By the 60th century the mostly alien advances in space travel and the invention of human friendly breather bugs and Berring suits had made discovering habitable planets fairly simple. While finding these liveable worlds was relatively easy, legally claiming them remained a costly and time consuming venture. The paperwork alone to acquire an entire planet could take a competent team of lawyers up 5 years to forge. Once owned, the taxes on these enormous private residences were phenomenal. These mostly cold and empty worlds were an expensive but popular vanity purchase for financial mogules, entertainers, politicians, and professional athletes.
purchased worlds were always initially vast money pits. Each planet was
different, most were devoid of life although some of them came with
native flora or fauna bordering on the sentient. The worlds had
different build capacities, different solar and lunar schedules, some
had a convenient abundance of water, and some were covered with a
lacework of highly acidic poison rivers. The most costly aspect of
purchasing a vacant planet was the bribing of inspectors.
was the job of inspectors to decide whether or not a planet could be
safely used by people. There were lots of reasons why a planet might be
considered unusable. These planet inspectors went over each world with
a fine toothed comb making natural studies of resources, plant and
animal life, geography, geology, and every other factor that may come
into play down the road in a dangerous way if the planet was to be used
for any human purpose.
This is because after the
initial costly acquisition of a planet, they all were used by humanity
at large. Even the smallest planets are very big places with plenty of
room for the private lives of the rich and famous, and a little commerce
on the side. They all become way stations among the stars, restocking
and refueling areas. Some of them, depending on the financial straits
of the owner, even become tourist vacation destinations. A passing
planet inspection score was crucial. The more deadly the planet, the
higher the bribe, and the bigger the bribe, the better the score.
Inspectors were eager to be thorough and purchasers were eager to pay
through the nose in order to recoup the most possible cash from their
Lee Aaron was one of the most sought after
planet inspectors. This is because he was known in the business as one
of the cheapest planet inspectors. Lee had suffered through a gambling
addiction in his youth that had caused him to take obscenely small
bribes for several years in a bid to keep business steady. One of these
bribes had notoriously resulted in the brutal murder of an entire 5
generation high wealth banking family by an intelligent tribal society
of dog like creatures that had been marked "harmless indigenous beasts"
by Lee's inspection. The entire planet had to be exterminated after it
was determined that the encounter had left these harmless indigenous
beasts incompatible with interstellar traffic. The planet reverted back
into the public domain and was snapped up by the Gold Star Cruise and
As it often goes in the financial
world, the greater impression was made by the money saving possibilities
of dealing with Lee Aarons than by the slaughter of the hapless family
and the annihilation of the several billion alien species that had dwelt
on the planet prior to purchase. Lee's bold, dirt cheap, and deadly
inspection had made his career. He never had to worry about getting
work again, so long as he kept his bribe rates relatively low.
final casualty of Lee's most famous inspection was his gambling
addiction. He found himself unwilling, maybe even unable, to rely on
chance for excitement or gain. Lee Aaron paid off his bookies and
filled the void left by his old friend and menace with newer and more
reliable medicinal companions.
Planet inspectors were
not permitted to wear Berring suits or breather bugs, those advantages
would have compromised their senses and impaired results. Despite the
fact that anyone purchasing a planet would undoubtedly own those things,
the inspection was meant to determine livability for even the lowest
common denominator. Specifically, the poor.
Aarons lived in his ship. While his self medicating habits ate a
significant portion of his earnings, his expenditures were far less than
they had been with that old whore, lady luck. His ship was state of
the art. Lee had no wife, no children, no home, no pets. No
obligations, nowhere to be, and no when to get there. Every 12 hours
the solar vitamin D light in his quarters would gently shift into a soft
simulation of moonlight, and that was the solo spaceman's cue to begin
dosing and singing.
