Planet of the Dead
The moaning wind of the cemetery colony was already attempting to bury the landing pad that Buster Ross had lowered his ship on in the surrounding, desert sand. The funerary agent from Earth ran quickly toward the looming nearly-all-glass funerary building both to escape the storm as well as to meet the master of this literally dead planet. Both pad and building were surrounded by tombstones from nearly every region on Earth, many of the stones rolling with the dunes and sinking into the dark of the hollows. They were stone and metal crops, some of them being simple plaques or stump-size stones barely rising up out of the ground, others more fully risen. Yet a seed lay below each of those stone and metal crops, a seed known as the human corpse. The official name of the planet was Memoria. The Global Government on Earth wanted to be sure its name was as honourable sounding as possible to the ones buried there. Some people on Earth called the planet New Giza for its millions of tombs as well as for its desert geography. However, many people called the planet by a derivative of Ancient Egypt’s City of the Dead; many people called it the Planet of the Dead.
Immediately arriving at the front door, Ross was stopped by a cold electronic voice: “State your purpose for entering, please.”
Ross said, “I’m here to see a Mr. Juan Moreno.”
The electronic voice said, “Thank you. Now please state your purpose for your visit with Mr. Moreno.” While it spoke, Ross noticed that it generated from a speaker on a small, white box framed within the all-glass wall to the left of the door. A tiny bead of an “eye” glowed red in the upper center of the box.
Ross said, “To pick up some bodies and transport them back to Earth.”
The electronic guard said, “Thank you. Now give your name, please.” Ross did that, impatience beginning to well up from within. Then the automated guard told him to state who sent him. And the guard’s questions went on like this another five times. Then a red beam of light streamed out from the ruby eye and scanned him for weapons. When the red light disappeared a loud click sounded from the double front doors and they slid open. Ross entered when suddenly a 20-something girl walked up to him.
Her face was very pale due to the amount of makeup covering it, and she wore dark gray eye-shadow. Her eyelashes were long and black, and, likewise, her hair was also black and shiny. However, although her features were Hispanic, one could tell that her very straight hair was an unnatural color. She reminded him of people he had seen on the Net in encyclopedia illustrations and black-and-white video clips to articles on 19th-century society and ones on the 20th century’s horror movie industry. It was as if she had walked out of a scene from one of those weird, ancient films. She wore a long, black tailcoat with a tight black satin vest underneath and underneath that a snug, white 19th-century shirt. On her head she wore a black derby. The pants she wore were tight, shiny black stirrups that seemed to merge with the polished, black Victorian gentleman’s shoes she wore with the raised heels which made the shoes look more feminine. Her appearance was almost melodramatic.
“Mr. Ross?” she said, with a dead expression.
Ross smiled and stammered, “Tha-, that’s right. I’m here to see Mr. Moreno.” He did not expect to be greeted by such an odd character as this girl, if it could be called a greeting. Saying nothing else, the girl walked over to a somewhat crescent moon-shaped desk that appeared to be built into the marble floor since both were white. There she pressed a key and spoke into a microphone in which, like the key, was built into the desk. “Mr. Moreno, Mr. Ross has arrived.” As it was when she had spoken to Ross, her tone was expressionless. A man’s voice faintly sounded from an inconspicuous speaker on the desk saying he would be down shortly.
After that, the girl said nothing else. Instead, she keyed information into the desk’s terminal without looking up while Ross waited. Her movement and pose were so repetitious and monotonous, they seemed robotic.
“Mr. Ross?” echoed a man’s voice from above. Ross, startled flashed his head up toward the direction of the voice. At the top of the winding metal stairwell was a man who looked to be around Ross’s age, 60.
Ross answered, “Yes?”
“I’m Manuel Moreno.”
Ross introduced himself, although awkwardly. He was shocked at Mr. Moreno’s appearance more than he had been the girl’s. Moreno’s skin was a very pale brown, his gray hair disheveled. He wore a black, Victorian suit. So many youngsters are bad enough, but such an appearance is way out of the norm for a man of any age, thought Ross, proudly patting his short-cut, neatly parted hair.
