Where are the trees?
Duke is a traveller, who crashes on to a planet. He is amazed at the way of living of the people inhabiting the planet. They are basically inhabitants from the earth, but he finds that they have revolutionized their bodies with the help of some technology such that the pollution content in the planet is negligible. Duke’s logic fancies this planet to be the best place to live given the eco-friendly environment, but his heart cannot accept it, he is in a dilemma as to the process the people adopt in order to make the planet a healthy place to live in.
This fiction was an entry in the Sci Fi Eclat contest held during Techniche IIT Guwahati.
Sitting on the bench, Duke gazed around at the sparsely furnished dining room and smiled at his thoughts. ‘Dining table’ and ‘furniture’ were words of his civilization, one that he had left 512 light years behind. Light years? Old term again. Now they measured distance in ‘bends’, referring to the number of times the time-space continuum had to be bent to reach a galaxy. Duke had bent the thread of time 8 times, much higher than the estimated 5 times that Eon, his father, the galaxy traveller had estimated. Eon reminded him of how far he was from his birth planet, his thoughts materializing automatically on the wall ahead, the light blue wall paint giving way to vibrant red- the original earth, earth of his fore fathers, the earth that had created geniuses who tore through the blanket called space, but could not save itself from the torture of its children. Legend had it that Man had ravaged through the planet, mercilessly, gobbling up its resources, spewing out dark materials into the environment, defiling its beauty and sanctity and escaped at the last moment through the slit in space from the angry reciprocating planet. The red blob in the wall changed to the still colored hexagonal structure that Duke fondly called his home, the Steel planet. His sexy steel planet did not rotate like other bodies. It was surrounded on all sides by chunks of magnetic rocks, the magnetic force substituting for the gravitational force.
The shimmering in the walls alerted him to the presence of his escort and his planet faded into the light blue paint with a pang of pain. Thoughts aside he turned to his escort, today it was a woman, her age unfathomable. Duke had learnt in his short stay to stop wondering about the age of the people here. They were like phoenixes to him. Living on pure oxygen and burning spontaneously to death when they were ‘bored’. Duke had landed in this planet ‘4-oxygen-tanks’ ago. Not landed, but rather bumped. As soon as his flying disk entered the atmosphere of the planet, its thrusters had stopped burning and he had splattered down into this weird planet. Duke had jumped out of his disc, fearing an explosion, but nothing had happened. The fire died down as soon as it flared, and Duke felt a constricting force enveloping his brain. His last thoughts were, ’Eon was wrong, there is no oxygen here.’
Duke walked out of his room, put on his modified oxygen mask and placed the ultra light oxygen tank in his pocket. He had discovered that the tank contained nothing but a genetically modified chlorophyllus being that converted his exhaled carbon-dioxide into oxygen and worked in sync with his breathing rhythm. As he stepped out into the open, the air-less environment felt strange against his skin. Duke wondered, if there was no air, then what had pushed the hair against his body? The surroundings reminded him of an overcast day back home. The sky was white, dirty white, oppressing in its monotone, casting an eerie glow on the objects below. It was always ‘early dawn’ around here.
The job of his escorts was to make him acclimatized with the geography, history and customs of the planet. He was treated like royalty here. He was apparently the first ‘earthly-lung-man’ in this planet in about a quarter of a millennium. Lung man! Duke did not understand the reference till date. He planned to ask his escort today. Duke had heard too many allusions to breathing from the moment he had come to his consciousness. His healers were astounded to find a man with a set of functioning lungs in their midst. His uniqueness is what gave him the royal status. The council men were yet to decide on his fate. But Duke had a feeling that whatever they did, they would try to stop him from leaving the planet. But that was for future. His immediate need was to know about the planet, how he would survive without his escorts and how these people breathed without their tanks.
