,   .           .    +      .     o 
    .            , 
        *       -o-               .         .          *        .
                     ,         *          -0====>
     / /                                                 '
    / /         ___              ___     //  ___      ___      ___    
   / /        //   ) ) ||  / / //___) ) // //   ) ) //   ) ) //___) ) 
  / /        //   / /  || / / //       // //   / / //       //        
 / /____/ / ((___/ /   ||/ / ((____   // ((___( ( ((____   ((____     

--------------------- [SB-129 Class Starship] ----------------------

"What are you still doing here? Shouldn't you be at work?"
The question puzzled St'Wek. Not only because he hadn't had a work to 
"be at" for quite some time now, but also because he seemed to find 
himself in an unfamiliar place and thrown into a conversation with a 
likewise unfamiliar person out of nowhere. He didn't remember what he 
had been doing just now but he knew that he had never been where-ever 
he was at the moment.
"Uhm. No.", he said plainly since the stranger seemed very annoyed by 
his general cluelessness. He didn't appreciate being stressed by a 
strange, thin alien in an boring building with all-white (or very 
brightly coloured) furniture that lacked any ornamentation. He began 
to become very annoyed now at this lazy excuse for an exposition.
"Where am I?" he asked.
The alien rolled his eye (for he had only one of those). 
"We don't have time for this", he said, "You're pairing up with 
Lataz, he's starting in the extraction department today. You should 
count yourself lucky that we need employees so badly at the moment or 
you'd be.. well, you know."
"No. I don't", said St'Wek, "And I'm not really looking for a job, 
actually, so if you could show me the nearest exi-"
The thin man had gone already. In his place now stood a smaller 
creature with a quieter voice. "Please come with me", it said.
"Fine. But I don't actually want to. And I will complain the whole 
Lataz shrugged and lead the way.
"I've been working here for most of my life", he said after a pause, 
"But I've never worked extraction. I don't even quite know what they 
do there. No one does, but you're aware of that of course, sorry."
"No, I'm actually not. Nor do I care much. My hot tip is that they
might be extracting something. Will you tell me where I am? 
Are we on a ship or a planet? And where are my friends?"
Only with the last sentence did St'Wek remember his two companions 
and he instantly became more worried.
The small man was visibly irritated. "You must know where you are! 
This is Bhel and you are at LEAD. As you well know", he laughed 
uncomfortably, "No one could just walk in here by accident. The place 
is very well guarded and they don't let just anyone in."
"My friends, what about my friends!", St'Wek demanded.
"I just met you, I don't know anything about you or where your 
friends are. Sorry. This way."

St'Wek followed his guide through a maze of identical corridors to a 
central door protected by every security measure he'd ever heard of - 
and then some. After Lataz had finished leaving a sample of seemingly 
every cell in his lanky body the door whizzed open.
On the other side lay a great hall filled with all manner of 
cyclopses looking intently at a large screen that took up the entire 
wall opposite the door. At his left and right St'Wek observed that 
the  walls were minimalistcally decorated with black banners 
that showed a symbol which looked a bit like a closed eye with a 
stream of water in the background. Underneath this were letters 
of some kind. He guessed they must say "LEAD", though the only way 
to know for sure was to ask someone. 
The ability to read had never been granted to him, after all.

He followed his nervous guide mindlessly and found himself standing 
among the people, staring at the big screen. It whizzed on now, 
depicting a close up of someone's face. A woman, St'Wek guessed, 
though it was never really a sure thing with aliens. They could look 
and sound all kinds of ways, sometimes that didn't mean anything. He 
didn't even know what exactly Xēcnes was, come to think of it.

"Esteemed LEAD workers", the giant face said, "We are honoured to 
welcome you to the extraction department. You each have worked in one
of the many other departments and have achieved a reputation as good
workers, as people who put the well-being of the collective above 
all. People who can be trusted to do what is necessary."

