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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Hate This Planet

“I hate this planet,” Louis Dubois said as he paced around the bridge of the Hong Kong, a Takahashai-Marcello Trade corporation ship.

The planet of which he spoke, known as William’s World, was being displayed on the main viewer of the cramped command space. It was a lush looking green and blue orb. Smaller than Earth, perhaps, but similar in appearance. Based on looks alone, there didn’t seem to be much of a reason to dislike this world as much as Louis was.

“We go through this every time we come here,” Gerome Moyer said, turning from his station to look at his captain.

Despite the overhead lights and the glare from the many monitors, it always appeared to be dark on the bridge to Gerome. Thankfully, the bridge was small enough that he didn’t need to look very far, and Louis’ pacing brought him to Gerome’s position in a few steps.

“And every time we come here, I hate it more,” Louis said from behind his large, graying, mustache.

His unshaven, craggy, face was inches from Gerome’s own, but he knew Louis wasn’t angry or threatening. Louis and he had served together aboard the Hong Kong for the last three years, and had become the best of friends. Gerome knew that out of the eight planets the Hong Kong made regular shipping runs to, William’s World was the only one Louis complained about. And the reason for it was pretty simple.

The colonists who lived on William’s World called themselves Simplests. They believed, unsurprisingly, in a “simpler” way of life, one that didn’t involve high-technology, space-ships or any of the conveniences of the twenty-second century life that Louis so loved. They live in a communal lifestyle, where everyone works to provide for the community, similar to the Quakers still living on Earth. There were differences, of course. Simplests were not a religious movement, they were a lifestyle choice. Also, they didn’t completely eschew technology, as evidenced by the fact that they were willing to use space ships to get to the colony, or the communication tower that the Earth government required all colony planets to maintain. Other than these things, however, technology was mostly non-existent on William’s World.

Due to this desire for a simpler lifestyle, they petitioned for and got the rights to William’s World as a colony planet, and moved into this otherwise isolated part of space, for the most part being left alone. However, the government back home wasn’t willing to simply give up whole worlds, especially ones as fertile as William’s World, even if it was small. So, a deal was struck. The Simplests would get the world all to themselves for one hundred years, during which time they would set up a sustainable agrarian society. After those one hundred years were up, the government could set up new colonies on pre-approved parts of the world that would be industrial in nature, allowing them to reap the planet’s natural resources and take advantage of the built in farming community for support. Also, part of the agreement was that the Simplests would allow a merchant ship to come by once a year to trade with the colonists for needed materials they couldn’t yet make for themselves. Takahashai-Marcello Trade won the bid, and the Hong Kong was given the task of making these trades. And Louis hated the whole thing.

In truth, it wasn’t just the whole ‘anti-technology’ stance of the Simplests that bother Louis. It was the fact that they required massively complex rules to be followed in order to make the yearly trade. These included landing a good twenty miles away from the main settlement. They were only allowed to enter the town on foot or in horse drawn wagons. And these were just the tip of the iceberg. The up side to this was that the Simplests were aware of the difficulties they imposed on the visitors, and also had an appreciation for compromise. Several Simplests usually arrive at the landing site with wagons and horses to aid the crew on their trip into town. Of course, being a Simplest didn’t mean they were stupid, and occasionally, the colonists that came with the wagons would charge for their use, cutting into Louis’ profit.

“I really, really hate this planet,” Louis said once more, and resumed his pacing. The other two bridge crew quickly returned to their stations, trying to look as busy as possible so as to avoid their captain’s wrath. Gerome smiled and shook his head at his friend before returning to his station and prepared for the landing.

******************************************************************************

“I really hate these technos,” Austin Summers said as he shifted in his saddle, uncomfortable with the sight of the large, complicated, dirty gray space ship nearing on the horizon.

“You say the same thing every year,” Gary Wyatt said.