He stole a glance at his escort. He was not sure how to start a topic. Normally in his steel planet, women found him quite sexy. His brown warm eyes were good enough to draw them into a conversation. But he was not sure if his eyes would do the trick here. The ‘beings’ of the other sex were quite taller than him, nearly a couple of feet tall. The man and woman were of equal size, unlike his parents – his father was a hefty feet taller than his mother. Duke was like his father – tall and fearless, enchanting and adventurous. Turning back to the present- the woman beside him seemed to be made of sturdier material; he did not seem to have any effect on her. Well fine, she was the first being of the fairer sex he had come across after coming here. He needed to get hold of the rule book of mating, faster the merrier. He stopped in his walks and turned towards her.
“How do you know my tongue?” he asked.
“It’s the tongue of our forefathers”, came back the curt reply.
“Fore fathers? How is that possible? It’s a language created by the earthlings thousands of years ago. No way can you have created the same thing in the same time frame. It’s an impossible probability.”
Duke noticed that her face clouded in doubt. He himself was confused. This race of alien was the only one he had ever come across who looked so alike to the lost-man-of-dead-planet-earth. They may be taller in height and larger looking. But the basic structure remained the same. Duke decided to prod her farther.
“How did you people evolve to such complex beings?”
“Evolve? If that means change, then we evolve every time a child is born.”
Duke was mystified. Such fast rate of evolution he had not encountered anywhere. And the female was speaking of children, but he did not seem to notice any child around there. Duke gave her a quizzing look.
She glanced at him and muttered, “You speak of earth so much, what do you find missing here that was in earth?”
Duke, “No living being has seen the earth. It was destroyed 100 years ago. Its stories are a part of legend, as the first planet to contain moving-thinking-consuming creatures. How do you know about earth? Your planet is not known to be a travelling planet. I discovered it for the first time. No evolved earthling has ever been here before.”
The girl gave a slow laughter, as if she was weighing her options. “Well before I comment further, I think you should see how we breathe. It is the answer to all your queries. Follow me.”
The girl proceeded towards a row of glass covered dwarf buildings. Duke followed in her wake, trudging his feet along. He was at last seeing his chance of unraveling the mysteries behind the idiosyncrasies of this unknown planet.
“ By the way, my name is Ash. I am the caretaker of the facility.”
The name struck Duke as perfect for a woman in this grey-hued planet. Duke understood that it was by design that he was present there, not because of his questions.
Ash started her monologue about Kajrach, yes, that was the name of the planet, “We were not created here. Neither did we evolve out of any other organism. We are the original inhabitants from earth. We came out of the planet a long time ago. About a quarter of a millennium ago, when men were trying to break through the filaments of space, a private group lead by a maverick engineer succeeded in parting the curtains of time and zapped through space to land here – a previously uninhabited planet supporting life as on earth. The Engineer decided to create a perfect planet, a planet devoid of pollution – the ailment that had driven men to the verge of extinction. The earth had become an impossible place to live in and man was searching for an alternate accommodation for himself and other species. The engineer, as he is known now, decided to inhabit this planet, and shift all organisms here. But first he decided to rid this planet of any chance of pollution. The engineer identified the human emission of carbon dioxide as the prime reason of pollution. He decided to rid the atmosphere of all its carbon dioxide, a deed that created its own complications. The excessive nitrogen in the atmosphere led to spontaneous fire all around, the oxygen supplementing the cause. So the engineer, hard headed genius that he was decided to remove the oxygen and the nitrogen from the atmosphere as well. This was a revolutionary step as it provided a new vista for pollution free world. The solution according to him was the oxygen produced by the sea plants. The oxygen produced by sea plants was the purest and he found a method to tap into them. He filled the atmosphere with the heavy rare gases and helium to maintain the atmospheric pressure and keep all objects on earth. He had planned everything. But then the problems started. Men found it cumbersome to move around with the heavy oxygen tanks day in and day out. So the engineer took one last radical step. He cut away the lungs from the human system.”
