by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Return to the Home Page.
Return to the Barsoom Page.
The Ramship Ramses approached the solar system, slowing as it did so, it’s stern now it’s bow as the massively huge fusion reactor burned precious fuel to slow. It had been decelerating for months and would require another couple months to slow enough to establish orbit around Earth. That was the problem with Ramships. Miles long, they were little more that a scoop at the bow to collect inter-stellar hydrogen, a fusion reactor at the stern, and a couple mile long accelerator tube to connect the two. Then they wrapped six huge fuel tanks around the accelerator near the reactor, three containing Duetrium, three Tritium to feed the reaction and drive tubes behind everything to direct the blast and push the ship. Between the scoop and the tanks was added the massive living cylinder that could carry thousands in comfort.
And that was their problem. Their size and mass made them so difficult to manuever, it took even the best computers days to weeks to plot even the simplest course changes and right now the Ship-Captain was watching that computer work out a course change to refuel at Jupiter. Once the course was calculated, they would spend weeks changing course, adjusting until they could orbit the upper atmosphere of the gas giant, scooping hydrogen to refill their tanks, then they’d use the Jovian gravity to sling them to another orbit around Earth.
Ramships were slow and clumsy and big and a nightmare to fly. If they weren’t so slow and big, they’d have been scrapped decades ago, or even never purchased but it was their size and lack of speed that made them worth the effort to keep running. And Ramship crews always went on to something better. Many better ships found that a person who had crewed a Ramship for a few trips had learned the value of hard word, long hours and could easily deal with ancient technology that graduates of the newer ship schools had never seen. And if your ship broke in transit, a Ramship crew could probably fix it with chewing-gum and a bobby-pin.
Currently most of the crew and all of the passengers were still in deep-sleep. The historians were all asleep simply because there wasn’t anything for them to do aboard the ship so they were kept out-of-the-way. The year-long trip was too dull so most of the crew remained in deep-sleep and rotated awake because until nearing orbits, the ship required minimal supervision. Only the Lanai remained awake. Bred Warriors, they didn’t like being helpless and would rather remain awake doing whatever Lanai did when not fighting then feel helpless and vulnerable in the tubes.
The Ship-Captain looked over his crew-roster and decided which ones to return to deep-sleep and which ones to awaken. He’d need all of them when they approached Jupiter and then Earth but now, a skeleton crew would do.
Months later the ship approached Earth. Now it was moving at planetary speeds and the screens no longer had to correct for blue-shift and so revealed true-color images. Still, Earth was too far away to see clearly. The Scoop had been shut down and folded and the telescope extended and was seeking the planet of his birth. He always had mixed emotions at these times. He had been born and raised there, being collected by a similar Ramship twenty years ago when he was an old man in Yugoslavia. He had grown up under Tito and seen the fall of communism and the horrors of the Second World War. Then, when his country had been freed, Carter had invaded and killed his countrymen, all because he got caught screwing an assistant and created a fake war to divert public indignation away from his crime. It worked too, people were so stupid and no one cared about the innocents.
Then the dreams came, dreams of another world where people lived in peace and freedom, where there was no poverty, no homeless, no disease. A world where soldiers were bred to fight so people didn’t have to. He woke up missing those dreams and then he saw the flying saucer in the woods. It wasn’t really a saucer, more like a small cylinder and there was an alien woman, a Lanai, and two humans who explained that the dreams were real and if he wished, he could go to that planet and live a new life. He never even packed. He simply climbed aboard the shuttle and was taken to the Ramship where over the next year he learned the language, customs and religion of his new nation. And now he was in charge of such a ship.
There were even a hundred people in the hold waiting to be awakened and returned to their homes, people who had changed their minds or who had proven unsuitable for Drakonis. They’d be dumped back where they were taken and left to explain to their friends, family and government where they had been the past few years and how they managed to become young again. Their memories had been repressed during the return trip so they couldn’t tell, and so they were allowed to retain the youth and health that Colonial gave everyone, but not the memories. The Ship-Captain didn’t envy them but better this than allow fascists and communist revolutionaries or serial killers and rapists or even racists to spread throughout the Barony.
