SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 15:

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

External e-vox

from: Congress-Representative Frank Nalinno ( sub-committee on system emigration support)

To: Dr. Anthony J. Jamieson, University of Nebraska

 

            While you say that we do not appreciate what a legacy of traditions, culture, and of a living example of religious society for students to study we're throwing away here, what you may not appreciate, Dr. Jamieson, is what the general System-dwelling public think of these people, and their archaic belief systems. The truth is most of the public don't care, but SysGov has a sizable voting bloc—about 14% from various interest groups—who do care. We've been under considerable pressure from a number of animal rights groups to have their traditional form of agriculture—which includes slaughter of meat animals instead of growing vat-protein—declared illegal. There are a number of women's rights groups who have campaigned to have them declared an illegal association, because their beliefs are patriarchal. Before you argue with me, my hands are tied. I know—for a small group—they retain under humane conditions a surprisingly large proportion of domesticated animal diversity, which, as pointed out by various studies, has declined catastrophically since protein vat-culture's inception. I've already had letters from your learned colleagues in zoological research. I know it’s an open society with members choosing to live under a patriarchal system. It is simply not politically expedient to oppose the groups wishing to be rid of them. As a student of political history myself, this is a pattern which has frequently been repeated. I recall a similar problem with the anti-fox hunting legislation at the end of the twentieth century. Research and logic don't come into it. Voter sentiment does. Most people don't know, or have much contact with domestic animals, these days. Patriarchy is politically incorrect, and their holier-than-thou attitude gets up the voters’ noses. They want our funds to get out of here? They're going to get them. 

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

            Kretz woke up, finding himself blessedly warm. He felt as if he hadn't been warm for a long, long time. Loss of blood, probably. Perhaps he was now in the final stages before death. Certainly things were strange enough to be hallucinations. He was in a room of some sort, and not in the endless plant-corridors. It was a starkly plain room, and was lit by a single flame burning on the end of some sort of yellowish stick. He was lying on something soft, under a cover. He felt curiously naked. And on the chair beside the bed sat one of the dreaded aliens.

            Instinctively he attempted to get up and run away. His arm hurt as he moved. The alien pressed him back down. "It's all right. Calm down," Transcomp supplied.

            Kretz lay still, rigid with fear, trying to gauge what to do now. His head swam with the pain, and the sudden exertion.

            "Your arm is broken. It is splinted, but you mustn't use it," said the alien. "Do you want to sit up? I can help you."

            Kretz closed his eyes. He remembered, now, through a haze of confusing pain, the escape from the aliens who had tried to kill him. He remembered this one, or one very like it, also without the face-stripes, saying "Peace."

            "Can I give you something to drink?" asked the alien, via Transcomp.

            Opening his eyes again, he saw that its clothes were also different from the mottled brown and green of the aliens he'd encountered previously. These were an unpatterned gray. It also seemed larger. Perhaps it was a female? Logic slowly came to his mind and to his rescue. If it had wanted to kill him, it could have done that while he was insensible. Whatever its intentions were, it was not going to kill him, at least not immediately. And the mention of drink did bring home to him just how incredibly thirsty he was.

            "Drink" he said, and the Transcomp unit around his neck provided an alien sound. He reached his mouth for the water-nipple of his suit and realized he was not wearing it. Anyway, the water tank had been dry for some time.

            "I will help you to sit up. You cannot drink lying down." The big alien hauled him up to lean back against something soft and gently yielding.

            It lifted a container to his lips, while supporting his head, gently. "Here. Don't drink too much."

            The water tasted a little odd. But it was wet. And if alien bacteria survived in his body… well, it was too late now. He'd been exposed to enough airborne bacteria, and without fluids he was not going to live for very long, even if the aliens didn't kill him.

            He leaned back against the softness they had piled behind him. "What do you wish to do with me?"

            The big alien looked at him. "You asked for help," it said.

            Was that all that it took? But surely they had used the word before? Thinking back he was sure that Selna had called out for help before they'd shot him.

            "Are you going to kill me?" he asked.

            It was the alien's turn to back away, shaking its head. "We don't kill. That is why the Brethren left the Solar system. We are a people of peace."

            Kretz, his mind flooding with the terrible images of destruction and the death of his fellows, struggled to reconcile this with the facts. "You killed my companions," he said.

            The big alien shook its head. "The last person to commit the sin of Cain was Brother Lewisson in the year 79. He coveted his neighbor's wife. That was more than two hundred years ago."

            Some of the words did not translate. “Years” was obviously some measure of time, and the reference to “his” made clear this was a bi-sexual species. But “Sin of Cain”? Transcomp made sense only of the middle word. If only Kretz didn't feel so weak and tired. Consciousness left him, blurring away into the horrors he'd been through.

            When he next awoke there was another alien sitting beside him. A much smaller one, although the color of its clothing was similar. Was this one of the males? The aggressive sex? He eyed the alien warily. But it had nothing which was even reminiscent of the projectile flingers that the earlier aliens had all carried.

            "Ah. I see that you are awake again, stranger," Transcomp supplied. "Peace be with you. I am Sister Thirsdaughter. Brother Dansson is out tending his crops."

            Once again Transcomp struggled with some of the terms. “Sister” was confusing, given that the comparative size of the alien meant it was presumably male. But, whatever else, the word “peace” was a comforting one.

            "What is your name?" The small alien inquired.

            "Kretz."

            "Do you want some more to drink, Brother Kretz? Perhaps some broth?"

            "Yes. Drink."

            So. “Brother” as well as “Sister.” Clearly bi-sexual—but which sex was which?

            The small alien got up and walked out, leaving the door open. Kretz knew he ought to seize this opportunity to get away. He was not constrained, in any way that he could see, constrained. Perhaps…