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Refugee: Part I - Hope, You Fickle Fellow
Posted By: stan<stantrl@gmail.com>
Date: 17 June 2005, 7:11 AM

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Randall Ashwood's life was in shambles. His house, along with all his earthly belongings, were destroyed. He had no job, and apart from a few bucks he had found in the pocket of an old windbreaker he had been able to salvage from the wreckage of his home, he had no money. However, even if he had money, with the economy like it was and inflation running rampant, it would be of little use. He had heard stories that everyday items like bread or a can of soup, which used to cost only a few bucks, were now being sold for thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars. He remembered hearing long ago, maybe in school, about how this same process had occurred hundreds of years before in what used to be called Italy. Back then they called it a World War, now, Randy guessed, they'll have to call it a Galactic War.

Like most other inhabitants of Earth at the time, Randy had been aware of the battles being waged by mankind light-years away against the coalition of alien forces known as the Covenant. But the war was so far away, that though he, along with the rest of the planet, were constantly bombarded with warnings about the inevitable discovery of Earth by the Covenant, he really never gave it much thought. If he had thought about it, though, he probably would have noticed that somewhere, in the back of his mind, the fear of invasion and the unknowable and unthinkable events that would result was always there as a nagging, almost imperceptible worry. However, Randy had to live, and he couldn't let this fear consume him, like it had many others, who rather than deal with the pressure, gave into the fear and went insane; ranting and raving in the streets or joining the various cults that had sprung up to worship the mysterious alien races that had vowed to destroy humanity. And so, amidst all the chaos and uncertainties, Randy lived his life.

Before the war started, and as far into the war as he was able, Randy was a dealer in exotic animals. Humanity had by this time explored and inhabited every corner of the globe, even those areas that had in the past been deemed "Un-Inhabitable". As a result, the process of extinction, which, like the farmer's axe, had loomed heavy over the heads of many of the Earth's species since the Nuclear Age, had by this time progressed so relentlessly that few animals survived outside of zoos and designated animal sanctuaries which had been set up by the United Nations to preserve at least a small representation of the Earth's natural wonders. These animal sanctuaries, of which each continent had at least one, were heavily guarded, and the animals were protected by a series of harsh laws which presented the aspiring poacher with the possibility of a life sentence for the capture or death of any animal living within the limits of a sanctuary. However, no matter how heavily protected the sanctuaries were, both by the power of the law and the power of arms, a small number of highly motivated, and well equipped poachers operated a highly lucrative business capturing and selling sanctuary bred animals.

Dealers, like Randy, purchased the animals captured by these poachers and sold them on the black market to private collectors as pets, or to other organizations that had the need, or desire, for an exotic animal. Among his clients were zoos, who, due to the strict regulations on wild animal dispersion, found it impossible to replace a dead giraffe, or bolster sagging attendance with a new gorilla display. He also sold to casinos, theme parks, corporations, and private individuals. Randy was very good and what he did, and though the risk was high, the buyer was assured that the animals were untraceable and would pass as legitimate purchases. Randy supplied all the necessary permits and paperwork, and the buyer supplier the money. And a great deal of money it was. So much so, that prior to the war, Randy lived a life of such opulence and luxury that he was under constant scrutiny by various law enforcement and government agencies who, though they had no proof, were sure that Randy was breaking the law. However, that all changed one day when suddenly, and unbelievably, a fleet of Covenant star-ships appeared on the scopes of the UNSC early detection system.

Instantly, the Earth was in a panic. Everything was chaos, as the day that the Military had assured would never happen due to the preventative measures of the Cole Protocol, had finally come. Randy, along with the rest of the world sat transfixed, waiting to see where, when, and how the Covenant would attack. It soon became clear that the aliens were headed right for Randy's neighborhood.

As a dealer in exotic animals, Randy had decided early on that it would be a smart career move to relocate from his native America to the continent of Africa, which boasted the largest concentrations of animal sanctuaries in the Earth. And so, after he had firmly established himself as a top-rate dealer, he purchased a penthouse suite in a swanky new space-scraper apartment building in downtown New Mombasa. Unfortunately for Randy, New Mombasa held some sort of curious draw for the Covenant, and it was here that they launched their invasion.

