Not Fit to Leave the Planet
(Part one of a trilogy)
BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
In the near future, scientists on Earth manage to solve the problem of deep space travel. Now we are ready to explore the universe in it’s entirety. This technological advancement brings us to the attention of the inter-stellar community, and our nearest neighbours the Kaani decide to make first contact. After spending some time with us they realise that we have not solved enough of our world’s problems (war, poverty, hunger) to be allowed free reign, exploring and coming into contact with other races.
The Kaani give us the technology that will help to solve these problems and leave us alone, in order to get our act together. A golden era of enlightenment and co-operation follows, but it isn’t long before human nature kicks in again and we are back to using each other for our own selfish advancement. When the Kaani return, they see that we have not learnt our lessons, so they decide to take a cross section of our children to their planet in the hope that they will learn how a society can truly live in peace and prosperity.
Jonathon and Cletus are two of these children who struggle to overcome their human nature and fit into a ‘perfect society.’
Can they live up to the ideals that we call ‘humanity’, and can they overcome those who need an imperfect world in order to maintain their grip on power?
Not fit to leave the planet starts off as a humorous, and almost trivial look at how the human race and the notion of ‘humanity’ could seem at complete odds to visitors from another planet. But as the novel advances, the comedy gets darker and more fleeting.
Not fit to leave the planet is part one of a trilogy.
It was fifty years ago when they first came. In our history lessons it is always used to mark the break between the old times and the new times. The Day the world changed. A day that splits opinion so decisively. Was it the best thing to happen to this planet, or the worst? Would we be better off not knowing that we are no longer alone? Did we react in the right way? Did we have any choice? Were we ready? Would we ever be ready?
What we are taught at school by those who remember, is that there were stories in the news that something had been spotted in orbit. A ship. A large ship. This was dismissed by many as nonsense, another U.F.O. sighting, a prank, but over a few days the rumours got stronger. More countries and governments confirmed that they had seen something was there.
Apparently the next few weeks were full of speculation, paranoia, excitement as everyone wondered who they were. Were they waiting for us to contact them? Was this an invasion? Were they lost? Were any of them still alive? Governments met in emergency meetings to discuss what we should do? Should we try and make contact first?
Typically when governments meet, they can’t agree anything and this was no exception, so they did nothing.
Then something happened. On 14th August 2040, they made contact with us. A hundred small ships left the mother ship and headed for the surface. Panic hit. Everyone was convinced this was now an invasion.
Every T.V. channel was tuned in looking for the ships. Fighter planes were scrambled from every country. However, before any of them could intercept these ships, they had all landed on airport runways in every major capital in the world. These ships were fast. By the time the fighters were airborne, these ships had landed. T.V. Crews from around the world rushed to the airports to be the first to get a glimpse of who our new visitors were. One hundred airports around the world were at a standstill. An alien ship sitting in the middle of a runway T.V. crews crammed in, trying to get a picture of each ship and anything that comes out.
So there they waited for two days without anything happening. Why were they waiting? Were we being sucked in to a trap, focusing on these ships whilst an invasion was planned? Everyone waited, and after two days, the waiting was over.
One alien emerged from each of the ships in unison. They weren’t that different to us. 6’ to 6’2”. Thin, but not skinny, dark hair, facial features in the same places as ours. Their ears didn’t protrude too far from their skulls. The hairlines were higher and their fingers were longer. They had paler skin, but nothing too unusual, just a porcelain-like complexion. They were met by government dignitaries and whisked away quickly.
Again nothing was heard for a couple of days. Nothing concrete anyway, rumours, inquisitions from the media, no-comments from official sources. After two days, and unusually in unison, the governments of the world managed to hold news conferences with a common message.
They announced that our new visitors, The Kaani, were here on a mission to make contact with us on behalf of the interstellar community. They were our closest neighbours, and as such, the honour of making contact befell to them. We had several deep space probes that had left our solar system, and were sending back information on what they passed and came into contact with. This had gotten their attention, and a decision had been made to monitor our activity. We had come to the edge of being able to send people out to explore. This was the next step.
Interstellar travel was near to being a reality and therefore the Kaani and others had decided the best way for us to meet was in a controlled way on our own ground, and not some chance meeting in space. To this end an ambassadorial party had been sent to instigate face to face discussions, and see if we were ready to join their community.
The reaction to this news was very positive, although there were the obvious paranoid murmurings. Were we being buttered up? Being lulled into a false sense of security? Surely this was too good to be true.
The Kaani shared some technology with us. They gave us cleaner energy sources so that we could stop polluting the planet. They showed us ways to repair the damage we had already done to the planet. They helped us introduce new efficient ways to grow crops, and how to make even the most hostile environments suitable for growing crops.
We were given new uses for petrochemicals, now that we had no need to burn them. They were, however, very careful not to give us anything that could be used for a military purpose. They made that very clear.
Everything seemed rosy. The Kaani ambassadors set about their business. They visited everywhere. All the sections of the communities they were in. Every corner of humanity, from world leaders to the homeless and dejected. In their search to understand us they left no stone unturned, no facet of the human experience ignored.
For a year they chatted and watched. Experienced art and literature. Visited hospitals. Partied. We learned to trust them utterly. If they meant us harm, they would have harmed us by now, they wouldn’t be interested in all the trivia that they had investigated. But what did they make of us?
