Christine's Dilemma

by JOHNNY SACHU

Tags: Science Fiction,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: A Martian scout discovers a choice world for colonization until she learns about its deadly consequences.

Christine leveled her beam weapon at the local native of ShekTaur IV, as she had designated the world. He was human, true, but a wild man and attacked her without provocation at first sight voicing a scary howl. He charged at full speed, raising his spear as if to throw it, and she quickly adjusted the pistol with the flick of her thumb to a wide setting then immediately fired almost at the exact moment the man chucked the spear. As it approached her in a high mid air ark, it seemed to and did stop as if in slow motion, then fell in a dusty cloud to the ground, particulating into a fine gray carbon dust while the stone spear head fell to the alien surface with a thump.

The spear would have missed her by at least three meters but she didn't want that thing around her, or him either. She lowered the setting, not wanting to kill the primitive man as he drew closer, in range, and waited. She'd only just stepped onto the planet surface five minutes ago and she hadn't the heart or desire to take out a local just because he was being a nuisance.

When the cave-human recovered from his dismay at seeing his first weapon turned to dust, he stopped in his charge and he drew something short and crude, but deadly looking, from the leather line he had around his waist. From the distance Christine stood from him, thirty or so meters, she didn't like the look of it. He threw it at Christine without hesitation. She fired again and unlike the last projectile, it stopped in mid-flight, but this one rolled to the ground as if it had hit an invisible rubber wall. It was a stone knife and just as dangerous as a metal one, in her eyes.

Christine picked up the knife and slipped it into her belt pouch. The low setting on the beam weapon had also stopped the wild man. He lay sprawled out on the ground, face down, knocked out as easily as if he'd been bumped on the head with that stone axe he still had in his waist band. There was also some kind of throwing strings, like bolas, with stones attached to three ends. Brother was this guy set up to do damage.

Christine took the remaining weapons from his waist band of leather after tapping the man's head with her foot, making certain he really was knocked out, and slid the crude stone axe into her own waist belt. She lifted him to a sitting position with ease and put plastic ties around his hands, both behind his back, and also around his ankles.

This was a lower gravity planet than she was prepared for. She was unused to people this light, for they felt as if they were made of card board, and the load in her backpack was almost none existent even though on her planet, it would have been substantial. Her strength was at least sixty percent more pronounced, here.

Kneeling beside her victim, Christine turned the head of the primitive towards her and studied the man's face, motioning the two waiting robots on board, at the top of the entrance ramp, to come down and approach.

"Miss?" one of them acknowledged his presence when he stepped up beside her.

"Take this man to the restraining room," she said. "Clean him up and sterilize everything. Cut his hair to a G-4 level and shave his beard. I can't read his features as well with that bushy mess on his face. Make sure he doesn't escape the restraint room."

"Yes, Miss," the one robot answered. The two of them took his arms and legs and carried him towards the extensive scout ship that could pass for a small freighter.

Christine holstered her pistol but set it on bubble. It would surround her with a protective force field from any attack she didn't notice, like a thrown stone or an accurate arrow sent her way.

She scanned the areas around the ship and beyond a deep gully with her pocket analyzer, taking her readings.

There was no one else around but there were a large number of herbivore animals about and they were big suckers. That meant big predators. It was a jungle region on one side, almost, but with plenty of plains with high green grasses as tall as she could reach on the other, with several clear streams, close by. A beautiful world and a most pleasant reprieve from the ones she'd found of late. It had a high mineral content, too, and that meant conflict and competition. But that was beyond her control and truthfully, she didn't care. She had her own worries.

Christine looked at the limp bag of bones as the robots carried him up the ramp and figured her little wild man was simply out on a hunting expedition, alone. Must be a brave bubby, the thought.

She tested the soil and found it to be conducive to crops. The consistency was similar to that of the highland soil standards, back on Mars, her home planet. This stuff could grow anything, if you could get enough water to it, especially grains, and around here she didn't think that would be a problem.

Christine realized that there would be a lot of greedy corporations vying for rights to this place. The astronomical figures it would go for to the governing body was beyond her comprehension and belief. But it would be another gold mine of renewable biological resources and its potential for growth, in the manufacture of renewable goods and resources, such as food as well as mineral products, would be a boon to some company. It would be a wonderful trophy for a corporate conglomerate or subordinate-headquarters, way out here in the expanding human field and exploration of this galactic arm; of which, there were becoming more and more of them as humanity reached further outward.