He had been Austin’s friend for more years than he cared to remember. Austin had always been one to be very vocal in his anti-technology feelings. He was the kind of man that was vocal about a lot of things. But, as Gary well knew, Austin was a man who did a lot of talking, but most of his actions included a bear mug. The truth was, Austin had never even met a “techno,” to use the derogatory term some people used for the outsiders. Like most of the Simplests, Austin had a dislike of advanced technology. Indeed, it was a view that Gary shared. But, unlike Austin, Gary saw the outsider’s views as more of a lifestyle choice. They had chosen to be dependent on computers, space ships and machines rather than their own two hands and the soil of the world, as provided by God.

Many people considered the outsiders a necessary evil. They brought needed medical supplies, books (made with actual paper), animals and other supplies and resources that the colonists couldn’t yet provide for themselves. However, they were also considered to be vulgar, dirty and Godless.

Gary had led the expedition to help the outsiders bring the supplies into the town several times now for the past few years, and while he found some of the crew of the Hong Kong to fit the stereotype, especially Captain Dubois, he found that the outsiders were, for the most part, friendly, kind hearted and basically good people. In spite of himself, Gary found that he liked the outsiders. While he had never had, and doubted he ever would, a desire to enter the Hong Kong or use their technological tools even though both had been offered to him, he enjoyed their company. In some cosmically twisted way that Gary was sure that God found amusing, the more contact he had with the outsiders and their technology, the stronger Gary’s faith in his beliefs grew.

He wondered what would happen on this trip. He was looking forward to continuing his ongoing debate/conversation about technology vs. spirituality, usually with Gerome Moyer, the Hong Kong’s pilot and first officer. However, he also worried about Austin. How would he handle all of this? Indeed, he wondered what made his friend volunteer in the first place. Whatever the reason, he was sure he would find out soon enough. The landing party from the Hong Kong could be seen heading towards them. They were trying to meet them some distance away from the ship to limit exposure to the colonists, something that Gary appreciated. Surprisingly, the delegation seemed to include Captain Dubois. Yes, Gary thought to himself, this is going to prove to be an interesting trip.

******************************************************************************

“How did I let you talk me into this?”

Louis sat uncomfortably in the saddle of what he felt had to be the most surly and untamed horse the Simplests cold give him. Most of his concentration was spent on just staying on top of the animal, and making the pervious comment almost made him fall off. Gerome laughed to himself at his friend’s plight.

Louis wouldn’t be having so much trouble if he would just spend more time in the ships simulators, Gerome mused. As it was, most of Louis’ problems arose due to his attitude towards the horse. Gerome had asked Gary to give the captain the tamest, slowest mare he had with him, but even the most placid creature in the universe would complain at the attitude being heaped upon that horse.

“Just relax,” Gerome said. “Sit up straight, keep your legs steady, and let the horse do the walking.”

“I thought you said this would be fun,” Louis said through clenched teeth.

Gerome couldn’t help but laugh out loud at that.

“You’ll feel better once we reach town, trust me,” he said. “Three years, three trips here, and you never once left the ship on any of them. It’s about time you saw what, exactly, we did on this planet.”

At that moment, Gary rode up from behind them.

“Fear not, Captain,” he said, a bright smile on his face. “In a few hours, we will stop to camp for the night at Horizons Clearning, and you can sample a wonderful home cooked meal with fresh food grown right here. It’s hundreds of times better than that processed foodstuffs you carry aboard your ship. That alone will make this trip worth it, I promise.”

Louis grimaced, but Gerome suspected it was an attempt at a smile.

“And by mid-morning tomorrow,” Gary continued, “we shall arrive in Newtown, our largest settlement. Once there, I’ll give you the grand tour. We’re currently building a new water tower, and the First Church building is something that no one should miss.”

“Yeah,” Louis said, sounding like he was about to be sick.“ Water tower. Sounds great.

Gerome shrugged apologetically at Gary. The other man smiled, non-verbally saying ‘there is no need to apologize, this man’s attitude is easily forgivable.’