When they first mingled in our communities there was so much media interest, they were followed everywhere by T.V. crews. Journalists were always trying to get interviews, which the Kaani were always willing to accommodate, but as time passed by they were accepted as a part of everyday life. When one would visit somewhere, it was always a big thing, but no more than some normal celebrity visiting.
On the 14th August 2041, the Kaani ambassadors announced that they were returning to their ship in orbit, so that they could discuss their findings. There was a buzz in every corner of the world. The past year had gone well. The Kaani had been well received everywhere they went. They had got on well with the population, they seemed to enjoy their time on earth. This was a sure fire thing. We would be welcomed with open arms. Interstellar space travel would now become a reality, we could visit strange new worlds and welcome visitors from other planets on a regular basis.
But we heard nothing. Nothing for two weeks. That is how long their deliberations took place. They contacted all the major television stations and informed them that an announcement would take place at 15:00 GMT on the 28th August 2041. So we waited. Waited with baited breath. The world stopped what it was doing and everyone tuned in.
The broadcast became the most famous piece of television in human history. For fifty years it has been compulsory study material for every school child in every school around the world. Most people can quote it word perfectly. We all know its significance, we’ve studied it in depth.
A Kaani ambassador called Tivon delivered the news. He stepped up to the microphone behind a lectern and read out the following statement.
“People of earth. We thank you for your hospitality over the last year, you have been great hosts to us all, and we have enjoyed our time with you. The diversity of your cultures truly are a joy to behold. We have experienced art, literature and music from every corner of the world and what we will take back to our planet will surely enrich our own culture, as we hope what we have shared with you will enrich yours. When we make initial contact with a new race, we work on the following criteria. We use their technological advancement as the yard stick for measuring how advanced they should be in other aspects of their culture. In our experience, when a society manages to achieve mass communication the cultural and artistic make-up of that society generally becomes far more varied, the access to art and culture becomes far easier, far less expensive. In your case this hasn’t quite worked. Culturally you seem to have been flooded with generic commercial art, with vast amounts of money being made by a select few. Crime, war, poverty. How close are you to conquering these ills? How well will you fit into the interstellar community? How will you get on with other races? For a race that’s as technologically advanced as yours, we would expect you to be far more advanced socially than you are at the moment. The disparity between rich and poor is, frankly, shocking. You have a banking and financial system that is laughable. We honestly couldn’t believe that there are people in your society that have no other function than to create fake money out of thin air. And what is worse, is that these people are amongst the richest on the planet. You treat the laws of economics like they are the laws of physics, that they are absolute and unbreakable. When the system fails, you take it as read that it has to happen that way. The system is man-made. The rules are man-made. If the rules don’t work, then re-write them. You have the resources to easily feed the population of your planet, yet starvation and famine are common. Countries are kept in debt and given a pittance of relief from richer countries, most of which never ends up helping those who need it most. You go to war far too easily. You distrust one another far too much. If you are willing to kill people with a different skin colour or religion, how will you deal with people from a different planet? Your technological advancements are generally driven by greed and not simply the need to advance society. Your education system is baffling. The disparity between good and bad standards of education is far too much and far too frequently based on economic grounds. The poor get a poor education, the rich get a good one, further exacerbating social divides. Education is not a gift, it is not even a right. It is a duty. You should be duty bound to provide a good quality education to all. Slums and shanty towns should not exist. You have the means to solve these problems, yet you don’t. Why do you spend so much time developing new and more efficient ways to kill each other? You poison your planet and complain about the cost of repairing the damage. The cost of not repairing it will be far more. To sum up. We are very disappointed with you. Your society should be far more advanced. You are socially retarded for how technologically advanced you are. There is no way we could risk letting you loose on other planets. We are going to inform your governments and leaders of the standards we will require from you. We feel at this moment you are deemed unfit to leave your planet, and request that you do not explore past your own solar system. We will be back in fifty years to see how you are doing.”
And with that they were gone.
The sheer indignity and disbelief that followed was what dominated our society for years to come. How could they judge us like that? Surely, this was an over-reaction. No one seemed to know what we were to do next. There was little or no communication from any government as to what they had been told were the ‘required standards’, so obviously they didn’t like what they were told. Were too many people at the top in danger of losing too much if we made the world a better place?
Well, that was what a lot of society perceived by the silence of the governments. Social disobedience ensued world-wide. People went on strike. People stopped paying taxes. People demonstrated outside government buildings. A mass movement started on the internet, telling people to stop paying their mortgages. What seemed like an idiotic idea at the time soon gathered momentum. Hundreds of millions of people stopped paying their mortgages worldwide. Banks collapsed, Economies collapsed. Currencies became worthless. Rioting took over the streets. Governments declared martial law. Civil disobedience ruled. And finally, when everything had broken down, when we had no way of getting any lower, when the rich had nothing left to lose, the human race paused and took a breath.
For the first time in human history, governments got together and talked to each other without trying to get an upper hand. They sat and discussed. Political allegiances were put aside. A new system was put back together. The wealth was spread out. Good quality education was available to all. The planet embarked upon a golden age.
For 15 years there was no war and no famine, the planet was being cleaned up, religious and racial tolerance reigned. Earth was becoming a paradise, and just like Adam and Eve, we managed to screw up this paradise as well.