Unlike Earth, there were no national boundaries, no ethnic regions, no china-towns or Jewish ghettos. The trip back to Gaea forced everyone to live among strangers, to adopt Spanglic as a common language, to give up their former culture and ways. Drakonis never had a Chinatown to visit but they never had the ghettos either. Forced integration and assimilation was the Law and it worked. When you had a hundred nations mixing together with a half-dozen alien species on one world, when you knew your own grandchildren would be aliens, you either accepted it or you ended up in a deep-sleep tube being returned to the world from which you escaped. His own wife was Gaean-born whose parents had been Japanese and Australian. He, himself, was a Slav and although his first child was Gaean-human, his wife had given him a Weir daughter. Now THAT was a shock. He had seen Lanai and Weir and lived among them but to see one exit his wife’s womb took some getting used to. The feline-eyes, the pointed ears, the monkey-tail and feet… When the midwife handed him his new-born Weir daughter, he was horrified at first, then she took his finger in her tiny hand and he fell in love and no longer saw her as different. He knew the Demons had changed his DNA on the trip to Drakonis, ensuring that his descendants wouldn’t be human and knowing that the Weir were created to run Demon starships. And a part of him was looking forward to seeing his daughter on deck next to him someday. So when others went on to better ships, he remained here. A bus driver shuttling historians and failed colonists to Earth and new colonists to Drakonis, waiting for his daughter to grow old enough to join him.
Currently, the crew was awake and they were readying the ship for orbit. Frankly, the course was so well plotted they could all take a coffee-break and the Ramship would enter parking orbit without spilling a drop. But he liked people to remain on watch and ready for anything. If they miscalculated or if they passed an unknown gravity well, instead of a parking orbit they could miss the planet and have to circle around for days to get another chance, or.. worst case, impact the planet with the force of a 500 megaton nuclear blast.
The Collectors were waking up the Historians so they could prepare for their field-trips and the Lanai were checking for the millionth time their gear and weapons. Collectors rarely encountered trouble but each team had a Lanai to fly the shuttle and guard their charges. No one met a Lanai in anger or threatened her charges and lived to brag about it. They had been created to be the ultimate soldier as the Weir had been created to be the perfect starship crew. The fact that this Ramship was piloted by a human Colonist from Earth simply showed how well the Barony had integrated it’s population and that equality was a fact, not a dream.
Days later they were in orbit. He stared there at the window for he had the shutters removed so all could see Earth directly. She was so beautiful, he never tired of staring. He knew that almost everyone on the ship was at a window now so he let them have their time. It would be a long year back, everyone awake this time so granting them a few minutes to sight-see was always a good idea. Besides, the only time-table he had was to get back sometime before he died of old age.
He then left the porthole and looked over the reports. The Returnees were finally being awakened and would be taken to their former homes by shuttle. The Lanai would refuse to speak to them and they would be removed from the shuttle, groggy and generally unaware of what had happened. Some would forget, others would join one of the UFO clubs and talk about their own ‘abduction’ as the memories tried to break out as dreams and fantasies, others would write about their experiences and become authors. But no one would believe any of them.
The Historians had been awake for days and were still planning their field-trips and being taught about the cloaks and shields and comm-links they would be required to wear. If they got into trouble, they could activate the beacon and a Lanai would drop in to save them within minutes. The band containing this technology was cloaked and impossible to remove without damage but he was told they itched always. Well, it was the price you paid for walking among an alien race without attracting attention.
Finally he touched the intra-ship and began his speech; “Good morning crew and passengers, this is Ship-Captain Vasily Markovich and we are currently in orbit around Terra. Due to the Relativity curve, local time is 1942ce and Terra is currently fighting World War II. The Axis is being pushed back but the war will continue for another three years so please be careful while down there and try to avoid changing history or we may never get home. We are receiving audio-only transmissions from the surface and you are, of course, welcome to listen to the broadcasts.
“Our expected stay is three months though this is flexible depending on how long it takes the Collectors to fill the hold with colonists and how long the Historians need to complete their studies. Return trip will be the usual year as we train the new people and we should return to Gaea about a local month after we left, though I’ll try to cut it shorter if we can find enough H2 and H3 for the reactor to push the Curve.
