by Sergio PALUMBO (2012)
On its mostly uniform surface, Hjwql appeared to be just another unremarkable world situated in a far corner of Ghlihx Space. When Earth was admitted into the Great Alliance of Alien Planets during the early days of the Unification, the Earthlings were informed about the many species and planets included in that huge interplanetary government. There was such an enormous amount of data and information that Mankind found it almost impossible to believe it. Probably, being positioned in the far arm of the Galaxy, Earth had been separated from the other more evolved and highly developed races for too long, and now it had to fill in the gaps in a very short amount of time.
As for those who documented facts, an entirely new, incredible world of opportunities opened wide before their eyes. There were so many new places to visit, reports to be filmed, and planets to explore in order to satisfy the curiosity of all the men, women, and children living back on their home-planet, certainly.
That was exactly what Frank and Henry did to make a living. The two had always received a multitude of requests for new footage from broadcast channels and they could only be found at home for short periods. They were continuously on the move to reach some distant sand moon, some arctic wastelands on scattered planets, or even verdant jungles on unexplored worlds. This month these two makers of documentary films had been assigned to Hjwql. There were lots of things to do, preparations that took up every single moment while they were awake, all in order to have every piece of their expensive machinery ready. They also had to adjust their holo-cameras and choose the right time of day to film, so the light would be perfect.
That morning they were busy shooting a difficult scene in the leafy greenish-blue jungles of Kltengt, on the southern mainland of that planet. There were strange curved thick-lobed plants in abundance at every turn while the terrain appeared either flecked or grayish-colored.
Frank, the older one of the two, was very tall, with his considerable stature of over 7 feet. He was bald, with a blonde bearded face that clearly showed he had traveled widely. His skin, especially, showed the signs of weathering the difficult conditions of many locations. The places he had stayed in the past seemed to have left visible marks on his features.
The other man, dark-haired and about 40 years of age, looked thinner and shorter, at least 15 inches shorter than Frank. He was the more precise of the team, always being fastidious about how the scenes were filmed. And he was meticulous about making sure all the devices they had with them during their assignment were performing perfectly. On the other hand, Henry disliked staying longer than one month on an alien world because he wanted to visit as many planets as he could. There were always many new locations and distant moons to be seen, and he constantly looked forward to being sent somewhere else, especially when the end of the shoot was in sight. In a way, Frank was the more sensible of the two with his feet always on the ground, while his colleague was more the kind of the man who would have been happy to be in the forefront with explorers, undoubtedly.
Completely enveloped in the environmental suits that let them tolerate the terrible humidity of that jungle - and kept them well protected against alien substances and whatever unpredictable virus might possibly be spread in that area - the two had already found the right place to shoot the main scenes of their documentary. They had chosen a location where they could easily position their machinery to film the leading lady
of their present research: the fearful, bulky green Netrilers of Kltengt, which was like a mixture between a lion and a reptile, actually, to make a comparison with some Earth species.
Capable of lying beneath the cover of the leaves of medium plants, ready to spring out and attack any prey nearby, these animals were only furry on their huge greenish muzzles and were used to living close to a small pond. That was exactly the place where the filmmakers had found the perfect small family. It was made up of a male Netriler - the leader of the group - a female and four little cubs. But the mother was pregnant again and they knew that soon she would be giving birth to other cubs. Perhaps it would happen that same day, if they were lucky!
Time went past slowly as the two men adjusted their holo-cameras again and took several high-quality shots before noon, while staying hidden and silent under the vegetation scattered around. Then they heard some cries and ran to their machinery: the moment was near, the female Netriler was in labor. The new cubs were going to be born in a matter of minutes. At times, that process required a couple of hours at least, but today things seemed to be progressing easily and quickly.
"Look at that, it's starting," Frank told his friend. The two communicated via a system of high-tech electronic devices that only they could hear inside their minds, so their 'talking' didn't trouble the creatures nearby whatsoever, or even those that were roaming in the vicinity.
As the birth began to take place, Frank and Henry were enraptured. This was because they knew the small family of alien Netrilers already had four cubs and, probably, they were going to see six more being born. They were hoping to catch exactly the scene they wanted, if the overall number of cubs exceeded six, which was exactly what happened several minutes later.
As the mother was still cleaning the five new cubs that had just been born, the male Netriler got up on his eight paws and immediately headed for the new ones in the group. Then he opened his jaw wide and began killing the newborns in a bloody way, right where his partner could see him. He bit one, two and three of them, until only two new cubs were left. Then he simply stopped, as if nothing strange had happened, and sat back down on the blue-green meadow where he been lying a moment before. There was not a single start or a doubt that seemed to cross the male Netriler's mind for even a minute. He had acted as if he had already done this many times before, as if it was nothing. And as far as the female, not a single cry or a gesture of disappointment had appeared on her muzzle either.
