An Unwelcome Burden

Kevin Gordon

Kevin Gordon graduated from Grinnell College in 1992 majoring in English. Over the years he has written many works; from the eight-volume series of books titled Evolution, the three volume series titled The Seventh Age of Man, to Last Man in Heaven, a novel published by Double Dragon Books in early 2011. He has written three plays and dozens of short stories, some of which have appeared in many science fiction and fantasy publications. Kevin writes predominately in science fiction, but also has many fantasy and literary stories, and can get a lot of work done when his cat isn’t begging for attention.

An Unwelcome Burden

1

It was the seventh month of my pregnancy, and I was a mixed bag of hope, frustration, and fear. Part of me had adjusted to my little unborn prince and was loathe to have him leave, while the rest of me yearned to return to the life I had before.

Thankfully even nonumans understood pregnancy, and everywhere I went I was greeted with warm smiles and gracious hands, tentacles, and even flippers. The voyage from Earth to Ganuja was projected to be a long one, yet my time felt short. I was regaled with stories from my suitemates about their own children; from trials during their version of birth, to near-calamities with newborns, to eventual pride and love of their now-grown children. Among our group of five was even a brittle Alexacian, and it brought a grin to my face just thinking of how a little one could have dropped out the pit of her arms.

And yet that goodwill vanished in an instant when we docked at the orbiting port of Ganuja. As we disembarked and my suitemates lingered around waiting for me to collect my luggage – hoping to make a fond farewell – I was recognized. One of my acolytes from long ago rushed up to me.

“Ah, Warrant Chief Yulina, I am honored to see you once again,” he said with a low bow. I glanced over at my suitemates, and to my chagrin they heard my title and reacted accordingly. In a matter of minutes they disbursed and went their own way, reluctant to engage me in any further conversation. I can’t say I blame them, as my kind had brought dozens of worlds to justice, making their citizens pay dearly for past atrocities against the human race.

2

My young acolyte, Charles, was eager to help me to a journeyman, and I gratefully accepted. Even with suspenos it was a trial moving all my luggage, and after such a long trip my body just wasn’t up to the task.

“Charles,” I began firmly, “I thought I told you about disclosing titles in public.”

I saw his fist clench in echo of his bowels as he grew mortified. “I . . . I am so sorry! It has just been a long mission for me, and . . . I’ve been surrounded only with our own kind. Sometimes one forgets that civilians exist at all.”

I nodded, as it had happened to me often in my youth. It took me an inordinately long time to move up the hierarchy of Core, and I knew it was partly because of my laziness in adhering to protocol. All it took was one embarrassing situation with a superior, and dozens of successful cases would be forgotten in an instant.

After a few minutes, he finished loading my luggage into the storage bay, and an open door yawned for me. I paused, standing at Charles’ side, caught in the static loop that was my mind.

“What are you thinking of?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” I rubbed my belly, my unborn prince, and found my gaze locked on the soft brown eyes of my acolyte. He was a handsome young thing, with shock-red hair and a lean, toned physique, and if I were a dozen or so years younger I would have found a way to get him into bed. As it is, with my child coming near to term, eyes that once clouded with lust now refocused with parental admiration. I could only hope my young prince would grow up to be some echo of Charles; strong and smart, deferential yet possessed with a spark of independence.

And true to form, he graciously acknowledged my mental distance. “I’m surprised you’re even on an investigation this far into your pregnancy. I would imagine you would be consumed with worries about delivery, thoughts of what to name him.” He helped me into the journeyman, and as the restraints secured me in, he asked; “why are you here?”

“Because I am one of those who joined our ranks to find something. Yes, a sense of justice pushes me on, but in truth, the need for revenge is stronger. And even with this . . . beautiful creature growing within me, I have a desperate need to wrap up unfinished business.”

He leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, in an uncharacteristic display of affection that actually surprised me. “I think that’s what I’ve always admired about you; you are relentless and determined. We can never forget the atrocities visited upon our ancestors, and no matter how much good our nonuman allies do, they can never be forgiven.”

The door closed and sealed shut, and I cried a little, as the reflection of my withered, vengeful face was projected on his youthful innocence.

3

Ganujans, or as they prefer to be called ‘faulli,’ are a peaceful and visually stunning people. Of all the nonumans, all the non-humanoids, they are the most unique. They are a brain and eye suspended in a gelatinous fluid, surrounded in a translucent sac. And while that may sound visually unappealing, to see a mass of them is a wonder to behold.