“Shore Leave is being scheduled but please remember that we are to be subtle here and Terra may not know of our existence so be careful. I’ve never lost a passenger and don’t want to start now. Thank you.”
Vasily entered one of the bays and wandered around watching the Lanai pre-flight the shuttles. When he approached one, she would stop what she was doing and give a barely noticeable curtsey and say, “Good morning, Ship-Captain.” To a man who had grown up under Nazi and Communist soldiers, this mark of respect, small as it was, made him feel somehow better about the choice he had made. On the entire ship, he was the only person a Lanai would show respect to. Everyone else would bow and curtsey to any Lanai Warrior they met. Vasily felt like doing it himself for Lanai were created to fight and they defended the Barony without pay, so the respect the people gave them was all they received for a lifetime of war and death on some battlefield a hundred light-years from home. They did this only to keep him and his family safe and not for power, wealth or glory. However, he was the Ship-Captain and to bow to even a Lanai would lower his status.
Historians were entering, finding their shuttles, bowing and curtseying to the Lanai pilots and discussing their missions. All looked human and he couldn’t tell if they were Humans from Earth as was he or Gaean-born Humans as his wife or Weir wearing cloaks to look human. All wore local clothing and were practicing their accents and customs. Vasily spoke only his native Slovak and Spanglic but his children spoke their own native Spanglic, plus Slovak, Japanese and English. Despite the Governments insistence on merging cultures, it also encouraged retaining former languages and passing these to the children. Vasily sometimes wondered if in a few more generations every Weir child would be fluent in a hundred Earth languages, each learned from their parents and grandparents.
Another area had stretchers floating in, each with a failed colonist barely conscious. His crew was helping load them into shuttles like cordwood so they could be dropped off as close to the time and place of their collections as would be possible. He felt sorry for those who had learned the future from other colonists but couldn’t use that repressed knowledge. Imagine, knowing that computers would be the way of the future, but unable to remember which company’s stock to buy beforehand.
It was the Collectors he wanted to see. These wore shields and comm-units but dressed in Gaean clothing and the Weir among them still looked Weir. When telling a potential Colonist that you were an alien, looking like one helped. Despite the dreams, he still had been shocked to see the Lanai when he climbed aboard the shuttle. But that was when there were few Weir. Now half the population of the Barony was Weir.
Vasily never talked to them on their exit. He didn’t want to disrupt their work for there would be time to know everyone on the long trip home. Like Historians, Collectors worked in teams of one experienced and one new. As time passed, more and more would go out. There were rumors that someday the Barony would have to expand from the current dozen worlds to absorb the frontier and they needed people to colonize those worlds. Thus, the job of a Collector and Ramship crew had respect among the Barony. Someday, when the Barony could survive without these mass collections, his job would be obsolete and the Ramses would be placed in orbit as a museum to the past.
Off to the right, two men, one older, one younger and both human (though the older was probably born on Earth and the younger on Gaea) were talking to their Lanai Pilot. Unlike most women on Drakonis, Lanai rarely wore dresses. They were Warriors and so wore Starfleet uniforms, sometimes coveralls, sometime two piece pants and shirt with sleeve for their tail and glove-like boots for their tarsial feet, always the jacket, and always armed. Though you could see the hand-beamer and knife at her side, she had weapons that no civilian could detect or understand and she alone, dressed and armed as casually as she was, could probably walk into Berlin and kill half the German army herself. It was said that a Lanai may loose to a Demon but that Demon would know it had been in a fight.
The older man was speaking German and the Lanai understood that language easily. All Lanai seemed to understand all languages. They simply chose to ignore most conversations not done in Spanglic. No one understood Lanai, no one was completely comfortable around them, but everyone respected them and treated them well. The older Collector was probably German and his assistant probably had German parents. The next shuttle over was a black man speaking Bantu or Swahili to a brown man of obvious mixed blood. Vasily’s own Collector had been born only a few miles from Vasily’s home-town. It was simply easier to attract colonists if you had language in common.