******************************************************************************

“I’m telling you Gary, you don’t know what you’re missing out there,” Gerome said, his arms waiving to make his point. “About six months ago, the Hong Kong was detoured due to pirate activities in the New Melbourne sector. Along the new route, we passed by a nebula, and let me tell you, the plasma storms in it were causing colors that you never even dreamed existed.”

Gary laughed at his friend’s enthusiasm. “Space pirates? Plasma storms?” he said. “I think I’ll stay planet bound, with my feet firmly on the soil and an atmosphere that can’t leak away through a tear in the hull, thank you very much.”

Austin watched from across the fire pit, completely appalled. How could Gary stand to talk to these people, never mind become friends with one? They were all dirty, disgusting, godless technophiles. During dinner, the closest thing to manners they showed was the fact that they stood in line rather than mob the cook. They were loud, some of them ate with their fingers, almost all of them belched profusely, and none of them bothered to clean up their mess. There seemed to be one exception. She was absolutely striking, with short cropped raven hair and blue eyes. She was quiet, delicate and, unlike the other members of her crew, was clean. Her name, he learned from over hearing conversation, was Mary Anne.

He turned to look at her, watching as she laughed with her crewmates. She turned his way and caught him looking. However, instead of getting angry or looking away, she boldly looked back and smiled. Austin blushed slightly, smiled back. He found he was unable to keep the gaze, and looked away. It was then that he noticed the large, bald, greasy man he had been introduced to as Captain Dubois heading towards him. Dubois looked from Austin to Mary Anne and then back again. A crude grin crossed his face, and Austin found himself with a renewed feeling of dislike for this man.

“Well, well, well,” he said, “It looks like Mary Anne has her sights set once again.”

“I beg your pardon?” Austin said, blinking.

“Listen, pal, let me give you some advice,” Dubois said, waving his hands expansively, nearly hitting Austin in the head as he did so. “That beautiful woman you’re eyeing over there,” he pointed towards Mary Anne. “She has what we call a ‘Storm in Every Port.’”

“I beg your pardon?” Austin said, still unclear on what it was this dirty man was trying to say to him.

“A Storm in Every Port,” Dubois said again, as if the second time cleared it all up. “She has three husbands, each on a different planet, and two other lovers that I know of besides that, not to mention Ivan, the very large man sitting next to her now.” He pointed toward a hulking man covered in hair next to Mary Anne.

Austin stared at Dubois with his jaw wide open. “My God,” he said, “And you people allow this sort of thing to happen?”

“Hey,” Dubois said, with a lopsided grin on his face. “It’s a free galaxy. Polygamy is legal on dozens of worlds, and since it doesn’t interfere with her performance on board ship, I’m not gonna try and stop her.”

Austin sat slack jawed for a moment before regaining his senses. After a few moments, he stood up, harrumphed, straightened himself to his full height, and faced the outsider captain straight in the eye, which meant he had to look up.

“If you will excuse me, Captain,” he said with as much venom as he could muster, “I think I will retire now.”

“Sure, sure,” Dubois said, and moved out of the smaller man’s way.

******************************************************************************

“Well, you’re looking chipper this morning.” Gerome watched a smiling Louis, who was astride confidently in his saddle and enjoying the day around him.

Louis turned to face him, saying “I’ll give them this much, they make the best damn food I’ve eaten in nearly four years.”

“Didn’t I tell you?” Gerome said in a teasing tone. “You know, it’s been over six months since I’ve felt a real sun and breathed fresh air.”

“I know,” Louis said, looking upwards at the blue sky. “I’ve been trapped in the ship with you, remember?”

“How can I forget,” Gerome said, “I can hear you snoring two cabins over!”

The two men laughed loudly at that, and Gerome enjoyed seeing his friend relaxing. Louis had been going almost non-stop on running the Hong Kong for the last three months, due to a delay in shipping caused by an engine malfunction, and they had only caught up at William’s World. However, Gerome knew Louis better than to think he was really enjoying himself.

“So, what’s wrong with it all, then?” he said.