When Moreno reached the bottom of the stairs, Ross walked up to him and the two men shook hands. Moreno said, “Delighted to have you here, Mr. Ross.” His smile was faint. Then gesturing to the stairway, he said, “Would you kindly walk this way, please?”
Ross walked up the stairs, hesitantly.
Moreno held the door open and gestured to Ross to enter. Victorian and neo-Gothic furnishings made the room appear more a study than an office. One of the few exceptions to the old-style atmosphere was the transparent wall behind the funerary manager’s desk that looked out onto the fields of gravestones.
After Moreno shut the door, he offered Ross a seat in front of the desk lined with armies of miniature skeletons and skulls. Many of these were idealized with the thick, black lines of features in the style of the Mexican Dias de los Muertos. Several others were more realistic appearing. More of these figurines appeared in various places on his bookshelf. Some of the life-size skulls looked so real they looked as if they had just recently been shoveled up from the graves outside. Panting, Ross more than gladly accepted Moreno’s offer. He was too used to taking elevators. However, Moreno had no reaction at all to the walk; he breathed as normally as if he had not even gone anywhere.
Moreno said, “May I offer you a drink, Mr. Ross?” Although he spoke with a tone of weariness, he sounded much more inviting than the receptionist downstairs.
After several pants, Ross, answered, “I would like that a lot, thank you.”
“What would you like?”
Ross said, “Whatever your favourite is, as long as it’s thirst-quenching.”
After sitting down at his desk, Moreno grabbed the receiver to his long necked 1920’s phone and ordered an employee to bring them a bottle of amontillado and two glasses. He said, “We have received news, Mr. Ross, that the descendants of some of our residents have contacted you.”
Ross paused. Then he said, “Residents?”
Moreno looked down, pausing and then said, “It is, you may say, a euphemism for the bodies that rest here.”
Ross stared with bewilderment at Moreno for several seconds before saying, “But they’re already called units, Mr. Moreno, why would they need to be called anything else?”
Moreno looked away from Ross, tightening his lips. Then he smiled, saying, “We like to refer to them as if they were still living since we get so lonesome here on Memoria. It is only myself, and my two attendants—Luther and Felicia–who notified me of your arrival. Both serve as my secretaries, pallbearers, caretakers and morticians. Aside from the three of us, it is only a few gardeners, computer technicians, and, although for an impermanent span of time, some construction workers who are working on my new house. That is not very many people for a planet that is twice as large as Earth.”
“Mr. Moreno, did I hear you correctly?” Ross asked, bewildered. “Did you just call your attendants pallbearers, caretakers, morticians?”
Moreno froze a stare towards Ross for several seconds before saying, “Forgive me. Those are words that have been out of use for hundreds of years. We use a very unique manner of speech in the funeral business here on Memoria, Mr. Ross. It consists of words that you will no longer find except in ancient, or near-ancient at the least, literature,” he gestured a hand to the ceiling-high bookcase to his left. The case held copies of titles that had been out of print for hundreds of years. Although the titles were still talked about, they were only done so for reasons of historical reference. Nobody read bound books such as the ones on Moreno’s shelves for leisure anymore, books from the gothic and horror forms of storytelling.
Eyeing the books, Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, those are amazing. But isn’t it much easier, space efficient and safer for the value of these hardbound books to read . . .” his look of confusion turned to one of coldness as he studied the titles on the spines, “those, on computer? I mean it seems like such a waste of money when you can read literature for free on the Network.” The titles indicated dark, threatening things: titles such as Poe’s Tales of Terror, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lovecraft’s The Dunwhich Horror and Other Tales, among many, many others of their kind.
Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, the Network does not have these books. It only makes available the books that society desires. If a story from centuries ago is not felt to relate to our times, then the Network ‘makes’ it relate to our times by rewriting it. And so we are not reading these authors’ stories,” he gestured toward the bookcase again, “but those of society at large. In addition to that, reading is more than just comprehending the words on the page; it is the holding of the piece in your hand and touching the beautiful pages cut from a dark woodland that is an enormous part of the reading experience.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” said Ross, “but what’s the point in reading a story if it doesn’t relate to the problems that we have to deal with today?”
