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FICTION: THE CONQUERORS By Edward A. Rodosek  

Posted by Scott Wilson

'SUBSPACE RADIO REPORT NUMBER 1

'To Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, commander in chief of the Earth Empire Army.

'The glorious Earth Empire forever! Long live the colonized galaxy!

'The fourth day afterawakening the commanding officers from hibernation.

'Today we found out that our brave commander of the 'Twelfth Colonization Expedition' General Fritz D. Steiner, unfortunately, will never again awaken from hibernation. So I, as the first officer, was bound to take over the temporary command of our space battleship Conqueror, according to paragraph 183 of the 'Space Military Code' (in the following text: SMC). According to the new situation, all the highest officers were promoted one rank. The rest of the crew will remain hibernated as long as possible to conserve supplies.

'My first command as temporary commander was dismissing the mortal remains of the heroic general into space. Let the stars light them forever!'

“Gosh!” a familiar voice said behind my back. “Your reports are real poetry.”

“I'd be much obliged if you'd abstain from your improper remarks, Major Rinaldi,” I replied. And, please, knock on my door the next time.”

For a while Paolo Rinaldi stood there silently, wide-eyed. “Sorry, Bill, I didn't realize-”

“Don't call me by name any more. As a newly-appointed first officer, you should know how to address the commander of the spaceship.”

After a short hesitation, Paolo stood upright. “Yes, Commander, sir. May I have your permission to leave, sir?”

“You're free to go. But first fetch our astrophysicist--what's his name?”

“Doctor Li Chen, sir.”

“Just Chen. On my ship we're going to omit any civilian title. Is he a reservist?”

“Yes, sir. For this trip he is nominated a sergeant.”

“Regrettably. That chap is, deep in his soul, still a common, stinking civilian even while wearing the proud and famous uniform of the Earth's Empire. Send him to me, at once.”

“Yes, Commander, sir.” Paolo saluted stiffly, turned round and left my cabin.

I connected the navigation compartment on my desk holoscreen and the sturdy figure of our navigator, Ivan Nabokov, appeared. As he jumped up from his stool and saluted, I realized that the news was spreading really fast on the Conqueror. A few moments later I heard a knocking at my door.

“Come in, Chen. Sit down.”

“No, thank you, sir. Probably you expect from me the newest report about our momentary astronomic situation, and I'll explain that on your wall screen.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“The virtual magnitude of the sun Cola is now 1,468 of our Sol, but as you see its virtual luminosity... I mean, it's a bit less bright. Our exalted goal, planet Sagan, is not yet visible to the naked eye. But all the results of my measurements today are quite similar to those made by our central computer earlier. Just now I've made a rough estimation and our distance to it is about 2.7 million miles.”

“I see.” I turned to the desk screen. “Ivan--I mean, Captain Nabokov--according to your estimations as the navigator, how much time remains before landing?”

“Sir, including the period of deceleration, Conqueror will make its entry into Sagan's orbit five days, seven hours and forty-two minutes from now, according to my last assessment. Then we'd probably made several circles until we find the most proper-”

“That will be my decision, thank you.” I said dryly. “Now, if both of you would excuse me, I must finish my report.”

'Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, allow me to let you knowthat all the instruments function perfectly and all the officers are fit. We are firmly resolved to fulfill our noble mission of the Twelfth Colonization Expedition. We are impatiently expecting an Earthman's footsteps on the Sagan. From that historic moment, the new planet is going to be incorporated into a row of planets colonized earlier. We are fully aware that our most important duty as colonizers is supporting the ideals of the Earth Military Junta and keeping our full loyalty to them.

'For the crew and myself, I send combative salutes to the magnificent Earth's Empire and to our respected commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Fitzpatrick!

'Colonel William Gabriel Simpson, viceregent (I'm waiting for my official nomination) commander of the famous spaceship Conqueror, which conducts all the activities of the Twelfth Colonization Expedition on the planet Sagan in the star system Cola.'

***

I glanced at the men in front of me. “I'm going to inform our headquarters about the recent historical success--landing of our space module on the Sagan. But before that, I need the result of your analysis. So report, please. Everyone shall try to speak as briefly as possible. Let's start from left to right.”

“Gravitation on Sagan is 0.92g,” began the physicist, Isaac Goldstein, his voice filled with excitement. “The air contains 21.47% of oxygen and only 2.7% of carbon dioxide. That is less than one-sixth of what we have on Earth, which seems almost unbelievable. At first, as I finished the analysis and took off my helmet, I didn't dare to breathe in too much air and I'm still amazed at its splendid freshness and purity. If I may say so, I-”

“You've said enough, thank you,” I cut in. “Lieutenant Savalpindi, I ordered you yesterday to find water and to collect as many samples as possible. What about that?”

“Sir, I've found a spring of fresh water half a mile away from our landing spot and my first chemical and biological analyses show it's harmless.”

I nodded. “Good. Still, I forbid drinking it until you are finished. Sergeant Ogava--soil and vegetation?”

“Sir, I'm just beginning to check the soil for toxin trace elements and that analysis would take at least a few more days.”

“I see. Meanwhile, my prohibition of any consumption of the local sources stays in force. Lieutenant Perdido, it is your turn.”

The reports went on, but I hardly paid attention to them anymore. My thoughts were already devoted to my next report to my superior. What a magnificent action I had managed to achieve! My name would become famous, and mentioned side-by-side with Alexander the Great and Caesar!

“Captain Delon,” I said, “you take over the rest of the reports. I have to fulfill a much more important duty--to write to our headquarters.”

***

'SUBSPACE RADIO REPORT NUMBER 2

'To Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, commander in chief of the Earth Empire Army.

'The twelfth day after awakening from hibernation.