Vasily watched as the shuttles loaded and left through the exit-tubes. Within hours they’d return, some empty as they dropped off Historians and returnees, some that had left empty would return with six or eight newly recruited colonists. And then things would settle down. The Historians would call when they were ready to be picked up, the Collectors would return, drop their charges and leave a day later for another run and the collected would be taken to Med-Lab where they would be cleaned of dirt and disease, scanned and injected with the regeneratives that encouraged them to grow young and regrow lost body parts.
A lot of people hated that part. They loved the idea be being 20 and in perfect health, but the side effect was that all tattoos would fester and pop like boils and any piercings would heal. The regeneratives healed everything so women would have to have their ears re-pierced. Most didn’t bother for Lanai and Weir healed too fast and so their bodies rejected tattoos, piercings and scarring so unless you were the kind of person who liked to shock people, and these kind weren’t chosen, then you simply gave up and glued your jewelry on.
Vasily watched the last shuttle leave and then he wandered around the ship to inspect the thing. But the Ramship was very large and even a casual inspection of only the most important areas took such a long time he didn’t get the message about the Jews until it was too late.
The two men walked towards the Lanai doing her pre-flight and introduced themselves in German as they bowed to her, “Good evening! I am Collector Heinrich Schmidt and this is my assistant Phillip Marlow. We will be aboard your shuttle if you would have us.”
The woman glanced at them then replied, “I am Ashyeria 125. I will be your pilot and protector for as long as you wish. Are you familiar with shuttle operations?”
“I am but Phillip has never been out before so if you wouldn’t mind, please explain the system for him.”
The Lanai slapped the shuttle and began, “This is a Gothrock-700 series shuttle-pod. It’s initial use is as a 12 person escape pod but has a secondary use as a short range shuttle. These have been modified by removing the last row of seats to reduce the passenger compliment to 7 with 2 standing plus pilot and co-pilot. The lost room has been converted to luggage storage and to contain the added shield and cloak and sensor arrays. The cloak makes us invisible to local radar, thermal and visibility detectors. The shield can deflect almost anything the Terrans currently possess. We are unarmed but this shuttle has a maximum atmospheric speed of 2000 kph with ten times that in space so our only defense is to run from trouble.
“I am here to take you where you wish and to keep you alive as you do your job. I am not to interfere with you any more than you may interfere with me. If I detect danger, please do as I say immediately for I cannot keep you alive unless you do as I command.
“We can leave whenever you wish.”
As the hatch was open, Schmidt motioned for Phillip to join him and the three entered the shuttle. The Lanai took the pilot’s seat and motioned for the elder Collector to take the co-pilot’s chair while Phillip sat in the middle front seat to see better.
“Please strap in, the ride may be rough.” The Lanai said as she taxi’d to the exit tube. She slid into the tube then forward into the darkness, lit only by the shuttle lights and the passengers felt a mild tremor as the rear hatch closed and air was sucked from the launch tube. A moment later they nudged the forward hatch and the Lanai said, “Hang on!” and the hatch opened and the shuttle was ejected at high speed into space. Phillip knew that all shuttles were launched this way as these were primarily escape pods and the ejection was to get the pod as far from a doomed ship as fast as possible. Had there not been a head rest, his neck might have snapped.
They orbited at a safe 500 kilometers altitude as the pilot asked, “Where to?”
Schmidt suggested, “Germany.” Then turned to Phillip and explained, “You can go wherever you wish but it’s easier if you can understand the local language. I speak German and know the people so I like to search areas with a high German population. You speak more than I so your search options are expanded.”
The shuttle dropped and a tactical display lit a screen showing population centers, geographic landmarks and other useful information. Schmidt touched a point and the Lanai turned to that spot, dropping lower and then reducing speed. “I was born there in the mid 1800’s but I imagine it has changed in the last hundred years. Someday I’ll ride a Ramship that is going back to my time so I can visit my family, but for now, it’s as good a place as any to start. Notice that we are avoiding towns. The main reason is because too many people give confusing readings that take time to sort out. We can spend an entire day scanning one apartment building in a city but here, the people are few and far apart so it’s easier to search. Later when you have experience, we’ll move into the cities.
“See these readings? This is what we are looking for. People who question authority, are independent, think and possess good survival traits. People who follow orders without question, who are intolerant of differences and who panic easily and make rash decisions make poor colonists. These are people within a few kilometers of us. What we are looking for are people who meet this pattern, generally.”