Moreno countered, “Mr. Ross, the stories of several centuries ago do relate to the problems of the present. We encounter the same basic problems today as our ancestors of several centuries ago did. Though our robbers and murderers that we fear so much no longer commit their crimes on dark streets nor in dark estates, though they now commit them on the Network, or in the average size or smaller home, the same basic cause and effect of crime still lurks in our universe—the cause being the motivations of crime, the effect being the fear that crime brings forth. Those two things do not change. Motivation and fear: both of these stem from the human condition. And we can only understand those problems by examining the past and relating the ones of the present to those that occurred in other forms centuries ago.”
Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, the crimes are the problems, not the motivations, not the fears of the crime, but the crimes themselves.”
“My apologies, Mr. Ross,” interrupted Moreno, “but I think I should make ourselves aware that we should discuss the corpses that you came for; we are very busy here on Memoria.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, we’re going off-topic. I have to be back to Earth by tomorrow, myself.” Ross snapped open his briefcase and pulled out several papers documenting the evidence of the corpses’ living descendants. He began explaining them when he was interrupted by a pounding at the door.
Moreno shouted, “Bring it in.”
The door swung open revealing a young man who appeared to be in his early 20s. He almost looked like he could be a twin brother to the girl, Felicia; his way of dress and bodily features were very similar to hers except the shoes did not have the heightened heals and the hair was much shorter.
Moreno said, “Oh, Luther, I thought you were Felicia with the amontillado.” Then he said sharply, “What do you need?”
Luther said indifferently, “They found another fresh corpse.”
Moreno shouted with a shocked look, “Good Lord,” and jumped up from his chair. He asked earnestly, “In another grave? Another open one?”
Luther nodded, his powdered face without expression.
Moreno hung his head and complained to himself, “Why, damn it all, did they have to do this so early?” Then he turned back to the young man, saying, “Whose body was it this time, Luther?”
“One of the construction workers.”
Moreno asked, “Would the other workers happen to know what he had been doing out there?”
Luther said, “They do not know.”
Moreno turned to Ross. “This has been the third person on the planet who has turned up dead and in a grave. First two of my technicians and now a construction worker. At first we thought the murders were being committed by somebody hiding out in the graveyard areas. . .” He inhaled deeply and then exhaled, “Until now.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ross.
“The construction workers never go out to the graves,” said Moreno, grimly. Then he turned to Luther. “Was there any sign of the method of the murder? Were there hand marks on his throat like the two previous men?”
Luther said, “We do not know; we have not pulled him out yet.”
Moreno said, “Well, then we shall pull him out now.” Then he turned to Ross. “I apologise dearly for you having to experience this matter, Mr. Ross.”
Keeping in mind Moreno’s unusual archaic style of speech and outdated clothes, Ross said,
“This is no game now?”
Moreno said, sounding slightly annoyed, “This is no game; men have actually been turning up murdered here, Mr. Ross.”
Ross corrected, “You mean there have been homicides on Memoria?”
Moreno paused staring at Ross before saying, irritably, “Yes. And the terrible thing is–or maybe the good thing, depending on how you view the matter–the murderer is among us. He can only be among us. We can catch him. As I have already said, Mr. Ross, there are only a few of us on this planet; the killer can only be one of us.”
Ross asked, “Have you called the police?”
“I am the police on Memoria,” Moreno said. “I have gone through the police training, and I am authorized to make an arrest of the suspect if we ever find him or her. This is why the Global Government has not assigned any police or even mere security guards here on Memoria. As we all know, Earth has been in economic crisis since the interplanetary colonial wars. The only security we have here, aside from myself, is Sphinx, our automated guard at the front door who asked you to identify yourself.”
Ross said, “Yes, and she did a really good job of it. She played 20 Questions with me 20 hundred times, which included ‘state your reason for moving the bodies, please.’” He said this with a slightly nasal sound to imitate the guard’s electronic voice. “Come on, why does security need to know that? What other reasons would people like myself have to come to a planet of dead people we don’t even know?”