My suite overlooked a main thoroughfare, and after I was dressed in my uniform, I stood in that early morning light to be transfixed by their beauty. Thousands of them floated back and forth, chirping to one another in their native tongue, yet in the bluish sunlight they all appeared as a mighty river, reflecting the light on and within their beautiful bodies like thousands of droplets of water. There was a peace about their people that made the claims of abduction and abuse all the more disturbing.

My encounter with the Arji, their Representative of Interplanetary Relations, was not as delightful. He stopped by my room to begin our diplomatic discourse on as friendly a term as possible.

“So what brings a Warrant Officer to our planet?”

“As my rank indicates, I am a Warrant Chief, Arji JI-ulac, and I am here to perform my duty.”

The Arji’s skin grew opaque, which suggested he was getting upset, frustrated, and even confrontational. As a Warrant Chief, a large part of my training was to be able to read the expressions of nonumans. In preparation I had watched a great deal of the recorded encounters with the faulli, and studied extensively all available discourse in regards to social/linguistic xenopology concerning their race accomplished in the past thousand years. Yet even then it was difficult reading him.

“We have been friends of Earth well before the fall of the Union,” said the Arji diplomatically. “When others plundered your populous world for forced labor or cannon-fodder, we abstained and even condemned the practice in every meeting of the Union we attended.”

“That may be so, and yet here I am. We have received information that humans were indeed used as slaves on this world. It isn’t unusual for some to profess words of peace, and yet practice war in secret.”

The Arji’s body massed puffed slightly, and his eye took on a yellowish hue. “You think us to be liars?”

“I think you may not have been present to witness those atrocities those many centuries ago, and the truth may not have been disseminated to all faulli through the ages.”

“And yet you would hold us responsible for the crimes of our fathers?”

I smirked, as it was always amusing to listen to nonumans use human sayings to their advantage.

“You and I both know that faulli have no fathers. Your consciousness is transferred from vessel to vessel, maintaining all your knowledge and experience through eternity.”

The Arji’s body slimmed, with the detail in his eye blurring and changing color to a light violet. I could even detect he was emanating a sweet scent, like lilac. “And that is how we have developed such a peaceful, enlightened society. How we weathered the cataclysm, how we exist today not as some protectorate of Earth, but as one of the few sovereign worlds left.”

I stood, sensing some saber-rattling. “Ganuja may be sovereign, but when you accepted our aid, our resources, you agreed to the charter like all the rest. You will be judged by the human race, and held accountable for any crimes committed against us.”

It was just then, when I had my hardest face on, that I felt my little prince kick. It had been days since I felt him move, and his silence had allowed me to focus. Now, it was all broken. I suddenly felt vulnerable in front of the Arji, and fearful his skill at reading expressions was as developed as mine.

“Perhaps we should adjourn,” he said sweetly, confirming my fears. “I would we not be adversaries, but rather good friends committed to resolving a troublesome issue. When you are . . ready, I shall avail you of all my staff, in the hopes this matter can be resolved quickly, and you can go back to your life unmolested.”

That last word stuck in my mind, and in my youth, when I wasn’t burdened with child, I would have verbally eviscerated him. As it was I needed to escape, and quell the motherly sentiment that threatened to engulf my mind. When the door slid shut behind him, not even my formidable resolve could contain my tears.

4

As I sat in my room reluctantly crying, I heard a knock at my door. As the faulli possessed no knuckles for knocking, I assumed it was humanoid.

“Come in,” I said, as I wiped clear my face. “Charles!”

My young protégé swept in, and knelt before me dashing in the black and grey uniform of a Warrant Officer. “I came to offer my services to you in this endeavor.”

“Why?” I asked, wary of his motives. “Has the Core been in contact with you? Do they doubt me?”

“No. I . . . well, my prior mission is finished, and because it went well, they gave me a three week leave. I opted to remain here.”

I leaned in close, anger building in my mind. “Do you doubt me?”

“No, I love you.”

I had to get to my feet for this one. “What do you mean ‘love me’?”

“I fell in love with you as I watched you mentor me and the others. I fell in love to the sound of your voice, to the strength in your eyes. And for some reason it all was made clear, when I saw that beneath all that strength, lay some vulnerability.”

I strode over to the window, and gazed out on a world I was starting to actively dislike. “This world is dirty, Charles. I feel it in my bones like I feel blood in my veins.”

“How so?”