Lee didn't have an impressive
vocal range, but he was not tone deaf. There were a few songs he
favored while drinking, others while smoking, and a mixture of song
snippets he liked to shriek while over stimulated via non drinking or
The night he got the call to inspect a
planet in the Harker system, he had been drinking rum and singing a
song his grandmother had hummed when he was a freshly orphaned boy to
ease him through his many nightmares. Lee's parents had been killed by a
cracked furnace seal as they slept. Lee had lived because he loved the
sulfur smell after a rain and had fallen asleep with his window open.
His younger sister wasn't so lucky, she'd had a nightmare of her own and
was sleeping between his parents.
"My youngest son
came home today, his friends marched with him all the way, the fife and
drums beat out the time, while in his box of polished pine, like dead
meat on a butcher's tray, they brought my young son home today"
had to look up the words in order to learn the song that had soothed
him through so many bad dreams. Lee was not surprised his grandmother
had only hummed the melody.
The call went straight to
text, which is what Lee preferred. He didn't need a prospective client
catching him injecting, snorting, drinking, or smoking anything while
singing raucously. Lee wasn't famous for his professional decorum but
he was an incredibly private man.
"Planet in Harker
System. Previous Injector Bissing. Mush Job. Setting Gay Gay Gay 3 7 9
4. Replete That's Alpha Alpha Alpha 3 7 9 4"
never failed to get a kick out of his ship's call system voice to text
errors. Previous injector bissing could only mean previous inspector
missing, however, and that wasn't a laughing matter. That meant that
this planet might house hostiles of any kind. Natives, beasts, germs,
weather situations, the danger might be myriad or singular but it
certainly existed. Not too different than any other job, Lee mused, and
he could certainly appreciate the narrowing down of chance's role. He
would know to be even more wary than usual, and that was not a terrible
thing to know in advance. Lee sent his job confirmation code and set
his ship to AAA3794.
"A man he would have lived and
died, til by a bullet sanctified, now he's a saint or so they say, they
brought their young saint home today"
AAA3794, or Gaygaygay, as Lee had taken to calling it in his head, was a
stunningly beautiful planet. The smokey outer atmosphere blended
metallic purples oranges and blues like oil on the surface of a puddle.
Once on the planet, the gentle light from three small suns wafted
through this shifting ethereal filter and kissed everything it touched
with a deep and perfect warmth. There was a slight breeze when Lee landed. His
instruments indicated the air was thin but breathable, no small miracle
when considering the unique requirements of human survival and the
vastness of the universe. Tall maroon trees swayed back and forth along
the edge of an ocean so clear that Lee at first thought the creatures
swimming under the surface were floating along on currents of air.
sea animals themselves were things of intense beauty. Schools of fish
with metallic shimmering skin to match the sky and long ribbon-like fins
darted here and there in a meticulously orchestrated ballet. Large
amorphous creatures drifted more slowly below, every now and then
upsetting a small cloud of gold sand that shimmered as it slid down
their bright velvet backs to return gently into the still bosom of the
It looked like an advertisement Lee had seen
as a child for a faux fish tank. All of the soothing comfort of a pet,
none of the inconvenience or sadness that caring for a life might
bring. Perfect little brightly colored solar powered fish swam back and
forth while bubbles streamed from the clean sandy tank bottom in gently
swaying rows. This was better. Lee could see larger sea creatures
further out, a pod of whale like animals crested at once in the
distance, spraying the air with a fine mist of droplets that caught some
blue from the sky and reflected it like a tiny patch of Earth
twilight. Lee felt a sharp pang of homesickness, his first in years.
decided to search first for the previous inspector's ship. If there
was information that had been gathered and cataloged already, that could
save him an exorbitant amount of time. He boarded his ship and sent
out a local distress call. If the missing inspector's ship hadn't been
disabled, it would respond to the distress call from his ship
automatically with a location. This worked, and within minutes Lee had
navigated his ship down next to a shimmering late model compact
This ship was far smaller than Lee's,
indicating that the occupying inspector had a base home and only needed
the ship for commuting and work purposes. The hatch was open and the
food stores had all been removed. This was worth noting, and may have
meant that advanced beasts or even aware beings were lurking in the
forest waiting to ransack Lee's own stores. There was no sign of a
struggle, however. Lee's detail oriented mind made note of the fact
that items were missing which might only have been taken by someone (or
something) familiar with their use. The small silver medi-bag, water
purifier, basic survival equipment, all of it had been stripped
carefully from the ship. Shinier looking and certainly more interesting
electronic equipment had been left behind. Lee wasn't there to figure
out what had happened to the missing inspector, he filed all of it away
under "interesting" and moved on.
