Castaway Resolution – Chapter 11
“You’re sure you don’t want another column?” Whips asked, studying the various designs he had been contemplating in his omni view.
Campbell rubbed his chin, and leaned back in his bed. On his right, Tavana was propped up and trying to pay attention, but it was obvious to Whips that he probably wasn’t going to stay the distance. Xander was more alert.
Tavana yawned prodigiously but focused on the projections. “Living in one of the columns, I like the idea, Sergeant. We have seen how very strong the islands are. Trees, even the biggest here — and they are amazing! — they have a history of rotting, burning, or falling in winds.”
“Can’t argue that,” the Sergeant conceded, “but after our little experience with getting our own island to half commit suicide because we were such bad tenants, I really don’t want to do anything to mess things up here. The Kimeis already built a lot into one column, I figure the more of those we start plugging up, the more chance there is of drawin’ the wrong kind of attention. Xander? What’s your take, Captain?”
Whips felt the shimmering ripple of a laugh play along his flanks, though he doubted any of them could recognize it, which was good. It might seem funny, but even in the few weeks the newcomers had been here, it had become clear that Campbell meant it when he called Xander Bird “Captain”. And from their story, Whips guessed that Xander had earned it.
Xander plucked absently at the extra monitoring node Laura had installed on one arm. “Well. . . I’d say it’s not just our call. Dr. Kimei. . . I mean, our bio doctor, Akira Kimei — he’s probably the one best able to tell us whether it’s much of a risk. He recognized what was happening to our island, after all.” Xander’s gaze mostly avoided Whips, which wasn’t a surprise, but he was getting used to it. Fixing that phobia wasn’t happening overnight. “I can’t argue Tav’s points, he’s right. These columns,” Xander gestured at the shelter’s window, through which Sherwood Column was just visible, “they’re basically fortress towers that just need floors and amenities put in.”
This time he did look directly at Whips, and met the gaze of Whips’ top two eyes. “And holy crap, but I’m impressed by what all of you did there. I mean, even with the tools we’ve brought, setting up a column for living space won’t exactly be an afternoon job, and you guys managed to pull it off with not much more than sticks and stones. And they tell me a lot of that was your work.”
The prickly pattern of embarrassment stitched a clashing pattern across his skin, and he gave a shrug of all arms. “Oh, not a lot of it. I mean, it was really all of us together. Even Hitomi helped some.”
“Jeez, Whips, take some credit once in a while!” Sakura’s voice came from behind him. “Yes, it was mostly his design work. Sure, we all did the work, but he did most of the figuring out how to do the work.”
Xander’s face was slightly pale, but he managed a lopsided, amazed grin. “And you’re, what, fourteen? Fifteen? I wouldn’t have wanted to trust my teenage calculations anywhere near that far. Heck, I’m not sure I’d want to do it now.” His gaze shifted back to the diagram of the interior of Sherwood.
A low chuckle from the Sergeant. “Son, just goes to show how much desperation and necessity are mothers of invention. Or just mothers.”
Whips gave a faint whistling oof! as Sakura plopped down on top of him. “Warn me before you do that!”
“I remember when you didn’t even notice.”
“You’ve gotten a lot bigger in the last couple years,” Whips grumbled, but he didn’t really mind; he’d been a sort of mobile couch as well as friend for Saki for a long time, and it was the closest to Bemmie communal contact that he was likely to get here. He cocked one eye in the direction of Tavana, expecting him to try to get his friend’s attention, but saw that the French Polynesian boy’s head had fallen back on his pillow. A faint snore emanated from the area.
“I guess,” Sakura said. “So, maybe stupid question — why not just build something right here, in the clearing? A house or something?”
“Might could,” Campbell said, “but leaving aside the tree-kraken, most of the dangerous wildlife — predator and the more irritable herbivores — hang out down on the forest floor. I don’t see any percentage in putting my doors and windows where they can reach if I’ve got other options.”
“Well, Dad’ll be back in a couple hours, you can get his opinion then.”
“Meanwhile,” Whips said, “it’s not like it’s a waste of time to work on both sets of designs. Maybe one day other settlers will come and they’ll have to find places to live too. And by the Vents does it make it easier to do design when I know all the tools you’ve got for me to play with!”
“What, don’t want to try boring more holes in those things with fire and grinding?”
“I would rather cut off my top arm,” Whips said earnestly.
The shelter door opened again and Pearce Haley came in. “Hey, everyone!”
“Well, good afternoon, Lieutenant,” Campbell said, with a not-terribly-professional grin. “Back from the hunting trip so soon?”
“Give credit to Caroline,” she said, hooking her thumb at the oldest Kimei daughter who was following her in. “She’s a goddamn Robin Hood. I shot one capy, she got two with that darn bow.”
“Well, they were in a group,” Caroline pointed out.
“That wasn’t from our â€“” Sakura began.
“No, not from our local herds. Trying not to spook those. There was a new herd coming in and encroaching on the territory.”
“Local herds?” asked Campbell. “Trying to keep a good supply of game nearby?”
“That’s part of it. Hi, Whips,” Caroline said, stopping to give him a quick base-clasp of greeting. “Mostly though, we’re hoping to get a couple herds used to us so that we can actually start domesticating them. Machines are great but they don’t self-reproduce, at least not here.”
“True enough. You think you can pull that off?” Campbell looked genuinely interested.
“Dad thinks it’s possible,” Sakura answered. “Says they show a lot of favorable characteristics for it. So for the most part we want to make sure they don’t think of us as predators, or at worst as predators who focus well outside their herd.”
“So we hunt well away from them, and make sure we clean up any blood or mess before we go anywhere near them,” Caroline finished. She noticed the omni displays, since they were public-local. “Oooh, figuring out where you’re going to live?”
“Deciding between the alternatives, yes,” Xander answered. He’d straightened up and was now looking straight at Caroline, Whips noticed, and that triggered a Bemmie grin. Sakura noticed the shift in pattern, followed the gaze of his lower side eye, and grinned herself.
“Well, I hope it’s not too far away,” Caroline said, apparently oblivious to Xander’s focused regard. “Don’t want to have to hike through a kilometer of jungle just to visit.”
“Doubt we’ll have to worry about that,” Campbell said, and Whips thought he saw a hint of a smile on his face that was aimed at Xander and Caroline. “Whether we choose a column or tree, there’s plenty not far away.”
Laura stuck her head into the shelter doorway. “All right, people, you’ve kept my patients up enough. Time for everyone to let them rest.”
“Mom, I just got back,” Caroline protested.
Laura gave a mock frown, then smiled. “Five minutes for you, then. The rest of you, out.”
Whips looked up at Laura as they exited. “They are definitely getting better.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Laura agreed. “But they’re not going to be nearly a hundred percent for a while, and they’re still nowhere near there after two weeks. Seems to have hit the younger people harder, so I expect poor Francisco isn’t going to make a full recovery until another month or so.”
“Good thing they had the medical nanoprogramming unit.”
“God, yes.” She gave a shudder. “I might have lost Francisco if we hadn’t, and they’d be looking at much longer recovery times.”
“None of us will catch this, right?”
She gave him a reassuring squeeze at the base of his top arm. “Not a chance. I don’t think that exact agent lives on this island, and in any case I’ve made sure we’re all immunized to it and its relations now.”
“And they’ll all make a hundred percent recovery?” Sakura asked.
Laura smiled. “A doctor doesn’t like to make absolute statements, Saki, and you know that. But. . . yes, I expect everyone will be back to full capabilities eventually.”
“Then I’d better keep working on these designs,” Whips said. “Because it won’t be long until we’re building one!”