wanted to leave something behind, as a sort of heritage. I didn’t only want Mankind to profit from my achievements, that already knows about such things, but I also wanted the many alien species living in outer space - those being who haven’t studied the glorious past of old Earth, and its works of art – to be able to see all of our artistic genius, of course. I mean, I wanted them to experience the highest objects of human culture, the highest points men had reached in their history.”

 “You’re speaking of Second Earth, aren’t you? And the several recreated works of art from the past history of Mankind you wanted to be built there?” Trixie asked him in an intent tone.

 “Yes, of course. Almost everyone knows about the project today. It was difficult to find the right planet: a world similar in size to Earth’s, at the right distance from a G-type main-sequence star not too different from our old Sun. Before it happened, we found a lot of orange dwarfs, or K-type main-sequence stars, that were not appropriate or not similar enough to what we were looking for. Anyway, in the end, my scientists found exactly what we were seeking, and the world they found orbiting the right yellow star was chosen. It was called HD 147513 and was reported to be a variable star, about 42 light-years from Earth and with a similar luminosity despite being more massive. The chosen planet didn’t require a long terraforming process, which would take years otherwise. So, I was sure I could see my project done, and completed, before I grew old, with less expenses and also in a shorter time. But there were some problems,” Ulayman made a pause.

 “Yes, the planet had its local species…this was the main problem…I heard about that,” the woman added.

 “The star had about 11% greater mass than the Sun, and was considered young with an estimated age of 400 million years. So the local species that lived there at the time my men landed on the surface were some truly early lifeforms. The planet itself had a mass of 1.19 if compared to Earth’s – so no Earthling would weight too much more than on his original world – and a yearly period of 460 days. We could have started searching again, and we might have found another place, sooner or later, but the right location had to be not too far from Earth’s space, because I wanted people from Earth to be able to reach it in a very short time, and visit what I wanted to build, once it was done. Which was exactly how old Earth looked with its works of art, the many that Mankind made in their long history. I envisioned it to be just like a picture, in 3D, a view of our world centuries ago, turned into a reality without local population or local residents, and transformed into an open park. We needed complete access to the entire planet to achieve that goal.”

 “What about the local species that died because of human intervention…?” Trixie asked in a low voice.

 “The scientists I had hired for the first surveys and the overall science work gave me reports, this I don’t deny. The facts are well known nowadays, and there was lots of talk in the media about it at the time. The largest local creatures they found that were native to that world were similar to the now-extinct Hylonomus but with larger teeth and shorter than eight inches. Hylonomus was the earliest-known reptile on Earth, you know, during the most ancient eras, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time I read those reports. Those creatures were fully adapted for life on land though they were very tiny.”

 “So, those local species might one day have grown a bigger brain and become something more evolved, or maybe they could have become intelligent maybe. Just like Hylonomus did on Earth, as its descendants were later evolved into common reptiles,” the woman retorted.

 The other simply stared at her with a sad look and nodded. “Like I told you, all this is certainly pretty known of course, thanks to the media, mainly.”

 “That is how I learned about it. I followed the debate, which was very controversial at that time,” she maintained.

 “None of the scientists who study other worlds could say for certain when a species that lives in a certain moment would be evolving, or even if it would exist long enough to become something more, maybe even some intelligent creatures. Think of the ancient dinosaurs on Earth, for example. Although they once ruled the Earth, they became extinct eventually…” the man said.

The waitress objected. “But they didn’t become extinct because of the intervention of humans or some other alien species. It happened as a consequence of a planet-wide disaster. The same happened to the ancient synapsids that died after another unexpected disaster and the subsequent events…”

 “You seem to know a lot about the ancient prehistory of Earth,” the man observed.

 “I learned about all that history when I was following those controversies. And I was born on Earth, as well, so I had a head-start so-to-speak. Anyway, the fact is that mammals seem to have originated from the descendants of the therapsids that were synapsids from the Permian period, though it took millions of years before modern men evolved. So this is why many scientists thought that those small early creatures might one day give birth to an intelligent species on that planet that would join the thousands of extraterrestrials spread among the stars today…” the woman replied.

 “But also many species on Earth disappeared because of human actions. Think of the Thylacine, one of the largest known carnivorous marsupials that went extinct in 1960 on Earth. Or, you can also think of the American buffalos, for example. They were hunted down almost until they became almost extinct centuries ago, in the 1800s, if I remember correctly.”