“They act kind, intelligent and wise, and yet they all reek of deception and subterfuge. They are the most different of the non-humanoids, and I think they believe that difference makes it impossible for us to divine their true feelings.”

“Isn’t that a trap you taught us about; distrust of the different?”

“Yes, it is, and yet . . . let me show you.” I pulled out one of my most cherished possessions; a drawing done on torn watercolor paper. “Look at this.”

I unrolled it for him on a table. It revealed a landscape, drawn with red ink, in which a long bridge was being built. Hundreds if not thousands of human figures dotted the landscape, lifting materials and working machinery. In the foreground a small group of humans knelt in fear before a figure that seemed to be out of the picture-frame.

Charles nodded somberly. “I’ve seen dozens of these mementoes of our dark time. What does it mean to you?”

I pointed to one of the kneeling figures – a woman. “She was one of my ancestors. Not only does this picture exist, but fragments of her diary, where she details her abduction, torture, and enslavement by an alien race that utterly frightened her and those with her.”

“And you think this has something to do with the Ganujans?”

“Look at this torn edge,” I said, pointing to the right half of the paper. “This was torn to take out the one depiction of their masters. Her diary was redacted to eliminate all references to their identity, and to conceal the nature of the more heinous abuses. Other nonumans take a certain degree of pride in being our one-time masters, while the race that enslaved these people has actively sought to keep their atrocities hidden. This is why I became an expert in non-humanoid studies, why I have travelled the entire galaxy following up on any and all claims against them, why even though I am about to give birth, I am here, on this world, digging for the truth.”

Charles sat on the bed. While to some he had a naïve kindness about his eyes, I always saw a keen, intuitive mind that, with training, could even rival my own. “If they wish this secret to be hidden, then they would surely kill to keep it so. You need my help more than I thought.”

I sighed, knowing I was beaten. Like I said; a keen, intuitive mind.

5

As is customary in these investigations we began with dull, meticulous research, going through all archives available to us to search for inconsistencies in timeline or in general historical accounts.  Humans were abducted for two reasons; to serve as grunts in a nonuman’s war effort, or to serve as manual labor on a nonuman world. No matter how far back I went, I could find no evidence that the faulli had been at war during the period in which humans were evolved. I had Charles focus on finding out what they could have built on their world that was so monumental, so massive that they needed slave labor to see it accomplished. He had as much luck as I.

What the Arji said about his people was true; they had created an enlightened society that was free of violence, strife and pain. Several centuries ago they evolved to the point where the desire for physical gratification was nearly eliminated. All their senses were muted, allowing for the enlargement of the problem-solving centers of their brains. The Faulli were widely known for their mathematical prowess, having advanced faster-than-light travel exponentially since the incorporation of the Confederacy.

And yet, I still knew they were lying. It was the Arji’s arrogance that cemented that belief, and the refusal of the Ganujan government to grant me access to any citizens. There also were rumors of some technology they invented that allowed the sharing of recorded experiences and emotions, though no one had been able to corroborate its existence. Too much ignorance and gaps of knowledge in any species always smacked of deception. So I decided on a direct approach; a visual tour of the world, concentrating on sites where such a bridge could have been built. As Ganuja’s surface was comprised of twenty-five percent more water than Earth’s, it looked to be a long, grueling endeavor.

We ascended in a larger journeyman, to accommodate not only Charles and our supplies, but two faulli sent to watch over us by the Arji. They were as menacing as faulli could get, with thick, coarse skins and emitting some kind of bitter pheromone that made it difficult to concentrate. Thankfully we sat in a divided compartment that sealed so Charles and I could discuss things privately.

“Why did you say you loved me?” I had been itching to ask that question for some time now, and at least now in the journeyman he wouldn’t be able to evade or distract me.

“I don’t know. I needed to say something, to make me different, to separate me in your mind from the dozens of other acolytes you’ve had.”

“Did you mean it?”

“No, not really.”

“People rarely say things they don’t mean,” I pressed gently, “in some way or another.”

“Did you want me to mean it?”

I sighed. I felt like I was eighteen again, trying to figure out if a boy liked me. I don’t even know why I cared; I always had such poor luck with men. I had driven away two husbands because of my work. No, that isn’t right; I drove them away because there was no room in my life for any distraction. Until I found the nonumans who built that bridge, I could afford no distraction.

“Can I take a look at your picture again?” he asked, giving me an easy out of a conversation I had started.

“Sure.”

I brought out a small holo-projector, and cued it up for him. He focused in on the small group that included my ancestor who cowered in fear in the foreground.

