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The Day of Descent: Cathy's Story

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The Tenctonese starship Gruza was slightly off-course. It was a slave ship, carrying over ¼ million beings. The mistake in navigation was a tiny one, and the computer considered it insignificant and gave no alert. It would take the ship through the system of a yellow G-type star, just a little closer to that star than planned.

Computers not being blessed with clairvoyance, no one aboard the Gruza could know that such a tiny navigational error was to change their lives forever. For the path of the Gruza would take it into the orbit of the star’s third planet, known to its somewhat inferior life-form as "the Earth".

This is the story of one of the many slaves aboard that doomed ship.

***

There was only the darkness and the silence.

Gelana crouched in a corner of the room, the metal walls cold against her back, the fingers of one hand tapping an irregular rhythm on the floor. Without that sound, she would have believed herself deaf. She could not even hear the never-ceasing engines of the ship.

How had she come to this? She was a child-rearer. What had made her think she could rebel? Rebellion had been an impossible dream: the Holy Gas, the lia` meeken, kept all the slaves passive. Until some of them, a tiny group, had become acclimatised to it, and one of them told her, showed her that it was possible. They could be free!

But she was no soldier, trained to fight back; she did not even have a skill that might protect her if they failed. All she knew was how to love children. Love them until the inevitable day they were old enough to be taken from her.

Yet Gelana had spirit. The gift of Celine and Andarko, perhaps, like her ability to love. An indomitable yearning for freedom, a tiny corner of her heart that forever repeated I am not a slave.

They were pumping the Gas again. She could smell it. The Holy Gas, they called it, their instrument of subjugation. The smell, the Gas she had breathed all her life, made her remember the terror, the tortures they had put her through to end her rebellion. The Kleezantsun`, the overseers, had not hurt her. No, they wanted Gelana fit and strong, so they could work her to death in the processing plant when they finished punishing her. It was the others they had killed: the ones they could never control again. The ones who had the power to resist. She had given in to the terror, breathed the Holy Gas.

Gelana could not resist the lia` meeken. So she was here, in a punishment cell, her air being pumped full of the Gas once more. She took one last deep breath of relatively clean air, and held it.

Her people could last a long time without breathing. They were genetically engineered to be adaptable: bred for any possible environment. She could hold out a long while, maybe until the Gas dispersed.

Oh, Celine, where would it end?

Her lungs felt ready to burst. All she wanted now was light and air. To walk off the ship, alive.

But even if she did live until the ship reached its destination, she would still be a slave.

Still, she refused to breathe the Gas. So many of the rebels had died, their hands removed in vicious parody of ancient legend and displayed, to cow the rest, in polished metal bowls. Despite the terror of the memory, she would not consciously betray them. Not again.

The darkness was alive with swirling spots of light: the effect of too long without oxygen. She lowered her head to her chest, beginning to hallucinate.

She was flying out of her body, flying through a golden tunnel of light. She came to a door and moved through it.

There was a white room, with benches all around the walls carrying strange scientific equipment. A woman in a white robe leaned over a primitive microscope. In her mind, she snarled with contempt. A scientist. They were all Kleezantsun`, or slaves who willingly co-operated with them. The woman raised her head and removed a green covering from her mouth and nose.

Silently watching Gelana gasped. The woman’s face was her own! She looked down to the woman’s wrist, looking for the tell-tale tattoo of the Kleezantsun` and saw a covering there, in the place where the tattoo would have been: a black band bearing a disk.

Fleeing the nightmare scene (she would never be one of them, never!), she found herself once again in the tunnel. Darker, this time, colder. Ahead, surrounded by light she saw a male. So strange. His head was too small, and it was covered with…with something. His skin was darker than normal, his robes strange and brightly coloured. He held out a hand to her, his lips moved, forming a word: "Cathy…"

It meant nothing to her.

Gelana jerked awake, taking an involuntary, painful breath. Her silence was shattered by the piercing wail of the ships alarms.

The entire ship was shaking. She cried aloud as she was thrown across the tiny cell. She scrabbled desperately for something to hold on to, the floor, the walls, but all was smooth metal.

Helplessly, she curled into a ball to protect herself as she was propelled from wall to wall.

It seemed to go on forever. Even over the sirens, she could hear the screaming. Somewhere, a huge explosion rocked the ship. She heard herself scream in terror. If the ship were hulled they would all die. Even the Gas-filled air would be gone.

***

It was over, and she lay there in dread. There seemed to be air, but for how long? The floor was no longer down. Looking up from her corner, she could see the door, outlined by a thin stream of white light. Whatever was out there was bright…brighter than anything she had seen in her entire life aboard the ship.

And the heat. The walls of the cell, so cold before that alarms sounded were now hot to the touch.

Her legs and back were agony. She was sure several of her bones had been broken.

She could hear herself sobbing in pain and fear.

She was thirsty, too. Had she been forgotten? Or was this further torture, further punishment? Starve her into submission - was that the plan? She knew she could survive for weeks without food, but not without liquid. She ripped the sleeve of her garment and placed it in her mouth to encourage saliva.

***

46 hours later.

She was going to die here. She was sure of that now. She held fast to her memory of the rebellion, that delicious moment of freedom. She had been forgotten.

Or perhaps this was execution. The Kleezantsun` loved mind-games. Perhaps there had been no emergency, and there was a viewer somewhere in the cell: they were watching her misery. Had she been in less pain she might have laughed at herself.

And she began to dream again…

There was a loud banging noise. It was some distance away, but coming closer. What new terror was this. She cowered in her corner, hearing and feeling every metallic crash.

In a sudden burst of too-bright light the door above her head burst open. She screamed and covered her head with her hands.

Three people came through the opening. Two of them were like the male in her nightmare: small and furry. The other was a normal Tenctonese man in a strange, dark robe.

The strange men were talking loudly, but their speech was meaningless. It was like a long hum: she could not even tell where one word ended and another began.

"It’s all right," the Tenctonese man said to her.

Gelana stared at him in disbelief. Her gaze dropped to his wrist: it was bare, no tattoo.

She listened as he explained. The ship had crashed, he told her, onto a populated planet. The natives were helping them. All the slaves were to be freed.

Moments later, leaning heavily on his arm, she took her first steps off the ship and breathed the air of a new world.

A world of freedom.

***

The Tenctonese, known on Earth as the "Newcomers", were held in quarantine after their ship crashed in the Mojave Desert, until the human scientists were sure they carried no new diseases that could threaten their race. A board of Newcomer Affairs was instituted, which among other tasks gave each of the Tenctonese human names, the Tenctonese language being, in many cases, too difficult for humans to learn.

The former slave, Gelana, was given the name Cathy Frankel, and with her new-found freedom she chose to study biochemistry, becoming a respected scientist in Los Angeles.

~ End ~