It would be a pleasant place to colonize, too. They, the corporations, would spill a lot of blood, actual, legal, and illegal, to get the rights to this planet. Even if out and out war didn't break out, things were going to heat up around here. In some ways, Christine regretted the discovery. The takeover of a world always came down to that; killing for land.

Corporations ruled the galaxy. She understood that ... everything ... was about profit and claims to resources, whether in space, like in an asteroid belt, on a dead world, or on a jewel-like planet such as this. Power, growth, and profit were all that mattered, it seemed, and there was little in the way of policing corporations. Governments had taken the back seat to profits. Still, they were there, but world governments usually were in the pocket of and the puppets of business concerns. They controlled everything and she was a mere extension of this raping of a new planet. But she had her job, a good paying one, and it would do no good to dwell on principles and dealings that were beyond her control.

Christine felt the heat in the force field bubble building up, even though it was semi-permeable to air and sounds, the heat always rose fast in the sunlight. She removed the top section of her flight suit, unzipping it down from the back of her neck to her lower spine. It revealed her back and shoulders to the magic of the pale blue, somewhat cool feeling, sky and released a lot of thermally built-up heat. It wasn't enough though and Christine pealed the suit off her front, her arms, and her back, tucking the garments arms under her belt so they wouldn't dangle and drag.

Naked to the waist, her skin was golden, in color, and her eyes were silver, bordering on a faint, crystalline blue. Her hair was truly like fine spun gold and hung in a long pony-tail behind her that fell to the narrowness of her thin, weak looking waist. Her eyelashes and brows were a very dark brown, however, and there was little other hair anywhere on her body. Christine was a prime example of Mars' effect on peoples genes.

The planet had miraculously changed their earth DNA into something very similar in resemblance to the perfectly preserved ancient bodies found in the tombs of the southern Martian hemisphere, back on her world. They had been discovered in the twenty-forth century while her kind had begun terra-forming the Martian world, creating new, more useful shapes to the land. After adding seas, with tugged in comets, and a suitable moon stolen from Jupiter's system, and with its spinning rotation, it influenced and started up the magnetic core of Mars, again, and it began to be a world that man could use, once more.

The magnetic core had been shattered by a planetoid, astrophysicists surmised, untold billions of years in its past, but now it had long since ceased to be a dead desert planet. It was useful to the ever expanding reality of human and now Martian peoples.

With such a shock that there truly had been men-like beings upon that world, once, with golden hair and eyes of silver-blue, the world had changed the introduced humans, from earth, as near as science could tell, into true ancient Martians with all their peculiar abilities and in the amazingly short span of a little more than a thousand years. But the coming of the terrans had been two thousand years ago and she was half way across the galactic arm, now, far and away from the birth-world of her beloved, once upon a time red planet, and into the dust and debris of the galactic arm's distant stars.

As far as Christine knew, she was the deepest outstretched scout in the field, at the moment. That was not an honor, just a fact of leap-frogging as one scout went further out during the next jump than the last, discovering and exploring new worlds for the good of all, as dictated by the whims of the central governments and business concerns. None of these worlds she had discovered so far were quite as choice as this one, though, and she looked forward to her substantial bonus, having discovered such a pleasant place, ripe for the picking.

She brought the scanner up to eye level and viewed the horizon. She was getting a massive reading about fifty kilometers away but she couldn't see anything.

She brought up her monocular.

Then, it was there in the optics of the simple tool. A city. An enormous city. Why wasn't it visible with the scanner but was with the naked eye? Some kind of stealth shielding? She could only see it on the blue hue of a side screen, with the scanner, and at that, just faintly. But it was there and a metropolis, almost beyond belief for such a place as primitive as this world seemed to be.

She didn't expect to see any civilization here. The solar system was in a young, fairly isolated section of space that was still expanding with five nearby nebula. The fact that there were humans here was also a dilemma and confused a lot of logic, nor did the cities existence and its hidden, stealthy nature help matters. But she knew there must be other pockets of humanity, here and there in space, that spread out just as her kind had. She'd use that as a working hypothesis for the time being and lay those thoughts aside.

Christine dropped the scanner, attached by its lanyard, dangling now against her chest. She scratched her hand. How could a city of that size not be seen with the scanner? It must have an active power source of immense size. It was also several degrees above the horizon. She would have to check this out personally, on the ground. If there were a huge population of advanced humans on this world they would have to be dealt with, not that it had ever stopped the corporations before. They took over everything of value, by any means.