During the earth’s 15 year golden age, there had been disasters, crop failures, floods, earthquakes, and we had managed to overcome them all. International co-operation was working really well. Countries didn’t screw each other over and there was no need for war. But for some reason we got cocky. A limited version of a free market economy was re-introduced to facilitate easier international dealings. Then there was a flood in Bangladesh, and as had happened previously, the world responded swiftly and efficiently. Only this time there was a slight difference. Now people made money out the misery of others. Human nature was back, and it was back with a vengeance.
The people of Bangladesh were saddled with the debts accrued when the rest of the world helped them. People started making money at every opportunity and very quickly a rich – poor divide was established. Countries screwed over countries, companies competed with companies, economies went up and down, employment fell and rose, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and in no time at all everything was back the same way it had started.
Even though we had new technology that enabled us to grow crops efficiently and cleanly and almost totally eliminate crop failures, crop failures and famines were as commonplace as ever. Those who couldn’t afford the technology didn’t get it as a select few companies traded it for exorbitant prices.
And so it went on, within a couple of years it was as though we had never been visited by the Kaani, and by that time hardly anyone spoke about it. It had become a footnote in recent history, and even though we had seen the world could work in a different way, disaster was seen again as an unavoidable by-product of the free market economy.
So, there we were back where we had started. The perfect world, just a blip in the profits of major companies. Revolutionary groups started up in every country. In the rich countries they were put down with ruthless efficiency. In the poorer countries they flourished, and thus those countries became pariahs of the international communities. Kaani-ism rose in small groups around the world. A new religion that prayed for the second coming of our saviours - the ones who would have the answers, and the power to sort this mess out.
The name Kaani became a dirty word amongst the newer more ruthless breed of capitalism that had divided the world. Wars of ideology were fought between the haves and have not’s. In the capitalist controlled media the Kaani-ists were portrayed as ideological extremists, not trying to get their fair slice of the cake, but hell bent on destroying society as we knew it. A new breed of anarchists. Intellectually inferior. Badly educated. Whatever stereotype fitted the news bulletin.
And this was all I knew of them. A news flash here and there where they had committed another terrorist atrocity. A news report where our brave boys had won hearts and minds by rebuilding a power station or a school, or a dam or a well, or whatever the poor bedraggled inhabitants of whatever shit-hole in the world needed just to make basic living possible.
I honestly thought we were the good guys. There surely was no other way of looking at it. If we weren’t the good guys, then we had to be the bad guys. If we were the bad guys, then everyone I knew, including me, was … well possibly evil. I didn’t feel as though I was evil, so surely we had to be the good guys.
“Human history has been full of inequality. Mankind is not perfect, we all know that. The fact that we are part of a society that had got the better part of the deal was not our fault. All we can do is try to make the world better bit by bit. Improve those parts of the world that we could improve safely, slowly build a better world and learn to live with the Kaani-ists, help them to learn to live with us.”
This was the first chapter in a school essay I had written on how to make the world a better place. I won. The essay was then entered in a county wide competition, which it also won and then onto a national competition. Well it won that also. I was the Hero of my school. I appeared on national T.V. met some government official I had never heard of, and had lunch at some swank do in London. The pretty girls at school talked to me for a while and I even went out on a few dates with some of them, but it didn’t last. My fame faded and everything went back to normal. I worked hard at school and got the same good grades that I always had.The Second Coming
It was a Tuesday when the world changed again. I got up, showered, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast as usual.
My mum and dad were not at the breakfast table as usual. Breakfast was not made and the television was on. The television was never on at breakfast, my parents hardly ever watched it, not even in the evening. Today was different, they were glued to the screens, their faces aghast with disbelief. They sat there silently, the luminescence of the screen flickering in pretty patterns across their frozen faces.
“What’s happened?" I blurted out, running into the room.
“Something terrible.” my mum said, not taking her eyes off the screen.
“What?" What could it be, another terrorist attack? One close to home? “What is it mum?" A tear had started to run down my face before I even got to the television.
I saw the images. Damaged aircraft. Smoke billowing from military buildings. Terrified news reporters trying to scramble words out. What was going on? No terrorist group could cause this. Not on this scale. Not this well co-ordinated. Not in the hearts of powerful countries, not with such devastation against military targets.
I saw a shot of an aircraft shooting past the wreckage of a burning building. I recognised the craft. It was no ordinary plane. It was an ultra-light mega fighter. A one man craft designed to protect the planet from visitors from another planet. To my knowledge they had never been seen by the public, supposedly they had been secretly designed as an insurance policy against the possibility of an un-friendly race of aliens deciding they wanted to invade us. The stories were that they had been designed using technology stolen from the Kaani. They were only stories. Myths of which, there were no photo’s. Just sketches and drawings, from people’s memories.
What was one doing there? And why was it being filmed? It didn’t make sense.
“What’s happening?” I said to myself.
“It’s the Kaani." My mum said. “They’re back. And they’re not very happy.”
We watched the telly all day. Every channel was the same. Reports came in from all over the world. London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Washington, Moscow, New York, Tel-Aviv, any major city you could imagine, and the reports were all the same. Our fighters were going up and coming back down with their weapons systems shot to pieces and their engines half shot out. The entirety of Earths defences were being hamstrung.
