Artemis

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11

We recalled our arrival on Artemis. We were still of the opinion that we’d be blamed for the expiration of the one we found in the street the day we arrived but to date, nothing had been said. We concluded that we were considered “not so bright” by our new neighbours who had already discovered how to multiply water from just one drop.

We had heard that Artemis possessed technology so advanced that it had all but obliterated crime from their existence. The last murder was committed at least ten years before. No one dared to speculate if it were in fact a murder or perhaps a simple hemorrhage. However, Artemisians had never heard of such a thing as a haemorrhage.

They ate only food produced through bio-technology and appeared healthier than we could ever imagine. No one seemed older than forty and we dared not ask if they euthanazed their aged.

The green blood. Okay, that explained it. Only plant-based biotech food was consumed here. Animals did not exist and if it did, would not interest them in the least as food.

It was one of the first things we noticed. There simply were no aged citizens, not even facilities for the aged. No one appeared to have any wrinkles. A few people were sparsely grey but it appeared more as if they were prematurely grey since they looked so youthful and spritely.

The next day, the pool of blood was still there, as fresh as the day before.

Artemis was only two light years from the fourth sun. There was enough heat to have dried up the green blood but strangely that didn’t happen. We could not ponder too much over things we could not understand.

When we first arrived, people were hurrying along the dry, dusty road. At first we didn’t take much notice, but then quickly realized that Artemisians didn’t hang around the way we did to form curious crowds.

After we had alighted from the Zygo which we parked safely in a cave, we decided to explore the area when we realized that no welcoming party had been sent to greet us.

The cave was poorly-lit, the ground unexpectedly dry and dusty and no one was there to show us the way.

“Has anyone else’s watch stopped?” I enquired. It seemed that our watches had been affected by the long gruelling trip into the fourth dimension. Time was another conundrum we had to deal with. We had no idea how long we had been on Artemis but estimated, well, we tried because you see, there was no disntinction between day and night either. It could have been two days or perhaps a season since our concept of time had to change if we were to make sense of anything.

We could only relate to time in the Earth sense and since there was a permanent sun hovering overhead, there was no rotation of the planet into light and dark phases. We could not recall seeing any shadows either. Not even reflections of any kind, which confirmed that what we knew as the sun was not that at all but an artificial light source.

We knew things would be different but we were not prepared for the psychological upheaval our minds would experience. We were slightly angry that our training had not prepared us for the drastic change.

“So, who’s to blame for the way we feel? I wanted to know. ‘I guess we could have done more research ourselves. The right kind of research. Survival research. Instead, we were focused on whether water existed here, which is important and the only purpose of our mission but we overlooked everything else.’

We adjusted ourselves to prepare for the worst.

We made our way tentatively out of the cave and surveyed the wasteland covered in white dust - the same white dust we had noticed on nearing the landing site.

The dry air hit our lungs like darts and the sun somehow seemed like an artificial, metallic reflection.

A few moving dots on the horizon told us there was life on Artemis but we weren’t sure if they were human or animal. As we surveyed the horizon, they would disappear as suddenly as they appeared, convincing us that they must have been animals of some sort. We were hesitant to approach and kept retreating back into the cave.

Since we were still accustomed to awaking and retiring at regular intervals, it took us a few days to figure out that any outcrop served as a doorway to the underground. A sensor would trigger the door to open for anyone who came within two meters of it. So after returning to the Zygo to sleep and eat the last of our supplies, we decided to approach an outcrop which opened for us, admitting us into a well-lit though bare reception area.

“Welcome to Artemis, Earthlings. What took you so long?” A disembodied voice projected itself into our presence. We looked up and all around but saw no-one, just television screens showing what we thought were movies but later discovered were activities taking place in various parts of Artemis.

“Well, we were expecting a welcome committee to guide us but since there was none, we had to figure things out first.” We had no way of knowing if anyone was even listening to us or if we were expected to respond.

