Castaway Resolution – Chapter 07
Part 2: SETTLERS
“All right, everyone,” Laura Kimei said, “settle down.”
Sakura knew this was mostly directed at Francisco and Hitomi; the two youngest members of their unplanned colony were running around, chasing a virtual animal projected on their retinals by Hitomi’s omni, which was running some kind of game for them. Looking around the big table in the center of the clearing, she could see most of the others were already seated and paying attention.
Laura, Sakura’s mother, sat at one end of the long, oval-shaped wooden table. Akira, her husband and Sakura’s dad, was on her right, and on her left was Caroline, Sakura’s big sister. Laura had dark brown wavy hair and sharp brown eyes, and was the tallest of Sakura’s family at a hundred eighty-three centimeters, though Sakura thought she might pass Mom sometime soon. Akira Kimei’s hair was long, ebony black, and ruler-straight, and his eyes were the same color; he was about ten centimeters shorter than his wife, which made him slightly shorter than Sakura but still quite a bit taller than Caroline, whose hair was as straight as Dad’s but as brown as Mom’s; Sakura’s hair reversed that, being wavy but black as space.
Hitomi, crowned with golden hair that had no precedent at all in their family, was just clambering into her high seat next to Dad; she hadn’t grown noticeably in the year since they arrived so she was still barely a hundred centimeters tall. Francisco Coronel was next to her, but though he wasn’t that much older than Hitomi his surprisingly red hair topped her blonde mop by thirty-five centimeters — and he was still the second-shortest of the group of castaways at that. His red-brown skin contrasted sharply with Hitomi’s light tan.
Melody Kimei sat next to Caroline, her black eyes distant as she looked at something — probably a book or some set of plans — projected in front of her. Melody was the genius of the family, but somewhat less insufferable about it than she had been before the disaster.
Between Melody and Sakura was a platform where other places had chairs; that was necessary, because next to Sakura was her best friend Whips, the only non-human member of their group, a Bemmius Novus Sapiens massing well over two hundred kilograms and almost two and a half meters long from his tripartite beak to the base of his tail tentacles. Built long and low, Whips needed a platform a good part of a meter high to allow him to see above the edge of the table, though he could raise himself up considerably on any two of his three multipronged tentacle-arms.
Across from Sakura was the squat, powerful form of Tavana Arronax; Tavana’s cocoa-colored skin and black, fluffy hair, like his first name, came from his Polynesian ancestry, while his sharp gray eyes were a legacy of some unknown French colonial back in Tahiti’s history.
On Sakura’s other side was Maddox Bird, about her own height even though he was a year younger, his hazel eyes glancing swiftly around the table from beneath his somewhat ragged light-brown bangs. Next to him was his older brother, Xander Bird, Tavana’s complete opposite as he was extremely tall — a hundred ninety centimeters — and topped with a profusion of curly blond hair above eyes as blue as Hitomi’s.
At the far end of the table was Sergeant Samuel Morgan Campbell, topping even Xander by eight centimeters and probably another twenty kilograms of pure muscle. The grizzled, close-cropped graying hair contrasted with the dark-coffee complexion and eyes, and even more with the flamingly red hair, brilliant green eyes, and utterly diminuitive stature of the woman on his other side, Lieutenant Pearce Greene Haley.
“It’s been a few days since we got our new friends settled in their temporary home,” Laura gestured to the large emergency shelter on the farther side of the clearing, “and we’ve all been talking about how the arrival of Emerald Maui changes things, and where we go from here, and Pearce suggested that we should go over everything we know now.”
Even Hitomi had stopped fidgeting. She’s changed. I guess we all have. She knows when we’re going to talk about important things and she really does want to know what’s going on.
“That’s right,” Pearce said. “First, I thought you’d all appreciate a summary of what we’ve got on Emerald Maui, and so Caroline and I worked with Tavana and Maddox to get it all figured out. Caroline?”
“Thanks, Pearce. Well, first, of course, we have the Emerald Maui itself. She can’t fly any more, and maybe won’t ever, but she’s still a watertight, very tough craft that could easily carry all of us if she had to. Not that we’d want to go looking for another place to build on, but it’s nice to know we could.”
The whole group of colonists nodded. We’re living on a giant floating continent, Sakura thought. And we know from what happened to the Sergeant’s group that even these things can break apart. So yeah, that’s a relief.
“More importantly, Emerald Maui gives us access to a powerful reactor and generator. How long will it work, Sergeant?”
“Well, that depends a lot on how much we work it, Caroline,” Campbell said easily. “But given the amount of boron-11 we have on hand. . . I’d say at least twenty years. The reactor itself is fully Colony rated, which means as a system it’s good for at least seventy-five years. So if we could use the stuff we have to somehow refine more boron-11 out, the reactor could last us for many decades.”