“Forgive me, Mr. Ross, but I recently programmed her to ask those questions to anybody who comes to the gate from outside due to the incidents I had just indicated: two men have been murdered; now, as we have just been told, there is a third. We thought the murderer may have incoming connections from Earth. Like our mother planet, we must use caution when visitors come to Memoria.”
The Earth funerary agent said, sarcastically, “So like on Earth, everyone’s suspect when a crime is committed here?”
Moreno said with a faint smile of delight, “Suspect! You’re learning the language of Memoria, after all, Mr. Ross! If not that, then perhaps Earth has not lost all honesty in her languages.” As he finished speaking, he caressed a set of Sherlock Holmes novels on one of the shelves. Then he slid open a drawer from his desk and keyed in a call for Earth on his satellite phone within it and reported the murder for the Funerary Department to put on file.
As Moreno, his two attendants, Ross, and the construction crew foreman approached the burial site, the Earth funerary agent and foreman were the only two who were breathing heavily with exhaustion. Ross said, “I think it would’ve been better to have taken the buggy, Mr. Moreno. You people must keep in great shape; I’m ready to die.” He looked around at the tombstones. Then he said, “But if I do, please don’t bury me here; I have known family still living on Earth, thank you.”
Moreno suggested, “You people need to stop depending on so much mechanical transportation; Earth’s become too dependent on it.”
The body lay in the open coffin at the bottom of the freshly dug grave. The corpse seemed to be frozen in terror, eyes wide and mouth gaped open. It looked as though it had seen something too horrible to exist. It made Ross’s stomach sick to the point where he had to swing his head away from it.
Moreno asked the construction foreman, “Mr. Henriksen, do you or any of your men have any notion of how long he had been away from the worksite before you discovered him here?”
The foreman said, “The last time any of us had seen him was just a little before dawn this morning. He was eating breakfast with all of us. Then went out for his morning smoke as usual. After that we never saw him again.” He took a deep, quivering swallow of breath and exhaled, “Until now.”
Moreno further inquired, “He does not often come all the way out here to have his morning smoke?”
Henriksen said, “Not that any of us know of. He often just stands right outside the dining caravan.”
Moreno asked, “And none of you saw him out there when you parted for work?”
The foreman shook his head.
Moreno thanked and dismissed him and then turned to his two caretakers, Luther and Felicia, saying, “Apparently, this murder occurred just outside the dining caravan, and whoever did the killing did so silently and quickly. Take the pulley, raise him up and have it transport him to the morgue. We will perform an autopsy on him later.” Then he turned to Ross saying, “I do not know what the cause of such trouble on Memoria is. Suddenly within the past two weeks, there have been murders. And each victim’s body has been used to replace a resident taken from his grave.”
Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, you keep saying ‘murder’ rather than ‘homicide’. ‘Murder’ has not been in use for centuries. Why do you use this outdated jargon?”
Moreno stared hard at Mr. Ross for several seconds before saying, “As I have already said, Mr. Ross, we get very lonely up here on Memoria. We like to use language that makes our lives and work exciting.”
“You act like incidents such as this are games of some sort,” Ross said, gesturing to the open grave where the bone-white mechanical hand of the pulley was beginning to raise the corpse. “Someone has just been killed and you turn it into entertainment!”
Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, when I said we like to use language that makes our lives and work more exciting, I was not referring to entertainment; I was referring to the living of life itself. Very few people have actually lived life itself for the past several hundred years, Mr. Ross. Too many people have lived their material wealth instead, their automation-made possessions–their cars, their computers, their virtual vacations, their virtual gyms; nobody lives life in its natural form anymore!”
“What does speaking in all these outdated terms have to do with natural life?” asked Ross.
Moreno said, “These terms, Mr. Ross, indicate that natural life can easily be ended by Death at any time, and so it indicates the value of life. When people are always speaking the practical and technical language of today they are only reminded of what is meant to keep preventing death, making them forget the true value of life whose very frailty gives it that value. And that is why I am not a man of the present world and culture, Mr. Ross, and neither are my caretakers. We live in the days when lighting at night did not come as easily as it does in the present day, and only candles and oil lamps provided one’s source of light after the sun had descended to the other side of the earth. Is not fire all we need?”