'Most respected General Fitzpatrick, allow me to omit the usual greetings because I must at once report to you about an extremely important matter.

'Two days, four hours and thirty-nine minutes ago I left Conqueror under the temporary command of my first officer, Major Paolo Rinaldi. Three hours and six minutes later, our space module, with fifteen carefully chosen crewmembers under my command, landed successfully on Sagan!

'I should better describe that magnificent effort, which has formed a new border for the history of humankind, but my enormous excitement prevents me from doing so.

'An hour and twenty-eight minutes later, when the final analysis of the environment was done, I went out of the module. Then I placed a flagpole with the ensign of the Earth's Empire on the nearest hillock and proudly proclaimed planet Sagan as a new colony of the Earth's Empire!

'For the present, there is no sign of any intelligent form of life, nor are there any animals except insects.

'I wish to express my hearty thanks to my respected superior, General Fitzpatrick, for my nomination as official commander of our glorious space battleship Conqueror and especially for his quick action!

'As the proud conqueror of planet Sagan, I send combat salutes to the magnificent Earth's Empire and to our respected commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Fitzpatrick.

Colonel William Gabriel Simpson, Commander of the famous spaceship Conqueror, on the glorious mission of the Twelfth Colonization Expedition of the planet Sagan in the star system Cola.'

***

'SUBSPACE REPORT NUMBER 3

'The 21st day.

'Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, thank you for your prompt answer and especially for your congratulations. If I may say so, sir, what we've achieved so far is more your merit than ours.

'I expect the result of the soil analysis will show that we could soon plant some terrestrial fast-growing crops. Simultaneously, our biologist, Captain Meyer, will defrost some hibernated embryos of sheep and goats that we brought in the Conqueror, and that would be enough for a start.

'Because there it isn't any important news I send my combat salutes to the-'

My door was thrown open, and Second Officer Paolo Delon dashed into my cabin. Without bothering to salute, he shouted.

“Hey, put on your holoscreen!” He poked me in the ribs. “Hurry!”

I saw his face and obeyed him. The screen showed a small group of unknown bipeds slowly approaching our spaceship!

When I recovered my breath, I switched on the audio communication.

“To all the crew members--red alert! This is not a drill. I repeat: red alert. The machinist shall hermetically bolt the main trapdoor and the emergency exit. To all of you: put on your combat uniforms, including your personal weapons, at once.”

In the surrounding countryside, we could see about twenty natives--men, women and several children.

“Unbelievable,” I said, “they have a totally humanoid appearance.”

"Unarmed civilians, thank heavens,” Delon said. “What a relief.”





“It's still possible that they're carrying some smaller weapons under their clothes.” I shook my head. “Look, they're wearing clothing of different colors and of different styles. Amazing.”





After a time, the Sagan's aborigines simply sat down on the grass about twenty yards from our space module, without showing any particular admiration of it. Then they drew some eatables out of their clothes, started generously offering it to one another, and began to consume it with gusto.





“Just look at them,” sighed Delon. “Everyone has his own sort of food. What a terrible waste.”





“We must try to set up contact with them without wasting any time. Go get our 'Universal Translating Machine,' UTM-84. Are you familiar with what it is capable of?”





“Yes, sir. It can speak eighty-four languages, including several methods of graphical symbols and various mathematical methods of communic-”





“That's enough, thank you. Get it to broadcast the 'Standard Allocution n.7' through the outer loudspeakers.”





In the next half hour, the UTM-84 repeated the message in the various, most common languages that had been found to be active on the other colonized planets. But the natives did not show any signs of having understood anything at all.





“Damn it,” I said, forgetting for a moment that such diction wasn't proper for my rank.





“Take SMC from the shelf and find me the chapter: 'Contact with Natives'.”





“Here you are, sir.”





After I found the specific time that was fixed for such cases I decided to go out myself with the second officer.





“Captain Delon,” I ordered, “you and I are going to go out. Tell Captain Nabokov that he is in charge until we come back.”





“Yes, sir.”





“Put on your helmet, bulletproof coveralls and a gas mask, and check whether your blaster is properly loaded. Ready?”





“Yes, sir.”





“Sergeant Prot, open the main exit,”





When we appeared outside, we could see the natives plainly. They were well-shaped, good-looking, with tanned skin, chestnut-colored hair and violet eyes.





The adult natives gave us only a hasty, unconcerned glance and then ignored us. Only the young ones pointed fingers at us and giggled. I made a gesture of peace, according to paragraph 758 SMC, and several of the adults responded to me in the same manner.



After that, they tried to tell us something, but we couldn't understand them either.





“Captain Delon,” I said, “we should pass over to the next stage of persuasion fixed in SMC, chapter 'Demonstration of Power'.”





“You mean--firing, sir?”





“Exactly,” I said. “We must show the mighty power of our firearms to them. Aim your blaster on that tree stump in the middle of the grass plain and discharge seven units.”





“Yes, sir.” He did so.





At the place where the stump had been, only a black hole in the ground remained, with many scorched wood splinters around it.





But the natives didn't show any sign of fear, or even respect. Instead, some of them went to look at the burned area made by the blaster. Their faces looked earnest but none of them said anything.





Then the natives returned and with friendly gestures obviously were inviting us to sit down on the grass. But I refused that firmly.





After that, something happened that nearly put me off my stride.





The tallest of the natives, a broad-shouldered man with an intelligent, sunburnt face, turned to me. Smiling broadly at me, he stretched out his arm and made a few steps toward me, although one of the younger women tried to hold him back. For the first instant, I couldn't distinguish what he was holding in his hand, so I withdrew a step and aimed my blaster at him. Only then did I realize he was offering me some food. It was a fruit resembling a melon--an orange slice, so ripe and juicy, that it was almost bursting. I swung angrily at him with my blaster and struck that disgusting thing out of his hand so it rolled over in the grass.