She went back to the ship, passing through the substantial force field that stopped insects and birds from entering the ship, as well as spores, molds, viruses, bacteria, almost anything, and smacked the knob that retrieved the ramp and shut the broad door.

Christine trotted up to the control room, on the top deck, standing momentarily in front of the control-consol before sitting down in the flight chair to slip back into her flight suit and zip up from the back, much like one did in a wet suit.

Maneuvering the ship upward some meters, close enough to clear the hiss and the tall trees as the wind blew through them, listening through the hulls microphones, she pointed the spacecraft to the northwest and cautiously advanced on the electronically invisible city. She merely looked through the windscreen at this time, there was no need for instruments, and watched it sharpen. It was clearly seen now taking shape as she got within twenty kilometers of the place and then ten, and then, two. She cut her speed in half and crept forward, thinking a force field might explain the stealthy look of the place and she thought she detected something of that sort on her screens. It was noteworthy that there were outlying buildings on the edge of the city, structures like homes.

The city's center started with huge building complexes and worked they way outward into smaller building, just like most places. Christine assumed its inhabitants lived and worked in these enormous towers, just as people did on other worlds. The buildings were massive and rose kilometers into the air and some were just as wide as they were tall. She saw them clearly, now, as if a fog had partially lifted from her mind's eye, or had she passed through that invisible shielding she suspected was there?

Some buildings were domed, some were spiked with crystal towers of immense size and some laid low over the earth with rounded shapes and, indeed, this seemed to be one of the massive city's characteristics. There were no edges. Everything was rounded and smoothed over, she noted, as a stream rounds stones, guiding the ship right into the cities broad deserted streets. Even though the city appeared extremely new, Christine couldn't help wonder where everyone was; Were they hiding from her?

She landed her craft in a circular plaza and went to the exit door, punching the switch and listened as the door hummed open. She was about to step down the ramp but had another thought and closed the door, again.

She went to the restraining room and stood outside the prison chamber and touched a few numbers and punched 'Enter.' A mild gas entered the chamber and frightened the now awoken man. He was completely naked and almost looked civilized with his shaved face and closely cut hair.

"Has he said anything?" she asked her robots, just outside the door.

"Yes, Miss. We recorded it."

The robot accessed a crystal memory chip inside himself and played back the words. They were gibberish, meaningless for now, primitive speech of simple phrases.

"You've got the main-frame computer on it, don't you?"

"Yes, Miss. The translation's about seventy percent complete. It's just fears and concerns over his location. And some swearing."

"Okay, good job. I'm going in there and read him. Stand guard in case something happens. I don't want you to come in unless there's a problem. You might frighten him."

"Yes, Miss."

Christine advanced, having turned off the containment field just before she entered. The mellowing mixtures of gas had been dispersed, the sensors having detected it in the man's system already. He was quite docile, now. She approached him, slowly. He was sitting on the bedding, for the moment, hands and feet still bound. She put her hands to his cranium, above his ears, when she was directly in front of him, and concentrated. He didn't seem afraid of her touch and Christine was glad of that and the man slipped into a kind of momentary trance as she began.

Reading his mind, she went past all the everyday things, the hunting, the location of his tribe, the skills he knew to stay alive in this world, they were all bye-passed until she came to the knowledge of the city. He feared it. No one ever went to the place, very often. There were evil spirits there and none of his people that had entered it, had ever returned. There was no knowledge of why. It was just that, silly stories and superstitions.

Christine looked into other parts of his mind and found nothing of interest and released her probing. She let the man go with the final suggestion of peacefulness to his brain and the knowledge that he did not have to fear her, the robots, or the gigantic ship.

She retreated and said to one of her robots, "Take him outside and release him from his bindings then let him go." She gave him the primitive axe, throwing strings, and knife. "Give these back to him, too, but do not allow him to re-enter the ship, is that clear?"

"Yes, Miss."

She went to a far off room, near the main entrance/exit, and unlocked the casement and retrieved a survival pack and took a sizable rifle, just in case.

By the time she got outside, the cave-man had been released and was standing off and away from the robots who stood guard at the bottom of the ramp.

"He hasn't left yet, Miss."