“You said it again: ‘caretakers’. That gives a very negative connotation to a monument ground to most people now days.”
Suddenly, Luther called out from the edge of the hollowed grave, “Mr. Moreno, hand marks on the neck like the other ones.”
Moreno hung his head in disappointment and disbelief for several seconds. Finally, he lifted it again and commanded to Luther, “Take him to the morgue.”
Ross exclaimed to Moreno, “How the hell can that be? No one from the caravan heard any commotion.”
Moreno hesitated before he said, “Whoever killed him must have had the strength to kill him before he could scream out. Therefore, Mr. Ross, the murderer was not human.”
Ross said, “I thought there was no native life on the planet.”
Ignoring this, Moreno said, “Returning to your argument against politically ‘incorrect’ speech, Mr. Ross, I must make it known to you that I have my own ideas and beliefs of what a graveyard should be like. And as I have just said, I am not a man of the present. That is why I took the position of undertaker here on Memoria, or, if you prefer, since you don’t speak our language, monument ground manager.”
“This, this is, a little unusual,” Ross said. “I, I have to say, very unusual. Such language hasn’t been used for centuries. . . it’s so antiquated . . .“
”Yes, it is, because, you see, ever since Earth forbade its people to speak that dialect, people like ourselves here on Memoria who still speak it have been treated like old people who have no significance to Earth’s societies. Therefore we are antiquated and so are of no use to Earth’s advanced technocratic societies and neither is our dialect.
“Earth’s societies felt that our poetic manner of speaking gave a sense of discomfort and tension for the loved ones of the . . . dead, as we, whether you people like it or not, refer to them here. If we were not treated like old fashioned outcasts, then we were treated like young trouble-making punks. I, of course, am not of youth anymore but I have a youthful state of mind, the very same state that my two gothic caretakers have, and they are of youth.
The ultra liberals hated us for wanting to leave unknown corpses on Earth because they felt it took away space for the living, especially the living who were very poor and who needed housing that they could afford and facilities that could give charity to them. The conservatives hated us not only for wanting to leave the bodies of unknown people in earth that capital-oriented developers wanted to build over, but also merely for the way we dressed.
“Both conservatives and liberals saw the dead who preceded them as non-existent merely because their bodies had no documented identification. And so as with the people buried here on this remote desert planet, we do not exist to Earth either; we are just as dead as the buried residents are.”
The whole time Moreno had been speaking, Ross’s face was paling and his eyes were wide. Moreno snapped, “Now I know most definitely that you are one of them, Mr. Ross, one of the Earthlings who side with the material/technological masses who are so centered on self-gain that they will not consider the bodies of the ancestors who have gone before them.” Then he smiled and asked, “Do you realize how pale you are? You look like I have just told you that . . . I killed . . . somebody.” Moreno’s mocking expression turned to a stunned and angry one. “So simply because I speak, a ‘foreign’ language, Mr. Ross, you think I killed those people? That is exactly the reason why people like myself and my attendants came to this planet, Mr. Ross, because everybody on globalized Earth who lives a little bit of a different lifestyle is under suspicion when something goes wrong. Well now that you suspect me, Mr. Ross, and are going to report me, may I give you a little tour of that house I’m having built? I am certain you already think I am mad.”
Ross said, “Yes I’m aware that you’re mad, and so am I, because you’re taking this homicide very lightly when you’re all so willing to show me your new house. Just what do you need that new house for anyway? You have a free one from the Global Government.”
Moreno reemphasized, “Once again, Mr. Ross, I am not like the rest of the people of society. I desire an older style of architecture. And there is very little we can do about today’s murder; the representatives from the victim’s funerary service on Earth will not be here for a couple of days. The autopsy can wait, so that gives me plenty of time to show you the new house.”
Ross said, mockingly and with accusation, “But you said one of you here on this world has got to be behind these homicides. If you don’t find out who that is now who will be next?”
“Mr. Ross, my attendants who have worked for me for a sufficient period of time and, therefore, whom I trust, will keep an eye out on the area. If anything looks or sounds suspicious they will notify me immediately.”
“Do you have a communicator?”
“Of course. All of the Government’s facilities are required to have one of those damn things.”