He just stood there for a long moment and stared at me in surprise--and then he held out his fist with his middle finger pointed upwards. Though I wasn't acquainted with the local customs, I assumed that the gesture had a meaning here similar to that on Earth.





Before I had time to react, his woman companion seized his arm and led him gently but firmly away, back to the others. Then they set off all together, in a serried group, in the direction where they had come from.





“Captain Delon,” I ordered, “we are going back inside. Send at once two men after them. They should follow them secretly and try to detect their destination.”





“Aye, aye, sir.”





“I don't want to be disturbed further--except by our patrol when they return. I must inform the headquarters about the recent events right away.”





***





'Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, I am sorry I was forced to interrupt this report for a while. But we have been suddenly confronted with a surprising event--today we met the denizens of the planet Sagan for the first time!





'Their appearance was very much like ours, but their behavior was totally different. Regretfully, we could not estimate either their intelligence or their intent because the language barrier seemed temporary insuperable.





'Still, I am convinced the aborigines won't be in the way so we should not exterminate them. On the contrary, we could expect from them much useful information about Sagan, and later we could use them as obedient subjects.





'Up to now, we could not find out where the natives live. When they went off, I sent a patrol after them but it returned without any result; they said the natives had simply vanished before their own eyes. That sounded unbelievable to me, so I decided next time, I would take over that task personally.





'I send combat salutes to the magnificent Earth's Empire!





'Colonel William Gabriel Simpson, commander of the spaceship Conqueror.'





***





A shrill sound from my alarm clock stung my ears, and when I rose from my bunk I banged my head against the low ceiling. With regret, I imagined the shower on the Conqueror back when we had the recycling water system, as I wiped my face and neck with a cleaning hanky.





Just before I ate my nutritive crackers, I heard a knocking at my door.





“Enter.”





My second officer came in and saluted stiffly. “Sir, Captain Delon is reporting for duty”





“I know who you are, Jean-Pierre. Relax and sit down for a moment.”





He stared at me.





“Sit down,” I said. “This is not an official meeting; I simply want to know your straight opinion about some matters that concern all us--off the record, understand?”





Hesitatingly, he sat on the edge of a stool, his back bolt-upright.





“Look,” I said, “I know my arrogance disturbs the entire crew, you included.”





“Sir-”





I brought up my hand. “Jean-Pierre, don't deny that; this should be a straight talk, remember?”





He shrugged his shoulders. “We all understand your position and your manner, sir. After all, this is a military expedition.”





I nodded. “Quite so. A soft commander wouldn't have lasted a day--not under General Fitzpatrick, do you get me?”





“Of course I do, sir.” A slight smile appeared on his face. “We all are with you, sir.”





“Good. And now, let's talk about what we should do at present. The natives haven't reappeared for an entire week. Still, it is possible they could come again in greater numbers and maybe heavily armed, so we have to be prepared.”





“I agree with you, sir. But I'm afraid we don't have any chance to defend ourselves with sixteen men.”





“And half of them are not professional soldiers,” I added. “Besides, we need more men for the research of the environment and for other work, so we must awake them from hibernation. Regarding all that, I decided to order the Conqueror to land.”





He nodded. “If I may suggest it, sir, the plain all around our module is large enough for that and here we also have plenty of basic resources.”





“Splendid. Captain Delon, connect me now with my first officer, Major Rinaldi, on the Conqueror.”





He saluted sturdily. “Yes, Commander, sir.”





***





Our entire crew except the machinist gathered outside our module to watch the landing procedure of the Conqueror.





The spaceship was lowered with deafening thunder to immediately above the ground. Probably the second navigator had not enough experience because the ship moved sidewise, burning down all the vegetation on an approximately one hundred by one hundred-yard-wide surface, and then, finally, landed.





As soon as the smoke had died away, our navigator, Nabokov, grabbed my arm. “Look!”





Three Sagan natives turned up, as if they had grown from the ground. There were two men and a woman wearing long, glimmering gowns. They looked at the scorched surface, their faces extremely earnest. Then they started to talk excitedly, one after another, waving their hands and trying to make us understand.





“Hey, Sinkiewitz,” I called our linguist, “that's your job. What do they want?”





He emitted a few brisk sentences, gesturing vividly in front of the natives, but after several minutes he said. “Sir, all I can say is they were trying to tell us they are not happy with something regarding the Conqueror.”





The natives were disappointed and, finally, gave up. When they departed, I called for the physicist Goldstein and we followed them at a suitable distance. Since our earlier experiences, I carried a video camera that was continuously running.





They were walking slowly without looking back. But, suddenly, something unbelievable happened. All three figures began to fade; they grew dim, translucent and then slowly dissolved in the manner of smoke. Goldstein and I rushed to the spot but we could not find any footprints, despite the soft ground. Then we carefully demarcated the spot and Goldstein inspected the place and its surroundings with several diverse instruments, including a Geiger counter and the finest forensic appliances, but without any results.





***



'REPORT NUMBER 4





'The 41st day.





'After a thorough consideration of all the circumstances I ordered my First Officer to manage the Conqueror landing on Sagan, not far from our space module. The landing has been successful. For that glorious act, only three natives were present without expressing either admiration or hostility. Still, I distrust them, so our watchfulness will not lessen.





'We began with the gradual awakening of the rest of the crew, according to SMC rules and my schedule.







'I send combat salutes to the magnificent Earth's Empire!





'Colonel William Gabriel Simpson, commander of the spaceship Conqueror.'





***





A week later, on a sunny afternoon, I was sitting on the top of our reconnoitering hillock, absorbed in deep thought. Suddenly, I noticed a native woman close to me!