Then their ships would target other military targets. Shooting stationary aircraft on the ground. Nothing could get in the air, or stay in the air long enough. Missiles would fly up, either miss their targets or fail to catch up with them and get shot down or crash somewhere.
We saw one shot of a missile approaching a stationary Kaani ship. Just as it was about to hit, the Kaani ship disappeared and then reappeared behind the missile, shoot it down and fly off again.
This was depressing. We were throwing everything we had at them and weren’t landing a single punch. It was like a fighter with a short reach having his head held stationary by a taller fighter whilst he waves his hands in vain trying to hit something.
At seven in the evening, something happened. All the Kaani ships disappeared from the skies. The fighting stopped and we breathed a sigh of relief. At least it was over for now.
Maybe they were just trying to teach us a lesson. Maybe we could regroup, find a weakness, do something, anything. We were met with silence. No one knew what was going on. World leaders remained silent. The Kaani didn’t attack again. News programmes tried to make sense of it all, Kaani-ist nutters, claimed it was all that the capitalists of the world deserved. We went to bed and got up early in the morning.
There were mutterings and stirrings from the centres of power around the world, but nothing concrete was said. The world’s leaders met in Geneva and held secret talks. Apparently the Kaani were there. 4 hours was all it took. The American President held a press conference. He was flanked by several other world leaders. They all looked sullen as he gave this short address.
“We have agreed a peace treaty with the Kaani. The terms of surrender are as follows.
The Kaani are to set up a council of elders to oversee the development of the human race. These elders will reside in an orbiting ship and will be in regular contact with the leaders of the world’s governments.
The leaders of the world’s governments are to resign immediately and new elections are to take place immediately.
These new governments will have to communicate regularly with the council of elders and get their permission before they pass any new laws.
All existing laws will be reviewed by the Kaani and changed where necessary.”
Then he went silent. He cleared his throat, looked to his other politicians for support. None was forthcoming. He looked down at his feet before continuing his address.
“In addition to this the Kaani have insisted that a fact-finding team of … children will be selected to visit their home planet and report what they have learned back to the new world leaders." He fell silent.
“Children?” A sole journalist asked.
“Yes.” Came the reply. “No-one over 18 years of age.”
Another voice in the crowd piped up. “They can’t take our children. That’s … barbaric." A general chorus of agreement struck up. “What are you going to do? Someone asked. “You can’t allow this.”
The president looked up. “What am I going to do? Didn’t you hear me? I am no longer the president. I have been forced to resign. Immediately. I am no longer in charge. Talk to them. They make the decisions now." And with that he left. The gathered journalists yelled their disapproval and tried to get him back, but he was gone. “Someone tell us what’s going on. One of you cowards answer us.”
A guy who no-one recognised came back as all the politicians exited. He was barracked, shouted and screamed at. “We want to know answers. Tell us what you know. Who are you anyway?”
The mob fell silent and the man tapped the microphone in front of him.
“Me?” he said. “No-one. No-one important. I was serving food and drinks in the meeting. I heard what went on. I don’t think any of that lot are going to come back to give you answers, so I may as well try.”
With that he fell silent as if waiting for a prompt. One came.
“What happened then?”
“I didn’t hear all of it. I missed the first ten minutes, but from what I can gather they were just going over the introductions then. The Kaani were very dismissive of what our guys had to say. They said that we had been told what we needed to do, and that we had not learned anything. We had been given the tools to build a better society, yet we only did it when we had no other option. Also that when the opportunity arose, we reverted to type and started screwing each other over again.”
“What about the children?” someone asked. “What are they going to do with the children?”
“I don’t know. Something about them spending a year or two on the Kaani home world.”
“To learn. I think. One or two years depending on how quick they learn.”
“How to build a better world. They said something about the human race being like a spoiled child. And so they are going to treat us as such. Discipline us and teach us how to behave. So they are taking some of our children to educate them. Ten thousand of them, between the ages of 5 and 18. From all over the planet. Different races. Different religions. Rich and poor and everything in-between.”
Well, that went down like a lead balloon. How were they going to decide who went? Were people meant to volunteer, and if so, who in their right mind would volunteer for that. 2 years of brainwashing. Surely they would have to pick people at random, but then, how could they enforce it? How could they force people to go. Their parents would surely put up a fight. There would be rioting on the streets, it wouldn’t work.
But the Kaani had a solution. It was quick, efficient and surgical in its precision. What you would expect from them. The very next day in a matter of hours, they went to schools, homes, towns and villages. City streets, hospitals, wherever their targets were, and they knew where they were. They took them quickly. Didn’t let them say goodbye to their families and friends. I was at school when they picked me up. I was on the toilet, pants around my ankles, having a shit at the time.
They didn’t even give me time to finish properly, I was dragged past my school mates pulling my pants up around my still shitty arse. As I got dragged into their craft, a small one, all I could think about was how bad I must smell, and when would they let me finish wiping my arse.
I was plonked down in a seat. The soft shit squidged further around my arse cheeks and onto the top of my legs.
“Was that really fucking necessary?” I shouted at the 2 Kaani flanking me.
“Yes.” One of them replied.
“Well … I still have shit on my arse. Couldn’t you have let me finish?”
“No." The other one replied.
“Well … I still have shit on my arse! I think it’s on my legs now. It’s soaked into my boxer shorts. It’s probably soaked into my trousers as well. How long am I going to have to stay like this?”
