“Hello, world!” Oak grunted as his alarm went off. “Big day, today. I’m leaving you for another.”
He was referring to his mission to an alien world, to source for a present, a gift, for his girlfriend. Mahogany was her name. Whenever he thought of her and her wavy brown hair that flowed beyond bronze shoulders, all the troubles in the world would go away. Her very image stood between the bed and him. Despite the urge to fall back to sleep, his purpose for the day was more important.
Mahogany’s taste for exotic skin handbags went beyond what Earth had to offer. She only cared for Xood skin bags which can only be found in an alien world two light-years away. Xoods were not unlike our crocodiles except for their blue luminescent skin that glowed infinitely in the dark. Oak was determined to gift her the latest limited edition of the Xood bags launching today.
Oak got out of bed and walked into the bathroom.
“Rise and shine.”
Those were his commands for the system to beam off his nightclothes, dirt and unwanted microorganisms from his body, and keep his mouth hygienic. The process did not take more than five seconds but he still managed to wonder why had there not been any solution to just settle the whole process without the need to even get out of bed.
Why is there the need to walk the distance into the bathroom? Why is it necessary to walk back into the bedroom to select the right clothes to beam onto my body? How silly can the world be?
Before Oak left, he stared into the huge screen that dominated one side of the room walls. It was supposed to simulate a huge window. He could choose any scene to be displayed. Most of the time, like today, he left it to project space-age architectural buildings. He loved to look out into the urban city of steel and glass. In reality, several man-made nuclear disasters and the destruction of the ozone had left the outdoors uninhabitable. Plantlife had withered. Buildings and infrastructure were in a state of disrepair and decay.
Oak’s wealthy father had pitched for a project to build a glass dome that will shield the city of the rich from the devastating elements and the slumps. He had been successful, after offering some kickbacks to city officials, and the project had started for a decade. In another year, it will be ready. Then the clean up could begin and the wealthy can indulge in luxurious lifestyles both inside and out in the open, and they could have real windows and glazings.
But at the moment, there was no reason for windows, what more doors to open to exit the house. People just teleport in and out. Oak teleported directly to the space station that orbited Earth. He boarded the waiting spaceship. Preparations were being made to send the likes of Oak and the other few that can afford the trip to the alien world where the Xoods lived.
“If it isn’t Oak, my handsome Prince,” Gina greeted him. Everyone wanted to be with Oak. A life of luxury beyond the reach of the majority was too enticing. And Oak did not let that advantage go to waste. However, despite having dozens of partners, it was Mahogany that managed to be the one constant in his life. He was not sure what had attracted him to her.
But he was sure of one thing, though. He was getting increasingly tired of the life he had been living. Recently, an upheaval by peasants had reminded him of stories he had been told by real friends and real teachers when he was in a real school before his parents strike the goldmine.
One thing led to another and he began to feel disgusted with his current crop of relatives and friends who spoke half-truths and gossiped about others' misfortunes.
“Have you heard of how our cheerleader lead embarrassed herself in front of her party guests? And guess what? It was on her birthday!”
“You know how much I missed you since...”
“I’ve never loved anyone as much as you.”
Oak feinted acknowledgement but his attention was towards the viewport as the stars stretched into colourful lines. The spaceship had entered hyperspace. Their journey would take two hours. An hour for each light year. Gina had already begun taking off both their clothes. The rest happened in a blur, much like the stretched out stars outside.
The spaceship could not have reached the planet's orbit sooner. Oak was the first to beam down to the planet before Gina had any chance of suggesting to tag along. It was his first visit to a planet with its own natural sentient inhabitants. Prior to this, he did not venture to anywhere alien, only to planets terraformed by humans.
"Welcome to the Xood complex where the world of difference lies in your fingertips," a synthesised female voice broadcasted across the mall.
Immigration was not much different from Earth. Oak and the likes of him had special lanes while the rest of the off-world visitors or crews had to be scrutinised. The only difference was some of the immigration officers were native to the reptilian world. They were humanoid and covered in scales that reflected the full spectrum of colours. They did not require clothes, except for diagonal sashes that indicate their ranks and positions. They even bore the familiar weariness distinct to government officials.
Once Oak walked out of immigration, he was immediately greeted with a dense myriad of signage that led to various choices of exotic food and retail lots. Once the information overload had worn off, the next thing he noticed was that he was no longer inside a building. High above loomed grand trees, not unlike those he had seen in Earth’s history books.
He scanned the directories and purposefully headed off to look for the prestigious Xood skin bags. He had expected to meet aliens from this and other worlds out here but to his surprise, there were only human customers and a mixture of both human and native staffs.
After he located the shop, he wasted no time to zoom in on his purchase. He had to be quick if he was to catch the next ship home in time to surprise Mahogany. There was a long queue but he had made some special, privileged arrangements. He paid and left the shop hastily, trying to avoid any salesperson who attempted to strike a conversation.
He navigated the maze of shops and signage but he seemed lost. There was a side door at one corner without any signage. Since he got lost following signs, he decided he would not go wrong if he went for a door that was bare of any markings. He opened it and slid inside.
Oak froze. He did not notice the door closed behind him with a click. Before his visit, he thought the world will be like a diamond in the rough, raw with potential enveloped in nature that was only just being discovered. But it was far from the truth. In front of him was a different world. He stood on the outside that was barren of greens. Land as far as his eyes could see was cleared for what looked like mining and construction. Men and women holding whips were controlling the scaled natives, Xoods and other creatures like masters and slaves. They even issued their commands in the natives’ tongue, which were a series of hisses and clicks.
For a long time, Oak’s mind processed the scene in front of him. Slavery. Something that Earth had tried to forget and yet, the earthlings were repeating the same mistakes all over again in a foreign world. How many more worlds had they enslaved? Shameful, Oak dropped his luxury bags and fled.
Without thinking he headed for the space terminal but when he finally arrived, he turned his back to it.
No, I can’t abandon these people. I must right what’s wrong, Oak thought.
The murmurs in his mind built to a crescendo. He was not going back to his tired, useless life. He had to do something useful and he had to start here. But still, he was lost.
Then, he felt a presence beside him. A fellow human, a woman.
“We have been watching you the moment you stepped through that door. Follow me, we have much to show you, to discuss.”
“In every tyranny government, you can expect a strong resistance,” the woman whispered.
“You are a terrorist!” Oak exclaimed, a bit too loud but he was lucky to escape notice.
“Resistance fighters are not terrorists. Now come,” it was an ultimatum for Oak to quiet down and follow her.
They both disappeared into the chaotic crowd of shoppers but for a greater purpose.