“There, sir!” Phillip pointed. “Those readings look like what we seek.”
The shuttle moved to that point and Schmidt said, “Good boy! Most are within the perameters. So now we broadcast our info to him. It’s easier if we do it while they are asleep because they interpret the data flow as a dream and we can see their reaction. See, acceptance mostly, initial stress but fading…. Oh oh, look here, more stress as the Weir are broadcast. This man doesn’t seem to be able to accept differences up close. He may be the kind who says that ‘you can live in my neighborhood but don’t date my sister’. Let’s move on.”
“Over the next hour they found three more possibilities, two they marked for later and one they decided to test. The Lanai sent a shock to wake the man up then she turned off the cloak and turned on the exterior search-light to attract attention for the shuttle needed no lights to land. Once they were certain they were seen, they landed near his house and Schmidt unbuckled and as he stood, said, “It’s show time!” then he opened the hatch and the two left the shuttle and walked towards the house. Schmidt waved to the man in the window then approached and knocked on the door.
The farmer opened, obviously scared for he didn’t now if these were soldiers or what and if the former, from what country. Phillip was scared too because although his mind knew his shield would easily turn away a bullet, his guts didn’t. “Good evening, My name is Heinrich Schmidt and this is my assist and Phillip Marlow. We come from another planet and would like to talk to you if we may.”
The farmer was scared but curious too as he saw the faint light of the shields around the Collectors as if they had a halo. He looked at the shuttle that floated a half meter above the ground, noiselessly and simply did nothing. Schmidt suggested, “Perhaps you’d like to sit on the porch and talk. Those dreams you just had were from us. We are looking for people like you and will be happy to discus the matter.”
Finally the man agreed and they sat on the porch, the shuttle in view as was his rifle at hand. Schmidt began, and talked about himself being born not too far away and receiving a visitor just like this. A visitor who made an offer to him that if he left Earth and immigrated to another world, he would be healed of all injuries and illnesses, made young and given land that could never be taken from him ever for any reason. And so the conversation began. Eventually the farmer began to ask questions and both Schmidt and Marlow answered them, the former from the view of a Colonist, the latter from a native-born.
Finally, the farmer said, “I had two sons, both died in this war. On by the Russians, the other by the British. My wife died ten years ago giving birth and Hitler is destroying Germany. I don’t think I have anything left here so.. I’ll go with you!”
He had another moment of panic when the Lanai appeared carrying a trunk for his personal belongings. A woman soldier that didn’t look completely human and this was another test. If the farmer couldn’t accept this, they’d have to leave him. He did, slowly, and when the trunk was packed, the Lanai touched a side panel and the trunk rose and floated after the man to the shuttle. At the hatch, Ashyeria asked, “You are welcome to possess your weapon but for safety reasons, please pack your ammunition in the trunk.”
Then she tied it down in the stern and showed him how to buckle in. They then lifted off and began another search. The farmer was curious and asked all sorts of questions which all answered for a nation that lies or conceals from it’s own people should not be trusted. Freedom cannot exist with any deceit.
They found three others and the farmer was allowed to participate in the talks. Two of the people refused, one agreed and so they had two Colonists in their ship, one middle-aged farmer, the other a young woman.
“It’s getting late, let’s check out this last reading then quit for the day.” Schmidt suggested. “Looks like there are two possibles.”
Ashyeria said, “The readings indicate almost 200 people but what I see is a train with a couple cattle cars and a number of soldiers. This makes little sense.”
The farmer offered, “This track goes to Dachau. Those cars are probably crammed full of Jews or Gypsies or Homosexuals being taken to their deaths. Poor souls.”
Schmidt then asked the Lanai to land so they could see the train closer and as they sat on the hill watching it, they saw the crowding and misery. Schmidt told the Lanai, “We have to help those people.”
“I see no benefit to the Barony for risking your lives to save people who are already dead. Justify this fight to me or we must move on.” Ashyeria stated.
Schmidt said, “I can’t! I know it puts us in danger and I know we can’t save everyone, all I can say is that saving these people is the right thing to do.”