"It's just the gas. He'll leave when his senses return. If I'm not back in four hours, come and get me, and come fully armed, but be very cautions. His people," she motioned with her chin, "are extremely paranoid about this city. There must be something dangerous about it, even though it looks deserted."

"Yes, Miss."

"And stop calling me, Miss. I told you before, I want to be called by my name, okay?"

"Yes, Christine. I will spread the word, again. It's just our recharging. It resets to the original programming every forth cycle."

"Okay. Four hours. You got it, 73?" That was the lead robot's designation.

"I have, yes, Christine. If not back in four hours, come get you, heavily armed."

"Okay. See you around..." she said, and marched off into the wide polished marbles of the checkered street.

At seeing the cave man standing there in his stupor, she turned on her protection bubble and stripped back down to her waist.

The place was abandoned, by all observation. There was no one around, no sign of trash in the streets, and it was mid-morning. If people were here, there would be activity of some kind, somewhere. But there were no wild plants growing in all the little nooks and crannies, only the planted trees and shrubs in huge bowls that decorated things here and there, just as she expected to see everywhere else in the city, but they were groomed and watered, and apparently looked after. Christine saw nothing growing out of place but what wasn't supposed to be growing. Maybe it hadn't been too long since the inhabitants had left. But that didn't ring true. If the cave man's mind was correct. It had been like this for many many years. For generations, in fact.

She looked around, right off, and noticed the beauty of the plaza. All the stone was polished. The buildings, the plaza, everything. That takes a lot of effort, and its expensive and time consuming to maintain. Had the inhabitants discovered a way of preserving the polishing? No, that didn't ring true, either. Minerals in rain water would accumulate, dissolve, or catch dust from the air, making small pockets of soil where grass and weeds could take hold, that, or erode the minerals in the stone on a microscopic level. No. This place was being maintained, even if she couldn't see who or what was maintaining it at the moment.

She went into one of the big buildings. It looked public. The doors opened at her approach and she stepped to a directory of some kind. The words were in an alien alphabet. She couldn't read any of it.

Gazing up into the tall inner foyer, she was impressed with the architecture and the grandiose nature of it. Everything was on a enormous scale and had a modern appearance to it.

"Hello Christine, inhabitant of Mars. How may I assist you?" a voice spoke to her.

The greeting was certainly a surprise and the fact that it knew her name and origin was startling to say the least. Christine stared at the head high monolith of glass and stone that had spoken.

"How do you know who I am?" she inquired.

"I have scanned your computers to make your stay more agreeable. You are most welcome to Trangia. It will be nice to have intelligent beings on the planet once again. I look forward to meeting your people here, in the future. How may I make your stay more comfortable? Do you need directions?"

Christine stared at the stone and glass object. A machine A.I. had to be its source. She also knew it had to be an outcropping of a much larger system, a still functional, powerful, network, if it could scan her ship. Yet, how the deuce did it get into my computers? Hers was an alien system and encrypted, all her files were different, and only she held the codes. There must be a huge source of energy behind this A.I ... Only something very smart and extremely gifted could crack a scout ship's codes and learn Martian this quickly.

"Where are all the people?" she finally asked the faceless intelligence. "The people who built this city?"

"Oh. I see. You want history. Yes, that is easily arranged. Do you require transportation?"

She thought she might. "Yes," she said, curious about what it entailed.

"Very well. It is on its way and will be here momentarily."

She waited a minute or two and soon a sled, of sorts, free floating and with seating on it's platform, arrived just outside the main entrance.

"Hold the transportation," she said, getting curious about the rest of the place. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Very well, Christine," said the monolith.

She moved towards a ramp that had a conveyer belt for people on one side of its slope. She stepped up to it and watched it move. Christine saw no danger to it and got on. She noticed right off there was little decoration in the building, no paintings hung from the walls, no references in the architecture to plants, people, or animals. It was a little too modern, too static for her tastes.

She had a feeling the monolith intelligence was still with her, watching and listening.

"What is this buildings purpose?" she asked.

"It is a civic center for the entertainment of the cities inhabitants. We also have a wonderful display of musical instruments from the past and their evolvement. Would you like to visit the museum?"

"No thank you. Not at this time. Do you have any paintings?"

"No. I'm sorry. We don't. That would be in the Art museum. Another building. When you finish your historical tour, you are welcome to visit that as well. Will there be other guests arriving anytime soon?"

"No. Why do you want to know?"

"I would like to prepare food for as many guests as needed."

