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Purify - Chapter 5 On Guger

“Will we be safe here?” Lisa asked.

“Sure we will,” said Carrie, “they can’t see us, remember?”

“I know but it just feels odd sitting here, amongst them without them seeing us. It’s as though they are looking right at us.”

“They can only see through us,” reassured Carrie, “Look, I’ve done this dozens of times; admittedly, it’s usually on a planet without much in the way of a surviving population but the principle is the same.”

“And those creatures in the fields on the way here, they were amazing, so large and yet docile. Do you think they eat them?” asked Lisa.

“Probably. There usually are not that many food animals left by the time I get to a planet’s surface so it was interesting to see those. This whole experience is an eye opener for me although I should have gotten used to it being so cold by now since the planets I normally visit are usually in the depths of a nuclear winter.”

Just then the door to the inn opened and what looked like a shepherd walked in. He held the door open to allow his pet to enter. The creature seemed reluctant to enter at first but was persuaded by the shepherd with a deft prod from his crook. The shepherd went to the bar and ordered his beer. Lisa and Carrie’s chameleon suits were equipped with translators programmed with the language decoded from the observation drone’s logs. The dog-like creature stayed warily close to the shepherd’s side sniffing the air cautiously.

“The dog knows we’re here.” said Carrie. Lisa paled visibly. Describing the creature as a dog was close but a border collie it wasn’t. It was as if the sheepdog of choice for the shepherds of this area was a rotweiller on steroids. “Don’t worry, Lisa, I’ve got a gun.” If it were possible, Lisa paled some more. “Let’s slip out the back, quietly,” she said and they rose to leave as slowly as their fear would allow them. The dog watched them with more curiosity than threat. Lisa and Carrie found a back door and they made their escape back into the cold. By now, both moons were out and they could see there was a road leading north which they knew was the direction that they should be heading in if they were to find more civilisation.

“That was freaky,” said Carrie, “nothing is supposed to be able to see us through these Chameleon suits, “how do you think the dog could?”

“Are you sure it could see us; maybe it could smell us?”

“Could be, but we had better be extra careful around animals while we are here, just in case.”

By sunrise, the girls found themselves on the outskirts of the first big town they had seen. Soon after that they were exploring the centre and they set about finding a means of transport. There were plenty of people around so they felt comfortable enough to switch the suits into mimic mode. Now they looked just like an average local. Quite literally, since the suits took readings of the surrounding crowd before projecting and image averaged from their faces (corrected for sex, of course).

Unfortunately, they hadn’t been able to do much about the objective of their mission which was to gather intelligence about the tensions and use it to come up with a way to persuade them not to go ahead with a nuclear war where everybody would come out a loser.

Perhaps their next destination, the metropolis of the southern continent, would help. Their chosen mode of transport was, of course, a train. They worried about how to pay for a ticket as they would have back on Earth but this wasn’t Earth and they quickly discovered that tickets were not necessary. Backwards though the southern continent was (as far as they had seen up to now) the Gugerians had one thing sorted. Their fabulously connected rail network appeared to be free. They boarded one of the many and frequent trains towards the capital and settled down for the journey. Nobody seemed interested in them and they managed to keep themselves to themselves for most of the journey. At one point, what appeared to be the refreshments trolley passed through the train but they managed to wave it on without attracting too much attention. Through the windows they could see the sprawling capital city unfold around them. They quickly realised that the small town where they had boarded the train was already the start of the conurbation that became the capital. There was very little greenery to be seen now. Instead factories dominated the skyline interspersed with high rise accommodation blocks and what looked like churches to Gugerian gods.

“It never ceases to amaze me that where ever you go in this universe you always find Gods,” said Carrie. “All the worlds I have been on so far, have religions of some kind – fat lot of good it did them. If ever you needed proof that there is no one true god then you get it in my job. Not one planet’s Gods ever saved them from destruction.”

“That’s not logical,” said Lisa, “we only ever visit those planets where there has been Armageddon. What about all the planets where they don’t annihilate themselves? Maybe those are the ones where God intervenes to save them?”

“Maybe,” said Carrie thoughtfully, “but it still doesn’t explain the ones that do planecide.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Lisa, “I’m as much an atheist as you are. I’m just playing Devil’s advocate,” Lisa smiled at her joke but the man opposite seemed to take offence. They had left their suits vocal translators on but now the girls decided that they should only speak sub-vocally in future. The chameleon suits permitted them to communicate silently if desired. The man returned to reading whatever was being displayed by his spectacles when he saw that the women appeared to be chastened by his stare.

