It was the Year of the Eightieth Epo. I was working as a journalist for my local paper. It was supposed to be a segue into the dream job of my career, but I wasn’t seeing any progress. I did my job day in and day out, reporting on the local political beat, going home and eating dinner, lamenting my fate, and then starting the whole thing over again. It was clear I needed to find somewhere else to go, something else to do. But I was so fatigued, both from the rigors of the work day and the boredom I was experiencing, that I could not even imagine starting a big project or worse, starting yet another fruitless job hunt. Soon though, my ho-hum life would become purposeful and even exciting.
Since I am hoping for an intergalactic audience, maybe I should back up a little before I get to that. I come from a planet called Burwadee, located on the outer edge of the Andromeda Galaxy. Many centuries ago, when residents of the planet Earth in the Milky Way learned how to travel through space and time at a decent rate, they began to explore the Andromeda Galaxy, which is similar to the Milky Way in many ways. When the Earthlings began to experience natural disasters, climactic alterations, and plagues, among other things, a mission was sent by an international cooperative to find a habitable planet in the Andromeda Galaxy, a mission that marked the first intergalactic explorations in Earth’s history. Burwadee was the lucky winner. Nationalities and skills among the immigrants were varied. However, since the kind of space travel that such a journey required was, to pardon the pun, astronomically expensive, the first inhabitants were generally among the most wealthy people the Earth had borne.
For a few years, Burwadee witnessed a kind of utopia that Earthlings had only imagined was possible. United by the fears of a strange place and the despair at leaving the only home they had ever known, the first residents of Burwadee believed that it was incumbent upon them to start things right. There would be no war, no political intrigue, no bias, no prejudice. The Earthlings established a single city near what would resemble an ocean on Earth. There were sea creatures that the Earthlings named based on Earthly comparisons, like the Burwadian tuna and the Intergalactic scallop. These creatures, based on my study of Earthling culture, topography, biology, did not really resemble very well these things the first residents alluded to, but it made for a point of reference. There was not much vegetation, but the scientists among the first residents explored what of the flora and fauna could be eaten and what should be avoided. The humans developed a new culture as the ancient peoples of Earth had done, creating an infrastructure, an exploration committee, and a government. It was decided that the years would be marked by important events. That first year witnessed the first election of leaders, which was called an EPO (Election of Prime Officials, occurring every four years). It was in the Year of the First Epo that the new residents of Burwadee made a discovery that had escaped their attention up to that point. They were not alone on the planet.
Burwadee, in fact, had been the home of what the Earthlings would call an “alien civilization” for perhaps one million years at that point. Not a great deal is known even now about these native Burwadians, but they were discovered on the first far travels made by a scientist from Earth named Gordon Foster. The Earthlings carried their egos with them despite their best intentions, and thus, despite the millennia of cultural experience the native Burwadians had experienced, the transplanted Earthlings referred to them as Fostorians. Foster reported that the cities he had seen were magnificent, comparable to the grandest capitals on Earth. Maybe I should just tell you what Foster wrote. It’s one of the most studied documents in our history and I almost think I could write it here from memory, but I will quote it just to be sure I don’t miss anything.
I trudged up a hill that was slippery because it was covered with a light smattering of sand, as is much of this side of the planet. The long, hot days limit the types of foliage that can grow. As I gained the plateau, I gasped at the beautiful scene before me. A city like the ancient descriptions of Athens or Rome lay before me. The buildings were simplistic in structure, but all of the walls were the color of a blue Autumn sky, a color probably coming from cobalt readily available in the multitudinous petrified forests. It appeared as though the actual building material was baked sand bricks like those used by ancient desert cultures on our planet.
The creatures themselves were humanoid in appearance but were varying shades of grey. The females and males were indistinguishable. They would be slightly taller than the average human male. Their oblong heads sat on almost non-existent necks, and their shoulders arched high so that they were higher than the creatures’ ears. Their eyes had dark circles about them, and the eyes, as I found on closer inspection, were violet in all individuals. They had the same number of digits as did humans, as was apparent because the creatures wore nothing on their feet. Their muscular structure was visible under the skin and I found the muscles to be long and taut. I saw no sign of obesity or illness during my sojourn.