She had a charming figure and a pretty face. She was just sitting tranquilly on the ground, ruminating thoughtfully with a blade of grass, and looking into the distance. How she'd managed to reach that spot, passing unnoticed by our many sentries, was incomprehensible to me. After a while, she turned toward me and looked me in the face.





She then drew out of nowhere a slice of some juicy, orange fruit and offered it to me with a smile. At that instant, I recollected the embarrassing event that had happened some weeks ago. But, this time, I took the slice out of her hand and, carefully, tested a small bite of it. It was delicious.





Then she started talking in a subdued voice.





“My name is Amiana and that fruit you've tested we call 'krissa.' It's a sign of peace and a symbol of welcome.”





I stared at her in astonishment. At that moment, I was so shocked that I didn't know if she were actually speaking our language or if, perhaps, I had understood hers. Then I realized she had asked me something and was expecting my answer.





“What... what did you say?”





“I asked what your name is, stranger.”





“I'm... I am the commander of that spaceship, Colonel-” Suddenly my response seemed too pompous to me. “My name is William Simpson. Oh, what the heck, call me Bill.”





“Bill, as you come from far away, you probably want to know something about us, the inhabitants of Mhaitilla.”





“Mhaitilla?”





“That's the name of our planet, you know.”





“Oh. Of course. Just tell me one thing: how, suddenly, are you able to speak my language?”



She gave me a charming smile. “Actually, I'm not. What I am doing now is a simple... how shall I put it... a direct change of our thoughts.”





“Telepathy? But I can hear your voice and see you moving your lips.”





She nodded. “I was told to add that to make it easier for you.”





I sighed. “I'm afraid I'll need some time to grasp all that. Go on, please.”





I kept sitting comfortably next to Amiana, enjoying her charming voice and understanding every one of her words. She understood me as well when I tried to tell her something about us, and how we live on Earth.





With time, she began to use many terms unknown to me-personal integrity, human rights, conscience, freedom, democracy... then she noticed my embarrassment.





“Look, Bill, the sun is already setting. We shall better continue our conversation some other day, agreed?” She rose and shook blades of grass from her skirt. “You certainly have some duties and I have to return home before dark.”





I went up with her to the outermost sentry box and the guards on duty became bug-eyed when they saw her.





At that point Amiana insisted she'd go on alone, and then she took leave of me--with a kiss on my cheek! I was so astonished, I didn't react at all.





I watched her as she moved away and waited until she would dissolve. But she didn't. I kept watching her for a long time, until she was only a tiny dot in the far distance. Finally, I had to shut my eyes because of the slanted sunbeams.





***





REPORT NUMBER 6, the 52nd day.





'General Fitzpatrick, this afternoon I've achieved--in person and alone--something at which our linguist had earlier failed. Namely, I managed, with ease, to eliminate the linguistic barrier that had obstructed us from talking with the natives up to now.





'That happened to me suddenly at the moment I stretched my legs at the top of our reconnoitering hillock. There was a Sagan woman, and I questioned her thoroughly about everything that seems important to us.





'I won't tire you by describing all the details of my conversation with her, but I have found out many useful data of the life and attitudes of Sagan's inhabitants. I talked as little as possible about our life on Earth, controlling myself all the time, and I'm sure I didn't reveal any military secrets.





'I salute the Earth's Empire.





'Colonel William G. Simpson, Commander of the Conqueror.'





***





During the next few days, the entire crew and I had plenty to do with pitching tents, farming, gardening, digging of irrigation ditches, building of depots, and uncounted other errands. I was busy all day and every evening I was exhausted. Still, that didn't stop me from seeing Amiana who came late every evening to our hillock.





Once she asked me, “Bill, I like visiting you; but I reckon we are selfish in a way. Sometimes I'd like bring with me some of my friends; what do you say?”





At the first moment, my military gut wanted to refuse firmly such a reckless proposal. But then I glanced at Amiana's eyes and said, “Why not? And I'd allow several of my officers to enjoy with us, except when they are on duty.”





The next evening, about two dozen of Amiana's compatriots--men, women and even children--came with her. About a week later, there was such a crowd that I asked my First Officer about it.





“Captain Rinaldi, are you sure there are not also our privates among all these people?”





He looked embarrassed. “Commander, I understood you'd allow everyone to come if he weren't on duty.”





“We both know you're offering me a lame excuse. Admitted?”





“Yes, sir. Yet, knowing your generosity, sir, I thought you wouldn't mind.”





I gave him a severe glance. “Okay, I'll excuse your mistake. But only this time, understand?”





“Thank you, sir. If you allow me a remark-the entire crew has been separated from their loved ones for so long. They need some company that isn't military.”





“I'm fully aware of that, Captain Rinaldi. Yet, I'm a little concerned about the sympathy that some of our men show so openly to some of these handsome native women. I strictly forbid any division of couples from the crowd. And that's a direct order.”





“I understand, sir. If I may ask you, is Brigadier General Fitzgerald satisfied with your reports lately?”





I frowned. “Not too much, I'm afraid. In his last answer, he demanded that I order much more military action. You know--launching rocket missiles, cannon fire practicing and so on.”





“But, sir,” remarked Rinaldi, “you know the natives explained to us how they dislike such activities because they leave heavy scars on the surface of their planet.”





I thought for a while, until an idea struck me. “Rather than that, we should go on a long military orientation march.”





“A brilliant idea, if I may say so, sir,” agreed Rinaldi.





“We'll go tomorrow, first thing in the morning. Tell the trumpeter to signal right away an earlier finish of today's gathering.”





The next morning promised a hot day, so I ordered my men to put on summer clothes and leave all heavy military equipment on the Conqueror. That was a great relief and we advanced swiftly, following the small group of the Mhaitilla people.