It used the word 'I'. She didn't like that. Maybe this A.I. had a self awareness, of sorts. That could sometimes be dangerous. Her people had learned that a long time ago. Smart, self aware, machines sometimes didn't always agree with human wants and wishes or man's goals. She had better stay on her toes.

"I see. You needn't prepare anything for me, thank you. I do not require sustenance."

"As you wish."

In spite of the huge auditoriums, several of them, a few neatly appointed offices and general gathering rooms, she assumed, were visited but still the place was empty and echoed. No people and there was no sign they had been around for some time. She went up several more flights and it appeared to be the same throughout. All very neat and tidy and all very empty.

There was nothing more to see and Christine left the building.

"We look forward to your continued patronage in the future, Christine," said the voice, as she exited.

Sheeze! This place was sickeningly polite, but she had to play the game before knowing better, that she herself should do likewise. Some A.I.'s could be pretty touchy.

The sled seemed made for people quite a bit larger than herself. And it didn't move until she had fastened her seat belt then slowly accelerated and took her to another building in the city, several very long blocks away. She tried keeping track of her direction and was fairly confident she could make her way back, but, she could always ask the A.I. to return her, if it was willing.

"Your destination, Christine," the monolith's same A.I. voice, announced. "The history archives." She couldn't tell if the voice was from her sled or from a hidden speaker somewhere around the entrance to the building. It was more than a little irritating to be constantly watched over, as she was, and spoken to as if she were a child.

The history building was an even more static environment and just as uninteresting. There were numerous booths you stepped into. You sat in preformed, very large chairs, for listening to information, as requested. There were no books but there were screens for visuals. She did learn, though, that people simply abandoned the place, one or tow at a time, or one family at a time. There was no explanations. She wondered though, and looked up outdoor outfitters and supply houses, things that people would need if they went camping. She had gotten a sense of a trend, a hunch, of what was going on around here and what had happened in the past. The outdoor stuff had taken a sharp rise at about the same time as the exodus. People had merely gotten fed up and irritated with the city, it looked like, and it doing everything for them. The planners of this world had designed this place too well, too perfectly, too absolute in its decision making and no one liked it. If the same thing had occurred on a planet wide scale, it would explain most things and why cities had been abandoned.

The population had apparently gone out into the wilderness, out past the borders of the city where it began, beyond the edge of their pampered environment, and gone native. They must have found some measure of happiness there and stayed with it, and faced the challenges, and the added effort it took to stay alive in the forest. Life was too easy within the walls of the city. People needed challenges to grow, to stay alive and develop, not this stagnant dictated existence. But they had retro learned and become much less than they had once been. And now as primitives, it would be a long hard struggle to bring them back to what they were, if it were, indeed, possible.

She came to the conclusion, too, having seen several machines at work in the screens, that the city was maintained by an array of small auto-bots. That made perfect sense. They kept the place immaculately groomed and new in appearance.

Christine was now curious about any food the machine had mentioned. "Where do you grow things at?"

"We have farms in the northeast quadrant, in several large facilities. Very little acreage is needed to take care of our current needs. We keep them active and producing things. The food is needed for the storage facilities."

"You stock the food?"

"No. We feed the people."

"What people?" Christine hadn't seen anyone.

"The planet's people that are stored for future usage. Would you like to tour one of the facilities?"

Stored? Usage? Facilities? Those descriptions didn't sound good but she played along. In some ways, the monolith intelligence was itself like a child. Too straight forward, too trusting. It seemed to be, anyway, to Christine.

"Yes. I'd love that. Thank you."

She was directed back to the sled and it took her to what seemed to be one of the largest buildings in the city. It was as tall as it was wide and that took up a lot of kilometers of sky and ground.

It had a rather small and plain looking frontage to it but like the rest of the city, it was easy on the eyes, if not a down right beautiful looking structure, though on a massive scale. The frame of refference to buildings on this scale were the old Egyptian's accomplishments of ancient earth, times to the tenth power. This civilization, whenever they had lived and control their own destinies, had big elaborate plans for their future society, and if they were still around, must truly be amazing individuals and people. As for all those that had left this metropolis, Christine thought, well, they had degenerated into something less than what they were, unfortunately.

The doors opened automatically for Christine, again. And again she passed through several walls and long corridors, following the newly lit areas the computer had illuminated for her.

She came to some massive doors and the A.I. told her, "Behold the future rulers of the world and beyond."

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