The creatures had developed for themselves thin, gauze-like garments, and the same material was hung over the windows in the city’s structures. There seemed to be no hierarchy among the creatures; all were equally attired in copper jewelry and all structures were equally magnificent….
With the permission of the newly formed government, Foster established a base for himself on top of the hill he described, and with the aid of appointed “diplomats,” he set out to learn more about the “Fostorians.” The Burwadians had developed a writing system based on pictograms, and Foster and his party made remarkable progress in learning how to communicate with them. They learned much from the Burwadians, ranging from how to tell when stormy weather was coming to what grew best in the hot Burwadian sun. Foster learned that the Burwadians had fifteen other cities, and that their species was the only humanoid life form on the planet, or had been before the Earthlings had arrived. Soon, the first Earthling city, named Gaia in honor of the planet that had been left, was graced with the lush vegetation that Foster had noted growing like an oasis in the Burwadian city. The Earthlings started mining copper, cobalt, iron, and other minerals that the planet had to offer. And then, just as had happened on Earth, fate introduced an idea to the transplanted Earthlings. The Burwadians were more used to the planet, obviously. They knew where, how, and what to fish. They knew how to make garments that would keep you cool during the day yet comfortable during the much colder nights. They knew where to mine, and they knew how to process the minerals into useful products. Maybe, some of the Earthlings suggested, a symbiotic relationship could be developed. The Burwadians could aid the Earthlings, and in return, the Earthlings could share some of their knowledge with the “Fostorians.” The fact that mining, building, fishing, and hunting were all activities far more work-intensive than “sharing knowledge” did not present itself as a concern. The residents of Gaia unanimously agreed that the plan was flawless. That was almost four centuries ago. Time has proven that the Gaians’ plan was in fact as far from flawless as they were from their original home.
The Year of the Seventy-Fifth Epo is one of the few election years to bear an additional name. For just under three centuries, the Burwadians had endured with pacifism the increasing brutality with which they were treated. The miners were often kept underground slaving away until they had met their quota. Those responsible for hunting, fishing, and preparing food for the Gaians were kidnapped from their homes around the age of five so that they could be adequately trained by older Burwadians. If a Gaian deemed that he or she was being maltreated by a Burwadian, the Burwadian would be tried. Because the Burwadians encountered more difficulty in learning the Earthling tongue than the Earthlings had in learning the Burwadian language, attempts at defense were laughable most of the time. Somehow though, the Burwadians continued slaving away, and even when cruelly provoked, only rarely did one ever get tried for a good reason. But the Year of the Seventy-Fifth Epo changed all of that. The weather, for reasons unknown to any of the Gaian scientists, was even hotter and drier than usual. For the Burwadians, that meant that they became fatigued faster, needed more sustenance, and were not able to labor in the manner to which the Gaians had become accustomed. In a fit of rage, one of the mining supervisors, a Gaian named Quentin Baroosh, shot his entire labor party, then asked his accompanying servants to bury the bodies.
In the city of Gaia, the news spread fast, and it reached the ears of a young Burwadian named Daleeuh Tubruk. Even by Burwadian standards, Daleeuh was tall and strong. He had been on one of the building committees, as the Gaians called the Burwadian work groups. He had been a laborer on the presidential palace for as long as the then president Tyler Hayden had been in power, and President Hayden had taken a liking for him. Indeed, some thought that Daleeuh might have been an illegitimate son of Hayden’s. After meeting with other Burwadians for six months whenever possible, Daleeuh used his good relationship with the president to gain an entrance into the president’s house, and with six other Burwadians, Daleeuh executed the president, his wife, his children, and six security guards.