“There’s a toilet back there. Get cleaned up.” The first one said, pointing to a door.
So I got up and walked through the door. It slid open and revealed a small metal room with a round circle on the floor and no hole. “What the …” I turned back towards the two Kaani. “What am I supposed to do here?”
“Step into the room, press the red button on the wall and answer the questions the computer asks you.”
So I did. A female voice spoke to me.
“What are your cleaning requirements?”
“I have shit on my arse cheeks.”
“What would you like me to do about it?”
“Clean it off.”
“Is that all?”
“What do you mean?”
Would you like a localised cleaning, or a general cleaning?”
“The whole body.”
“Well, we may as well go with the whole body.”
“Do you want a dental cleaning as well?”
“Not with the same brush you’re cleaning my ass with.”
“I do not understand.”
“Okay Lady. Just give me the whole works.”
With that the whole room went blue and my body started to tingle all over. About 20 seconds later the light went back to normal and I felt unusually clean.
“What the …” I undid my trousers and looked into my pants. They were clean. Not a single spot of shit. I felt them and sniffed my hands. They smelt clean. Not fragranced, they smelt of … nothing. I licked my teeth. They felt clean. Dentist visit clean. “Well … fucking beam me up Scotty." I walked to the door and it opened. One of the Kaani looked around.
“That’s a relief.” He said.
“What do you mean?”
“It took us ages to calibrate that to the human body. The first five people we tried that on, lost all their skin. Very messy.”
The two Kaani burst out laughing and turned back around. “We’re kidding.” one of them said.
“Oh." I sat down in silence between them again. “Can I ask you one thing?" One of them looked at me. “When you gave us all that technology all those years ago, why not let us have that? If we had been given that, there wouldn’t be any wars. We’d all be too busy taking a shower.”
They both laughed. “I like you." said one of the Kaani. “You’re funny. By the way, my name‘s Raadii." I hadn’t thought about the Kaani having a sense of humour, but obviously they did.
“Where are we?" I asked.
“In orbit, around Mars.”
“Where are we going?”
“You, my young earthling, are going to school.”Where no Teenager has gone before.
As I sat in my seat, several communications came over a speaker. The two Kaani answered to people talking to them in their own language. I had no idea what was being said, so I sat back and tried to enjoy the ride.
“Are there no windows?" I asked.
“Do you want to see where we are going?”
“That would be nice.”
One of the Kaani pressed a button on his control panel and as if by magic one of the metal panels beside me became see-through. There were hundreds of small ships like the one I had entered, taking it in turn to dock with several larger ships. Below us was a reddy-brown planet.
“Are we going to those ships?”
“Yes." Raadii said. “These little things couldn’t make the journey we are going to make on their own.”
“How far’s that?”
Raadii looked at me. “Not that far, only about 700 light years.”
“700 light years. How long’s that going to take us?
“A couple of days.” the other Kaani interjected. “Now sit tight, it’s our turn to dock.”
We changed course and headed towards one of the larger ships. A large hangar door opened in its shell and we entered. I felt the ship land. It was the first time I had felt any movement from it. I hadn’t even felt it take off.
Once we landed, a door opened and I found myself by what seemed like a lift.
“Press the button and enter it like any other lift." Shouted Raadii. So I did. The door opened and I entered. 10 seconds later the door re-opened into a large hall full of children. They were all of differing ages and different races, wearing a variety of clothes, obviously the ones they were wearing when they were taken. Some children were crying, others shouting and banging on the walls. Others were looking around with wide eyed wonderment. There were tables with food and drink on them, but hardly anyone was eating or drinking.
An announcement was made over a set of speakers. It was in French. I knew French, but wasn’t listening properly so didn’t catch what was being said. Next was what sounded like German, I don’t speak German. Then there was something that was maybe Chinese or Japanese, then something that sounded like Arabic. Eventually an announcement in English started.
“Thank fuck for that." A voice next to me said. I turned round to see a stocky muscular lad with bright red hair. This guy surely must be over 18. This had to be a mistake, he had stubble, tattoo’s, scars, the lot. There’s no way he was a teenager.
“You speak English?" I asked him.
“I speak, American.” he replied.
‘What a twat.’ I thought. But never mind that, I didn’t want to miss the English announcement like I had missed the French one.
“Welcome to the Long range transport ship, the Rootha Braath. If you look around the sides of the room, you will see what look like wrist watches hanging from the walls. These are your guidance systems. You will only need one. Do not take two. When you place it around your wrist it will read your D.N.A. and guide you to your designated accommodation. Feel free to partake of the refreshments placed around the room, we have provided you with a selection from cuisines around the world. If you do not find anything to your taste, you will be able to order what you want from your room.
I looked around the room, people had already started to filter out through several doors. I looked at the wall behind me and reached towards one of the wrist watches. A hairy ginger arm snatched it from my grasp.
“Mine." He said, looked at the wrist watch and shot off.
With that little indignity behind me, I grabbed the next one on the wall and placed it around my wrist. The screen on it lit up immediately and a female voice spoke to me.
“Jonathon Handsome. From Berkshire, England. Welcome to the Rootha Braath. If you would please follow the on screen directions and I will guide you to your accommodation.”