He found what he was after in the flight seat, the previous inspector's completed planet report.
Designation Uninhabitable", Lee sat heavily in the captain's chair and
read on. "Three suns prone to radioactive bursts, overheated
environment, unsufficient to sustain life beyond plants. Toxic plants
in abundance, moss and bacteria laden mold in abundance." There was
more, but Lee stopped there. Maybe the purchaser hadn't offered enough
of a bribe? The assessment was not harmonious with Lee's own brief
initial notes. The differences were so jarring, Lee wondered if the
previous inspector might not have had a personal gripe with the
This could all wait until the morning,
however. While the three suns outside shone as beautifully as they had
upon his arrival, Lee's wristwatch told him that dusk was setting in
aboard his own ship. With the amount of traveling to different worlds
that Lee accomplished so frequently, one of the measured luxuries he
allowed himself was a set sleeping schedule. If he landed on a world
that enjoyed an opposing schedule to his own, he might stay up a little
later or get up earlier to take advantage of natural light, but overall,
he never altered his body's basic understanding of day and night as
dictated by his own ship and home.
It might seem as
though even a former gambler would enjoy living in the moment, but
gamblers by nature are superstitious animals. Superstition and habit
are old friends. Lee boarded his own ship just as the moon rose on the
sky simulator that covered the ceiling, lit a bowl, and began to sing.
the moon rose over an open field. Kathy I'm lost I said, though I knew
she was sleeping. I'm empty and aching and I don't know why-y-y,
counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they've all come to look
for America", Lee's smooth breathy tenor filled the cabin and almost
drowned out the low melody coming from just beyond the hatch. Lee
paused, took another puff, and turned on the viewer.
Grandmother stood on the steps of his ship, her smiling lips pursed
with the humming that came through the door and her hand absently
stroking the air where a sleeping boy's head might have lain had there
been a bed in front of her.
"Grandma? Meme?" Meme
had been his name for her when he was a boy, May-may, it was
pronounced. His grandmother's father had been from real Earth France
and she was very proud of having spoken old Earth French in the home.
He could remember her telling him about the rose bush she took such
meticulous care of, "The original clipping was from Versailles, it was
brought over more than nine hundred years ago. This is the same plant,
regrowing again and again, you'll have it when I pass" Lee hadn't taken
the plant, it had died when his Grandmother fell ill and became unable
to care for it any longer.
His grandmother didn't
answer, and instead walked humming off into the maroon woods at the edge
of the clearing. Lee put down his pipe, put on his shoes, grabbed some
safety equipment, and went after. He'd brought his stunner, a device
capable of laying a powerful electrical shock on anyone or anything
within thirty yards that wasn't heavily grounded. He'd also turned on
his recorder, all planet inspectors have recording equipment installed
directly in their iris for the sake of convenience. When activated,
everything they see is recorded and sent back to their ship where they
can later review the content for the sake of accuracy.
the woods were not dark, Lee lost his Grandmother almost immediately.
He kept on towards other light voices that lilted towards him, a woman's
laughter? After a short while Lee came out on the other side of the
woods and found a man and young girl sitting on the beach he'd landed
near. The man wore modern clothes, like Lee's, the mousey haired and
plain girl was dressed in a school uniform that Lee recognized from his
days on New Earth. The girl turned, smiled at Lee, and began to hum,
"My youngest son came home today..."