“Wasn’t so difficult, was it? Must admit we expected you to take much longer. Earthlings aren’t known for their cognitive skills, we hear. Usually we let humanoids take their time about learning things but since you are scientists, we figured, we wouldn’t have to wait too long. We are patient here on Artemis. ”

What an insult. We considered ourselves to be highly educated scientists and we were about to explain when we were interrupted.

‘Yes, yes, we know. Highly educated Scientists without knowledge of how to create water.’

Okay. Apart from the telepathic intrusion, back on Earth people respected us but here, we were considered numb nuts. That was a bit of a dressing down.

We never did find out who the voice belonged to. Some said it was a computer generated voice, although, it was far too pleasant to be artificial. Su-Len said it was the Grand Master of Artemis, while Donny believed it was the Master of the Orion Nations. Frankly, I had never heard of any of this.

The voice continued with introductions. Stand completely still for decontamination. A fine chemical mist appeared that instantly refreshed us and turned everything a faint blue. You will now be moved into the holding area. The floor began to move forward like an escalator. As we neared the wall, it opened up to reveal the underground city buzzing with life very much like an underground train station. Large television screens projected an image of a greying yet, youthful looking male from surrounding walls, talking directly to our delegation. You will find everything you need in your hotel suite. An attendant is standing by to escort you. Then we saw the vehicle and the attendant beckoning us to board what looked like a futuristic minibus.

As wew drove, no buildings as we knew on Earth were visible anywhere. Underground was the best place to be to avoid the arid conditions. There was just no way to avoid breathing in the fine white dust, yet no one wore masks. Few people ventured aboveground if they could avoid it. It was for this very reason that we assumed that Artemis had a sparse population, but boy, were we wrong.

Only once we acquainted ourselves with life underground did we come into contact with the general populace.

A successful breeding Programme had stabilized the population and rid it of foreign contamination. It had become a criminal offence to mate with non-Artemisians. So, our fifty-year old looking for an Artemisian sperm donor was out of luck anyway.

Underground was a well-lit self-sustaining metropolis where everything seemed to work like clockwork.

Roads were wide and clean. Everywhere we went, there was the same voice constantly offering advice, such as “please cross at the traffic lights only,” or “you are waiting too long, please cross now.” I guess there were speakers mounted into the walls of the buildings, or perhaps it was the street lights, we were never quite sure.

Our driver was silent throughout the trip. We on the other hand were like children on Christmas morning.

“Wow, look at that. Did you see that? That car rose straight up into the air from a parking position. Did you see that car drive sideways? Did you see that crowd of people all stop at once?

When our vehicle stopped, we wanted to strand and stare at our new surroundings but we were urged to go into the building rather. We took our luggage and walked into the elevator which took us forward to our quarters. Once more we were surprised by a forward-moving elevator but once we reached the end of the corridor, it took us straight up to the seventieth floor and deposited us at our hotel suite. It was convenient that once inside the suite, we could simply press a button for the elevator and it would arrive at our door. The fast motion caused our heads to spin and when we alighted, we were unsteady on our feet. It took just a few seconds to adjust though and once inside, we had to become acquainted with future living.

We opened cupboards, looked for a toaster, kettle, pots and pans but found none. Once more the voice reminded us that things were different. We would eat in a communal hall and adhere to a strict timetable if we were to adjust fully to our new surroundings.

We soon came to miss the warmth of the sun, the early rays of sunrise and the last rays of dusk, promising a respite after the heat of a summer’s day.

We noticed that there were public computers or data stations as they called it freely available everywhere. We were free to enquire about anything anywhere or anytime that suited us. Not that we always received comprehensible answers. It took a while for the novelty to wear off and soon we became dependent on the omnipresent machines.

We were out strolling along the pavement when a voice alerted us.

“Are you looking for information?” We heard the mellifluous computer generated voice accompanied by a beautiful picture of a young, almost Asian-looking female with copper skin.