"In my time, some were outraged by my research. But while they 
twiddled their appendages and shook their heads, saying how very 
unfortunate it was that the population was diseased and dying, 
I took action. They said it was the way it had always been, that 
there was no changing it. I showed them the means to their salvation
 but they turned away and feigned ignorance.
Imagine where we would be if these voices had won, if Mehtr Pakal 
had never been allowed to use her theories and allow the disease-free
present we live in today. The estimated lifespan has almost doubled 
over the past 20 cycles. Grandparents need no longer fear seeing their
own grandchildren for the viruses they may carry. The birth rate 
has increased, since potential parents are no longer afraid 
that their children will die from infections."

"But this miracle would be impossible without the work you do every 
day. So as the privilege of working in extraction befalls you, 
remember why we are here. All of you are miracle workers, heros. 
Angels of mercy."

The face disappeared and the crowd was pleased with itself; shaking 
its hands and welcoming itself to the family. The giant screen split 
in two, revealing itself to be a door also. As the great wall parted 
with a loud rumble, the screams started to wash in from the 
other side.
   |      |
   |      |
---|      |-----------------------------------------------------------

The first thing Aanya of Faino noticed was that she was staring. 
She was staring, but not at anything in particular. She was staring, 
but she wasn't seeing anything. She concluded that this was a silly, 
ineffective thing to do, so she decided she should actively see 
whatever it was she was aiming her eyes at. 
Her eyes were aimed at a marble statue of an old man with only one 
eye, but three legs, as if to make up for it. The statue was painted 
in a warm red.
Out of his eye the man was crying pure water, which gathered in a 
pool below. Over the water hovered a long insect with thin wings, 
which Aanya instinctively grabbed and shoved into her mouth. 
It didn't taste like anything and didn't fill her stomach one bit. 
"What a waste of time" she thought. 
Once she had started to become annoyed, she realized she had a much 
better reason to be annoyed. Such as not knowing where she was 
or how she had gotten there. Aanya of Faino frowned.

"Aanya", someone called. "Aanya, where are you now?"
"I don't know", said Aanya, more to herself than anyone.
"Ah there you are", said the small one-eyed creature which now came 
into view. It was hard to guess the age of an alien species 
you had never seen before, so Aanya didn't.
"Come on, dear, mother is waiting. She's having another boring 
meeting and I have to attend. You must come with me and keep me 
entertained so I don't die of boredom." 
The cyclops took Aanya by the arm and dragged her through the roofed 
garden with the sad water fountain into the house. 
Aanya let this happen. Not much else to do, really. Other than...
"Where am I and who are you?", she asked while running to keep up 
with her arm. 
"No games Aanya, we're running late already. More walking, 
less talking."
So that didn't clear anything up. Aanya decided to reschedule 
her annoyance to a later time and to simply indulge this strange 
person as long as it did no harm. 
She was slowly but surely developing a headache. 
The walls here were very warm, it really irritated her eyes. 
No use in being annoyed on top of all that.

Aanya of Faino had only recently learned that there was a color 
called "purple"; worst of all that she was apparently reflecting 
this color. That was a bizarre concept that she didn't waste any 
more time thinking about. While others like Xēcnes could see purple, 
Aanya's visual spectrum began between yellow and green and ended 
somewhere around short-wave infrared. 
So when she said things like "the walls here are very warm and it's
a strain on the eyes" this was not due to synesthesia or anything
of the sort; if she said the walls looked warm 
then it was because the walls were warm.

Finally they arrived in a large hall with a long table at the center.
The walls were off-white and the chairs around the table bent in on 
themselves in a way that might have been quite artistic, but not, 
as far as Aanya could imagine, comfortable. Despite this many of 
them were occupied by larger one-eyes persons with stern looks and 
figurative long white beards.
"It's the council", explained the smaller creature, "She's been 
looking forward to this for half a season now; to finally present
her idea." Aanya nodded. This sure was a situation.