About noon, we realized they had brought us into their own settlement. Several men and women came to meet us. Amiana was at the head of them and I was pleased, noticing the happy smile on her face.





“The name of our settlement is Lhiassa,” Amiana told me.





“It's... well, amazing,” I said. “It's almost unbelievable.”





“Really? Why do you think so?”





“How shall I put it--from the number of houses, it's a little town, but regarding its outward form, it's a large village. Such a settlement we couldn't find on Earth.”





Inside Lhiassa, everything was roomy and surprisingly quiet. Its tree-lined streets were broad but almost traffic-less, and in the center of the settlement was a brick-paved square with a stone fountain in the middle. Most of the houses were hidden among tall, lush vegetation that, surprisingly, lacked the habitually dried-up and withered state of their counterparts on Earth. My men were charmed and some of them touched the leaves repeatedly to convince themselves they weren't plastic.





“There goes my father,” said Amiana. “I think you two met earlier.”





A tall, broad-shouldered man with a sunburnt face strode to us and extended his hand. “I'm Thianne, Amiana's father. As you see, this time I'll omit the krissa ceremony.”





A bit embarrassed, I shook hands with him.





“He also omitted to say one more thing,” added Amiana, “that he's also a Principal of Lhiassa.”





“Just for this year,” said Thianne smiling. “Everyone in Lhiassa would be glad to see you. And most of them are eager for today's merrymaking.”





His last words I registered only when Thianne gave a signal that the festivities could start.



Our hosts dragged several dinner tables and benches to the square and their men sat among us. Then their women served plenty of various dishes and refreshing drinks. Although some had an odd taste, I must confess that it was a royal banquet.





After that we made a magnificent bonfire and several Lhiassa musicians performed. It was a bit strange to my ears, but in time I found it agreeable. We danced, and I was enchanted with Amiana's warm embrace.





After hours, Delon told me; it was already twilight. Owing to that, I hated him.



During the long hours of our marching toward Conqueror, I still felt the warmth of Amiana's goodbye-kiss on my lips.





***





'REPORT NUMBER 7, the 72nd day.





'Brigadier General Fitzpatrick, I've the honor to inform you we don't neglect our military jobs but we have merely adapted them to the local customs. I had to consider the scruples of the natives regarding the devastation from our heavy cannonade, for Sagan is now, after all, our own planet. Instead of that, I ordered the troops to go on a long military orientation march, so we'd find out as much as possible about the local life and customs, to allow us a more effective reign over the colonized planet.





'I've ordered the second officer to make a holovision record of their settlements so I could attach them to this report. But this, regrettably, proved useless, as he simply forgot to do so, which was inexcusable.





'My kindest regards to you and everybody on Earth!





'Colonel Commander W. G. Simpson.'





***





“Look, Bill,” Amiana said to me one day. “You've complained many times that your stiff collar constantly squeezes your neck. Why don't you simple change that silly uniform of yours to something more comfortable? My two brothers are your size and they'd gladly give you some of their clothes.”





“Well... I'm not sure.”





“Why not? Would you attach your photo to the next report to that damned Fitz?”





“You shouldn't call him that, darling. The point is, if I do that, I must allow all my officers and the other men to do the same. Who among them, including me, would be the colonizer any more?”





Amiana came closer and put both her hands on my shoulder. “Bill, darling, I've never seen a common colonizer in you. Otherwise, I couldn't be in love with you.”





Her lips were near mine and then even nearer, and the next few moments we weren't able to speak. When I recovered my breath, I whispered in her ear.





“Well, I could still wear my cap displaying the rank of a colonel.”





Late that afternoon, Captain Rinaldi presented me some papers for signature, saluted and turned around to go.





“Wait a second, Paolo.”





He halted. “Yes, sir?”





“You know I've forced, sometimes, to ignore several paragraphs of the SMC because they've been simply unfitting. What do you think about the SMC? Forget for a while my rank and give me a straight answer.”





He hesitated. “Off the record, sir?”





“Off the record.”





“Bullshit,” he said.





I chuckled. “That was, indeed, a straight answer. Let me tell you, Paolo, even I sometimes wonder who collected that enormous bunch of nonsense.”





“Sir, in my opinion, SMC is much worse than just nonsense. It's harmful and very dangerous. And our entire actions here, based on it, were misguided and wrong.”





Thoughtfully, I glanced at him. “I'd never have thought I would have to agree with what you've just said. The better I get to know the denizens' life in this place, the more I realize that we're wrong and the Mhaitillas are right.”





“It's enough to see how they live here.” Paolo got excited. “Still, remember how we lived on Earth?”





I nodded. “Those are now my worst nightmares. Now I realize I was, all that time, an obedient puppet of that damned tyrant Fitzpatrick. But those times are over for good. I'm fed up with pretending and I'm going to tell him so in my next report. What do you say?”



Paolo hesitated for a while. “It's up to you, Commander. Still, in your shoes, I would let sleeping dogs lie. Or, at least, don't tell him everything at once.”





I sighed. “Okay, I'll try to be as diplomatic as possible, again. Thank you, Paolo.”





***





'The eighth report, the 95th day.





'General Fitzpatrick, allow me to reject, respectfully but decisively, your severe warning of an allegedly careless shirking of my duties. All my activities on the planet Mhaitilla (the genuine name of Sagan) agree with my status as the commander.





'For instance, we continue with our military actions to get to know the local way of life which is making my command more efficient. Therefore I ordered the headquarters staff to move from Conqueror to Lhiassa--that's the name of the nearest big settlement. I do not recall any paragraph in SMC that would have forbidden the colonizer to do this. Besides, my officers have been showing an enormous interest in their new domicile.





'They took lodgings at the old local school and I've moved my command post to Amiana's home; I hope you still remember her name. That proved a well-founded and useful decision. Only now, since we've been living in their settlement, are we able to know and understand the Sagans as they are.