“If we are to find out what will save this place we’ll need to understand their culture a lot more than we obviously do at the moment,” said Carrie, “did you see how mention of the devil got us noticed almost immediately. That could be a way in, you know. Some cultures have stronger devil worship than god worship. It’s all a matter of approach and expectation. Do you worship the kind one in the hope that he’ll take you in or do you worship the evil one in the hope that your damnation will at least be a bearable one?”

“I’m glad I’m an atheist – it means that you don’t waste time and energy pondering such stupid alternatives.”

“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t understand religion and its various manifestations on different planets. You could argue that since so many planets have developed religions then perhaps there is something out there to worship,” now it was Carrie’s turn to play devil’s advocate.

As the train took longer and longer to reach any sort of town centre, the girls began to realise just how concentrated the population must be in this one city. It was beginning to get dark – not because of the time of day; sunset wasn’t due for another 4 hours yet – but because of the pollution. Row upon row of factory chimneys poured think black smoke into the air. The lights in the train came on and cast an eerie green glow on the world outside as it whistled past the windows. It was another half an hour before it started to slow down and eventually stop at what was obviously a terminus as everyone else started to get off.

“Looks like the end of the line, Lisa.” Lisa had fallen asleep but woke when Carrie said her name.

“Wow! Its dark – how long have I been asleep?” she asked.

“Only about half an hour. It’s dark because of the smog not because of the night.”

Outside they were amazed by how many people there were. It looked like the morning rush hour but it couldn’t be because it was only three in the afternoon. “I’d hate to see this place on a busy day,” joked Lisa.

Outside the station it was just like any capital city terminus. You could find touristy things just like back on Earth. They managed to steal a map which, in turn, showed them where the Gugerian southern continent’s parliament was. It was within walking distance. Along the way the girls couldn’t help noticing that they were attracting the attention of the town’s men folk. This was despite there being plenty of other women on the streets dressed exactly like their chameleon suits were projecting. They ducked into an alley while they tried to work out what it was about their appearance that was attracting so much attention. As far as they could see they should have blended in perfectly and then Lisa remembered the dog back in their first village pub.

“Maybe we smell differently from these folk?” suggested Lisa, “that could explain the dog’s reaction too. Maybe these people have a very keen sense of smell too.”

“What, in this smog?” asked Carrie.

“Maybe the suits are putting out our breathed atmosphere but it is too clean compared to the smog. Maybe that’s what’s doing it?” Lisa set about re-programming the suit to re-mix its output air with intake smog before eliminating it from the suit. Then she did the same on Carrie’s suit and they stepped back into the fray once more. It seemed to work – they received far fewer admiring glances from passing men now.

“We must have smelled so sweet in comparison to the city air. No wonder we were attracting so much attention – we were literally like a breath of fresh air for them.”

Now Lisa and Carrie were standing outside the parliament building.

“Now what?” asked Lisa.

“Not sure.” Said Carrie, “in the past I could just walk in and collect what material I wanted but that was when the war had taken its toll and nobody cared any more. This is so different. Maybe they have something like a viewer’s gallery and we can watch what’s going on for a while.”

“They followed some Gugerians that they thought looked like tourists into the parliament building and, sure enough, they were ushered into a viewing gallery. They watched the proceedings with care. Their suits also recorded it for analysis back on the ship when they got back.

From what they could decipher their political system worked with three main parties, representing the factory owners, the farmers and the church. Debates were short and swiftly followed by a vote. Each party got a chance to speak in strict rotation with the order of speaker changing after each vote. No sooner had the girls synced into the rhythm of the discussions than they were ushered out of the gallery and out of the building.

“That was amazing,” cooed Carrie. “It’s a totally fair and balanced three-way system. Did you see how they decided who should speak first in each mini-debate? They let the person with the middle score in the last vote go first. It’s interesting that the church has an equal share of the power. That would tie-in with the numbers of churches we saw as we came in through the suburbs. That could play in our favour. Let’s go and see a church.” Carrie was frothing with the excitement of seeing a live political debate when all she normally got to see was derelict debating chambers devoid of any life and without any prospect of having a purpose for the foreseeable future.

When they found the nearest church and went in, it was Lisa’s turn to gush. She was obviously impressed by the opulence there. Not just the gold and the jewels on show but the ways that they were put together. Intricate mosaics of gems depicting religious scenes as far as she could make out. On one was depicted the same animals that they had seen when they arrived plus a ‘dog’ apparently watching over them on its own.

“Can you work out what traditions they have in their religion, Lisa?” asked Carrie, “Because I can’t. I am too much biased by the examples that I have seen on my travels plus the sheer richness screams at you. I think that much as it pains me to say this but we can definitely influence these people through their religion.”

Meanwhile on another String Slider Ship half way across the Galaxy the crew of the Eric Laithwaite had found another planet that was about commit the ultimate folly.