A Galaxy Nativity in two parts by Andy Ainscough.
Lullay Lullay my little tiny child. Bye bye Lullay Lullay.
‘Any news from the camps?’
‘Nothing. Nothing new anyway.’
The two men stood on the edge of the rock crest surveying the darkness below. Apart from swirling mist that here and there stretched its cold fingers, nothing could be seen. Even the sky, with its map of stars, was black as scorched earth.
‘What are the current numbers?’
‘Fifty-thousand dead on the west side, before the quarantine. South tip has gone now, the wall reinforced, the few who remained left inside. We haven’t heard in weeks from Ureicia so we can presume there are none left. Since the containment has been released into the air, we have had no further diagnoses. Only the worst cases are still dying. A small mercy.’
‘No no, I mean the birth numbers. What are the reports?’
‘Ah. I see. Well, since First1 was discovered, not a single baby has been delivered.’
The two men stood for a second letting the words resonate through the air. A moment after a light appeared above them accompanied by a huge guttural whirring of heavy engines By the first man, A rope ladder hit the floor. He shook the other man’s hand and started to climb the ladder. After a few rungs he looked down.
‘Thank you Professor. Your work is much appreciated. Tell me what happened to Sir Balthar?’
‘He didn’t make it. Until we meet again Prime-Minister.’
The helicopter with the Prime-Minister of the planet Galthet disappeared into the night leaving the Professor in the warzone below.
A Desperate Wind
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay.
The village huddled together in cold winter air. They had heard a report was coming. An excited buzz ran through the crowd. A report meant something from above. From the Sector five parliament, perhaps even from the Galactic Commons themselves. After such long hard years, after the all the misery that the First1 disease had caused they clung onto that somewhere out there in the black night, there were people who could help. The Decade of Death is what the survivors had come to know it as. The decade where everyone died and no one was born. You could see it in the people. Not just in the clothes they wore, nothing more than layers of brown rags, but in their faces. Nearly everyone here was either in their twenties or thirties but they looked much older. The heartbreak had etched itself onto their faces.
A woman, with scraggy brown hair lumbered forward with what looked like a box covered in old sack. Another man, sporting a turban of soiled bandages, placed a crate delicately on the floor. The woman plonked the box on top and like a magician pulled the sheet from it. It was a television and the woman bowed to a humble cheer from the crowd. The man banged and banged upon the box until it spluttered into life. The screen fuzzy and dim showed a symbol, a star inside a human fist with a circle round the outside. Underneath was a countdown. 3…2…1…
A woman appeared on the screen smiling. You could tell she was a grey looking person even on the black and white screen. She had a sharp hook nose and hair cut close to her head. She smiled for a moment and then began to speak:
‘Greetings people of…’ She looked down for a moment off camera. ‘… people of the planet Galthet. I, Tabitha Might, Empress of the Galactic Alliance, was deeply moved by the plight of your people and the horrors that you must have experienced over the last ten standard years. Your leaders appealed to myself and the commons and in the circumstances tough decisions must be made. In light of the deadly nature of First1 we have decided to quarantine your planet indefinitely. We regret this decision but in a complicated Galaxy complicated decisions must be made. As such, I will inform you that no external individuals or powers can step foot on your planet. Take care and Goodbye.’
No help was coming. The villagers screamed into the night.
The Shining Light From Above.
A star, a star dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.
The next evening, at the edge of the village, Paddy the Yowk-Herder saw a star appear in the empty and frozen sky. He looked around to call someone but no one was there anymore. Paddy had once roamed the fields with his two brothers but they had gone now. The plague had taken them. He still had his Yowks though who slept around him, keeping a quiet chorale of deep, animal snores. He brought his hand up to his eyes to look at the new arrival in the sky, but it was too bright and he turned away dazzled. Probably the last of the government escaping. The quarantine probably didn’t extend to them. He sat and leaned against one of the big animals, burying his head in its soft fur. It felt to him here, as if he was the last person left, not just in the village, but the world, the galaxy. There was no one there but him and Yowks to roam the fields until First1 came to him at last.
Paddy and the Yowks sat at the small rock lip overlooking the village, down below nothing stirred, not a cry or a light. Here in the winter, the village would normally be lit up with people dancing in the streets but there was no time for such things anymore. The curfew saw to that. Paddy was only allowed out for essential services. A phrase he always smiled at, he never felt essential before the plague came.
He leaned forward. There was a rustling, a movement in the dark below. Yes, he thought, there coming from the town hall was a person. They were moving along the walls with a hunched back and a big coat. Whoever it was they almost certainly didn’t want to be caught. He climbed down the ridge and looked further, the light from the sky illuminated the street. The figure emerged into the street and he knew who it was straight away. Magda, the witch from the forest, her hair a wild nest of green, her clothes mossy rags. She looked towards him, her wild eyes stared right into his just for a second and then she disappeared into the night.
Alanu, the Prime-Minister’s assistant stood waiting nervously in the shipping container that now stood for the ministerial offices. With a gust of wind from outside, in walked the Casperium, The Prime Minister. He was still dressed smartly, in suit and tie but there were stains on the shirt and mud along the bottoms of the trousers.
‘Prime-minister have you seen it?’ Alanu said.
‘Of course I’ve seen it you idiot. How could you miss it? Its right there in the sky.’
‘Yes sir, quite right sir.’
‘Any news from the Professor?’
‘Nothing as yet sir. The last of the trade ships have docked and gone, they have left some supplies but not enough.’
The Prime-Minister stopped and rubbed his temples. My life, he thought, should not have been this. The Christmas before it started, Galthet had been one the shining lights of Sector 6. He loathed the phrase because it was Ea1 condescension but it was an up and comer. An example of what the outer rim planets should be doing. Quaint but industrious. Fucking Ea1, he thought to himself.
‘Sorry, yes Alanu, could you make sure the –‘
The Prime-minister stopped. The screen on his desk crackled into life, after a moment, with faint wavering lines across it, appeared the face of the Professor.
‘Professor, it’s good to see you.’
‘You too, Caspar. Although I bring grave news.’ His face was white even on the faded screen.
‘How could things get any worse?’
‘I’ve been decoding a message in the sky. The message from Tabitha Might was wrong. Well it was a lie anyway. The star in the sky is ship, an empire class battleship to be precise. She said quarantine but she meant incineration. If we can’t prove that life will continue they’re going to burn the planet.’
The Witch from the Forest.
Then woe is me, Poor child for thee, and ever mourn and say…
Madge was not a witch, even though they all thought her so. She, and her mother before her had lived from the earth, from where they came and where they will return. Snaggle snaggle, snick snick, she whispered as she went, rubbing the dirt into her hands. She approached the edge of the thick trees and fell prostrate to the ground. Anyone to look at her would be afraid, as many in the village were. Her hair was a nest, wild and full of twigs, across her face were two green streaks of moss, her teeth yellow like river fish. Snaggle snuggle, snick, snick, she said to herself again. She wore sack and leaves as clothes and from her arms hung feathers and hides of small tree-rats. She wailed a cry for her world to the trees, she mourned it already. The people were dying and so soon would the earth. The great moan echoed through the sky. She cracked her head this way and that until birds erupted into the sky. She wept for the earth but also for the people’s stupidity. If only they looked to the earth for their answers and not the hell-sky above. She cried until she made herself hoarse. She knew the earth and what it could do. Pain shot through her and she clutched her stomach tight. She cried most of all not for them, the people already on this earth. But for the child she was about to bring into it. For the last child of the planet Galthet at this Christmas time.
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray…
The Galaxy Nativity will continue in Part 2…