 Almost, as you mentioned…Earthlings stopped killing them in time before the buffalos really did go extinct,” the woman told him. “Anyway, could you give me some more details about the thousands works of art that you built there? I mean, I’m really curious…You had large buildings recreated on that Second Earth, such as the Red Pyramid from ancient Egypt, Yongning Temple from China, Notre-Dame from France, Ruwanwelisaya from Sri Lanka, Hwangryongsa Temple from old Korea, the remains of the houses of Ancestral Puebloans of Chaco Canyon, and also the very famous Twin Towers from the 1970s… Of course, I have read, as many people did, several news about them on holo-magazines and media reports, but having the chance to meet you in person here, in our space bar tonight, I couldn’t resist picking your brain. What else should I know? Can you tell me?”

 “Of course, why not? Provided that I can have a free glass of expensive Scottish Bell’s whisky on the house,” the man sneered.

 “I can do that. Consider your next drink on me. I’m not the owner but I know Max the bartender very well and I think he would make an exception if I ask him…”

 “So, at the base of everything we build there is Robotized Nanotechnology used in the whole construction process. My labs were very highly thought of at that time, much more than those on other alien worlds that were within 10-ligh-years distance from Earth’s system, and my grandparents had extensively invested in that field. And so, those processes were passed down through my family until I became the only proprietor. By manipulating materials for constructing macroscale products like buildings, industries and other facilities, they had learned how to work and improve their knowledge of those methods. The obvious next, subsequent step was to get them to create some megaprojects like those reconstructed structures from a past gone by according to my desires. They could build anything exactly as I wanted it built. You see, the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers allowed the perfect reconstruction of almost any type of ancient building you wanted to bring back, if you had the software and the money to do it.”

 “Interesting…” Trixie kept listening.

 “Although there were many regulations on Earth that prevented anyone from changing its present appearance, or improving ancient ruins – restoring them to their original conditions - those laws simply did not exist on other planets like Second Earth where I chose to start my project. Consider the construction industries that have so much to gain from Nanotechnology. Think about the alien species that have their long starships built inside of orbiting space stations. In the old days, when this science was in its infancy, solutions ranged from materials with better insulating properties, to solar cells that powered houses more economically, and siding that was protected from the effects of weather. Nanotechnology applications in building materials had long included floor leveling nanocrystals intended to be integrated into walls themselves, but it was only a few centuries ago when they started to be used widely in the whole construction processes.” Ulayman briefly paused. “Who knows how many modern buildings are now a product of such science? I think most of the neighborhoods where people live and the urban areas within the Solar System have nanocrystals at their core. These are also used in many other sectors of space exploration. So, the outcome from such activities were great and this also gave my family, and then me myself, the resources that made me rich.”

 “I see…” the woman acknowledged.

 “The wealth from my family business helped me to develop the projects that launched all those thousands of probes into the far recesses of space where they studied thousands of moons while looking for minerals and other resources of great importance. However, not to blow my own horn, I must say that I was the first Earthling who put such science to use in construction. Which is why I turned to Robotized Nanotechnology to build ancient works of art like old temples and structures, recreated in full scale, that are now the source of pride for Second Earth itself. To be certain, those buildings have attracted millions of tourists over the course of the years…”

 “But that was all done before the controversial debate started. Those structures were built before the first details went public about the local species and how they had been wiped out of existence - and then your problems with the justice began,” Trixie reminded the man.

 “Yes, correct…anyway, what we achieved there, under my guidance and because of my vision, can’t be denied. No other extraterrestrial or human workers - even a large robotic workforce - could have accomplished such a result so quickly. Only Robotized Nanotechnology and its small particles, released in large number in the designated sites on Second Earth could have rebuilt those ancient buildings. And exactly with the same size, appearance, vividness and materials as the original ones once built by men on old Earth!”

 Ulayman had become passionate visibly when he had said those words. But the woman knew that there was something else. “And what happened next?”

 “It was at that point, when everything was almost completed with more than one thousand ancient works of art recreated, that I entered that place for the first time. I landed on the planet with my scientists and headed for one of those buildings. As I stood alone in one of its large rooms, in the last reconstructed structure of old Earth that was completely empty, looking at its walls and expensive floor, I understood that I had probably done something wrong, something I had not thought about as carefully as I should have. I removed my shoes and put my feet down and they felt the cold of the stone, which had been worn smooth by the machines, all was by design. Then, I considered a thing that had never crossed my mind before that day. There, on that alien planet, now stood a full replica of that place, the same as it had once been on our Earth, but there were no local living beings nor native animals of this planet around anymore. They had all been removed, thanks to the Nanotechnology I am a master of, and as of that moment only those cold, soulless things were left. What I had wiped out completely were the original lesser species of that world. There was simply nothing alive around anymore, or inside of those buildings…and that made me think. That silence was so deep, and so strange, so frightening. Certainly, I might have imported species of birds native to our Earth, for example, to revive the scenery and add festive sounds in the surroundings and in the forests. I also knew that tourists would come - regardless of the bad reputation the planet had gotten because of the controversies about my actions here. In spite of the lamentations of many green activists and alien animal-rights groups - there would be a multitude of tourists from several alien planets. But it wouldn’t be the same. The place had changed forever, and those local species had been removed from reality once and for all. And it had been me, just me, who had changed that planet forever.” The man took a deep drink from his glass, looking desolate and miserable.