Decades. Electric power for decades. Sakura saw her own grin echoed around the table. She was proud of all the things her family and Whips had come up with in the year and more they’d been marooned — candles and torches, hand-powered cranks to move things, ceramics and even, now, iron — but the thought of being able to get back some of the luxuries they’d lost. . .
“Onboard, Emerald Maui — which was LS-88 — was carrying a lot of stuff we will be incredibly happy to have. First off — Mom, they had a bunch of medical supplies that were part of your shipment.”
“My shipment?” Laura leaned forward. “Which ones?”
“We haven’t uncrated it to make sure, but according to the manifest it contains one of the nano-programming stations, a transportable field surgery, and one of the instrument and drug packages.”
Relief spread visibly over her mother’s features. “Oh, thank God. I’ve been doing everything with improvised measures. Having even some of those supplies will make such a huge difference. Go on.”
“Enough clothing for everyone to have two or three changes of clothes, if we don’t mind all wearing the same stuff.”
“You mean real clothes, not the stuff we’ve been trying to put together ourselves?” Melody said eagerly. “I don’t care what it looks like, I’ll wear it!”
“We already knew about the hundred emergency medical kits,” Caroline went on. “And about the three JD-CAT excavators. There’s a bunch of field rations left which would support us for a while if we needed it — we’ll save those for emergencies, along with the remaining Joe Dinners. The really important stuff, after the medical equipment, is that there’s a whole bunch of colonial hunting and survival gear, assorted hand tools, and a bunch of spare power packs in the five most common sizes.”
“Hunting? Are we talking firearms?” Akira Kimei asked.
“There are a fair number of firearms available,” confirmed the Sergeant. “About twenty sidearms and thirty rifles, mostly for hunting, though there’s two military full-auto rifles in there — probably for the local militia. Plus there’s six hunting bows and quite a few arrows.”
“Because these are for colonies, most of ’em work along the lines of your SurvivalShot there, but using larger power packs. So basically if you maintain your weapon well and keep your power pack charged, you should be good to go for a long time. The military weapons have a few cases of ammo each.”
“Good to know,” Laura said. “I suppose we’ll have to teach everyone how to properly use them, then. It will make hunting easier, I’d think.”
“Than using handmade, hand-powered weapons? Damn straight it will,” Campbell said with a grin. “Not to knock what you people have accomplished here, you’ve done wonders, but you won’t have to do so much of the Stone-Age reborn tricks from now on.”
“Speaking of which,” Xander said, reaching under the table, “we’ve got a present for all of you.” He pulled out a package and slid it down the table to Laura.
Sakura grinned, because she could see it had been wrapped in packing polymer, like using discarded wrapping paper for a new present. Her mother quickly opened the improvised package, and suddenly looked up with a broad smile. “Oh, thank you, all of you!”
“What is it, what is it, come on Mommy, let me see!” Hitomi said, bouncing in her seat.
Laura reached in and began sliding hand-sized metallic objects to each one of them. Sakura caught hers and stared. “Oh my God. A TechTool! Whips, look!”
“I know!” Whips said, brandishing his own. “Vents, this would have made so many things easier!”
That was an understatement. The TechTools were larger, more sophisticated versions of the Shapetools several of the Kimeis had had when they were marooned; if one thought of a Shapetool as the modern equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife, a TechTool was a medium-sized toolbox that included not only an array of knives, screwdrivers, wrenches, levers, and so on but instrumentation to evaluate everything from voltage to vibration. They also could interface with most omnis to allow accurate work guidance and active shifting of the tool to whatever was needed at a given point in a task.
“Well, we’re glad you like ’em. It was sure a pleasant surprise for us when we found a small crate of them in the survival supplies,” Campbell said. “So that’s the basic summary of what we’ve got, with a few odds and ends. We’ll finish uncrating everything in the next couple weeks and get a detailed list then. Next up is figuring out what we’ll be doing for the next, oh, year.”
Sakura winced. It was wonderful to have all this new stuff to work with, but inside, part of her had been trying to pretend that this somehow meant they might be going home soon. “So there’s no way for us to get Emerald Maui to fly us home?” she asked.
“There might be,” Xander Bird said, surprising her. “But there’s a lot of big ifs involved.”
“Are you saying the Trapdoor Drive might still operate?” Akira’s voice held the same tension that gripped Sakura.
“Oui,” Tavana said promptly. “The Drive, it is not perfect, but we are not pressured by time here as our crew was when we were marooned in space. If we take time and use all the resources we now have. . . I think we can make much better coils, and if we use much of the cargo space not for big machinery but for supplies, Emerald Maui can carry us a long ways indeed.”
“But the wing and the drives on that side?”
“That’s a problem,” admitted Xander. His eyes surveyed the group — skipping quickly past Whips. “but maybe not an impossible one. A lot of the basic systems are still intact. If we can manage to launch at all, I think we can figure out a way to fly her. The question is if we can fix her up to launch. But there’s another alternative.”