“What’s wrong with it?” Louis asked, as if the answer should be obvious. “We’re heading to a town that’s made out of wood and brick. There won’t be a single vehicle more advanced than a horse drawn carriage, no comm. terminals, no Galactic Tribune news feed, no Vid Theaters or Simulators. Hell, I’d be lucky if they have indoor plumbing and running water.”

“Oh, come on,” Gerome said, “You know full well that they have indoor plumbing. They want a simple life, not an unhealthy one. Why do you think we ship them the latest in medical supplies?”

“Of course I know that,” Louis said, surprising Gerome with his honesty. “I know lots of stuff about these ‘pre-industrialist revivalists.’ Oh, don’t look so surprised; you know I always do my homework on the worlds we make runs to. I want to know everything I can about the planet I’m taking my ship and crew into.”

“Hmmm,” Gerome said, nodding.

They rode on in silence for some time after that. A few hours later, they could see a rocky valley, surrounded by large hills and cliffs. It looked almost like something out of one of the Old American West vids that Louis watched when he was a kid, the place where the Indians would ambush the cowboys. Louis knew that just on the other side of this valley was Newtown. He was enjoying the outdoors, a little, but dreaded reaching the settlement.

“Hey, Louis, look,” Gerome said, point across the valley to the horizon. “I think I can just see Newtown, over there. Is that the new water tower?”

Louis excitedly looked to where Gerome was pointing at first, than realized what he was doing. He slowly turned to look at his friend, a sour look on his face. He tried to hold that look for a few moments, but failed as the two of them burst simultaneously into laughter.

******************************************************************************

“Watch Out! Take cover!” came the shout

Austin was getting off his horse, and looked towards the outsider who had yelled the warning, confused. Why were people yelling and running, what was happening? A second later, there was a large cracking noise, followed by a rumble, and he watched in horror as his a fellow member of his people’s contingency to the outsiders, Robert Mullins, fell to the ground, his head crushed in by a large rock. He never really got the chance to react to this, as the outsider who had been s shouting the warning, Gerome, slammed into him with a flying tackle, pushing him to the ground. A second later, more large rocks came tumbling off the cliff side and into the space they previously occupied.

“What’s happening?” Austin asked, almost screaming the words in his fear.

“Looks like some kind of avalance,” Gerome replied as he dragged Austin with him through a crawl to get behind a nearby wagon for cover. “Does that happen a lot around here?”

Austin looked at the man and wondered briefly how he could remain so calm when someone was shooting at them. Still, the question gave his mind something sane to hold onto, so he answered it.

“Not in the entire time the settlement has been here.”

Gerome shook his head. “Well, it’s happening now,” he said. “We need to get out of here, before things get worse.”

As if on cue, another rumble came from the mountain, and more rocks tumbled down the cliff side. Only this time, they were significantly larger rocks, and seemed to be coming down faster. A particularly large rock smashed through one of the wagons, crushing it to splinters before continuing to dent the ground. Austin turned around in terror to see that the hills on the other side were suffering the same effect. The ground was positively shaking now, and instantly, he knew what was happening.

“Earthquake,” he said.

“What?” Gerome said, not hearing him over the rumbling.

“It’s an Earthquake,” Austin said. “We have to get to shelter or we’ll get crushed out here. Come on, there’s some caves near by.”

He led Gerome from one wagon to another, where they found Gary, Dubois and several others. The ground shaking was getting worse, and it started to look like it was raining boulders and rocks now. They needed to get into a cave and quickly.

“Follow me,” he said, and everyone did so with out even thinking.

Austin took a path that went down a hill and up another, and at first, it looked like he was leading them straight into the path of the oncoming boulders. They had to dodge and wait, trying hard to stand and run during the trembling. Flying rocks as large as a man’s torso crushed two more members of their party. But, eventually, Austin was able to find what he was looking for. Caves, three of them. He knew that two of them lead deep into the earth from earlier exploring, and pointed them out to the group.

“Go in here, and go in as deep as you can!” he shouted to everyone. “We’ll be safe in here until its all over.”