 “So then came the charges laid against you by the courts. And you were involved in many lawsuits and you had to attend many trials on different worlds,” the woman added.

 “Yes. That is exactly what happened. I spent years defending myself before the Interplanetary Court of Inter-Species Justice, and was shamed on many planets. And then, at the end of the court suits, came those activists, and those angry groups who were ready to do anything against me. They continued their fight to make me pay for my ‘sins’, by any means available, even if I had been proven innocent during those trials thanks to my costly lawyers, anyway.” It was obvious that Ulayman Tugrel had had these thoughts on his mind for a long time.

 The woman noticed a pensive look in Ulayman’s eyes as he stared at his left arm that was lying on the table now. She thought she remembered a story about that, as it was well known thanks to the news spread through the interplanetary media almost everywhere at that time. His cyber-fingertips allowed some feeling, and the outside-reinforced skin – that looked like common human tissues - protected the cyber-motive lines hidden underneath that made movements possible through cyber-drivers. Ulayman kept that thoughtful expression for some moments, then remained in silence. An activist had cut the arm open during an assault years ago. It was known that there was no modern medical science that would allow a cloned arm to be attached to the point where the original human arm once was. This was because the blade used by that vengeful activist was very peculiar: a quantum-cutting power weapon meant for top-trained Military Specialists and available only in some selected units of a few alien Space Armies. It prevented any treatment to be applied to the target bodies as it made the tissues incapable of a full recovery, and would not allow the wound to heal. So even the great resources that Ulayman Tugrel had could not buy him what he had lost. His only choice was to get a replacement using an artificial cyber-transplant attached to his right arm. Actually, it was stronger than any human arm or leg, or so the holo-media reported during those years. It would survive even after he was dead, but she didn’t think this was what made him so sad. It was true that the assailant had not been able to kill Ulayman that day, which was his real aim, but his action had caused a wound that would remind the man of his ‘crimes’ for the rest of his life. Many other attempts had been made to kill him, but all the rest of them had been stopped on time. But the danger was always around… And the deeply pensive look on his face made that clear even now, or so Trixie thought. Maybe the tycoon still was surprised that it had all come to this.

 “With everything you have been through in the past, I am surprised I don’t see any bodyguards around you now. Perhaps they are hiding among the crowd in the bar, dressed like common customers. I’m certain that you wouldn’t tell me, even if they were…” Trixie said her guess with a smile.

 “No, I don’t have any bodyguards protecting me,” the man said in  an angered tone.

 “Why? Aren’t you worried about your safety? With all the enemies you have…”

 “One month ago my last bodyguard tried to kill me. Yes, even him! No, it wasn’t in the media news…I kept it well concealed. So you are getting the real lowdown on Ulayman Tugrel! After all, how could I tell anyone that even my bodyguard tried to kill me, after getting rid of my personal pilot. He was a man I trusted and I paid him extremely well. I later found out that he was acting secretly for those activist groups, and so he betrayed me for money, a lot of money, if I must say. That attempt on my life almost destroyed my exoskyjet, and it could have killed me and my nephew and his daughter who were along with me that morning. As they are the last members of my family still living, after my wife and son passed away years ago, it was at that moment that I thought I didn’t want to have any other bodyguards next to me, even if it put me in danger. Mercenaries and bodyguards paid ‘by the mission’ or ‘by the month’ can’t guarantee my safety. Perhaps it would be better for my family, or what is left of it anyway, if I just died alone, instead of endangering them too.”

 “I see…” the waitress nodded. “That’s a sad situation anyway…”

 “I can still see in my eyes that long moment, when my bodyguard started strangling me, staring deeply into my face with a cold expression. It was only my last-ditch effort that finally helped me to grab my gun by the barrel - the small one with a full charge of power energy I always had in my jacket – letting me shoot him before it was too late. If I hadn’t acted on time, I might have passed out because of the unexpected assault and everything would be over now.” The man had nothing left to add and sat silently looking at the table.

 “What a terrible thing to happen,” the woman asserted with a wretched look.

 “At times, I still feel those strong fingers clinging to my skin, the sensation of impending death and the wonderment on my mouth and my frightened features…”  

 “So, why are you here tonight, on planet Bethdish? Are you heading to a special occasion? Something you must attend, for example?” Trixie asked the man with excitement in her voice, trying to change the topic of their talks.

