Martha is saved from a US desert.
Martha had been foolish and made many mistakes, now they could cost her life.
The man responsible for her pregnancy left town at the first sound of the baby crying. She felt she would have trouble bringing up the child on her own and decided to go to see her parents at a mission they set-up in California, hoping to receive their help and forgiveness. She genuinely loved her child, but he was too vulnerable to take on the journey across the desert and her friends agreed to look after him until she could return for him.
She set off into the desert with a horse and wagon. On the first day, she hit a rock causing a barrel of water to fall off the wagon and smash apart on the ground. The horse soon consumed the water from the remaining barrel and the doomed creature eventually collapsed from thirst and exhaustion. She continued the journey on foot, but didn't last long in the sweltering heat and was soon lying on the stony ground with buzzards gathering above her. One of the birds dropped down and landed nearby. The bird kept easing towards her, looking at her like a diner studying a menu. Every time she moved, the scavenger hobbled and hopped away.
Martha felt weak, she could hardly move and was praying someone would come to her aid. She drifted towards unconsciousness and a high-pitched whining filled her head as the hungry buzzard moved in, and then she was gone.
* * * * *
Eighty-five years later Bithot walked into his room and turned on his observer-scope screen to watch the funeral service for Martha and her husband. Like all of his species, he was hairless, slender, and had long gangly limbs. The material of his clothing, though cloth-like, was made from tough plastic. He walked barefoot; his toes were extra long, like fingers and were capable of the same functions, making control of their craft difficult for beings not of his planet. He was one of the planet's most successful selectors. He always chose well and was the only selector not to have any of his selections returned under option twelve. The life forms he selected were always in great danger, and he would save them from death at the last moment.
He sat in his quarters looking at his screen and watching the joint funeral on one of the many two hundred square mile islands on the nearby satellite planet. Some were inhabited by humans and some by species from other planets who were also considered to be at risk. The main planet, where Bithot and his kind lived, gave out a red glow in the night and the humans on the satellite incorrectly referred to it as The Red Moon.
It was a sad time for Bithot. He was very fond of the elderly woman, his favourite, his pet, and the very first human he selected and rescued. When the service ended Bithot wiped the moisture from his face with a reusable wipe and suddenly began to shout obscenities towards the screen. In frustration, he threw the tear-drenched wipe across the room. It was nearly time for the meeting with his superior, Jarlut, and he composed himself before setting off to make his thoughts known to him.
Bithot stood waiting at the entrance to Jarlut's office looking at his reflection from the black glass door and knowing Jarlut was sitting at his desk on the other side watching through the one-way glass and deliberately making him wait. The door slid open and Bithot stormed across to confront his superior.
"She was only a hundred and three; you could have saved her." The sounds came from projections at the side of Bithot's jaw. His mouth was almost redundant, only capable of taking in liquid for social purposes or for emergency intakes when away from the planet.
"You know the rules," Jarlut said. "Her husband died so it was her time."
"It was her time eighty-five years ago when I took her."
"She was fit then."
"She was alone in a hostile desert, almost dead, and about to be consumed by a flock of scavenging vultures."
"Minor details. Anyway, humans cannot cope very much past one hundred. They are not like us and they become weak and feeble. Her husband died so she died with him, that is their will, and that is the procedure."
"Procedure! Procedure written thousands of years ago."
"Do not be disrespectful. This is our task. This is our purpose in the universe given to us by the great creator." Jarlut stared at Bithot. "We did not make the rules." His stare lightened and his cat-like eyes smiled. One of his eyes remaining focused on Bithot while the other looked down and scanned his desk screen for information. "You still have to go to Earth for those replacements. Perhaps you will find another favourite with whom you can take a sparkle to. We know you have been taking an interest in one from the bloodline of Martha: her great, great, grandson Marvin. He is a soldier, is he not? And he may soon be a candidate for you as your new favourite."
"There will be no more favourites. Anyway, there are plenty on the island now from the bloodline of Martha. I have little interest in them."
Jarlut laughed. "You are still young. One hundred and fifty years and only halfway through your life. Your sorrow at the loss of your pet will soon pass and you will find another."
"Never, not even if I live to be four hundred. I want a change. I want to work with another species."
"Do not be so hasty, Bithot. You have reached a prestigious position. Do not lose your status because of misplaced emotion."