Ross said, “No, do you have a portable communicator with you?”
Moreno said, with sudden comprehension, “Oh. A portable communicator is a device too much of the present, Mr. Ross. No, I do not have one.”
Ross snapped, “Because you’re not a man of the present, right, Mr. Moreno? Because if you were, then you would care about keeping up with today’s technology for emergencies like this!”
Raising his voice authoritatively, Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, devices such as your portable communicators, and much of the other damned technology that has grown along with them, including condensed Network versions of our classic literature, is the cause of murders such as the one that has occurred this day. Because of this technology, no living soul cares about life anymore, Mr. Ross, because there is no life. There is only the soulless machine. And because of that there is no mystery. If there is no life, there is no mystery!”
Ross shouted, pointing toward himself, “We are life, Mr. Moreno. And so it’s our duty to take care of ourselves and preserve ourselves as a people, but we can’t do that if we let a killer run around loose! Maybe you’re too secular to understand that! Maybe you take too much advantage of the world’s freedom of belief; maybe you’re just too damn atheist to care about the life of humanity!”
Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, that is exactly the point of my argument: because there is no life, as in natural life, not electronic or biotechnological imitations of it, there is no longer any concept of or belief in the supernatural and, therefore, the mysterious. There is not even any belief in the soul and therefore the consciousness of the other person. Therefore do not dare to blame me and call me an uncaring atheist for not owning an evil device such as these damned portable communicators that basically cause people to avoid natural life, life the concrete experience of our flesh and blood existence, the experience of life as being with people, conversing with them in present time and space rather than just sending apathetic, abstract information to people by way of a cold, unfeeling machine!”
“Mr. Moreno, technology was advanced to solve the world’s problems such as crime like the one that happened this morning. It is a sin against humanity to not keep up with technological advancements all because you’re only concerned about your own aesthetic interest! Or should I say atheistic interest?”
Moreno took a deep quivering breath. Then, gritting his teeth, he said, “Mr. Ross, I am not an atheist and technology has saved none of my family! Death has saved my family, Mr. Ross, Death! He called them through the disease that was inherent in all of my family and they went forth!”
Moreno hung his head, lifted it back up and then said, “Mr. Ross, can I show you the house that I’m building?”
“Please,” said Ross, disbelievingly.
As the two men started walking back toward the facility, Ross asked, “By the way, Mr. Moreno, if you’re not an atheist, what religion do you practice?”
The funerary director stopped. He paused staring hard at Ross. Then he said, sarcastically, “I thought religion had no place in government, in our employments, Mr. Ross. Should it be of any concern to you what my religious beliefs are? Now, if you still want to see my house, then I shall show it to you, if not, then we shall retrieve the bodies you came for.”
Ross said with suspicion, “I would like to see the house, Mr. Moreno.”
They crossed the symmetrical-style front yard with the perfectly trimmed lawn and trees in order to get to the back of the government-made funerary building where a small, narrow gate stood. The shadowy structure could be seen looming in the distance before Moreno opened the tan, smoothly painted, wrought iron gate. As the gate swung open absent of any creaks, the shadowy structure was revealed to be a partially built medieval castle. The portions of walls that had already been built over the skeleton consisted of all storm gray stones chaotically cemented together. There was a tower in the front part of the castle. The whole structure looked like some half decaying brontosaurus or giant serpent lying on top of a high Egyptian sand dune, looking as though it were raising its long neck from a fossilized hibernation. A hibernation that any sane person would pray that it would never wake up from.
Ross gasped, “What is this?”
Moreno said, “It’s my house, my house!” He said this with a wide smile, a smile that was like the sudden burst of the sun coming out of the clouds on a dark grey day. It did not match his overall morbid character. Then the sun sunk back into the clouds when he continued in a bitter tone, “Not the Government’s.”
Ross said, “No one builds houses like these anymore.”
“I am very well aware of that; that is the precise reason why I am having this one built.”
Ross criticized, “I have never seen anything like this. Not in real life. The only places I’ve ever saw such horrible architecture is on the Network at certain sites. Honestly, Mr. Moreno, this is very disrespectful to the people who are buried here. It gives a monument ground a very negative connotation.”