She could have been a real Data Official trying to assist us or she could have been a mere computer generated image, programmed to repeat the words at regular intervals, regardless of whether anyone was present or not.

Our fears soon melted away when we discovered via a public research computer that solar energy was being efficiently harnessed to keep the entire planet of Artemis working masterfully. We were sceptical, but not about to argue with anyone, or should I say anything, from such an advanced race.

It was obvious that everyone and everything was under constant surveillance to be adjusted to perfection at all times.

Traffic was robotically evenly-spaced and flowed at an uncannily moderate pace. Cars stopped exactly where and when they were supposed to as if remote-controlled. We found out soon enough that all vehicles were programmed for their routes to synchronize with the traffic lights. Steering wheels and hand brakes had become obsolete. Biometric facial readers recorded every action of the driver, such as opening doors, starting vehicles and planning routes.

An on-board mini-computer gave the driver a constant update of statistical data such as temperature of the engine, biofuel consumption and how many kilometers before the next refuel. The cost of the driver’s biofuel came out of his worker tax as did the purchase of the vehicle.

That was one idea we were keen to take back to Earth. When we enquired about purchasing a vehicle for ourselves, however, we were told that we could only do so if we were prepared to stay for at least three years. Since we were not sure how long we would be on Artemis, or how long three years was in Artemesian time, it became a dilemma best left alone for now and instead, we opted to use a government spare for which a general itinerary was programmed by a secretary.

It would have been exciting to experience driving a car that could be propelled straight up into the air to avoid congestion on the road. We were told that using the hydro-propulsion engines was illegal in most zones and that they were mainly used outside where vast tracts of land could be traversed. This was to allow us to become better acquainted with their technology and to avoid causing any disruptions to their perfect way of life. We understood that to mean that we were expected to have an accident or two.

We were not permitted to go anywhere without notice or permission and touring was out of the question. It was understood that we were on a high-level mission to acquire the technology to manufacture water for the entire Earth. The plan was to set up manufacturing plants on every continent and branch out from there in order to sustain what was left of the Earth population.

Twenty years’ back, we attempted to utilize polar ice but the project ceased due to the high accident and death rate. It was a brilliant idea but we were unable to master the technology. There were too many challenges.There was also a concern from the last remaining three Arctic Scientists that reducing the polar ice would affect the weather adversely as ice shelves began to shift dramatically, causing major flooding in the east, killing off most of Japan. That was only the start of our concerns.

The last surviving scientists were thought to have died of dehydration. When communication was lost everyone assumed that their equipment had broken down and we would hear from them once it was restored. Each day a television news broadcast showed the inside of the base station where no activity could be seen taking place.Two weeks later, attempts to reach them through social media was unsuccessful. Everyone waited with bated breath for activity Via Skype camera but when it showed no movement at the base a recovery team was sent in.

The scientists had stopped drinking melted ice when they began manifesting unusual symptoms. When the bodies were evacuated, a diary was discovered. Contrary to popular belief, the long-term isolation was not a contributing factor to their deteriorating emotional and mental health, since they were in constant contact with the world via internet and skype. Around the world footage of activities at the water base could be watched, very much like a reality show. They seemed very healthy from what we gathered. Nothing seemed out of place as they went about their business of directing construction of the water pipeline.

The public suspected a cover-up but government stuck to their lies.

Everyone was excited when the first melted ice reached the Ethiopian desert. Children played in the cold water, as it formed a dam, spewing forth into the hot desert pan. They had never seen so much water before, only ever having seen small quantities of water in bottles.

People were seen drinking the water as they swam, constantly diving under like excited dolphins. Ululating from the villagers kept journalists and photographers enthralled while they recorded the event. Television networks camped out in the desert to the first sight of water being piped to the desert and the first gush onto the hot sand, sending plumes of steam high into the sky. It was an undescribably joy to see the change in peoples’ lives. Once starving, naked and depressed, now they didn’t mind being seen going crazy over water. They could started planting vegetables and fruit. Seeds arrived from all over, causing congestion in harbors. People arrived on foot from diverse quarters to witness the amazing spectacle and talked of growing trees there once more like it did millions of years ago. It would change the climate, they said.