"Welcome, council, and thank you for seeing me. I promise you 
you will not regret your decision!", a high voice from behind Aanya 
said. It belonged to someone in a red dress who closed the door 
upon entry. The meeting had started, apparently. The person 
lightly pushed Aanya and her companion away on her way to the table.

"Yes", said a sceptic voice, "You've promised quite the miracle 
this time, Mehtr. If it wasn't for your well documented success in 
the fields of microbiology, we would've laughed and thrown your 
letter right out. Instead of just laughing."
The small cyclops beside Aanya frowned. At least, that's what Aanya 
thought the expression meant. The person in the dress just smiled.
"I can hardly blame you. It is fantastical, isn't it? To think 
the people in this room could be the ones to end disease on Bhel 
forever." A pause. 
Everyone else in the room looked at eachother in half amused, half 
tired disbelief. Wham! The sound of a fist on the table, though 
Aanya got the feeling it was not out of anger but rather 
a calculated action.

"I know everyone here has lost someone. I know you are tired and 
maybe you have no energy for childish hopes. But I do not have the 
luxury to turn my head away from sick children and the dying poor. 
My own daughter has mere seasons left to live-" 
Aanya noticed an appandage raised in her direction and felt a cold 
rush pierce through her, it was like being called out by the General
when you hadn't been paying attention. Then she remembered the 
gleeful cyclops next to her and scratched her head scales in 
"- and I cannot just stand by when I know I have a shot at saving 
her life and other mothers from the sorrow of losing a child."

Aanya regarded the girl. She didn't seem sick to her at all, she'd 
been dancing down the corridor just a little while ago and she was 
visibly rooting for her mother. But then she didn't know anything 
about these people and their diseases. 
She hoped the child wasn't contagious.

"Yes, yes, you may spare us the theatrics, we are not your sponsors. 
Just explain to us how you intend to save the world."

And the "Mehtr" woman did. Aanya didn't understand much of it. 
Biology was never her sort of topic, too many fluids and mutations. 
Technology was always more or less the same. After a while she 
resumed her morning activity of staring at nothing in particular.
But there was one thing, near the end, that made the council shift 
uneasily in their seats. Mehtr kept going, unbothered by this, 
until finally one of the members jumped from their seat and cut
her off.

"Stop.", they demanded with barely contained disgust.
"I'm sorry, did you say you want our permission to inject Tauwian 
cells into our children?" A dissatisfied rumbling resounded 
from the other members.

The woman seemed undeterred. "Yes. Well, after appropriate testing,
of course."
"That's horrific", a voice exclaimed, "I don't want any dirty 
Tauwian substances in my family blood. Why, these people are barely
distinct from animals!"
"Please calm yourself", said Mehtr. "I can see you're uneasy, so a 
demonstration is in order. Iakeō, darling, would you fetch 
the ratbird."
The girl nodded enthusiastically and shot out of the room, wafting 
a breeze of air into Aanya's face in the process. They waited.

Then Iakeō returned with a creature in a cage that did in fact 
resemble a mash-up of a rat and a bird. Its feathers were thin 
and its eyes were watery, it didn't look too well.

"Thank you. As you can see this poor animal has contracted the 
incurable seurian flu. Harmless to us Heek, of course, but a vet 
would have to put it down. With just a small injection of my 
universal vaccine, which yes, contains what you so ellequantly 
described as 'dirty Tauwian substances'..."
She injected the ratbird with a clear liquid. 
It shifted and protested and after the vial was empty it sat still 
for a moment. Then it spread its wings for all to see, as it rapidly
grew more feathers and the color returned to its small furry body. 
The crowd gasped. A lot of "I don't believe it"s and "Incredible"s 
could be heard.