Moreno said, “That is the problem with society, Mr. Ross. Man has always been afraid of death; he has always seen it as an arch-enemy of humanity; he has always seen it as the ultimate menace as though it should never have existed. And so throughout history, he has identified it through the dark, deteriorating haunted castle in our literature and films. But ironically, Mr. Ross, it is a part of life. Without death, there can be no life.
“People always try to put off that which is infinitely greater than themselves: they get surgery done on their body parts to prevent themselves from aging (there are no more wise old men or wise old women; in fact, people move as far away as possible from their own parents and grandparents because their parents and grandparents represent the death that they fear since the elderly are so near it); they put chemicals on their scalps to prevent balding or they surgically have them replaced with the scalps of the dead who did not have enough respect for their own bodies and so in their wills gave their parts away to strangers; they put manufactured remedies in their hair to ward off graying; they go as far as having machine organs put into them to avoid their natural deaths! They try to cheat Death, as the old saying goes. But, Mr. Ross, history all the way up to this point has proven that you cannot thwart Death’s plans! But scientists are constantly trying to thwart them. They are now going to the extreme of trying to locate the microscopic organ that stops the overall process of the body’s functioning, that which ‘brings’ about death, so they can remove even it.”
Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, all religions, or nearly all at least, believe in the preservation of life. And that is why most religions try to prevent death.”
“Mr. Ross, Death is Life!”
Ross remembered a biblical saying similar to Moreno’s last statement. It suddenly dawned on him what religion Moreno practiced. However, he asked to make sure, “Mr. Moreno, you having a Spanish surname, I would like to say are Catholic. But I have a big feeling you’re not.”
Moreno said mockingly, but cheerfully, “May I remind you, Mr. Ross, Earth is a politically correct world, and it is politically incorrect to stereotype certain cultures.”
Ross verified, “So you’re not Catholic?”
Moreno shook his head with a proud grin like a child who thinks he’s out-smarted an adult, and then said, “My religion, if you must know–” then his grin turned to one of a solemn expression, “and if you tell the Government and they get suspicious like yourself, then I am willing to die for my religion–my religion is a break-off of my ancestral Catholicism, Mr. Ross.”
Ross guessed, although he knew he was wrong, “You or your family were converts to Protestantism.”
The proud childish grin grew back. “No, it is much newer than any Protestant sect, although there have been similar religions in the most ancient of times.”
“You don’t even worship God,” Ross said.
“Not that god, Mr. Ross. You people were wrong about God nearly all of history.”
“You worship . . . Death,” he said, as much as he dreaded to, with a cold gasp, eyes wide, face pale like the one of the corpse that the bone white pulley had rolled away with. Then he choked out, “Only a worshiper of Death could commit such a homicide as the one committed today.”
Moreno said, “You dare accuse me of a crime solely based on my religion, Mr. Ross? That is complete bigotry and religious intolerance. The function of the World Constitution is to protect us from that. Let me reveal to you, Mr. Ross, that we, the worshipers of Death, believe that He must take his own course. We touch nobody and nothing. We do not make machines that bring on death as people on Earth make machines that prevent it. We do not make machines for capital punishment. As Catholics say that their god is the only one who can punish by death, so do we say the same about our God. We do not even make or give support to euthanasiac devices; one must accept the form of death that our God brings; His will is His will.”
At this, Ross gasped, “You would let ill people suffer, you cold blooded bastard!”
“We are not of cold blood in our beliefs, Mr. Ross, because we prevent acts such as euthanasia in order to save poor suicidal souls from even a worse suffering, the suffering of eternal hell. Therefore we do not stop Death in His course, nor do we influence Him to speed up his course. We leave be the will of Death, Mr. Ross. That is our doctrine.”
Ross interrogated, “Who’s ‘our,’ Mr. Moreno? You and who else? Where’s the rest of your congregation? Just you three? Those two overly pale face, juvenile, gothic punks that work for you?”
Moreno’s face flamed red as he commanded, “Enough!” Then in a more calm yet firm voice, he continued, “I am through with your insults on our planet.”