Now the overall cubs - the older ones and the newborns combined - numbered exactly six and that was what seemed to please both the Netrilers. The two filmmakers were really glad: they had just filmed the cruel scene they wanted to film. They, too, didn't seem to be surprised because of that action, as if it was exactly what they had been expecting.
The scene the two had witnessed was what the scientists of the Great Alliance of Alien Planets had conceived in order to maintain balance among the different animal species living on Hjwql. This limited the Netriler's ability to proliferate too much in the massive jungles, to the detriment of the other local beasts. Of course that was not a scene you would commonly find in nature. The fact was that the bloody slaughter they had filmed was due to the modifications to the Netriler's genes that all of them had undergone long ago. No pack-family in that species of predators was allowed to raise more than 6 cubs over the course of their lifetime, and the parents had to comply with that in order to maintain the required specification. So, every time a litter exceeded the amount allowed - unless some of the older ones had already died due to other predators or because of death due to an illness - the male or female Netriler immediately did what had to be done, getting rid of the redundant newborns.
There was nothing too unusual about that, not too bizarre anyway. The humans had been behaving that way as well for many years, even though their behavior was a bit different. They acted in a similar cruel way against the elderly, not the newborns or young people. And all of that death happened for a reason, clearly.
All of this was the price to be paid to be part of the Great Alliance of Alien Planets. All the inhabitants of Earth had to agree to the principles of the new government, respect the interplanetary laws and accept adjustments to be made to the human organism in order to have it ready to accomplish the tasks required and behave in accordance with the Alliance's rules of behavior. The new rules
"How was it for you, two years ago?" Frank asked his colleague, in a low tone, while arranging the filming devices positioned on the ground.
"As difficult as it was for you, clearly," Henry replied. "But I had no other choice."
"Of course," the other said, before thinking about the remark in silence. "No one has a choice, nowadays. It's in our genes, the new ones we now possess after the modifications the scientists of the Alliance made on our bodies. On the bodies of all the members of Mankind, as a matter of fact
Humanity's story was the same as those wild beasts, the Netrilers. The governments of the alien planets had asserted that Earth itself was a world too small to maintain a population as large as it currently had at the time of the Unification. Its population seemed to be continuously expanding, as there were only a few thousand colonists who had decided to live on the outposts Mankind had already settled within its native planetary system. And only a fraction of humanity had decided to stay on the distant worlds the Great Alliance had put at their disposal to create new settlements, as they were wild, far away from the main trade routes, and lacking in all the things that made an environment modern, safe and attractive. But those were the locations that had been granted, with no other way to get permission to live on other planets, apart from visiting for brief periods as tourists or for temporary jobs.
Therefore, as Earth itself was unable to provide the always-growing population with the food/water supplies they needed, humanity had to subject itself to the procedure the aliens required in the case of worlds that were going to self-destruct or run out of resources. A balance had to be reached soon, and it had to be continued for the known future.
So, as the alien government didn't want to sterilize the human population nor disappoint couples who wanted to have children, there was simply no other way: the oldest and most decrepit ones in every single family had to be completely wiped out. And it became a son's or daughter's duty to accomplish the murder, when the time was right.
At first, the matter had raised hell everywhere, but the alternative was to be kept out of the Alliance and away from its valuable technology, its new planets for settlement, and all the rest. To make it easier, the aliens had simply done as they had always done under such circumstances, for there had been many worlds before, places that were in exactly the same danger as Earth was in. They had simply modified the genes of every single individual, by means of their superior medical technology, and put into everyone's mind the urge and the compulsion to kill at the required time - to strike when the moment was right! After that medical treatment, when an old person became too ill, unable to be self-sufficient or simply a clear burden for the descendants, that one was removed from existence. And it was their own family's duty to do so. Of course, creatures would have opposed or resisted such a fierce order if they had still been in full possession of their minds, but they weren't anymore. What had been written into their genes, the modifications they had undergone, made them act as the alien rules required. And that was all.
By reviewing that cruel scene again, the incident that their holo-cameras had been filming before, Frank wondered how those wild beasts felt as they killed their own cubs, pushed by an urge that wasn't really a part of their evolution, an urge that had recently been grafted into their genes by creatures they knew nothing about.
Who knew if those aliens had removed from the brains of such creatures, all the possible qualms of conscience in order to appease their senses as they acted according to the compulsions inserted into their behaviors? Did they feel any guilt as they did exactly as their new, unnatural drive ordered them all to do? As the scientists of the Great Alliance hadn't alleviated any of the human guilt when they modified the human genes, probably they hadn't felt it to be necessary to remove the pangs of guilt in the animals either.
Maybe, the aliens simply cared very little about any of it. So, most likely, they hadn't even tried to make the creatures feel better, in the end.
THE ENDVoices Future Tense issue 22 Table of Contents
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