The man rose and
turned menacingly, placing the still humming and smiling girl behind
him. Lee recognized him as a fellow inspector. While he couldn't
recall his name, theirs was a lonely job not given to professional
comradery, he recalled the short old man from trade meetings as a
friendly and nearly retired chatterbox.
timer, I was called in to finish your job here, I don't care what you
have going with that kid, I'll get paid whether you're missing or found,
The girl rose and took the old man's hand in
hers, rubbing it gently, "don't fight my love, I can be for him too,
you're only two, you're only two, mon cher", she murmured sweetly into
his ear loudly enough for me to hear. The old man looked at her as if
she'd struck him.
The girls words did soften the man
and he allowed Lee to come near enough to speak in normal tones. "I'm
Arnold Scarber, and this is Lottie Scarber, my wife!" the man said
proudly by way of introduction, once it became clear to him that on a
planet of three he could not escape Lee's acquaintance.
I know, I'm too old for her now, but I wasn't always. My sweet Lotte
died 55 years ago. I don't know how she's here, but she's here, and
it's a miracle, my miracle!" The plain girl looked at him sadly and
squeezed his gnarled hand gently with her short soft fingers. "Not
yours, ours", she chided him gently, waving her hand towards me.
Arnold's face fell wearily.
Lee was able to get the
story from them slowly. As it turned out, much of the workings of this
"miracle" were unknown to Arnold himself. He had been so thrilled to
have his only love back that he hadn't asked very many questions.
Arnold was old enough and dumb enough to know not to ask questions for
which he might not like the answer. Maybe Lee had been enchanted enough
to forget himself and chase his grandmother through an alien forest,
but there are different kinds of love and each kind of love has a
different kind of longing. Lee wanted answers, he was fascinated but he
had seen nothing worth a man's life and livelihood. Lee had never
thought of himself as a sentimental man, he was the solo starman.
Lee left the couple for the evening and went back to his ship, having
stayed awake through his artificial night for the first time in his 35yr
career as a planet inspector. He slept like a baby under the warm
simulated vitamin D soaked sun. He dreamed of his parents and sister as
he'd found them that morning so many years before in their bed. This
time, in this dream, they all woke up. His sister Deirdre's small and
cold gray face and sunken eyes filled in and she ran to jump onto him
for a piggy ride, her little soft hands clutched his wrinkled pajama top
and her body warmed his back. Lee's father ruffled his hair and his
mother made him mouse ear pancakes. And all of it under a colorful oily
Lee watched the replay of his evening
with the Scarbers when he arose, more refreshed than he had been in
years. And more keenly aware of his loneliness than he had been since
he'd ridden as a new orphan in the police ship to his grandmother's
house. Waking up can be cold and warm at the same time. Lee was
experiencing a resurrection of more than lost people. He was waking up
in the bed with his parents and sister, he was awake enough now to mourn
his family and regret his life spent quietly as though any movement or
noise might disturb their rest.
On the tape Lee had
recorded, the old man chattered away proudly as a large silver worm
suckled at his ear like a newborn baby on a mother's breast. Lee
remembered the conversation, here when the man turned towards the worm,
he was talking about their first meeting. Arnold had been too shy to
ask Lotte out on a date, but some girls had arranged a cruel prank and
sent him a note that convinced him to go to her house in a suit with a
carnation. The cruel girls didn't realize the sweet and shy couple
needed that nudge, and their prank led to a whirlwind romance and young
but happy marriage. This had been Arnold's only love.
long dead Mother had been there rubbing his head when he awoke. She
watched the tape with him there in his ship, her hands more gentle than
he remembered. She gave him a bath, and brushed his hair, and helped
him get dressed. He reminded her that he wasn't a little boy anymore
and didn't need any help, and she reminded him that she had missed him
growing up. He let her make him breakfast, mouse ear pancakes like his
dream. And then he turned on his iris cam and looked in the mirror. A
beautiful silver shimmering worm was attached to his neck and face. Lee
touched the worm, and his mother smiled behind him, gently rubbing his
Lee Aarons changed the name on the Scarber report to his own, and sent it in.