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Death on Planet Zongo
By Martin T Ingham
Monday, July 27, 2009
Rated "PG" by the Author.
A comedy of bureaucracy. It never stops raining!
It never stopped raining on planet Zongo. The fierce precipitation soaked virtually every square inch of the planet's surface twenty seven hours a day, three hundred sixty-nine days a year. The ground was always mucky in the highlands, and often underwater in the lowlands. The plants sucked it all up, and their leaves were adapted to the gloomy weather, absorbing what sunlight passed through the thick clouds.
Larry Thompson stared out the front door window, looking at the screen porch of his little house in the country. Mold had turned the boards white over the years, and he dared not step out onto them. His feet would likely break through in places, so he always used a side door. The boards hadn't been painted, because local zoning ordnances banned the use of such finishes. All paint, stain, and chemical treatments were prohibited, as they were "harmful" to the environment, though it was only an excuse. Truly, the Carpenter's Union had lobbied for the law, to quicken the degradation of all structures, and thus increase their potential workloads. Profit was to be had for anyone with a hammer and a legislator's ear.
Larry had no money to fix the porch. What little he'd had was used up, gone to the taxman and the local EPA. They fined him every year for breathing more than he should. Apparently, his lungs were rated for a planet with a thinner atmosphere, and therefore he was fined after each mandatory doctor's checkup. Damn bloodsuckers, he thought, and he exhaled extendedly in spite.
So much for the glories of space exploration.
The Colony Board had been quick to flaunt the virtues and excitement of immigrating to this steam-bath of a planet. "It's free, free, free, and you'll never have to worry about overcrowding again, my friend," they'd said. "Planet Zongo is a tropical paradise, filled with pristine wildlife and vegetation, where a man can live with elbow room to spare!"
The advertising pitch had been a farce, so Larry and his wife had discovered upon touch-down all those years ago.
The world had elbow room for a good reason. Nobody wanted to live in an everlasting shower. But once they had you on the surface, you were stuck there. No return tickets were permitted, and you had to abide by the Colonial Charter, set forth by bureaucrats back on Earth.
So much for farming, Larry thought, as he looked out at the patch of mud in the back yard. Nothing edible wanted to grow here, leaving him reliant on canned goods from Earth, all of which cost more than he could afford. He and his wife had tilled that hard soil, tried all sorts of varieties, but nothing edible to mankind could survive the gloom and rain. So they'd spent every cent they had just for the necessities of life, and eaten it cold, for there was no fire permitted to heat the meals. The smoke pollution would have incurred more fines, and the wood was so wet it didn't want to burn anyway. So, they'd eaten their beans straight from the cans for as long as they could afford it.
Two years they'd lived together, trying to make the most of their fate, but the misery had taken his wife's sanity away little by little. One day, she couldn't stand it any longer, and she ran out into the woods, screaming madly at the rain. She didn't get too far beyond the tree line before she was mauled to death by Chipperoos. The small, winged primates had five inch fangs that tore her flesh to shreds in a matter of seconds. The damn things were everywhere on Zongo, but you weren't allowed to shoot or trap them, because they were part of the native environment. Man was not allowed to adversely impact the natural ecosystem, even if that meant you became lunch outside your backdoor.
That had been three years ago, and Larry still existed, but he no longer lived. Trapped in this desolate wasteland of a world, where no man should live; he was condemned to this place for the rest of his days. But his days were numbered. There was no money left, and he had no means of making more. What could he do? He was a middle-aged man without a trade license. A journalist he'd been, but the local paper had closed because it wasn't allowed to print. Can't cut the trees or use the chemicals needed to produce the parchment, and no online editions were released, because power generation was at a minimum due to similar environmental laws. A dam might harm a native Sliver Fish, or stop the spawning of the Aelish Minnows. Windmills would kill the birds and the bugs, and a nuclear reactor was just out of the question. There were a few men on treadmills to provide the landing strip with directional lights, but that was all the electricity there was on planet Zongo.
There was only one way out, Larry knew, and after his life savings were spent, and his stomach was empty, he was ready to check out. A sturdy hunk of vine he tied to a rafter, and standing on a chair he adjusted the thing on his neck. It felt ready, and with a slight jump he kicked the chair out from under him. He dropped a foot, and felt the vine crack half the bones in his neck before the vine itself gave way. He smashed against the hardwood floor in the gloomy bedroom, shouting in agony as he lay, crippled but alive! He could barely move, but his body would not release him.
For three days, Larry crawled around on the floor, screaming for someone to put him out of his misery. Finally, he made it to the back door, and crawled out into the rain. The warm liquid pelted him as he dragged himself through the mud, but it was too thick, and he got bogged down. His weakened state prevented him from getting near the trees, where the hungry predators roamed, so he was cursed to live even longer.
There was only one chance left. Rolling onto his back, he looked up at the sky and opened his mouth, allowing the water to slowly accumulate until it filled him. With one deep breath, he sucked it into his lungs, and after much choking he finally found his rest.
A week later, the local assessor came by to see why Larry hadn't paid his breathing fee for the month. He found him lying in the mud, bloated and rotting, untouched by the woodland predators who didn't feel the inclination to cross the swamped yard for dead prey. The body had to be dealt with by the local authorities, which incurred a hefty fine. But Larry had no money. Who would pay?
Three months later, back on Earth, Sam Thompson received a most curious letter in the mail. The red seal of the Internal Revenue Service made him fear an audit was coming his way, but it was nothing so simple. Ripping open the official envelope, he read the notice. "Due to the passing of your Second Cousin Once Removed, we are pleased to inform you of an inheritance of seventy-two acres of pristine land on Planet Zongo. You may accept free passage and immigration to claim this award, or pay the statutory transfer fees, so we may assign this prize to another family member. Please return the postage-paid envelope with your signed certificate of acceptance, or payment."
The fees involved were substantial, and Sam could hardly believe it would cost so much to give something away. There was only one sane choice a man could make. "Honey," he called to his wife. "Get the kids packing. We're off to Planet Zongo!"
Site: The Worlds of Martin T. Ingham
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|Reviewed by Srian Good
|This is a very good lesson to those who preach retrogression to primitve ways. The bearucray will ensure that we pay for each breath that we take.
A damn good read.