Without hesitation, the colonists and Hong Kong crew alike rushed into the caves to avoid the avalanche. He noticed that, along with himself, Captain Dubois stayed outside and herded everyone else in. By this point, both men were covered in bruises and cuts from hundreds of smaller rocks.

“Looks like we’re it, compadre,” Dubois shouted as the last of the others made it into the cave.

Austin nodded, and turned to head into the cave, Dubois right behind him. The ground had other plans, however. The earth didn’t just move or shake, but rose up, knocking the two of them flat on their asses. More shaking followed, and the rocks on the hill above started to fall. Austin scrambled to his feet as best he could, but by the time he had his bearings, it was too late. A large boulder the size of a building had fallen in front of the cave mouth, blocking them from getting to it. Worse yet, it was rolling down the hill towards the two of them.

He stood there, transfixed, on the object that would be his death. Then, he felt a jerk on his arm, and he was being turned around and forced to run by Captain Dubois. At first, he just followed the outsider, but then his head began to clear of fear, and he realized they were running in the wrong direction, away from the caves. He looked around and saw that they were nearby some other caves, ones he didn’t know very well, and hoped they were deep. He grabbed the captain by the arm and pointed towards the cave.

“Over here!” he shouted, and Dubois nodded and followed.

Before they got too far, a rock the size of Austin’s head few down out of the sky and slammed into his shoulder. He cried in pain as he felt something crack and his arm bent in a way God never intended. He fell to the ground, his eyes closed, teeth gritted, unable to focus on anything but the pain. A second later, he felt himself being lifted off the ground. He opened his eyes briefly and saw that Captain Dubois had picked him up and was continuing to run towards the cave. Austin tried to thank him, but the running jarred his arm, and the pain became so intense that he passed out.

******************************************************************************

“There, that should hold it for now,” Louis said, pulling tight on the bandages, causing Austin to cry out once more.

Austin had been passing in and out of consciousness for the past fifteen minutes or so, by Louis best estimate. For some reason, his watch stopped working. Thankfully, his flash light still worked, and he was able to find some small, dry plants that he used as kindling and started a fire with his pocket laser lighter. Normally, he only lit cigars with it, but it worked equally at starting real fires.

He looked back at Austin, who was struggling to keep his eyes open. He wasn’t a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, but everyone on board the Hong Kong knew some basic first aid. Shipping was sometimes dangerous, and you never knew what could happen. Admittedly, Louis had never faced anything quite like this before. He had set Austin’s mangled arm as best he could, and was trying everything he knew how to keep the other man awake, but he knew that Austin needed some serious medical attention, and quick. He saw that Austin was loosing the battle with consciousness again.

“Come on, man,” he said, slapping Austin across the face, “stay with me!”

The trembling was still going on, Louis could feel it, but it was lessened here, deep into the cave. He looked around again, sighing. It wasn’t just a kind of dark that even the roaring fire had trouble penetrating, it was damp as well, which meant it smelled like wet dirt and other nasty things. Near as he could tell, the cave was uninhabited by critters, which was good. The last thing Louis wanted was to deal with some local carnivore.

Austin moaned, and Louis looked down at the man’s arm. It was a mess, even slug back into place as it was. Louis was sure that it was broken not only on the upper arm, but at the shoulder, where the rock hit. He reached into his belt pouch, and fished around for a small container. He popped open the top and dumped out two small, yellow pills. He put one arm behind Austin’s head, lifted him and, and forced the two pills down the other man’s throat. Then, he pulled off his canteen and made Austin wash the pills down. About five minutes later, Austin stopped moaning and opened his eyes. This time, there was awareness in them, and Louis sighed and smiled.

“I thought I was going to loose you,” he said.

“What happened?” Austin said, trying to move.

“No, no,” Louis said, “no moving. You were hit by a falling rock. I think you broke your shoulder and arm.”

Austin groaned in pain and laid back down. He tenderly touched his arm and flinched back. He looked over at Louis, a question in his eyes.

“I gave you some pain meds,” Louis said, showing Austin the bottle. “I take ‘em every now and again, for my leg.”

