“How long’s this gonna take, man?” The receiver crackled loudly in his ear, jolting him. He cursed as the elongated straw almost fell from his fingers.
“Dunno, I’ll be done when I’m done.” He struggled to contain the anger that surfaced momentarily, but then it was gone as soon as it had appeared and he placed his lips around the straw once more, his jaw set in a grimace of determination.
“What? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
He was becoming tiresome and Leth contemplated tossing the headset aside. He couldn’t obviously, it was one of only a dozen they had managed to pilfer from the cows and to Leth and his group of survivors the headsets were pivotal to their mission success.
“It means what it means, think about it, dumbass!”
There was a brief silence, as the owner of the voice on the other end thought it over for a few seconds.
“Just get a move on here, will ya? At this rate we’ll be here till the cows come home!”
Leth smiled, his thin lips pursed tightly around the straw that hung precariously, its tip now almost where it should be.
Just a little more … that’s it.
“Gotcha!” Leth said, the straw now clutched tightly between his forefinger and thumb as he made sure the straw was in position in the tiny hole they had spent 3 years creating.
The gaseous air that moved slowly over the surface of the dome blew against the straw, ever in motion, its greenish hue creating a Martian-like landscape effect upon the spherical dome when seen from above the Earth’s atmosphere.
The straw was buffeted about somewhat in the artificially circulated bugger gas, but this time there would be no mistakes. Leth was sure of that, and as he licked his lips and smacked them loudly a few times in preparation for the next phase of the mission – Operation Airsuck, that’s what Coddler had chosen to call it. Nevermind ‘air suck,’ Leth thought the operation name sucked; still, Coddler was their leader and the idea had been his, so there had been few complaints concerning the name choice.
Without Coddler these forays into their long lost Earth’s atmosphere would have been impossible.
“Prepare your lungs, Lethy boy, coz they got some fresh Earth air to suck up!”
Leth nodded, more for himself than for the distant figure above him, riding the air currents on the back of a Sweal, a ridiculously shaped crossbreed of seal and sperm whale that Coddler had somehow decided would be the most suited to riding the waves of the Earth’s now gravity lacking outer atmosphere.
Pausing, Leth placed the pink plastic straw between his ice-cold lips, the temperature of the frigid atmosphere around him beginning to take its toll. Even his genetically engineered physiology couldn’t last long out in the endless, lifeless expanse of the Thermosphere.
It was a lonely, silent place and with the inky blackness of space mere miles away, punctuated by the presence of Earth some 60 odd miles below, hopelessly out of reach, encapsulated by the immense glass dome the cows had constructed with the help of human slaves.
Planet of the Cows, Leth thought as he let the enormity of what he was about to do sink in.
High above, past the bulbous flapping arms of the sweal and the curious peering eyes of the only other modified human alive – Swik, drifted the massive form of their home, the last bastion of the human race.
The pitifully small number of remaining humans inhabited the only solid ground left to the once great bipedal race – the first and quite possibly last great spaceship ever built.
Lagniappe was a monstrous ship in comparison to anything else ever created since the dawn of man. From bow to stern she was an unbelievable 6.4 miles long and 3.9 miles wide, originally built to carry humans to Alpha Centauri and other stars in search of a new home.
Once, she had stood out in the night sky, lit up by the thousands of lights that flashed across her surface lending her a life of her own, causing many that gazed upon her to gasp at the sheer magnitude of such a structure. Her metallic grey body was covered in geodesic domes and other similar structures where life had once flourished, a perfect imitation of the earth and all its climates and zones. A veritable arc that was to carry Earth’s creatures 4.3 light years across space to the much studied Alpha Centauri star system where it was hoped, awaited an Earth-like planet.
As a generation ship, Lagniappe was equipped with the most advanced technology the combined brains of humanity could muster and it was said would last thousands upon thousands of years, self-sustaining. Within it, life-cycles would mirror those upon Earth, generation after generation living, dying over and over until at last she reached her destination.