“The Government’s planet, Mr. Moreno! You don’t rule this planet, the Global Government does, and the people who support it.”
Moreno said, “And we the people who live here do support it, Mr. Ross, and since we live here you are insulting our home planet merely because of our ways.”
“Yes, that’s right! I am insulting your ways, Mr. Moreno! You people take the time to glorify your ‘god’, Death, but take no compassion on the ones your god ‘takes’ from the universe; in fact, you show even less compassion to the ones who are still alive, the ones who need euthanasia, for instance.”
“Much in the same way you take no compassion for the ones you send here to get buried because nobody on Earth cares about them; you relocate them, exile them to be precise–but you dare not use that term because you’re ‘not inhumane people’–you exile them off of their own planet like the 19th century Americans did with the Native Americans with their land and like the 20th and 21st century Americans did with my Mexican ancestors in their southwestern United States homeland. You do that because the living don’t remember the names of the dead or how they relate to the dead, and so you tear out their graveyards, their neighborhoods, and transport them over here like garbage, Mr. Ross, like garbage to be dumped in a remote Gehenna!”
“We transport them here because the majority voted for that kind of method to make room for the living.”
Moreno said, “That is all you people are concerned with: that which is alive and present. The people of Earth have no concern for the past nor for the people who made it! Earth fears the past; Earth fears that if the past is remembered then it will be relived and so will stop material progress and keep the wrong people in power; Earth fears that the past will haunt society forever. But, Mr. Ross, Earth forgets too easily what gave us our ideas for the present–the past. If there is no past, there is no present and thereafter no future. Without the past, and so without our dead ancestors who made it, there is no meaning for any of us. We forget our past too much and everything and everybody that make it up. We forget the events that made our present day events, we forget our ancestors, we forget our ancestries, and so we forget ourselves to the point where we are just a people floating around in an infinite, black, eternal midnight universe! We, my two caretakers and I, may be a minority in our religion, Mr. Ross, but we know where our faith lies.”
“In death!” Ross barked.
Moreno raised his voice, “Yes, Mr. Ross, in our eternal, old friend Death! Our tour stops here. You will pick up your bodies now and leave. Remember, I hold authority over who comes and goes here, Mr. Ross. And I do not think you are the kind of person who should come here. Now get your bodies and be gone.”
“That’s true, Mr. Moreno, you do have authority over this planet, I’m sorry to admit. But I will be back with higher authority from Earth, Mr. Moreno, do you understand that? I will be back with higher authority to investigate this case!” He was yelling near to the point of losing his breath. “Because this is all a disgrace to turn a place of burial into one’s own aesthetic theme park. Building a haunted castle on a monument planet! You’re sick!”
The two attendants met Ross at the front gate, Luther saying to him, “The bodies are loaded.”
Ross thanked him without expression and headed back to the ship through the moaning wind.
Luther and Felicia met Moreno in his study. He asked, “Did you load all three of them?”
Luther said they had.
Moreno said, “The weapons too?”
Felicia answered in the affirmative.
Then Moreno said, “Good. It will be the only way that Earth will ever believe us. Earth, that foolish world with its beliefs merely in the so called here-and-now, merely in that which can be explained and rationalized, only that which can be shown in the light! Well, the people of Earth are going to find out that all cannot have light shed on it, not even on things that shed blood, and that we are not above God no matter how advanced in science and technology we are! There is still mystery in this universe–” As he spoke he was looking out the transparent wall behind his desk and then suddenly slumped down onto the floor with no resistance.
Luther checked the old man’s pulse. He looked up at Felicia saying, “Death has taken him.”
Without expression, Felicia said, “Do we have time to embalm him?”
Luther looked out the transparent wall for several seconds and then said, “We will have to put him in deep freeze. We can’t lose any time. The three generals will be back on Earth soon expecting the squadrons and troops. . . .” He glared at the endless fields of gravestones as he continued, “Whom we have yet to awaken.”
Ross’s ship was already fleeing through midnight black space several miles out of Memoria’s atmosphere when he and his co-pilot heard the sounds from below. The sounds were like three coffin lids dropping.
–Steven Arellano Rose