One Ethiopian was shown building a boat and when they interviewed him, he was heard saying that God had revealed to him that the lake will become so vast that boats will be needed to navigate from one end to the other.

Construction workers came to build a village. There was talk of factories and roads being planned for what was anticipated as boom time.

The project was an enormous success. There was hope for the Ethiopians to rebuild their lives, finally.

True to form the Americans were out in full force, setting themselves up as masters, wanting control over everyone’s activities, criticizing here, adjusting there and generally interfering where people thought they were doing good.

A committee consisting of American and British diplomats was formed. They held meetings everyday until they reached the conclusion that the Ethiopians had become mentally unstable as a result of having too much water. The British sent troops to defend the man-made wadi and soon a war ensued, which raged for three years. Finally, when the last defenseless Ethiopian died, footage appeared of the Americans congratulating the British for supposedly for defending the wadi. It was not surprising that no Americans or British had perished during the war.

Global hysteria arose. Everyone took up arms. Many tried to make their way to the desert but were not allowed into the country. When the numbers swelled and people diverted to the Artic instead, world governments saw this as a threat.

Everything came to a halt when Scientists no longer applied for research posts in the Arctic. Even when newspapers advertised for high school drop-outs at exorbitant salaries, no-one applied. Army recruits absconded as soon as they learnt where they were being deployed to. It became a global joke.

Once the bodies of the scientists were removed from the Arctic water base, the facility had to be shut down and abandoned as a failed project. The facility was simply ripped apart until no evidence of it remained.

People watched as the wadi shrank until just a puddle remained. The children stood and stared, waiting for the adults to tell them that everything would be fine, that the wadi would be brought back to life. Many continued to hope that the project would resume, that perhaps there was someone who could save it but each day more people left. The soldiers packed up their tents, got into their trucks and drove away across the desert. Construction workers stopped working and just sat around moping until they too packed up and left. The boat builder sat on the deck of his incomplete boat and people returned to their desperate way of life silently waiting but nothing happened.

Another project sprang up to harvest flood water, but this project too came to naught when our last oil well dried up. Global warming was at peak crisis point and it took enormous amounts of fuel to keep the tankers transporting water to various destinations. We depended on the Arab world to green its expansive desert territory but they were unable to produce biofuel efficiently enough to keep up with demand.

Constant interfence from Green Peace kept stalling their efforts to run the plant optimally. It became nothing but a liability.

Others tried but the process was too tedious to produce large enough quantities to fill the extensive fleets of tankers. The desert pipelines would have worked had it not been destroyed by American bombers who had become jealous of advanced Arab technology. The repair work too had to be abandoned when materials became unavailable.

It was official. Earth was bankrupt. Our inability to produce renewable energy had screeched to a halt.

It took us almost two years to convince government to seek new water manufacturing technology. All the research turned up blank until a young astronomer stumbled across Artemis in his cyber explorations. At first no-one was convinced that it was the answer but further research revealed that the necessary technology did in fact exist there.

Our only challenge was getting there in time to save our planet.

Life had all but died yet humans still took the chance to breed. Whether it was a conscious decision to save our Earth nation or merely instinct, was a moot point. Rumors abounded about people having babies to eat them.

World government tried to convince us that it was just a rumor despite the internet running multiple stories and pictures about fetus food.

Religious groups were running petitions and staging protests everywhere. One night when trains were delayed, station 349 was congested by a vociferous religious group shouting slogans and confronting innocent bystanders about their beliefs. Doctors who were responsible for terminating pregnancies became the prime target. Abortion clinics were prevented from taking patients, nurses were stoned and doctors’ cars were burnt.

I took pains to avoid eye contact and made my way resolutely through the crowd to my car, which thankfully was unscathed.

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