A map of the ship appeared on the screen with arrows guiding me to my destination. Simple enough. I left by the designated exit. Just by the door there was a table with some large slabs of chocolate cake on it. Well, rude not to, I thought. So I grabbed a slice of cake and continued with my journey.
The cake was lush. Moist, sweet and possibly the best piece of cake I had ever eaten. I toyed with going back for another slice, but instead I just stuffed the slice into my mouth.
In the corridor, there were lots of kids, looking at their watches and following the on screen directions like zombies. Down the corridor. 3rd right. Down another corridor 2nd left. Along to the end of the corridor. Through a door. Across another hall. Through the opposite doorway. Down another corridor. Third door on the right. I looked up. Standing outside the door was the Ginger American, a chicken leg sticking out of his mouth and several others sticking out of his pockets. Oh no, don’t tell me I am staying in the same room as this Neanderthal.
“Hey. English. The food may be shit, but a free meal is a free meal. Are you in here too?”
“Well then, let’s see what the digs are like." With that he entered and I followed.
There were five bunk beds.
“Mine." He said, jumping up on the top bunk furthest away from the door. “I hate sleeping by the door. Pity there’s no window.”
I picked the top bunk closest to the door. He looked like the type to fart and snore in his sleep and I wanted as much distance between us as possible.
Next to walk through the door was a tall slim guy, who looked like he came from somewhere like Somalia.
“Somali. I guess.” said the American. “He’ll be a Kaani-ist. They all are from over there. Plus look at the smug look on his face. A give-away. He’ll be thinking that he was right and we were wrong, and that us Westerners have got all we deserve. That the Kaani are back to rescue the true believers." He proceeded to get another chicken leg from his pocket and start to devour that. I looked at him and then over at our new room-mate, who was ignoring us and smoothing down his bed clothes.
“Don’t worry, he can’t understand us. I’m pretty sure they don’t speak English over there.”
“I speak English.” our new room-mate said calmly, as he turned round to face us. He sat down on his neat bed clothes and looked at me directly in the eyes. “We are not ‘believers’. We do not think of the Kaani as Gods. They are simply enlightened. And I am not smug. I have been taken from my family too. I don’t think the Kaani are happy with us either. Our people have committed acts of terrorism in their name. I guess they are not happy about that.”
Silence fell across the room.
The American took another chomp from his chicken wing. “This is the worst fried chicken I have ever tasted. But shit … at least we are making new friends.”
The door opened. Two more guys walked in. A young teenager of what looked like Japanese descent, and a Hispanic youth.
“So where are you boys from?" Piped up the American. “My name’s …” He turned to me. “What do you think my name is English? I‘ll give you a clue, it‘s something typically American”
“I don’t know.”
“Take a guess.”
“I don’t know. Maybe … Chuck … or Randy?”
He snorted a laugh. “No. It’s Cletus.”
“Hi Cletus.” said the Japanese lad. “I’m Akira. From Tokyo.”
The Hispanic lad was Jose from some small town in the south of Mexico. After that we were joined by a Jean from Bayeux in France, an Icelandic lad called Tomas, a South African called Pieter, a Brazilian from Rio called Paulo, and a diminutive ten year old from Germany called Ralph.
“Proper little United Nations we have here. But I guess that’s the point." Cletus looked down at his last Chicken leg. “I really can’t face any more of this. This really is the worst Chicken I have tasted.”
“It’s not Chicken.” said Pieter. “The Kaani are vegetarians. They replaced all the meat with synthetic replacements.”
“No meat? That’s bullshit!" And with that he threw his last piece across the room and into the bin.
So there we sat in silence. Getting comfortable and occasionally throwing each other the odd glance. Cletus would burst into song every now and again for what seemed to be for no other reason than to annoy the rest of us. Or maybe he was just bored with the silence. I looked around and tried to take everything in.
Actually for a dorm room with five bunk beds, the place was really luxurious. There were flowers, art, fruit bowls and what looked like T.V. screens. There were empty wardrobes and fridges with soft drinks in. The beds were comfortable with big heavy duvets, soft pillows and deep mattresses. There were book cases all filled up. This was more than a good hotel room, it was … well … really nice. Homely. Like a bedroom in a house. Just too neat and tidy to be inhabited by ten boys. I hoped they didn‘t want us to leave the room in this state, because we were going to be like 10 average boys, and there was no way we would be able to keep a room this tidy whilst living in such close quarters.
I fluffed the pillows of my bed and tried to get some sleep. Just as my eyes started to shut the TV’s switched on. A voice came over some speakers. “If you look closely at your monitors, you will see Jupiter. We will skim the surface of this gas giant so that you can get a great view of the spectacular light patterns reflecting off the surface.
Well we watched, with as much interest as any group of boys would have in any science video they were forced to watch at school. It did look amazing though. There were so many vivid colours that … but of course I didn’t let on how awe struck I was. You just don’t do you. Not amongst a group of guys, especially not guys you hardly know.
After that we went to Saturn. That was even more awesome. We skimmed over the rings, then swooped between the rings and the planets surface. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, were however, very boring.
“What is this? An open topped bus ride of the solar system?" Cletus didn’t seem amused. Throughout, he’d been picking up various bits of fruit, taking a bite, spitting them out in disgust. Grabbing a drink from the fridge, taking a few swigs then opening another one, and another one. This was a guy who was stir-crazy already and we were only in our first day on the ship.