“You know, it doesn’t look like they have expressions of people being threatened with a weapon.”

“No, more than likely they are cowering in fear of a nonuman they have never seen before, something so utterly foreign to their eyes, that they cannot quite comprehend it.”

“That might be true,” he said, “but in the numerous sociological studies done since the incorporation of the Confederacy, it seems to be an established fact that human beings adapt surprisingly quickly to nonumans with different physiognomies. These slaves have been abducted, and have worked for a period of time on the bridge in the background. I think they are afraid of something new, something only just revealed to them.”

I took another look, seeing his analysis for the truth it was. “Very good, my young acolyte. And what do you think it is?”
“I think a nonuman is doing something to a human, something so abominable that it terrifies them. I’ve seen this expression before; it is worn by those who are seeing their own kind being eaten.”

It hit me, just as he said it. There were only a handful of species that found human meat appetizing, and photos of their atrocities revealed humans wearing those exact expressions.

“Why didn’t I recognize this before?”

Graciously, he said; “you have obviously kept this close to your heart. Sometimes it takes someone with some emotional distance to see clearly.”

“So the question now becomes; did the faulli prefer human meat in their past, and was it a brief period?”

***

Along river banks we flew low, examining bridges built and abandoned. The curious thing is that the faulli really had no need for bridges, or even roads. Their newly evolved bodies hovered a few feet off the ground, and could cross bodies of water with ease.

For several days we traveled along the major rivers of the most populous continent, Vieol. Down the moss-covered banks of the Guillo River we flew low, landing often to inspect sites along the way. As we flew from one shore to the other, I noticed how unusually long it took for us to cross. Charles confirmed my suspicion, and we lowered the barrier between us and our pilots, opting to endure their acrimonious scent to divine the truth.

“Are you slowing down when we cross the rivers?” I asked.

The faulli remained silent, piloting the vehicle.

“Hey!” shouted Charles, “the Warrant Chief asked you a question!”

As unusual it was to have someone defend me, I kind of liked the sensation. I sat back, as one of the faulli turned to face us.

“Did you do any research about our world? Our atmosphere acts as a lens when our suns reach certain points in the sky. It can make far objects seem much closer.” He turned back, muttering something in Ganujan that probably wasn’t kind.

We both glanced again out the window, and sure enough, as we blinked a few times and squinted, the true position of the opposite shore could be discerned. And the faulli’s words of rebuke stung; I hadn’t done the right kind of research.

***

As night came, we progressed up to the mouth of the mighty Uki-oi river, framed by the high Ulladdag canyon walls. While it wasn’t a pleasure trip, Charles indulged himself, and opened the wide windows as we flew through a cloud bank, taking a long gulp of the moisture-laden air. I actually laughed as I watched him, thankful for a few moments of beautifully distracted pleasure.

At each potential site along the river we scanned for human remains, yet found none, and both of us were growing discouraged. We progressed to sites within the heavily populated cities, drawing unwanted attention as we worked. The faulli would gather by the dozens to watch us, and it was becoming increasingly discomfiting. Ganuja never was much of a tourist destination — though the faulli did nothing to discourage it. Instead it just seemed that no one much wanted to visit their world, and I soon learned why.

They gathered close around us, watching with almost prurient eyes, as if we were not only on display, but performing some lascivious show for their pleasure. Their singular gaze followed our movements, drinking in our forms, closing now and again as they thought on something. A scent aroused from the mass of them; a sickeningly thick sourness that made me a little nauseous. A few times some of them would shake uncontrollably, and chirp excitedly before refocusing on us.

“You know,” said Charles, “I’ve been on a lot of worlds, met a lot of different nonuman species, but the Ganujans disturb me more than any other.”

I nodded silently. “Just don’t let them see that. We are Warrant Officers from Earth; representatives of the dominant economic and military power in the Confederation. All it takes is a word from us, and we could condemn a significant portion of their population to death.”

Charles clasped his hands behind his back, straightening his posture and leveling his gaze. “You always said we have to bring out the hammer sometimes. And still . . . do you ever . . . doubt?”

I strode to the riverside and glanced at my distorted reflection in the water. “Never.”

***

Two weeks went by, and we got the same reactions from the faulli, and no success in finding any human remains. Our time was growing short, and Core was requesting status updates nightly.