He lifted up his pant leg then, to show Austin an artificial leg up to the knee. Austin’s eyes went wide.

“Not all technology is bad,” Louis said.

Austin looked as if he were about to say something, then closed his eyes and nodded slowly.

“You saved my life,” he said, “and I am grateful.”

“You’re welcome,” Louis said.

The two sat a moment in silence. A few minutes later, the trembling stopped. The two looked at each other.

“Earthquake stopped,” Austin said. “After shocks will come next. Probably in about an hour or so.”

“How do you know that?” Louis said, looking around the cave as if the answer were written on the wall.

“I’m a geologist, specializing in seismic activities,” Austin said. When Louis looked at him in obvious surprise, he said “I wasn’t always a Simplest. But, my work gave me an appreciation in nature, of God’s work. When my daughter was born, my wife and I decided that we didn’t want her raised in a universe where we build machines to change the weather to suit our desires, where we tried to play God instead of worshiping God. We wanted her to live in nature. So, we became Simplests, and migrated here with everyone else. When I first saw this place, I knew it was home.” He looked briefly at Louis, as if realizing he had been talking, and then said, “I don’t expect you to understand.”

Louis grunted. “I might understand better than you know,” he said. “I had that same feeling of coming home the first time I few into space. And when I was eighteen, and piloted my first shuttle, the feeling intensified. I knew that, whatever it took, I was going to spend my whole life in space. And so I have. I even found a woman that loves space as much as I do, and we’ve been married for fifteen years now.”

Austin looked surprised.

“I know,” Louis said, laughing slightly. “you think we’re all Godless hedonists. And after Mary Anne, you think we’re all polygamists.”

“Well,” Austin said, somewhat embarrassed, “yes, to be honest.”

“Oh, I believe in God, all right,” Louis said. “I’m just not the church going man you are. And I’m no polygamist. I’m happily married to my wife, and plan on being so for the rest of my life. I even have a son. He and my wife work in the engineering section of the Hong Kong, though he’s supposed to head off to college as soon as we get back to civilization. He’s going to take engineering courses. He’ll be doing something with his life, something important, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The two men sat again in silence for a while. Austin tried not to move, and focused on breathing. Louis tended the fire. Finally, Austin cleared his throat and Louis turned to him.

“I think,” Austin started, and then hesitated. “I think I misjudged you, Captain Dubois.”

“Call me Louis,” Louis said, nodding. “And I think I may have misjudged you as well, Austin.”

“Tell me about your son,” Austin said.

It was another half hour before the rescue team had found then, and when they did it was because the two men were laughing and carrying on, causing such a ruckus that it was heard clearly outside the cave.

******************************************************************************

“Well, that was sure an eventful trip,” Louis said.

“Yes,” Gerome said. “Yes it was.”

Gerome watched his friend looking at the planet retreating in the view port on the bridge of the Hong Kong. He was curious. Louis never watched the planets like that, he was usually looking at the stars. They were his home.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

“I think I’m going to miss that place,” Louis said, causing Gerome to look at him with an expectant look.

“Okay, what’s the punch line?” he asked.

Louis looked away from the view port and back to Gerome, his look serious. “No punch line. I just gained an appreciation for the planetside life, is all. You know, Austin invited me to his family’s house for dinner the next time we come back? I think I’ll take him up on that.”

Gerome continued to look at him in disbelief.

“Look,” Louis said, “It’s not like I’m planning on moving there. The Hong Kong is my home, and she always will be. Besides, I’m allowed to change my mind. Aren’t you the one that’s always trying to get me to get out of the ship every now and then?”

Gerome held up his arms in mock defense, smiling. “Okay, okay,” he said. “You’ve maid your point.”

“Damn right I have,” Louis said. He looked out the port one more time, then returned to the captain’s chair. “What’s our next destination, Gerome?”

“Sigma Twelve,” Gerome said. Louis groaned. Gerome smiled, knowing what was coming next.

“I hate that planet.”

The End

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