“Fuck this science lesson, I’m going to see if there are any chicks on this ship worth talking to.” And with that, he left the room.
“Fucking Americans!” muttered Jose. They’re never happy with anything. “He probably has a bigger and better Jupiter at the end of his trailer park." A general chorus of agreeing grunts went up around the room.
Silence fell again. We looked around at each other, smiled nervously and looked down at the ground.
Well, the place was a shit hole already. Cletus had seen to that. There was a wake of destruction that had followed his restlessness.
“I suppose we are going to have to clean up after him." Ralph started into action and begrudgingly we all joined in.
“I never got your name.” I said to the Somali lad as we both bent over to pick up half eaten pieces of fruit.
He made eye contact with me, and I swear I could see him blush. I thought it would be impossible for someone with such dark skin to blush, but I swear he was.
“Geoff,” he said.
I paused, and tried to think if this could be short for something Somali.
“Geoff. Actually, Geoffrey." He whispered. My parents were living in Wandsworth when I was born, and they gave me a name that they thought might help me integrate. Only thing was, we went back to Somalia less than a year later, and I was stuck with this bloody English name." He crouched down and rested his back against the wall. “It’s not as if they even gave me a middle name I could use instead. Just Geoffrey.”
“Well, ‘Just Geoffrey’, at least we’re going somewhere where no-one will have a clue about whether or not these things are embarrassing. I mean, how will a Kaani know that Geoffrey is a stupid name for a Somali boy to have?”
I touched him gently on the shoulder and went back to my bunk. I wasn’t cleaning up anymore. Cletus made the mess, he could clean it up.
The door slid open. Cletus stood at the door.
“Hey guys. Miss me? Well there was no decent chicks to chat up. I think they’re keeping us separate." He looked around the room at everyone cleaning. “Wow, what a change. Yesterday I was living in a shit hole of a trailer park, today I’ve got nine house maids.”
“Don’t get used to it!" Pieter chucked a piece of fruit in the bin and went back to his bunk, and with that, everyone else stopped and went back to their bunks.
“Hey guys, no need to go on strike." Cletus looked around at everyone, but no-one looked back. “Guys! I bring gifts." He reached into a bag he had behind his back. “Chocolates. And boy these are good. Swiss I think” With that, he grabbed a handful and threw some on the table. “Help yourselves.”
Cletus removed himself to his bunk, and shoved a couple of chocolates in his mouth. “Also.” he said. “Who smokes? ‘Cause I have half a pack, that were on me when I got taken." He pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, lights his cigarette and takes a drag.
As quick as a flash, from somewhere in the walls, a small flying robot, zooms out and extinguishes the cigarette.
“All naked flames are prohibited on this craft.” it announces. “Please do not light any naked flames until you disembark the craft.”
Cletus stood there looking stunned. He paused, looked at the robot, took the cigarettes from out of his pocket, crumpled them up and threw them into the bin.
“What’s the point?” he muttered to himself before making his way back to his bunk. The robot, shot back into the wall. “No chicks, no smoking. And I doubt if they have any liquor for us in this place." Cletus threw his head back on the pillow and sighed. “I may as well get some sleep." With that, he rolled over and pulled his covers over his head. For a few minutes we all just looked at each other before, one by one, we turned in.
I was the last to lie down, and as I did the lights slowly started to fade. “How did they do that?" I thought. Were they watching us, or was there some kind of sensor that knew we were trying to sleep.
Then all sorts of thoughts started to go through my head. Why had we been chosen? Was it random? Surely not, the Kaani didn’t seem like the type to do things randomly. What was the Kaani home world like? Was this going to be a good experience or a bad one? How would we be treated when we got back?
Everything started to spin round and round my head so much that I thought I was going to be up all night. And with that I started to drift off.
Bird song? That’s what I woke up to. The lights were gradually getting brighter like an electric dawn. At least the Kaani made the shit parts of life more pleasant. The door opened and in walked a dog. At least that’s what it looked like at first glance. I sat up, rubbed my eyes and stared at it. This was the ugliest looking dog I had ever seen. It had short hair, apart from what looked like a beard. Long floppy ears, a short truncated face like a boxer dog. Big bulging eyes and floppy, jowly cheeks. It wasn‘t very big, it had a short truncated body, chubby with what looked suspiciously like a beer belly. Its feet were the weirdest of all. They weren’t like dogs feet, they were more like 2 pairs of fat furry hands with short chubby fingers.
The dog was taking a good look around the room and was very interested in all the mess we had left around. It kept sniffing the air and the discarded items on the floor.
“What an ugly looking mutt!" Cletus was awake and staring at the dog. The dog stared back at him, stood on his hind legs and placed his front hands on his hips. “Well you ain’t so good looking yourself, Ginger. Plus you don’t smell too good. And you obviously don’t mind living in a shit tip.”
“You can talk?” I blurted out.
“Yeah and so can you." The dog gave me a look of no uncertain distain.
“Do you do tricks?" Cletus asked?
“You know tricks. Rolling over. Playing dead. Fetch.”
The dog snarled. “Am I a clown. Am I here to fucking amuse you?" He paused, then laughed. “Earth film reference. Do you get it?" We all looked at him blankly. “Well maybe a bit before your time. Anyway, I’m your guidance counsellor, not your maid. Get all this crap cleaned up. And take a shower. You all stink. I’ll be back in half an hour." And with that, the dog started to walk out.