Finally we began the search of the Youlo continent; home to their ancient seat of power. The Ganujan sky was a limitless expanse of violet and green, punctuated by brilliant bursts of white lightning, sending our journeyman diving frantically to escape the thunderhead. I still hadn’t gotten used to their atmosphere; storms could erupt without a moment’s notice, without a single cloud in the sky. It was as if the entire planet lied on a continuous basis, and perhaps that’s why I distrusted her people so.

River by river we methodically progressed through the densely populated countryside. The cities were frankly a marvel to behold, filled with walkways that hovered in the air, effortlessly connecting one building to another. Ivory spires framed their cities, and from them emitted some kind of EM wave that dispelled turbulent weather, leaving the interior peaceful and calm.

At the end of the day, we landed the journeyman outside the mighty city of Gulantople, along the Vauda river bank. It was a hub of activity, with hundreds of faulli passing to and fro. I took a moment to sit with Charles to review our situation.

“This is going nowhere.”

“I agree. There are just too few markers in your drawing to make any good identification.”

I folded my hands together and fidgeted, picking at my nails. “Our time is running short. Core suggests we make a final determination in two days. We are the third group of Warrant Officials to evaluate this planet. By the charter, we must be the last.”

As we spoke, a crowd of faulli gathered around us. At first we thought little of it, as we both had grown used to their attention. But these faulli pressed closer than ever before, standing only a few feet from where we sat. Charles, the impetuous youth he was, had enough.

“What is it?!” he demanded, bolting up. “There is no culture in the galaxy that is foreign to the concept of privacy; why not afford us some?!”

A faulli pressed even closer to him, and as it did, three others closed in tightly around him. I struggled to my feet, only to be knocked back by a faulli close by. Charles shouted at them to stop, but they ground against him, smothering him, their eyes rolled back in that sickening translucent skin. And it wasn’t just those three. They rotated, with each faulli moving in to be close to Charles. I wanted to scream, but there was no one to help. Our guides hung far away, refusing to get involved, and all I could do was stand there and watch until they finally let my Charles go.

6

Back in the hotel, I sat by Charles’ side as he lay sleeping after a long night of surgery at the Earth embassy hospital. It was touch-and-go for a while, as the faulli had crushed one of his lungs. Thankfully I had brought the portable respirator with me in the journeyman, and was able to stabilize him for the trip back. I was informed that he needed to be taken off-world for proper treatment, but if he could survive the night, then there was a good chance he would survive the flight.

I sat back, bloated and tired, a broken beauty saddled with child, robbed of thorns. I hurt me that I could do nothing to help Charles – never before in all my investigations had any of my officers been assaulted in such a way. And the problem is I couldn’t even tell how they assaulted him. The faulli evolved beyond hunger, beyond sex, so I couldn’t figure out what they gained by the assault. Either way, they derived some pleasure from what they did, and someone needed to explain. I sat in the chair, with an almost eight-month old belly, feeling the weight of my existence press heavily against my spine.

The door chime sounded, and I knew it must be the Arji. “Come in.”

With malevolent grace he floated around the bed, his lone eye examining my fallen Charles. “I must apologize for the actions of my people,” he said carefully. “They are unused to beings such as you.”

I bit my lip and steeled myself against the pain. Slowly, deliberately, I got to my feet, and squared off against the Arji, determined to act as if I was that young, arrogant human whose image still filled my memories.

“There is something more, Arji – there is always something more! No matter how much evidence I have uncovered on the worlds I have investigated, there is always more that lay beneath, untold, unwritten.”

He had no mouth and yet I knew he sneered at me. “You have flown all over my world, peered into every crack and crevice you could think of, and what have you found?” He waited, as if I would actually respond. “You’ve found nothing! You’ve disrupted my people’s lives, insinuated base charges.”

“Look at this man, Arji – look at him! He lies here because of something more than simple off-worlder contact. Your people took pleasure at what they did, and I want to know why.”

“You have precious little time to do it.” He hovered close to me, his skin rippling. “Why are you even here, at this stage in your life? Shouldn’t you be focused on your future, instead of the past? Why would you risk the safety of your child for such a dubious quest for vengeance?”

I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream, but more than all that I just wanted to urinate. It felt like a lead balloon was expanding inside me, and my head pounded with a crippling headache. As much as I wanted to strike back at him, my body betrayed me, and it took all my dexterity to fall gracefully back into the chair.

The Arji could contain himself no longer – he laughed.

“You pitiful, arrogant humans, travelling the galaxy to sit in judgement of older and wiser races. There is no such thing as –”

“Spare me the lecture, Arji. Just leave. Get out of my sight!”

