Circus of the Stars

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Chapter 3: An Uneasy Retirement

Prella and Jinq were worried. They had been on this world just a little longer than a week, and from the first moment, knew it was where they would make their new home. They had said their goodbyes to all their friends in the Circus, and had packed a small amount of luggage, although they knew that it would have to be discarded and replaced soon, as none of it came from this world. Learning the local language was a challenge, even with the assistance of their nannies. Neither of them knew just how long their nannies would last away from the Circus, and they intended to integrate as quickly as possible into this society. They used all of their resources to set up new identities, and to alter local records to match, as well as building credible cover stories. Lella had helped them tremendously, although she was very sad to part from her dear friends. Lella’s skills with media manipulation and languages were almost magical, and they had gifted her with some of their most precious possessions, which they knew could never be taken outside the Circus. But something wasn’t right—in fact, something was seriously wrong.

They had arrived on a world which was similar to their own. Although they came from different worlds, both of them had green biospheres, with forests, plains and oceans, and the smell of this world reminded them each of their own. Intuitively, they knew this was the one for them, and although the stars didn’t match any from their skies, they marvelled at the beauty of them, and the great span of the galactic arm they could see in the clear night skies. During the day, the unclouded blue of the heavens and the bright sunlight, with its high levels of UV, kept them indoors, although they hoped they could adapt with time. The Circus had established itself near a small village called Arrowtown, which was close to a major tourism centre in the country. After establishing bank accounts, and finding a place to stay temporarily, they started to work on their new personas.

Prella became Pieter Walker, a trader in gems and precious stones, while Jinq became Joy Walker, an artist specializing in portraits and landscape illustration. Finding art supplies was quite easy, and setting up an easel on the street soon attracted business, especially when passers-by could see the quick, deft strokes Jinq used to sketch faces. Gathering some of the local currency, the two were pleased to be able to enter a café, where they amused themselves by ordering from the menus--apologizing as foreigners for their poor English. They had decided to choose an unremarkable country as their pretended origin, and claimed to be travellers from Belgium, which was on the far side of the planet, and small enough to reduce the chances of meeting any real Belgians. They found the locals, who called themselves “Kiwis”, very friendly and welcoming.

Their years with the Circus had taught them that thousands of planets shared similar genetic origins, as a result of some early planetary seeding, and the shared DNA heritage meant that they could pass as local humans, without a determined genetic assay. Even if that happened, they would hopefully be regarded simply as a pair of mutations. Their nannies should deal with any unusual viral, bacterial or biological issues from the air, food or water, although they weren’t sure how long this protection might last, and hoped they could develop a natural immunity to the local bugs. Due to the common origins, and the slow march of evolution, they were always interested in seeing the divergence that occurred on the different worlds, with some creatures occupying different niches, while others simply didn’t appear, or had gone extinct.

Surprisingly, however, the one creature which seemed to appear consistently on every world they visited (even the ones without humans) was the honey bee, which built its characteristics hives, full of golden combs of honey, with their hexagonal chambers. Every time they saw a bee, or a hexagon, they were reminded of the Circus, which used such themes extensively in its architecture, as well as building most of its mythology on legends related to bees.

The were walking along the small main street of the town after their lunch, talking happily together about the Circus and its bee themes. Thoughts of bees were suddenly chased from their minds, when they learned from their nannies of a hostile nannie attack, which began as soon as they passed near a colourful fast-food restaurant. Rushing from the place, they quickly retreated to a nearby park, and were relieved that their own nannies had been successful in defeating the foreign invaders, which were air-borne and very infectious.

This was a very worrying development, because this planet was only a Stage 3 -- it couldn’t possibly have developed any nannie technology of its own yet, which meant that some foreign invader--alien of course--had arrived on the planet to work its mischief. After some internal forensics of the defeated nannies (it took some minutes to crack the crypto protecting their core programming), they learned that these nannies were deep-cover sequestration hostiles, which could effectively take over local humans, remaining dormant until some trigger activated their programming, and then uploading new memories and memes into the local population. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no trace of the originators, however the fact of its existence on this planet meant that they now had no choice--they had to investigate. Gone was any possibility of fading quietly into obscurity, blending with the locals and living the rest of their days quietly. Their determination to deal with this threat to their new adopted world overrode their personal preferences, and wordlessly, they held hands and stared bleakly into the future, as they walked back to their temporary accommodation.

“Jinq, we’re stuck here, and our planned retirement has now become a mission. We can’t let these people be taken over--we’ve got to help them,” said Prella.

Jinq replied “You think I don’t know that? I feel just as shocked as you. Nothing in our training has prepared us for this. If we’re going to start investigating what’s going on here, then we need to decide just how we should respond. What happens if there is a confrontation? I don’t think our nannies have any offensive capabilities.... they’re really good at defence, but that might not be enough. And we also don’t know how long our nannies will last with the Circus gone. We’ve never met anyone who left the circus before -- I was a little worried that they might just.... you know.”

Prella shook his head. “I don’t think that the Intelligence behind the Circus would do that. Apart from the Collecting of children (which is pretty bad), I’ve not seen any evidence of evil. So, please don’t worry that our nannies would turn on us.”

“Prella, we’ve been through some tough times, and I’m glad you’re here with me. We’re both alone here... no friends, no family. This is the first time we’ve had the chance to stay in any one place more than a week--we have no option. But where do we begin? I guess our first priority has to be gathering intelligence, find out what’s happening on this planet. The few newscasts which I saw seem to suggest that this planet is experiencing climate changes, over non-trivial time periods, and is heading for a massive energy infrastructure shortage, when their hydrocarbons run out. They don’t seem to be taking this threat seriously, even though they talk about it--but more significantly, I read that their bees are dying. Perhaps they don’t know what that will mean, but I think that’s where we need to go first--we have to do something about the bees. Without them, this planet is lost. And not just the people....”

“Right. Let’s start today, as soon as we find a new place to stay. We need to maintain our cover of a European tourist couple -- so let’s do some tourist things. And as a tourist, I would like to visit a local beekeeper, and see what we can learn.”

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