“Hey, quit daydreaming down there and suck the damn air up that straw if you please. It’s getting cold out here and my claws are seizing up, now come on Leth!”
Swik was slightly more modified than Leth, in that he had claws for hands, claws that allowed him to better care for the ship. They weren’t the kind of claws you would expect to find on an Earth creature – oh no. These claws were giant titanium pincers, three pronged and bristling with all manner of tools, he would never shake hands again, that’s for certain.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it, Swik.” Leth said, before gulping down one last lungful of the thin thermosphere air. Any normal human would have perished in the thermosphere unprotected from the cold, not to mention the lack of oxygen, but not Swik and Leth. Their bodies were almost unrecognizable from what they once were, a necessity given that humans were now confined to space, since the cows had stolen their planet.
Leth placed his lips around the straw and began to suck, his modified lungs, all four of them, working with him to draw in the precious Earth air that existed below the dome the cows had erected generations earlier.
The literature detailing the fall of man was sparse, but it was still confusing to Leth and the other remaining humans, all 8,133 of them as to how ‘cows’ of all creatures had been able to overthrow their human masters, wipe them out and conquer the entire planet.
The year was 4037 and according to records, humans had been confined to their ship for over 2000 years. The dome the cows had built around the entire earth was impenetrable, at least it had been, as recently as three years ago, Professor Coddler had discovered that it was growing weaker, its integrity failing.
However, there was no way to get past the bugger gas which perennially snaked across the surface of the dome protecting it from any organic life form. After losing hundreds of men to the gas, both engineered and otherwise, their handful of scientists had discovered that the gas contained swarms of tiny creatures that fed on everything – except armorglass of which the dome was constructed, albeit an incredibly powerful armorglass only the cows and their human slaves could construct.
These little creatures were like the legendary piranha, now just a legend on Lagniappe, and voraciously ate their way through anything that entered the eerie green smoke, whose tendrils snaked along the glass of the dome, glowing and even causing Lagniappe to glow with a sickly green light.
Two lungs were fully filled with air now and the other two were steadily filling as Leth sucked in the surprisingly sweet air from the Earth proper, through the 20 foot long straw that he had managed to slip through the hole, a hole that had taken 3 years to create, just 3 millimeters in diameter.
That was all they needed. The cows, some 60 odd miles below, were oblivious to the two ragged, pitiful human/robots that floated above them. They were too busy grazing; the entire Earth now covered in rich, fertile grassland, their only food despite the rich abundance of food Earth had to offer. The cows seemed only to want to eat grass, and certainly never meat. Forever herbivores.
Leth let out a long exhalation of fresh Earth air, his body invigorated and buzzing with the unimagined levels of oxygen in the air he had just breathed in. The air he had released flowed up through another straw that connected to a bulbous grey tank on the equally bulbous sweal’s back. The job was only just beginning. They would suck enough air to create 4 oxygen rich, armorglass penetration bombs, the purer oxygen of the Earth’s atmosphere lending a potent power to the blast that Professor Coddler hoped would shatter the dome, at least where the small hole had been chipped away.
“Stage one complete, Leth … can you feel it?”
“The anticipation, the knowing, the knowing that we’re about to take back what rightfully belongs to us and put those damn cattle back where they belong – in the fields and on our dinner plates!”
Leth smiled up at Swik, atop the sweal above him, the long pink straw clutched in one claw as it snaked into the tank behind him.
“You been reading up on Earth history, I see, Swik!”
“Yeah … well, know thy enemy and all that, you know.”
Leth nodded, looking down on the green tinted dome, trying in vain to see through to the Earth below but it was useless – for now.
“Yeah, Swik, I know…”
Leth turned back to the little pink straw in his hand, literally the only material the humans had discovered could get anywhere near the glass dome without being munched by the tiny creatures in the bugger gas.
I wonder what T-bone steak with pepper sauce tastes like …
Leth licked his lips once more before sucking in an almighty breath of Earth air.
If everything went to plan, within 6 months, he might just find out.