The Arji hovered for a moment, examining me. “Why are you even here?” he pressed. “Why does your race persist in uncovering these alleged atrocities? You think none of us have suffered at the hands of other races? You think the Hlendi Union was built on peace and goodwill? It is survival of the fittest, even out here, and we have all used others to accomplish our goals.”

“There is such a thing called dignity,” I spat, determined not to let him get the better of me, “and when it is stolen from a people, it begs to be returned. All your cloying overtures of peace and friendship will never dull the blade of vengeance!”

The Arji harrumphed, turning his eye away from me. “Such an immature race you are. You didn’t even earn the technology you threaten us with; you scavenged it from your betters. You have forty-eight hours to finish playing at detective. After then, we will exercise our rights as a Sovereign state of the Confederacy, and demand this inquiry be closed forever.

“We paid for that technology with the blood of our people!” I yelled as he floated out the door. “And we deserve still more!”

Charles groaned, and something about hearing his voice, even if it was a moan, was immensely comforting. I took a deep breath, banishing the anger and frustration from my mind, and sat beside him on the bed.

“Charles . . . Charles – are you alright?”

Slowly he opened his eyes, and as he focused on me, even smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Yulina.”

“That’s Chief Yulina to you, officer.”

He chuckled and cried at the same time, wincing at the pain. “I wish I didn’t remember what happened.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I wish I had thought to bring a weapon.”

He shook his head. “I know protocol. We can’t look like invading soldiers; we must be as field judges, protected only by the letter of law.”

“It isn’t giving us much protection now. I’ve always been against military intervention, but I would love to see some of our Shock Troops wipe the smirk off the faulli’s faces.”

Charles nodded. “You know, I had a dream.”

“What of?”

“The ocean. The limitlessly wide ocean.”

As he said those words, something clicked in my mind. A new perspective was given, and suddenly it all seemed so much clearer.

“They weren’t building a bridge across a lake – they weren’t building a bridge to be used at all! They had the slaves build a bridge to nowhere, just for the sport of it.”

Charles coughed, and weakly asked; “across an ocean?”

“Yes. And to those slaves, the ocean must have seemed like a river, with the lensing effect of this atmosphere. They must have actually thought they had a chance at succeeding. We were looking in the wrong places – that’s why we could never find any remains.”

Charles managed to sit up. “What are you going to do? We only have another two days left in our warrant.”

I sat back in the chair, shaking my head. The oceans of Ganuja were immense, their coasts stretching on forever in terms of linear measurement. In my youth I could get it done, when I didn’t have this weight holding me down. In my prime I only needed the sound of my voice and focus of my mind to bring the hierarchy of any world to its knees. I needed to decide if this vengeance was worth not only my life, but the life of my child as well.

Charles coughed, and as we both looked at his hands, we found them filled with blood. I glanced up into his eyes, and saw them grow faint and distant. He slumped back in bed, and I rushed to his side.

“I fear . . . I fear I won’t be able to protect you anymore.”

I smoothed his hair, and ran my hand along his eyes, struggling to hold back my tears. “Don’t – hush, be quiet. I must get the doctor.”

As I started to move, his hand caught me. It was a weak grasp, but enough to hold me still. I had seen death, and knew when it couldn’t be chased away.

“I remember once you said how great we were,” he said weakly, “how mighty the Earth is. I was never one to disagree with you, but I wonder if we can still look in the mirror after all the ill we have done.”

I wanted to challenge him, tell him how wrong he was, but he stole away with death before I could reply.

7

Alone I sat, swaddled in my thick grey robes, waiting. It was a short trip to the Earth embassy, and an even shorter wait to see their physician. There was only one woman before me, and the nurse told me he was almost through with her.

I only carried this child because of a mistake. It was, in truth, an unwelcome burden. On a mission I was sloppy and short-sighted, and got caught literally with my pants down. The two boys paid for it with their lives, but I opted to keep the child, after all, we have an empire that is growing and hungry for cannon-fodder and burgeoning bureaucrats. I convinced myself it was my own, and was determined to love it not as some mistake, but as some gift of providence.

It was all so much simpler, before. I allowed few distractions in my life. I’ve always kept to a strictly regimented diet, exercised religiously, and maintained a meticulously ordered office and home. Everything has always been in its place, enabling me to devote all my focus to any case at hand.

I wouldn’t have been this sloppy before. The things Charles pointed out would have come to me much quicker. It’s only sentiment and this child within that has weakened me. People have said I am as vicious as the desert wind, merciless and deadly, yet now that desert is in bloom.