Sakura saw Campbell’s nod, and the big man leaned forward. “What we might be able to do is combine the remains of the one wing, one of the drive systems, a bunch of superconducting power packs, and some self-designed Trapdoor coils to make an FTL distress probe. Send it up and have it fly straight to Orado, then broadcast a distress beacon once it gets in-system.”
“Wouldn’t that really require a nuclear reactor to keep the coils running?” Akira looked puzzled.
“Might not. See, the size of the Trapdoor field’s one of the main power determinants. Plus, a ship for people needs all kinds of power to keep the ship comfortable and livable for human passengers. Our probe can be very small and won’t need to maintain environmentals. So Xander and Tavana think it’s possible.”
“Do you think we should focus efforts on these possibilities?” Laura asked.
“Mom! Of course we do!” Melody said in a scandalized tone.
“There is no of course about it, Melody,” Akira said. “And you will not use that tone of voice to your mother.”
Melody opened her mouth, closed it, then looked down. “Sorry, Mom. But why isn’t it ‘of course’?”
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Sakura, I see you looking at me. Can you explain?”
Ugh. I’d rather argue that we should. But Mom’s right. “Um. . . because doing all that doesn’t help us right here, building our colony, making ourselves safer and more comfortable, and it might all turn out to be a waste of time. So we have to decide whether doing that work’s worth losing the other work and maybe ending up with having wasted all that time.”
“Close enough,” Campbell said. “It’s not entirely an either/or choice. We could keep working on our escape or beacon plans off and on, but without a focused, dedicated effort that could take a long, long time. On the other hand, the people qualified to do the work at all are also several of the ones who’ll be best at building up our colony — Xander, Tavana, Whips, and me, of course, with maybe little Sakura to help out too. And any time you split attention and focus across multiple problems, you’ll end up wasting time and energy as your people change from one problem to the other.
“Still, if you were to ask me. . . I’d say we want to at least get to the point where we can say for sure whether either of them can be done with the resources and people we have here. But that takes a backseat to getting our group some permanent digs, I think.”
“I agree,” Laura said. “We need to think out where you’re going to live — another column like ours? A tree? Build something on the ground? — and then get it done. Once we’ve done that, and set up some of the basic improvements for both homes that we can do with the supplies you’ve brought, then I think we should look into these possibilities.”
“Have to keep us all fed and such, too,” Pearce said. “Which means teaching all of us about your area — what we hunt, what we don’t, what’s dangerous, all that. You’ve been here a lot longer than us, and for my part I just woke up a few weeks ago.”
“Tavana can come with me on the hunt tomorrow,” Sakura said. “If we do a buddy system, teaching and safety combined, all of us will get up to speed pretty fast, right?”
Laura laughed, and she saw her exchange smiles with the Sergeant. “Sounds like a reasonable plan to me, Saki. Maybe Whips and Mel can take Maddox fishing?”
“I love fishing! Can I go, Xander? Please?”
Even though the Sergeant was clearly the leader of his group, it was just as clear to Sakura that Maddox looked to his big brother for a lot of things.
Xander smiled at his little brother, then turned to look at Whips. Sakura could see him pale slightly, but his expression stayed controlled. Sakura controlled the anger that always tried to rise in her; it wasn’t Xander’s fault that his near-death at the hands of the raylamps had given him a phobia of things that had body-plans something like Whips’. Her mother was working out a program of treatment, and Xander certainly didn’t blame Whips for his problem, but it was still hard to have someone looking at her best friend as though he were a monster about to spring.
“Whips,” Xander said, “You’re okay with that? You’d have to watch both of them, since you’re the one safest in and near the water.”
Whips did a rise-and-fall bow. “Mel knows the ropes pretty well. I’ll keep a special eye on Maddox to make sure he stays safe.”
“Okay.” His eyes immediately shifted back to his brother. “Then you can go, as long as you promise to listen to Whips and do what he says.”
“I will! I promise!”
“All right,” the Sergeant said. “Sounds like we’ve got some short-term plans as well as the longer-term ones.” He looked down at Hitomi and Francisco, who were shifting in their chairs. “Let’s not draw this out, then. Adults — that includes you, Xander, as well as Caroline — let’s go have a powwow to hash out some details. Kids can have fun for a day before we get back to the grind.”
“I agree,” Laura said. “Tavana, Sakura, I’ll expect you two to keep an eye on things for us, but if everyone stays in the clearing or Sherwood Tower it should be fine; we’ll talk over in the shelter. Plan on a dinner in a few hours, Saki.”
“Yes, Mom. I can do that.”
She looked over at Tavana. “Now the trick’s to convince the kids that we’re in charge.”
“Vraiment,” he said with a grin. “That I leave to you!”