'Now I must finish my report because I've been invited this evening to the central square where the annual celebration of conferring names is going to take place. Forty-seven boys and girls in Lhiassa have just reached the stage of maturity at which they may choose their own adult names. This evening, the Principal of Lhiassa is going to perform the ceremony of their baptism. Amiana has entrusted me with the secret that I'll be named one of the two assessors of the Principal for this beautiful ritual. I hope I'll be able to show the proper surprise at the moment of my nomination.





'I give my love to all my friends on Earth and to all good people wherever they are.





'Colonel Bill Simpson.





***





“Look, Bill,” said Amiana's father, Thianne, to me. “Everybody in Lhiassa, including Amiana and me, wish to persuade you to order all the crew of the Conqueror simply to move here, to Lhiassa. What do you say?”





I pondered for some time. “I don't know. It's a big step and a risky one, too. When--if--I report that to Fitzpatrick...”





Thianne chuckled. “I wouldn't incite you to do anything against your principles. But you were the one who said 'if'.”





“Well, I'll talk with my crew about that. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning.”





I did so and the entire crew voted unanimously in favor of this suggestion. I've ordered only a small sentry to remain on that tin shell--the Conqueror. I knew even that was unnecessary; who would be so foolish as to rummage about on that jalopy?





For the next few weeks, we were in the middle of our step-by-step removal into the charming environment of Lhiassa. Only now could we recognize how different they were from us. Or, rather, how different we were from them.





“Most of your ethical principles confused us,” I said to Amiana. “You know, even our sociologist is sometimes desperate when he tries to explain to us--and to himself, too--some particularity of your social environment.”





“Oh,” replied Amiana, “I think it's hopeless to judge in intellectual terms our--or your--value systems. Such efforts are like trying to describe the splendid scent of a rose by noting the chemical formulas of its ingredients.”





Once more, I had to admire her wonderful, plain explanation.





“How is the accommodation of your men progressing?” she asked.





“We haven't too much trouble with places to stay, thanks to your father, who allowed us free use of plenty of space around Lhiassa. We're also able to find more than enough natural raw material here--various sorts of stone, clay, reeds, dry trunks of trees and so on.”





“You know, all the people in Lhiassa are more than willing to help you in every regard.”





“Yes, I know. Why, indeed, are you so kind with us--the aliens, the intruders, the colonizers?”





She smiled. “Because we hope you'd, in time, end being all that.”





“Not everything runs smoothly,” I mentioned. “In the beginning there were some occasional misunderstandings. For example, once our men were about to chop down a leafy lime tree to gain some more material for roofing. But then your people kindly explained to us such an action would have been an imprudent mistake. How so?”





She shrugged with her shoulders. “That's simple. Here, on Mhaitilla, parents and teachers of the youngest children implant into their minds a deep respect for all living beings. If somebody destroyed any form of life, all the others wouldn't condemn him as a villain. Still, they would consider such an act as nonsense, a foolishness that would surely harm him, sooner or later. So we even avoid using expressions that label a person who has taken the life of a living being.”





“I'm not sure I can follow you. Give me an example.”





“Look, in everyday talk, a civilized, polished person on Mhaitilla would not utter such terms as murder, killer, executioner, slaughterer, hunter, or-” She became silent and flushed a bit.





“Or soldier,” I finished her sentence. “That was what you intended to say, am I right?”





Amiana hid her face under my chin. “I'm so sorry, darling.”





I caressed her hair. “Don't be sorry, dear. We promised each other we'd always be honest. Remember? Come on, everything is fine.”





But that night, I realized not everything was fine. The term 'soldier' began to disturb me. This profession, which I'd chosen without any scruples many years ago, had here on Mhaitilla at the least an archaic, or even shameful, air. But their tactfulness toward us was perfect, so they never suggested how unsuitable our profession was in their eyes. Now, when I think back on all those past years of my career, which I've wasted so senselessly, it fills me with uneasiness and deep regret.





***





'The ninth report, the (?) day.





'I'm uncertain how many days have passed since we landed on Mhaitilla and I don't think that matters.







'Allow me, General Fitzpatrick, to stress that I can not understand the severe scolding you've addressed to me. Your statement that I do not carry out my duties properly is unfounded. I wonder at your statement--or, better, threat--that you'll relieve me of commanding status if I don't radically change my present attitude.





'Personally, I'm convinced that in my whole, desperately empty life, there has never been a period in which I've changed more radically than now. And I sincerely hope, and believe, I've changed for the better. So I do not intend to repeat that process in the opposite direction. If I did that, I'd be the same cretin as the authors of that stupid SMC of yours.





'In short, I have decided to tell you the whole truth about my present thoughts and feelings, although that could cost me a lot. Now, the scales have fallenl from my eyes. I'm ashamed of my former way of life, more so with each passing day. My military 'heroics' of which I used to be so very proud embarrass me now; I'd rather deny them or simply forget them, if possible.





'My dear friend on Earth, please forgive me if I've somehow hurt your feelings with my self-deceptive arrogance.





'Bill Simpson.'





***





I heard a knocking at my door and growled. “Enter, Paolo. For heaven's sake, when will you remember not to knock any more?”





He handed me a piece of paper, his face earnest. “Commander, this came five minutes ago by subspace radio and I printed it right away.”





I took the message with an infallible hunch about what the content was and the title confirmed my guess.





'The official dismissal of Colonel William Gabriel Simpson of the command post of the Twelfth Colonization Expedition and of the command of the space battleship Conqueror'.





I started to read the message, trying to stay serious, but in vain. When I came up to the point where Fitz had degraded me, I roared with laughter.





“Sir,” said Paolo.