What does life mean to me? Why must I be this vessel? It is as if I no longer have my own purpose; nature has stolen it, and replaced it with her own imperatives. Before this burden, I was at the top of my game. They feared me . . . they hated me . . . yet they all respected me.

“He can see you now,” said the nurse in a cloyingly sweet voice. I don’t think she was true human. So many nonumans are getting surgery to fit in better, to be assimilated into the heirs apparent of the galaxy. In another couple of centuries, the human genepool will be diluted and polluted, and being ‘human’ won’t mean anything at all.

Maybe that’s why this was so important to me. I needed to make them understand how much they violated us, make them pay before the time comes when we will all forget; before all the atrocities committed against man become nothing more than a five-line passage in the Encyclopedia of Worlds.

“Warrant Chief, the doctor is ready for you now.”

I glanced at the doorway once more, hoping something or someone would come in, to tell me which way to go. Would I move forward, like some fertile, ignorant, forgiving oasis, or turn barren and harsh, an agent of vengeance, and die alone?

8

The morning brought rain on Ganuja.

The rain on Earth is a tease in comparison. You see, I love the rain. During the few brief respites I’ve taken from the service, I didn’t travel, or visit old friends, or take up a new hobby. I sat by my window at home on the Pacific coast and watched the rain. It always started weakly, with a drizzle, but eventually turned into a downpour that lasted almost an hour. On Ganuja, the rain is bold and assertive, and accompanied with tremendous thunder and lightning. There was no preparation for the onslaught; it spontaneously erupted, delivering a punishing blow of volumes of water. It’s fine for the Ganujans as they evolved to live in copious amounts of water. But for us humans, who fear the water as if it was blue fire, it makes us retreat under shelter and hide, until it passes, which sometimes isn’t for days.

And I was hiding. I felt . . . empty. The rain that gave me so much pleasure, so much calm, fell on a beautiful, blue-jewel of a world that was guilty. Blacker than sin it sat in the darkness of space, and I finally had the answer I searched so long for.

Over the night, I went alone in a journeyman, and had allowed instinct to guide me. And of all things, I had found a human child’s skull buried deep in the ground, near the beach of the Nuyab Ocean in their Udona continent. What had drawn me to that spot I couldn’t say, for I had arrived there without any machines to help me search or computers to analyze soil. I merely had landed the craft, stepped out, and dug my hands into the wet ground.

Now all it would take is one communication to bring my survey team to exhume the rest, and Uja’s judgment would be entered. And while I had made my sacrifice, committed my sin, so I could have the fury to accomplish this one task, I sat watching the rain, impotent, as time evaporated.  All I could think on was my little prince. In my belly there had been a thumping warmth that cooled my fury for the first time in my life. The anger that propelled me through the stars had ended, and I was able to smile, and laugh, and connect with others.

I know I was being selfish. So many of my ancestors were tortured and killed on that blood-soaked water-logged paradise, that I couldn’t afford to let that depression stay my hand. Even my acolyte had paid the ultimate price.

So I mustered the strength to venture out into the rain with a hovershield, though in truth I would have rather let the rain soak over me and through me, to wash the lingering smell of blood from my body. Making my way through the press of faulli, I was reminded of how Charles died. I knew there was some sexual component to what they did to him, making him in essence a victim of rape. They raped him and he died from it, I thought to myself. And as I condemned my rapists to death, his must pay the same price.

I went to the office of the Arji, and in moments I was seated before him. For a second I thought of asking him how there was a chair in his office when his species didn’t sit, but I needed to remain focused. All my prior confrontations with him ended badly, and this one had to be different.

His expression was completely changed; he had heard what I had done. His eye appeared to be bloodshot; his skin leathery and wrinkled, turned a sickly pale orange hue. He reeked of decay, of that pungent aroma fruit emits when it becomes rotten and foul.

“I . . . I am sorry for your loss,” he said, haltingly.

“Which one?”

The color of his skin changed to a dark purple, almost black, as his eye remained focused on me.

“You have found something?” he asked.

I took a deep breath. “Do I need to?”

“That is your job, Warrant Officer.”

Warrant Chief!” I stressed. “I have never called you anything but ‘Arji;’ you owe me the same respect. Or perhaps you seek to diminish my importance in your eye, and reduce the power I hold in my breast.”