"While they aren't as intelligent and civilized as us, Tauwians 
have a  fascinating phisiology, without which this wouldn't be 
possible. It is a matter of shifting your focus away from sullying 
our racial purity. Think of this much the same way you think of using
the secretions of the pigfly to anethezise patients. You said it 
yourself, after all, they are barely distinct from animals"
Aanya let a long hard "Hmmmmmmmmmmmm" slip out of her mouth. 
She didn't know much about these Tauwian people or their 
intelligence but she did feel like comparing them to animals was the
start of something very nasty indeed.
The council did not seem to think so. The grim expressions of its
members appeared to lift away from their faces and fly out of the 
window like a ratbird.

   (0 0)
   ~   ~
 /  | |  \
  \ | | /
---.= =.-------------------------------------------------------------

The grey desert seemed to stretch endlessly between the abandoned
buildings. Xēcnes had been walking for a while now in hopes of find-
ing anyone or anything living. And there had been plants of course, 
loads of them (though not very pretty and mostly grey, not that it
bothered Xēcnes) but no sentient creature, no one to talk to. 
No one to tell Xēcnes what planet this was and where the rest 
of the Lovelace crew was staying.

It was not pleasant at all, it was rather boring and lonely. Xēcnes 
didn't mind being alone, of course, in that lovely room on the ship
with a record of Earths history to read through or old ship recordings,
but this was just depressing. And it reminded the small crustacean 
too much of home.
Still, there had to be a reason for its presence here. 
If Xēcnes couldn't believe that anymore, couldn't believe that some 
cosmic force was guiding the path, that every action contributed to
the holistic ecosystem of the universe...
Well, what would be left of home then? 
What would be left of Planet 7ːɹi?

Xēcnes had seen many curious things so far. Scientific equipment, 
barred doors, empty fountains with rusty plugs and statues of one-
eyed people that were probably important figures, or at least 
famous ones. All in all the place presented a nice little mystery, 
but what fun was it to solve it all alone? To solve it without 
Aanya's sceptical yet helpful comments and St'Weks periodical 
declarations that he didn't care, though he clearly kind of did.

Xēcnes sighed, insofar it was possible to do with those mouthparts,
and climbed through the shattered window of a nearby house with
barred doors. The inside didn't look much like the inside of a house.
Really, it looked like a bit of outside that someone had built a roof
over and then called it a day.
There was sand and broken wood lying in the dirt, there was no 
furniture and childrens toys with missing limbs were spread out 
across the room. It reminded Xēcnes of human horror movies, the only
thing missing from the athmosphere was a childs laughter or singing
blowing in the wind. Hm. What a terrible thing to think about, 
this had been a real inhabited planet after all.
Probably. Xēcnes wasn't sure if it was a planet, or if it was wholly 
deserted. Planets are usually very big. 

There! A weak light in the dirt. Xēcnes dusted off the notebook-like 
device, that seemed to consist of many self-illuminating blank pages.
It seemed like it had once been brand new, when it had belonged to a
living person. The only page with writing on it was the first. 
Xēcnes read:

> Our fountains are filled with blood 
> but we don't know it,
> we don't see it, 
> we don't recognize it, because it's see-through. 
> We don't see the blood on our hands
> because it blends into normality
> Or we do see it, do we know what we've done 
> but don't care - who would care for transparent blood? 
> We bleed red, this is all that matters. 
> I wonder what the founder would say if he knew
> What he would say if he knew that thousands of seasons 
> after his death 
> he'd be crying blood on every street corner. Would he be
> disgusted? I like to think so but I know it's not true. 
> He wouldn't care any more than we do now. 
> Something has to die so that something else may live -
> is it that simple? Or is it just easier 
> to keep the white walls clean
> when the blood won't leave a stain? 
> And when the blood started to turn red
> did it suddenly matter? When the walls were sullied 
> and we couldn't pretend it was water anymore
> was it suddenly a tragedy?
> Or was it just fair?
> Was it what we deserved?

    c  \
    |  /        
  ( o  o )    
   _ II _     
/          \----------------------------------------------------------