“I know, I know.” I wiped away my tears. “I can hardly believe that I'm the same man who once owned that pompous title. For so many years, I was even pleased with it. More so, back then I took every possible pain to gain it and I'd have been desperate if I'd have lost it. Back then--once upon a time...”





“That's not all, sir,” said Paolo, and now he grinned, too. “Look, what I've got.”





The second message was a written 'Order to First Officer Major Rinaldi, about his appointment as temporary Viceregent Commander of the space battleship Conqueror.'





“The word 'temporary' is the whole point,” remarked Paolo.





“I'm afraid you're right, Viceregent Commander,” I said. “Until the proper commander-in-charge comes with the Thirteenth Colonization Expedition from Earth. Some firm, iron man who'll crush a rebellion, arrest all the crazy traitors on this planet, and then re-establish order and discipline on the anarchistic Sagan.”





Paolo folded his nomination into the form of a small, neat paper airplane and flung it through the open window and into Thianne's front yard. And then he laughed heartily and I laughed with him until my belly began to ache.





Then Paolo and I went out and joined the others at our vivacious building place. These days, most of the houses for the crewmembers had been built, at least in a rough form. And that work suited me well; for the first time in my life, I enjoyed physical labor. It seemed fascinating to me that I was now able to make something useful and beautiful with my own hands. With these two hands, which, up to now, could hardly have done anything except foolishly saluting and signing silly papers.





***





'The last report, whenever.





'I don't know, General Fitzpatrick, why I still send you this 'report,' which is far from what its title promises. Perhaps I do this because I've been a soldier for too damned long.





'I feel sorry for you, Fitzpatrick, and for all the people on Earth because you're forced to live on such a dirty, stifling, poisoned planet. Sometimes I think about all the monstrousness that surrounds you--the unbearable overpopulation, polluted air, water and soil, the unbearable noise, the wild struggle for existence, which you call a career… You seem to me like prisoners who have voluntarily condemned themselves to harsh punishment.





'But, the worst of it all is your blindness, Fitzpatrick. Your naïve conviction that your wrong way of life is the only right one, the sole path, and that you must colonize every populated planet in the Galaxy and try to re-form it in your horrible image.





'When I think about all that, I do not hate you anymore, Fitzpatrick, as I've hated you for some time. By now, I've gotten over that phase; I can't hate a sick person. I think I'm beginning, gradually, to transform into a real Mhaitill, in my mind and emotions. Maybe... maybe I'm going to become one of them, someday.





'I wish to persuade some of you--if not you in person, Fitzpatrick, then at least those others who aren't yet completely self-absorbed--to think seriously about themselves. I beg you to do so. Simply lay down your silly blasters, for just a moment, sit on the ground and take a good look all around. Do you see the exploited, unfertile soil, those crooked, dried-up trees, the scorched grass, muddy rivers covered with scum, and the hazy air that hides your sun? Cast your eyes over your sick, overworked parents, your tired wife, stuffed with drugs, your nervous, underfed children who hate you.





'And, then, ask yourself: is this image of Earth the best of all possible worlds? Is that the miraculous example, the redemptive recipe, the entire Galaxy needs? Is that the paradise in which the entire human race should linger, live out their lives forever, and which all the other races on distant planets ought to yearn for?





'If you are in doubt--even for a single moment--then I think it isn't too late for you, yet.





'So long, my dear former compatriots!





'Bill.'





***





Late in the evenings, Amiana and I had got into the habit of sitting on the porch, her head on my chest, my arm hugging her waist. Lately she had become my beloved life companion, and we were inseparable. At those moments, I felt we were closer to each other than I could have imagined ever before.





We were in love with each other more than any young lovers; we were united more than husband and wife, without the wedding ceremony or golden rings and pathetic promises of everlasting faithfulness. We were like two magnets bound in attraction, two heads thinking as one, two halves of a single body which complemented each other, two souls that weren't able to live separately.





“Amiana,” I said, “thank you.”





She glanced at me in surprise. “For what?”





“Oh, for hundreds, for thousands, of reasons. You've helped me to change from a stupid, self-conceited fool to a normal man--a real human being.”





“That's an exaggeration. But anyway, tell me more about it.”





“You've taught me to behave, to think, and to act like all the other Mhaitills. You and your father have taught me such marvelous things.”





“You mean our... I think you call it ESP--an extrasensory perception?”





“Among many other things, yes. I couldn't stop wondering how you do all that as naturally as you breathe. To me, those skills still seem almost supernatural.”





“But they aren't,” objected Amiana. “All those abilities were already in you. We just showed you how you should concentrate and set free all the latent energy that had been hibernating inside you, unexploited, all these years.”





“Remember, how clumsy my first attempts were? I was so disappointed, almost desperate. But in time I've become a bit more skilful.”





“You've made noticeable progress, darling. I've seen, for instance, that you've been already able to heal some smaller surfaces of burned vegetation.”





“Oh, yes. But every seven-year-old child in Lhiassa has much stronger abilities than I have. Even the younger members of my crew can do marvelous things. They can physically affect material objects without touching them, and one of them even manages to disappear optically when he wants to.”





“Bill,” Amiana said, “we're talking about everything except the most important thing. You do know what I mean, don't you?”





I nodded gloomily. “Yes, I know. The Thirteen Colonization Expedition under the command of that damned Fitz. For the last few weeks, I could hardly think about anything else. Maybe I've softened a little, but I've never forgotten my full responsibility to my men and to all of us here in Lhiassa.”





***





That Saturday evening, I called a general meeting of our entire crew on the central square of Lhiassa. According to my agreement with the Principal Thianne, most of the adult people of Lhiassa joined us.