The color of his skin lightened to a dark red, and it filled with fluid, becoming firm and full. “You are barren now, and without life. The power you had, the power we cannot have, you took away from yourself.”

His words cut me deeply, and it took all my presence of mind not to stagger back from the blow.

“What I do with my body is my responsibility and mine alone. What happened on your world is your responsibility. Now, you need to focus your sole eye not on my breasts, or my womb, or anything else that you think weakens me. You need to focus only on one thing; my title. As Warrant Chief, I have investigated a dozen worlds, and sentenced nine to that ultimate punishment.” I took a step forward. “Whole worlds cringe at the mention of my name. And this Warrant Chief is telling you, Arji, that you are guilty of crimes against the human race. This Warrant Chief is giving you an opportunity to volunteer the information I need.”

“And if I do? You will spare my world your punishment?”

“I will spare you that punishment; no more.”

His iris contracted, and the odor became bitter and metallic. “You think me a fool. You have no evidence.”

“I haven’t found much of anything yet,” I answered sharply. “But I now know where to look. I will find what I need within two hours of my team arriving. I have thirty hours left, and in thirty-one hours the judgment of the Confederacy will be leveled on your world.”

“Then why are you here?”

I got up, and stood by the window. “I don’t know. Perhaps because this judgment will hurt me more than any other that I have given. Make no mistake; your planet deserves this judgment, for past and current atrocities.”

“You mean the death of your acolyte . . . Chuck –”

Charles,” I snapped. “I mean for the rape and murder of a Warrant Officer of Earth.” Finally, I could feel the rage coming back. My stomach muscles tensed, and while for a second it hurt, that pain gave way to a degree of pleasure. “Your citizens raped and murdered an officer while he was investigating your world. Your citizens are guilty of abducting members of the human race for torture and sport. Your citizens are guilty of withholding important information for an official investigation.” I took a deep breath, and felt the strength and focus return. In every prior confrontation with the Arji, I felt compromised. But finally freed of my maternal sympathy, I could use my words as weapons. “My agents will be here within four hours; prepare for judgment.”

His skin suddenly turned black. “Filthy human. Filthy, dirty, ground-digging human! We sneer at your judgment and scoff at your authority, you pitiful child of a species.”

“Sneer all you like,” I snap back, “for you will not be exempted. Scoff at our youth on the galactic stage, but we have the will and the might to remain the dominant power for centuries to come. I may have arrived here on a common transport, compromised by my physical condition, but I stand here now fully in control, with evidence and the might of the Empire of Earth at my side. Two-thirds of your population will be eliminated; trust in that.” I start to leave, but the satisfaction tastes too good. I turn back to look on a broken vessel of a being and say; “I hope you’re a gambling type, because you have a thirty-three percent chance of surviving my judgment, and those aren’t very good odds.”

***

As I stand on the massive leuitship H.R. Clinton, looking down through the massive bay window on Uja, the events of the past year weigh heavily on my mind. I can’t help but think back on the two youths who raped me. It was such an unbelievable thing to have happened to me; many events had to have been ordered in a certain way for me to be as vulnerable as I was. Is it cowardice to imagine I was raped for a reason; to break my spirit? Or could someone have accessed my psychological profile, and determined that I would keep that child, and it would change how I execute my duties? I feel one’s womanhood has been used as a weapon against women since time immemorial, and as much as I hate what I have done, it has still given me control over my body at a crucial moment. I am sure that those humans who died on Uja would think I paid a small price to finally uncover the truth.

“Warrant Chief; all is in readiness,” says a tall young acolyte, not unlike my beautiful Charles.

I take a step forward, and say; “on behalf of the Earth Confederacy, I hereby pass judgment. Evidence has been found to support the assertion that human beings were kidnapped and used against their wills by the citizens of the planet Uja. As such, two-thirds of the Ganujan race is hereby sentenced to death. Officer Xuan, please begin the viral bombardment of Uja.”

“Yes Warrant Chief.”

I whisper a prayer to the stars as the first volley is launched, in hopes my unborn prince is held close to the bosom of God. As the ship alters orbit to bombard another portion of Ganuja, I catch my reflection in the windowpane, and for a second it frightens me, so devoid my eyes are of the vibrancy of life. Oh, my dear Charles, I don’t know if you would praise me for my dedication or condemn me for this ancient fury that rustles in my black heart. You that once said that we can never forget the atrocities visited upon our ancestors, and no matter how much good our nonuman allies do, they can never be forgiven. Well, my past may finally be at peace, but it has come at the cost of my future.

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