Daleeuh and his comrades knew that they would be caught. Hayden lived in the center of the densely populated city, and though six guards had been killed, an army of others remained. There was no trial and no need for one. Daleeuh proclaimed his guilt, only he called it retribution. The new president, Answan Darfoui, had a flair for the dramatic, and ordered that Daleeuh and his comrades be hanged in Gaia’s central square. For many Gaians, the actions of Daleeuh and his “team of murderers” seemed like the actions of the completely mad. Very few could understand, or at least admit to understanding, where such sudden violence had been learned and forged. For the Burwadians living in Gaia, seeing the body of Daleeuh and six others hanging in the public square was a wake-up call. Overnight, the peaceful Burwadians evacuated Gaia and returned to the city that Gordon Foster had discovered so long ago. A small group detached and wreaked havoc in Foster City, the city that had grown up where Foster had first built his base. For these reasons. The Year of the Seventy-Fifth Epo is also called The Year of the Great War.
The name is misleading, for twenty years later, as I was slaving away at the Gaian paper called The Daily Times, violence still dominated the relations between Burwadians and Gaians. Occasionally a great scandal would occur when it was discovered that a Gaian and a Burwadian had romantic relationships. Amazingly, the physiology of Gaians and Burwadians was similar enough that breeding was possible. Still, these events were rare. I had hoped when I first applied for a job at the paper that I would get to cover events in Pax, the name Gaians gave to that first Burwadian city. Instead, as I said, I was limited to the political beat. The Year of the Eightieth Epo marked the three hundred and twenty-second year that the Earthlings and their descendants had been on Burwadee, and both candidates seemed to take credit for that longevity themselves. I would like to look back and say that one of the candidates issued arguments against the outright enslaving of the Burwadians that was going on all over the planet, but the bitter developments between the two races had made the presence of slaves so justified as to be beyond questioning. Needless to say, with all that was going on, I was bored out of my mind. Like I said, though, my life soon found a purpose.
It started with a book I checked out of the library. It was by a Burwadian who called herself Artemisia. Two things were unique right off the bat. First, in the wake of the warfare between the Burwadians and the Gaians, Burwadians as a rule did not identify themselves as male or female. They had not done so before the Earthlings had arrived, and had only started identifying their gender to aid in communication with the Earthlings during the first peaceful years. Indeed, in the Burwadian tongue, they refer to themselves as "Onchput," which roughly translated means "us" or "only ones." Presenting oneself as androgynous in Gaian society was a form of rebellion universally practiced by Burwadians, but even so, Artemisia pointedly called herself female. Second, everyone knew right away that Artemisia was not her real name. It was an Earthling name as you could tell by the sound of it. After doing a little research, I discovered that the name had belonged to a Persian warrior princess during Earth’s ancient times. Gaians were thrilled that Artemisia would show solidarity with them in these ways, and hence, she was the only Burwadian whose works you could read openly at any library or bookstore. Even better, instead of writing in her native pictographs, Artemisia wrote in Earthspeak, the language that Gaians had developed over the years in an effort to incorporate all of their ancestors’ native tongues. The Gaians were keen on not showing prejudice towards anyone apart from the Burwadians.
Artemisia was mostly known for writing poetry and short stories. Although she was a unique figure, I didn’t think her writing was all that good. It was a little too flowery for me, and from my studies of Earthling history, it was oddly similar to the stylings of eighteenth-century British writers. One poem struck me though. The first two lines went like this:
Gaians proud from Earth you came
The vile Burwadians you strove to tame.
I did a double-take. No wonder she was such a commonly admired figure among Gaian readers. Why would she refer to her own people as vile and show support for the Gaians’ “taming” of her people? And why use the word tame? Why not write “subdue” or “enslave?” I just didn’t get it. I re-read the book again and noticed similar wording in all of her works. It was the same in her other collections of poems and short stories. I scrolled to the very end, where information about the author was given. She was still alive, living in the home of her “employer,” a well-known lawyer named Candace Otterpry. I needed to talk to this Burwadian. I needed to understand how a member of an oppressed race could so nonchalantly support the oppressors, and make money off it to boot, or at least, make money for the “employer.”
Using my contacts at the paper, I contacted Candace and asked if I could meet with her slave Artemisia. Not stopping to hesitate at the word “slave,” which I had used quite intentionally (the Gaians hypocritically referred to the enslaved as “laborers,”) Candace said, “Sure, that’s fine. She has to clean the house today, and she has an interview with another person at midday. Could you meet with her at two minus second moon?”
“Sure,” I said. I got the address, prepared my materials, and set out to meet with this enigmatic writer.