"I am not being hasty and I have no emotions that are misplaced. I want a change. If you do not allow it then I will apply through The Screeners."
Jarlut nodded and shook his head a few times while giving out faint sighs. "Temporary then, to allow you to see some logic. We certainly do not want any involvement from The Screeners. Buffer wants a change so you can exchange with him and take control of the Anolaid people for a while if you wish."
"Fine, I will go and inform Buffer right now."
"Not so fast. Buffer is away and you need to make the journey to Earth. That cannot wait for Buffer to return."
"We will leave today then. The sooner we get this done the better."
"If you wish. I have no objections to that as long as the service engineers agree to such short notice."
Bithot bowed, turned and hurried back out.
Jarlut called out after him. "Bithot, believe me, you will find another."
Despite his desire for a change, Bithot was fond of the humans. At home, he would often select the Anglo-American island on his observer-scope and zoom in onto some of his favourite human households, although now his pet Martha and her husband had gone, his interest waned. He also knew of the possibility that one day they might have to lose all the humans. It was 1940 on Earth and the planet seemed to be in peril blundering from one conflict to another. There was also the added worry that the human race would soon have the ability to destroy all life on the planet. Cleansing of the planet after such a disaster would be a gigantic task, but it would not be beyond their capabilities and would soon be completed. They would then lose the humans from the islands for the repopulating. Perhaps though the humans would realise the folly of their ways and maybe they would see sense before it was too late.
Bithot would need plenty of food for the task ahead and he stopped at a public impulse booth on his way to meet Ekurb. He sealed himself in the booth and waited while the charged impulses filled his body with enough food molecules to sustain him on his journey to Earth and back. At the same time, sparks were flying out from his body as all the waste products were being ejected and vaporised. When he arrived at Ekurb's quarters, he found his friend in a poor condition and he knew the reason why. "So, you have been visiting one of the pleasure centres without me again?"
"Afraid so," Ekurb said. "And I went off to the birth-breeder complex with Arnia."
"You are a fool, Ekurb."
"True, but I am a happy fool."
"You already have two offspring in the learning and growth farm. Is that not enough? You will never get promoted if you are continually in debt."
"I could not care less about debt. Anyway, we are not due out for a while. It would do you no harm to make more of a commitment to Axonia while we have the free time. She continually waits and pines for you."
Bithot paused in his thoughts for a moment but had no wish to discuss his feelings for Axonia. "We are setting off for Earth today."
"Today!" Ekurb raised his voice because he had not been informed about any urgency of their latest quest. Why the rush? What has happened? Are The Screeners sending us under option twelve?"
"It is nothing to do with The Screeners or option twelve. It is the booked rescue, male and female, so you better get into your booth, get that pleasure centre rubbish removed from your system and get prepared for the task."
"I thought the trip was not for some days yet."
"You thought wrong. This is our last Earth trip and we are swapping with Buffer."
"No! Not the Anolaids, they stink, they stink like rotting flesh."
"You used to say the humans stink."
"Yes, but I got used to them."
"Well, you will get used to the Anolaid people."
"I do not think I will." Ekurb picked up a chair with his foot and tossed it across the room. "Why, why have they done this to us, we have made no mistakes?"
Bithot looked at his friend's waste of energy and decided to leave it until later to tell him he had volunteered them both for the change.
Ekurb set off to his personal impulse booth while Bithot went to the space centre to check over the large bullet-shaped craft that was to be their home until they returned with their rescued humans. Births made up for most of the human deaths, but if some of the islanders chose not to have children, or even to have just one child, then they would have to perform a rescue to make up the numbers.
It was a long journey and Bithot and Ekurb spent most of it in a deep sleep. They were fully awake by the time they were a hundred thousand miles from Earth. Their craft soon came to rest high above Southeast England. It was September and there was an enemy air raid over London. Many people were dying, but Bithot couldn't be hasty. Most people were not suitable for the purpose and he had to be very careful about the specimens he selected. Not only must he avoid bad or untruthful people, but also unstable or weak-willed people who may not be able to cope with the revelations that would be thrust upon them. Then there were their brain pulses. Male and female must have compatible brain pulses to ensure contentment and happiness between them. Bithot was drawn to an aerial confrontation that seemed about to commence over the fields of Kent and he sat watching and waiting for an opportunity.