“Are you a boy or a girl?" I don’t know why I asked that, it was obvious he was male. Wasn’t it? I didn’t know. For all I knew, his race didn’t have male and females, or maybe more than two genders. I just thought I needed to know.
He looked around at me. “Hey kid. If I was one of the females of my species, don’t you think we’d be extinct by now?"
The dog carried on walking out and the door closed behind him. One by one we sat up, made our beds and took it in turn to take a shower. They were the same showers I had used on the smaller Kaani ship. They were great. No need to dry off afterwards. I went to the wardrobe, to choose something to wear. Well I didn’t get a choice. The wardrobe had picked something out for each of us. They were these peach coloured numbers. Thin and shiny. A sort of wrap around top, baggy leggings and what looked like deck shoes. We all looked like the cast of a cheap out of date sci-fi movie. The wardrobe instructed us to leave our dirty garments in a chute to be cleaned.
“Breakfast!” demanded Cletus. “Where do we get breakfast?”
“I think we ask our watches.” Pieter chipped in.
“Right." Cletus looked at his watch. “Where do we go for breakfast?" His watch lit up and displayed a map with directions. “This way boys.” and he headed out. Seeing as we had nothing better to do, and breakfast was the obvious option, we all followed him. I just hoped that this wasn’t going to be how the whole journey was going to be. Cletus, deciding what he wanted to do, and barking orders for the rest of us to follow. But he had some sort of plan. He didn’t seem too phased. He knew what he wanted and was going to get it, even if it was only bacon and eggs.
We ended up in one of the big halls. It was done out like a large canteen. Long tables in the centre and around the edges, counters full of food. The tables were filling up. It looked like everyone was in their own little groups. Probably the groups of people they were sharing a room with. Dotted around the room were about 20-30 of the little dog creatures, observing and occasionally chatting to some kids. We got our food and sat down in our group.
“Don’t eat the bacon. It’s worse than the fried chicken" Cletus told us. I had gone for the safe option. Fruit juice, toast and jam. Everyone else? Well suffice to say, Cletus was the only one who went with the cooked option.
I looked around some more. People were chatting, eating, generally looking relaxed. You would never have thought, that less than a day ago they had all been ripped away from their families and friends with no warning. Maybe something had been put in the food and drink to pacify us. I looked at my fruit juice, and then at Cletus. No surely not. If that had been the case, then surely he wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass still. Anyway, I didn’t feel different. I was asking questions the way I would normally. Surely if I had been drugged, then I would feel different. I looked around again. The dog creatures all looked the same. Same beards, same beer bellies.
“Looks like all these dog creatures are the males.” I said nudging Pieter. One of them was about ten feet away when I said this. It stopped in its tracks, cantered over to us and jumped on the table.
“How dare you?" It stared me in the eye. “How dare you? Most of us in here are female.”
The one who had been in our room earlier, jumped up on the table. “Don’t worry Choola." It said. “This group of reprobates are mine. I’ll sort them out." The first one looked at me a bit longer, turned her nose up in the air and trotted off.
“Well, well. I’d have thought old ginger nut over here, would be the first one to cause offence, but obviously you’re the insensitive one.”
I tried to defend myself. “It’s just … what you said earlier. I thought that … well if you were … the way you said. It’s just … well … I thought the females would look a lot different.”
“They do look a lot different. Look kid, if you have Gender or sexual issues, then we can work them out. I am your counsellor.”
Everyone was looking at me, not just the guys from my room, but people from other tables, other groups. I put my toast down and drank my juice. I wasn’t hungry anymore.
“Anyway, I forgot to introduce myself earlier. I’m Anucho. Your counsellor. And I’ll meet you back at your room in fifteen minutes." Anucho trotted off.
“Well done English!" Cletus was staring at me. “Way to make us look like the bad group.”
“Come on! Don’t say I’m the only one who thought it.”
Geoffrey looked at me. “Well, can you tell a male dog from a female dog, just by looking at its face? Anyway, why would you be interested if someone of another species was male or female. What does it matter?”
“Oh for fucks sake! They’re not dogs are they?" Blank looks stared back at me. “They’re …" we didn’t even know what they were. “Well we were talking to them. Wouldn’t you know want to know what they were?" Again, blank looks.
I wasn’t going to win this one, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. Everyone finished their breakfast and we all headed back to our room. I walked the fastest and got back before anyone else. Anucho was waiting for me.
“Hey kid!" Anucho was sitting on my bed waiting for me. I didn’t respond. “Look the thing about sexuality, genders … well just to give you a heads up. We don’t have genders. My race that is. The Kaani do. They have two genders, just like you. We, however, don’t. Just the one. Choola was just having a laugh. You didn’t get too much shit from your friends did you?”
“I don’t have any friends here. Just room mates." I plonked myself down on my bed.
“Hey kid. Don’t worry. You’ll get some friends.”
Then I started to cry. “I had some friends. Maybe not the best. But they were my friends. And my parents. When am I gonna see them again? I blubbed away, crying and gasping. Anucho sidled on up to me and put one of his ‘hands’ on my shoulders. “Kid … John. We are not gonna let you suffer. This is gonna be a good trip. You’re gonna learn a lot.