The car was crowded with humanity. Packed in like sardens but worse. No toilet, no room to sit or lay, they had no choice but to void where they stood. Fortunately, they had been starved so much that they had almost nothing in their bodies to excrete. One woman was pregnant and in labor and still the train continued. “God will save us,” one man insisted. The woman screamed as a contraction hit and water ran down her legs. Somehow they made room for her and she screamed again. Finally she called out, “If God has abandoned us, The Mother of Heaven must listen!” and she screamed again. “Blasphemy!” said the first but the woman screamed, “Mother of God, save my baby and I will build you a monument that can be seen from heaven.” And she screamed again.
The train began to slow to a stop then gunfire was heard. Single shots and the rapid fire of the Shmeissers the SS carried. Finally all was quiet and as the baby was born, the door opened.
Ashyeria said, “I disagree with your reasoning but will do what I can. Remain here that my attentions are not divided.” Then she pointed her beamer to the engine and steam poured out of holes on either side of the engine. As the train rolled to a stop with the loss of pressure, the Lanai slid down the hill to do what she did best.
Three she killed as she approached the train. Then another two in the engine compartment. One of the SS saw her and started to shoot only to die an instant later. A number ran towards her, guns blazing so she raked them and they fell, cut in two at the waist. From then on it was hunt and kill. The SS tried to stop her but any who saw her body, died before they could fire. Most she killed before they knew they were in danger and finally it was over. The last three ran and she killed them as they sought escape. The Collectors watched the carnage from the hill and saw her search the train, not looking at those she had shot for she knew that they were dead. Then she called for the Collectors to approach. None had ever seen a Lanai in action but as Phillip tried to count the bodies, he gave up at thirty, each with a neat hole through the heart or head. She appeared to have not wasted energy wounding or firing indescriminatly but always killed with one beam. Those with the burn hole in the forehead had helmets that were hot to the touch as the beam bored through the head and bounced around the steel.
Schmidt opened the first car and both became sick at the sight and smell. Starving, injured, some suffering infection or gangrene and all filthy and terrified. They were encouraging the prisoners to leave the car when Phillip heard the baby cry. He leapt into the car and helped the mother bring her son into the night then Phillip said, “We have to take them all with us. To damn with the rules and patterns. We can’t leave them here.”
“I agree.” Heinrich said. “Ashyeria, will you please call for additional shuttles?”
“No!” she insisted. “We cannot force them all to Colonize. Tell them all, make the offer but we take only those who agree to go. Otherwise we are as bad as these I killed.”
Schmidt had to agree so he sent Phillip to the shuttle to begin the broadcast and then he tried to spread their emergency rations from the shuttle as far as they would go. But food designed to keep eight people alive for a week didn’t go far among 180 starving people.
As they talked and made the offer, Ashyeria began to behead a number of the dead troops. When asked why, she said, “Trophies.” And she packed a half dozen heads into a crate which she stored aboard the shuttle. No one tried to stop her.
Within fifteen minutes, shuttles began to land and Heinrich called out, “Those who wish to immigrate to Drakonis, please climb aboard the shuttles. You will be safe with us.”
When the first started to go, many others followed but some remained behind. “The SS will be back and kill you,” he explained.
“This is all just a terrible mistake. No one could be that cruel. God wouldn’t desert us like this.” They cried and refused to listen despite Schmidt’s promise to take them to another country on Earth if they wished. So in the end, of the 180 the Lanai saved, only 135 entered the shuttles. The remainder sat by the train waiting for their captors to show compassion. Others ran into the woods hoping for safety.
As the last shuttle left for the Ramses, Phillip kept saying, “We should have forced them to go. They’ll all die down there.”
Heinrich touched the boys shoulder and said, “Ashyeria is right, you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. It’s their decision and we have to respect it. At least we saved some.”
Aboard the Ramship, the Healers were kept busy. The med-bays were designed for hundreds and they had more than enough supplies but the fifty healers aboard had to draft Starship crewmen to help care for the survivors. In the end, twenty asked to be returned to Earth, the rest agreed to continue to Gaea.
When he made his report, Heinrich tried for a very long time to fake the data to justify these people, of which only two met the requirements. In the end he simply wrote on their papers, “We did the right thing.”