 “I wanted to visit this bar, that’s all. I have never been here before, but I have heard of the Mare Inebrium many times…I might not have another chance in my lifetime, anyway, you know,” a disenchanted Ulayman confessed. 

 “Why do you say that?”

 While sipping his costly bluish wine, he nodded towards one individual sitting at a table not far from where they sat. “Do you see that tall bulky man? I have reasons to believe that he is from a group of uncompromising  environmentalists, a faction that is among the most aggressive called “All Species Alive”. Groups like that one do not take what I did on Second Earth lightly.”

 The waitress of the space bar looked at him and uttered in a low voice: “So, what do you plan on doing?”

 “Nothing. Nothing at all in this case…”

 “So, aren’t you afraid?” the woman asked while stared at him. “Don’t you want us to call the police? For your safety?”

 “I’m beyond fear at this point of my life…” he said. “And I’m also dead tired of always running from one place to another. Art requires action, and action has consequences. What I accomplished on Second Earth allowed the wonders that were once on Earth to be built again and be made visible to everyone. But it did get rid of the local lesser species that once lived there, and this is a serious crime to activists like them. I may have escaped the justice of the Interplanetary Court of Inter-Species, but the fact that I escaped doing hard time will never leave them satisfied, you know…”

 “I see…”

“Now, I’d really like to have that expensive whisky from old Earth we spoke about, on the house of course, before I go…” the man added.

 “Of course, as promised…just let me go order it for you…I’ll bring it to you personally.”

 A moment later, a now apparently calm Ulayman was sipping the content of his glass. It didn’t take him long before he emptied it, then he stood up and walked out of the venue in silence.

As he exited, a pensive Trixie thought that art also had its good results. But it also caused disasters at times, and death or suffering, like in the case of that wealthy man. After all, in human history, the construction of the Great Pyramid cost many lives while it was being built. The same could be said for the Great Wall, the Hadrian Wall and many other works of art that required many people, or slaves, as the process was long and difficult.

 Perhaps she should turn her mind to her regular nightly duties, as there were lots of bills to be managed and other things to be done, and she had taken a very long break while talking to that man. So there was not much time to think of such things now.

Maybe it would be better to keep busy, the woman told herself.

That was the last night Ulayman was ever seen, either here on the whole Bethdish or on any of the other planets, actually. He seemed to have disappeared. In a way, the waitress didn’t know what to think about it. Maybe he had gone into deeper hiding, or maybe not…Certainly Trixie knew he had many enemies and for good reason. But who was she to judge him? He had certainly done some very bad things, but he had also left behind some unforgettable works of art. And who knows how many works of art from the past been born because of blood and death, anyway…

 Should an artform’s birth bring its result to nothing? Should artists from the past and all they had accomplished be forgotten forever? Who was to say? Whenever Trixie thought about famous ancient buildings, like the Great Wall, or the Great Pyramid of old Earth, she didn’t see that image filled with all the blood attached, or the pain of the many slaves who were forced to make them, or died because of them. She only saw the buildings, not everyone who had died while working on them, all those slaves who had been treated as if they really had never existed actually. And this was strange.

 Maybe a change of point of view, and a deeper consideration about those objects might be necessary. But she didn’t know how many would share that opinion, or thought, anyway, even in their modern times or on other alien planets.

 The woman remembered she had put on her personal holo-day-planner, at the time of those controversies about Second Earth arisen on the media, a famous quotation from a very ancient speech held at the Royal Academy Dinner on old Earth in the 1800s. “The works of art, by being publicly exhibited and offered for sale, are becoming articles of trade, following as such the unreasoning laws of markets and fashion; and public and even private patronage is swayed by their tyrannical influence.”

 Maybe that was the truth. Maybe people did not want to see the terrible things hidden behind art and the most beautiful buildings. Was that the tyrannical influence of art? In a way, only the best parts of it seemed to be full of brilliance and attracted our interest, making people soon forget about the rest…whether that was bad, or good, anyway.



THE END


© 2019 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio Palumbo's complete bibliography is too extensive to list in its entirety, He is an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real 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, Quantum Muse, Antipodean SF, Schlock!Webzine, SQ Mag, etc.,and in print inside 32 American Horror/Sci-fi/Fantasy/Steampunk Anthologies, 52 British Horror/Sci-Fi Anthologies, 2 Urban Fantasy/Horror Canadian Anthology and 1 Sci-Fi Australian Anthology by various publishers, and 22 more to follow in 2020 and beyond.

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 some Italian (scale model) magazines like Soldatini, Model Time, TuttoSoldatini and online on American site StarShipModeler, MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF .

The total list of Sergio's publication credits was once typed up and printed in full, whereupon it immediately underwent gravitational collapse from its own mass, and became a black hole that swallowed three nearby solar systems...

“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.”

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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