“We all know why we've gathered tonight,” I began. “There's no secret that the Thirteenth Colonization Expedition from the Earth under the command of Brigadier General Fitzpatrick is approaching Mhaitilla with enormous speed. By now, they must be already near because the signals of their messages are strong. They keep persuading us to grow wiser and to surrender to them without any resistance.”





A subdued murmur came from the crew, and I raised my hand.





“They claim that if we do this they won't punish us too harshly: they'll degrade the officers by a single rank and the entire crew will be confined to the spaceship for a month. Nothing else. But I'm not so naïve as to believe them. Especially not with their battleship 'Revenger'. Such a spaceship surely fulfils all the tasks and lives up to its fearful name.”



Many shouts from the audience lasted until my officers silenced them.





“I think this is a matter of common interest so everybody present has the right to take part in the consultation. Tonight, we must take a decision about what we can do--if anything at all.”





Several dozens of hands darted upright and I pointed at one of them randomly.





“Sir, I'm Private Nieminnen. Seventeen of my friends and I take part in an ESP club and several of us have acquired... how should I put it, totally new abilities, which we have learned from the Lhiassa people.”





“I already know what will be your proposal. But tell us anyway.”





“Sir, our plan is simple and we're convinced that it couldn't fail. We should simply. . . well, subdue the entire crew of Revenger right away after their landing on Mhaitilla.”





Lieutenant Savalpindi was firmly opposed to that. “We should not answer their violence with force, because that would mean we were, in essence, every bit the villains they are. And that would be a nasty act, the worst we could do.”





After shorter discussion, we voted and the great majority refused that solution. Then several other speakers explained their viewpoints.





At last, we agreed unanimously that we needed to stay calm and rational in everything we did, no matter what might happen after the Revenger landed. We must persuade them right away, as we would not use any weapon against them.





“If I'm allowed,” I closed, “I'll try to state the majority decision. We shall greet them with a warm welcome in an obviously peaceful manner. As soon as possible, we shall simply offer them a fresh slice of krissa, the traditional symbol of welcome.”





“And then?” asked Jean-Pierre Delon.





“Then,” I replied, “we'll see what happens next.”





***





A letter. A letter, not a report.





The reports are now senseless, not to suggest that they had any sense before. But my lasting habit to note down, now and then, what has happened, is one of the old pastimes that I haven't given up yet.





I don't know to whom I'm writing this letter. Maybe for the future generations of Mhaitilla, who are to come after us. I haven't any ambition to become a chronicler of Lhiassa; there are so many other fascinating things that attract me here and now.





Right now, I'd prefer to enjoy the group of children playing outside. Their amusement is loud and their joyful laughter is entering my window, making concentration difficult. No wonder they're so lively; old Gus has mastered enough amazing tricks to enchant anybody, whether child or adult. And it seems he's in his best form today.





We, the adults, remember well all the events when the Thirteen Colonization Expedition from Earth came to us on Mhaitilla. Also old Gus remembers the landing of the Revenger with--as he often says--mixed feelings.





Back then, we were watching their landing from a remote point without showing ourselves. After the landing, we left them alone for about a week to allow them to look around thoroughly. Then I picked up about two-dozen of my friends, including their families, to visit the crew of Revenger.





We put on thin, loose clothes so they could right away see we had no weapons. As we came about thirty steps from the spaceship, we simply sat down on the grass and began to eat what we had with us. We hoped the crew inside the Revenger might, with time, shed their first mistrust.





After a while, an authoritarian voice came out of several loudspeakers and on the huge communication display, the image of General Fitzpatrick appeared. His speech started to broadcast the usual nonsense from the SMC that I still remembered and the improved model of the 'Universal Translating Machine' translated it simultaneously.





We didn't react at all, just as we'd arranged earlier. Then the Revenger's armored side entrance opened, and one of the automatic combat robots came rattling through it and began to snoop about, so that we could hardly keep back our laughter.





Later, two men armed to the teeth, like the warriors from those old science fiction serials, came out of the spaceship. Although both of them were wearing gas masks I, beyond any doubt, recognized Fitz in the one who walked proudly and stiffly. He made some silly gesture (of course, according to SMC rules) and we replied in the same manner. Then he read again that dull 'Standard Allocution n.7' and I noticed it was literally the same, word for word, as in the past.





After he finished, we told him--in Mhaitilla's language, of course--that he'd better stop with that nonsense and asked him to sit down and have a snack with us. But Fitz haughtily refused. So I decided to show him clearly we'd no purpose of harming him.





I stepped toward him slowly, with a broad smile on my face, although Amiana tried to hold me back. I looked Fitz full in the face and his surprised gaze told me he didn't recognize me. Suddenly, he stepped back and aimed his blaster at me. That enraged me--maybe because he reminded me so much of myself as I'd been in those bygone days. At that moment I forgot all that we had agreed upon earlier. I jerkily reached forth my fist with the middle finger pointed upwards close to his nose.





At that moment, I was probably closer to death than ever before. But Fitz was, obviously, so amazed that he just stood still for a few moments, without any reaction. Then, Amiana seized my arm and took me gently but firmly to the others. After a while we quietly set out on our journey toward our home, Lhiassa.





***





Those events happened--how long ago was all that, anyway?





Well, the Thirteen Expedition came in early springtime and now already it is late autumn . But on our planet, Mhaitilla, the autumn is a marvelous and even a cheerful season. A tepid wind is tickling the treetops, stealing from them several dozen leaves and then whirling them all around. Now and then, some leaves fly through my window and the vivacious laughter of the group of children enters with them. Old Gus is probably carrying out some of his wizard's tricks again.





I must show him this last letter of mine. But, on second thought--perhaps I shouldn't do that. Old Gus dislikes being reminded of those old days and that's understandable, given the circumstances of that time.





Back when everyone addressed him as General Fitzpatrick.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 2:59 AM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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