Duke had been listening till now with rapt attention, in fear, in trepidation. He could not grasp the fact that the planet which felt so safe and clean was a result of such heartless actions, such violent decisions. It mortified him beyond reason. To think that a planet had been discovered with oxygen and atmosphere was a blessing that had not been felt for so long. And to think an educated man destroyed everything just to fulfill his gruesome ambition made Duke stop his imagination.
“So how do you breathe?” he blurted out.
“The engineer figured out a way to supply pure oxygen to the body. The genius of the plan lies in the fact that he did not dismantle the whole human system. He substituted the lungs with biologically stable oxygen – carbon-dioxide cylinders. The right cylinder is filled with oxygen and the left is kept empty. As our body produces carbon dioxide, we don’t eject it out into the environment, we store it in the empty lungs. And we have portal to empty it out. Isn’t it a stroke of genius?”
Duke was rooted to the spot. The brilliance of the plan slowly drawing him in, but morality was raging a war inside him, tearing him apart.
“And to top it off, he installed a filter system in the nose and thoracic cavity that filtered helium from the environment and store it in the empty space in lungs, the helium allowing us to lift ourselves off the ground and travel to far off distances. Our distances and height can be controlled by the amount of helium inhaled.”
The girl gave a self satisfied smug smile that just heightened Duke’s sense of bewilderment. The ruthless procedure had elucidated most of the pollution allied ailments ailing mankind. But was it morally correct? Duke knew that the technology used in removing oxygen and nitrogen from the atmosphere and filling it up with heavy rare gases and helium was a technology developed in the last days of the dying earth, even the technology to filter out gases from the environment. But to use it in a human system was stroke of brilliance.
Ash was not finished yet. She was enjoying the look of appreciative bewilderment on his face. She continued, “If you have noticed, there are no young ones in this planet. That’s because children are still born with lungs, but they have become vestigial due to lack of use. Each child is sent to the department after its birth, where its lungs are cut out and bio-agreeable oxygen cylinders are put. Each child is monitored till its body has accepted the foreign machinery which takes about 5-6 years. But the sacrifices we had to make are that we have lost all animals, birds and trees on land, which of course has provided us with more land space to live in.”
Duke’s mortification was complete. He was aghast at the apparent apathy of the woman and the lack of sympathy towards other living beings. But casting all doubts aside and keeping all confusions at bay, Duke had one last doubt. What did they eat? He gave voice to his thoughts.
“Since trees are the basic level in any food chain, and you don’t have any more trees, then what do you consume for energy?”
Ash gave a sad smile. “It is one more low point of our civilization. We consume mostly fluids. Our solids are attained from the water bodies. But you are mistaken in thinking we have no trees. Our controlled facilities have trees encased within glass bowels. It is where the carbon dioxide produced by us is recycled. We collect oxygen mainly from plants in water bodies, but the trees on land help in reprocessing the waste products we produce. As far as the solid waste products are considered, we don’t have any because the pure oxygen we intake burns out all the food we consume providing us with hundred percent energy. We are a pollution free planet.”
Duke smirked at the thought. Pollution free physically, but polluted in mind. Now that he had delved into the secrets of the planet, Duke was not sure of his plans. He had found a perfect place to live in. A pollution free environment which seemed to be running on dictatorial rules. He deduced that the people were larger than him because they had to accommodate oxygen tanks inside them. They measured life times in the number of times a person refilled his oxygen tanks because the apparent lack of Sun, day or night made it impossible to keep track of time. Duke’s mind raced through the possibilities on hand. He could not live on this planet forever; he at least could not lose his lungs to the knife of a mindless surgeon. But the people living on this planet did not seem to mind the predicament. They almost seemed to be too peaceful, like yogis he had heard about. May be it was the effect of the pure oxygen.
Duke reflected on the things he still did not know about the planet- their daily life, source of knowledge, economy, war, governance. But he had started understanding the thought running the planet and it had sent a shiver down his spine. The fearless traveller inside him had awakened and risen to the challenge of this pollution free planet, but if he transformed himself to live in this sad planet he would not be able to move out of it. His life would be bounded by a short lease – the absence of his lungs!
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