The city hardly had any time to prepare for the attack. An evacuation protocol had been thought up years before at the start of the war on the, what everyone assumed would be, off-chance that the covenant might find Earth and might launch an invasion. However, though the plan detailed a very efficient evacuation of the city that, combined with the high-quality mass transit system that operated in that region of eastern Africa, was designed to achieve the complete evacuation of the city within 20 hours of its initiation, the sudden appearance of the covenant, the quickness and the ferocity with which they attacked, and the panic that ensued rendered the plan all but ineffectual. And so it was that Randy, along with millions of others could only cower in the face of the covenant onslaught.

The battle raged for days and Randy was forced to flee his home and take residence in a refugee camp that had been setup just outside of the city. From this camp, and along with thousands of other refugees, he watched the covenant destroy his city. Though the camp was only miles away and it's inhabitants could watch the general course of the battle, news was scarce. Nobody knew if this was a full scale invasion, or just a small skirmish. Nobody knew if there were similar battles being waged all over the Earth, or just here in Africa. Nobody knew if the UNSC forces were driving the covenant back or if the covenant had the upper hand and would soon be the masters of the planet. Nobody knew what lay in store for the human race. And to make matters worse, the skies were illuminated with the brilliant flashes and extraordinary colors of a constant battle raging between the two fleets. Every now and again the smoking debris of some star ship or other would come hurtling down, like a flaming herald sent by the Lord to announce either the doom or the triumph of mankind. Nobody knew which. But they all had their hopes; and their fears.

For Randy, these days of constant worry and fear passed quickly in a blur of images and distracted thoughts. The strangest ideas would pop into his head as he struggled to comprehend what had happened to his life. Had he paid his utility bills? Was the consignment of Hippopotamus he had just bought from a South African poacher still alive? Were would he find a good suit after the war? He would catch himself thinking these ridiculous thoughts and then admonish himself for worrying about trivial details that, in the big picture, really didn't matter anymore. He was just going to have to accept, he would tell himself at moments like these, that the life he had known was over. He was no longer Randall Ashwood, purveyor of rare and exotic animals, a dashing young fellow who was always the life of whichever party he happened to find himself attending on a given night; now he was one among many thousands of dirty, impoverished, broken down refugees clinging tenuously to life on the outskirts of a demolished city. There weren't going to be any more parties, there weren't going to be any more casinos in need of exotic animals, hell he wasn't even sure if there were going to be any animals left on Earth after this invasion; humans included. Like many around him, these thoughts and realizations battered Randy's mind, and soon he had drawn completely within himself, sitting for hours staring at his feet, thinking.

It was, therefore, a great shock when on a bright sunny afternoon a man in combat fatigues with a battle rifle slung across his back walked up to Randy and clapped a hand on his shoulder,.

"Hey man, you alright? The invasion's over, the covenant's gone." said the man as he tried to look into Randy's eyes. "You alright man?"

Randy had no idea what this man was saying. The invasion was over? How could that be, hadn't he just heard the explosions and the grinding crash of metal on metal as some building or some bridge crashed to the earth?

Or had he?

In fact, he had no idea even what day it was, or how long he had been sitting in the same spot staring at the floor. Nor had he any notion of how long the invasion had been taking place. Instead, he had resigned himself to his fate, and expected that every minute was going to be his last.

But here was this man, this human soldier with his rifle slung over his back rather than jumping in his hands spitting bullets at an alien invader. And he was telling Randy that the war was over.

Randy looked around, and then locked his eyes onto the soldier's face.

"It's over?"

"Yeah man, its over."

"The city, uh, um, my apartment?"

"The city's in pretty bad shape, it's real dangerous in there, so it's still pretty much off limits but they're letting groups of refugees in to try and salvage what they can before they move them off to the semi-permanent camps. You're group is next." replied the soldier.

Randy wasn't even aware that he was part of a group. But nonetheless he was ready to go. Life once again coursed through his body. Suddenly, the depressing certainty of the destruction of all that was dear to him, including his very existence, which had possessed his thought for the last few days, seemed to slip away, and he was filled a vague, but relentless feeling of hope.

"It's over!" he thought with amazement. And here was a chance to return to his home, where maybe he would find something, perhaps a part of his old life that he had assumed had been fully destroyed. Maybe he could start over again.

"Ok, ok. Let's go." Randy said quietly as he stood up on shaking legs.