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Build and Burn - by Eric van Gennip

I As darkness falls, the first footsteps of the Parajeevees tribe enter the Death Zone. A soft yellow glow of three distant moons balms the surface and the burned ashes covering it. The soil suffered from a firestorm once more. Devouring all life, human, animal and vegetation. The fire doesn’t care. The fire always wins. Princess Jaaleet steps from her carrier and starts aesthetically waving her arms and hips. Her rituals of dances and holy water help nature to restore. Yesterday she spotted a change in the atmosphere. Bright imminent flashes and a loud and evil hiss. Her people cheered and chanted, falling into each other’s arms. The food was long gone, and the earth dried out. All the mobile energy storages for communication and transportation went empty. But the fire brings new energy. The only option for the nomadic tribe was to embark on another journey in hopes of finding wildfire, new energy, and new life. Growing out of the ashes on the fertile volcanic land. A rebirth. Bringing new supplies and a new home for a while. Still, Jaaleet isn’t able to dance the tension away. In any new place, a fire, a grenade or an unexpected encounter could pop up with the underground living Fenicians—any minute on any day. On the way to the Death Zone, general Taaleeb investigates the smoking soil closely for Fenician signs of life: caves or parts of pipes that help to constrain the energy overload of the fire, sun and geothermal heat. And especially for water reservoirs. Water is scarce. Collecting and conserving it is a crucial need for each form of life. Finding the water of others means instant war. Taaleeb nods towards the princess – everything seems clear. And so she follows. The Parajeevees don’t have the strength for another war yet. First, this fruitful piece of ground must become theirs. II ‘Hush!’ Romao puts his finger towards Joao’s mouth. He gently strokes the wall. It trembles. The earth trembles! ‘They’re here.’ Joao drops his head. It’s now up to the two friends: reveal the position of their enemies above and start a war. Or keep quiet and go away. The worst thing about this decision: it truly doesn’t matter. Living on planet Fenice is like living on planet Fear. Whether it is the threat of the firestorms, the lack of water, or the Parajeevees. In the end, it’s all the same. But Romao has a plan. Joao can see it in his eyes. Slowly he raises his head towards his friend and touches his shoulder. ‘What are you doing?’ He whispers a bit too loud. ‘You’ve heard my stories about princess Jaaleet,’ Romao replies. ‘Even though she's an alien, she is astounding…’ Romao gazes in the distance. He met the princess once when they 89 Part 5: Social Change both searched an oasis for fruits. They had eye contact. They froze; until she nodded and walked on. Romao never exposed her presence; as did she. Instead, ever since, the two had only one goal: meeting each other again. This stupid guy! Joao can’t believe it. ‘Come with me! Just walk away.’ Romao wasn't born a Fenician. For some years, young men of other planets travelled to Fenice on space missions. Other evolved species of what were once human beings were always attracted to this red planet so close to the sun, with all its fire and energy. They were granted to import tons of energy and high tech energy devices in exchange for help to survive. The dangerous, unpredictable wildfires and the war against alien nomads Parajeevees were the perfect learning school: the young soldiers fought aside the Fenicians learning how it feels, the stupidity of war and the lethal forces of nature. It made them cherish their lives: building their own planets as safe homes for their loved ones. The space missions ended after several flights were caught in fires or by Parajeevees. Romao stayed. Not knowing what to do with his life, surviving each day and focus fascinated him. This time, for the first time, he has a goal. Meeting the princess again. And perhaps start a new equilibrium of peace and love. ‘Friend,’ Joao tries to bring him back to his senses. ‘You shouldn’t have big goals like that. The fire always wins. Since the beginning of time, our species have been at war, each wanting the planet for its own. That’s nature: every species wants to grow and eventually be the greatest. You can’t stop that.’ Romao winks at Joao. ‘Let’s see about that.’ He climbs through the hole and runs into the dark. Joao shakes his head and immediately jumps in his electric cart. He races off through the pipes and tunnels, which connect the Fenician cities. On his way back to his smart grid surrounded city, he thinks about Romao’s words. Fenicians live in compact underground cities, where everybody forms a family—sharing all there is and helping each other out in these difficult circumstances. It hits him: it actually ís love that keeps them going. ‘We found the Parajeevees!’ He screams as he enters town. ‘They have Romao in the above world. Who is ready to get him back?’ Naturally, all of the city fighters gather, clipping up their mercury armour with their technically enhanced body parts. They have technically modified limbs for more strength – they consider themselves stronger than any other kind of human being. Tested by the most monstrous fires and heath, they indeed are the toughest. III The Bedouin tents of the Parajeevees are set up brotherly next to each other, and the men are already ploughing the ground. Everything seems calm, but Jaaleet is restless. She senses something’s going to happen. Carefully she steps out of her tent, looking in the room of the general, her main guardian. General Taaleeb sleeps. Although it’s contrary to everything she’s ever been taught, she is somehow determined to go outside for a stroll. Invisible forces draw her towards a certain rock. When she reaches it and sits down, Romao takes his chance. 90 91 Part 5: Social Change ‘Princess, hush, it is me.’ He whispers as he appears by her side. Jaaleet freezes, once again, not showing any trace of movement or emotions. ‘We’ve met before in the oasis. And I hopelessly fell in love with you. I’m prepared to die only to know if you feel the same way.’ Romao chokes. Even in his eventful life, this truly is the scariest moment. To love or to die. When he looks up, Jaaleet doesn’t have to say anything. Her lovely eyes already show how she’s drowning in his wonderful thoughts. ‘But how can this be? There’s no way we can get together. Not in this war,’ Jaaleet mourns. ‘This war,’ Romao says, ‘What are we fighting for? This constant fight for possession. Eventually, it is not about possessions, fertile land or even water. It’s fear that arises from the urge of having control. If there’s one thing we should have learned in this amazing and terrifying place, it is that there is no control. The fire always wins. Everything is temporary. We only build and burn.’ Jaaleet agrees. ‘But how can we convince our people not to fight each other for the water but to share it? To find new solutions for problems and bundle our knowledge?’ A tremendous explosion on the other side of the nomad village draws their attention. ‘Joao,’ Romao sighs. They look at each other, realising the war is continuing right next to them. Jaaleet rises and helps Romao to get up. Without speaking a word, they walk towards the battlefield. Towards imminent bright flashes and a loud and evil hiss. Hand in hand. Unarmed.

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