Merry Christmas!

Castaway Resolution – Chapter 14

Chapter 14.

“You’re sure this is a good choice?” Campbell directed the question to Sakura, even as he stared up at the column.

Having Campbell ask her sent a maybe-unreasonable thrill of pride through her. “We’re pretty sure, Sergeant. Dad’s been doing as much studying of the ecology here as he could, and it seems that some of these columns aren’t used as much. We already chose one that is, but this one’s actually got a floor on it. For some reason the continent’s sealed it off.”

“Really?” Campbell rubbed his chin, still studying the concrete-like tower in front of him. “Why d’you suppose that is, Akira? I mean, sounds ideal for us, and your own tower’s working out well, but I’d hate to buy into something that turned out to have problems that even the continent rejected it for. Not like there’s a building code around here.”

“I don’t think it’s for anything to do with structural integrity; you know that I borrowed Xander and Maddox and went over this one in detail with some of your equipment last week. My best guess is that as the continent grows, the needed number and placement of vents changes, and ones not needed are simply walled off.”

“Hmm. And yours is active, but this one isn’t. Could it be un-walled off later?”

Sakura nodded. “We saw how the structure of your island responded to thinking you were a threat; probably the same kind of thing happens, more slowly, as the island adapts to change. So it could probably re-open this one.”

She saw Campbell’s gaze run up the column into the canopy and look around. He nodded, thoughtfully. “Well, Saki, could you and Tavana start checking out the configuration on the 450? Looks like we’re gonna start cutting soon.”

Me?” Sakura said with surprise. “But Xander and Maddox know a lot more than –”

“Exactly why you and Tav should do it,” Xander said, somewhat abruptly. He was also looking up, studying the column and the canopy. “Maddox, you can help out. We’ve got plenty of time, so this can be a lot of learning as well as working. Right, Sergeant, Dr. Kimei?”

Her mother had frowned when Xander interrupted, but her face cleared some when Xander directed the question to her. He may be their Captain, but my mom is boss. “I suppose so. Yes, go on, Sakura. It can’t hurt for all of us to understand how to run all of our equipment.”

Sakura didn’t mind, to tell the truth. The JD-CAT 450 Universal Excavator, to give the machine its full name, was a really impressive and massive vehicle, with a fully-shapeable “blade” that could be anything from a bulldozer to a bucket loader and more.

As she and Tav, along with the smaller Bird brother Maddox, headed towards the big yellow-painted machine, she heard the sergeant say, “and Whips, maybe you could work with Mel to figure out how we could put in a floor at the bottom level that’ll support itself, just in case the island decides to pull the rug out on us?”

“Sure thing, sir!” Whips said cheerfully, and Mel followed him over to a large exposed rock which the Bemmie liked to sit on; it was smooth and comfortable for his belly-pad.

Sakura was glad they didn’t have to watch the younger kids; Caroline had stayed behind in Sherwood Tower with both Hitomi and Francisco.

She felt a faint, welcome tingle go up her arm as Tavana took her hand while they stood for a moment, looking at the 450. Maddox glanced at that and just grinned at them; Sakura smiled back. “So what do we have to do, here?”

“Okay, well, we need to cut holes in that column, right? So that means the 450 needs a cutting array.”

Oui, that is clear enough,” Tavana said. “But can it do that? Bulldozer blades and excavators, that is what we have used it for. The cutting, I did not know it could do this.”

“I’ll bet it can. JD-Cats are used for road work, and you have to cut up roadways sometimes, right?”

“You sure do,” Sakura said. She remembered seeing such a machine with what looked like a huge rotary sawblade slowly grinding its way through the pavement, back on Earth. “So is that just another mode we have to switch on?”

“It is not an option in the menu,” Tavana said after a moment of staring at the interface; Sakura brought up the same connection; there were a lot of configurations but not that one.

Tavana grinned. “But then, I do remember having a tool that lied about what menu options it could give me. Maddox, is this another handholding limit?”

Maddox laughed. “You don’t get fooled twice, huh? I’ll bet it is. Let’s start digging into this interface!”

Sakura tried to watch what Maddox was doing, along with Tav, but she wasn’t really an engineer or an interface jockey, so some of it was out of her league.

She glanced over at the others. Mel was waving her arms animatedly as Whips projected something in front of her; Pearce Haley was using what Sakura thought was an acoustic echo probe on the column, probably gauging its thickness at the bottom, while Mom and Dad looked up at the column itself, talking. Xander was staring up into space, maybe looking at an omni projection, while Sergeant Campbell had stepped back about ten meters, taking a different perspective of the column.

That was why she was looking straight at him when, without warning, a tree kraken plummeted from the branches, heading straight for the Sergeant.

Before she — or anyone else — could cry out or even break their shocked paralysis, Sergeant Campbell whipped around, the automatic rifle that had been slung over his back suddenly in his hands, and a chattering snarl ripped through the sunlit green air of the little clearing.

The details of armaments had changed over the centuries, but chemical propellants shoving carefully-designed pieces of metal down barrels was still one of the most devastatingly effective ways of stopping anything hostile. Sergeant Campbell fired in three-shot bursts, one set after another, and alien blood and flesh and bone spattered from the impacts.

The creature stumbled and crashed to a halt, giving a whining screech of pain, fury, and dawning fear. Even as it turned to flee, Campbell raised the rifle, aimed, and fired a final burst that took the thing through its tiny head, dropping the tree kraken like a load of cement.

No one moved as the echoes of the shots dwindled away into the distance; the forest of Lincoln were unnaturally silent, still, shocked into quiet by the violence of that unknown sound.

Akira Kimei was the first to speak, as the Sergeant slowly lowered the weapon. “My God. Are you all right, Samuel?”

Campbell grinned as he re-slung the rifle. “Never got close. Been watching it stalking me for the last ten minutes, as you know.”

Sakura was relieved and puzzled. “But Sergeant, then why didn’t you tell us? We could have tried to discourage it, maybe run it off.”

“He did tell us,” her mother said. “Over the private circuits, which is why the rest of you were moved well away from the column. I would like an explanation for why you didn’t scare it off earlier, though, rather than letting it try to attack you. That scared the daylights out of me, even though I knew it was coming.”

“Scared me more than that,” Tavana said, with a frown. “My heart, I thought it would stop.”

“Same here,” said Pearce. “What about you, Xander?”

Xander’s cheeks were touched with pink. “Well, it did scare me, even though Sergeant Campbell had warned me too. As his Captain, silly though that still sounds.”

“The explanation, Samuel?” Akira said, in the deceptively gentle tone that told Sakura that her father was near the boiling point. “I hope it is a good one. We just scared almost all of us, and killed an animal that we could have, in all likelihood, chased off without injury.”

“And we’d have had to do that again and again and again,” Campbell said bluntly. He was examining the corpse carefully. “You’ve probably studied colonial operations, Akira, Laura, but — no offense — you’ve never done the initial colony setup, and sure as hell none of you were in on the first landings and clear-cuts.

“One of the first things you have to do is scare the living hell out of the predators that have a chance of learning to stay away from you. You have to establish that your people are the biggest, baddest living things on the planet, and you do that by killing the ones that come too close or — especially — the ones that try to attack any of you. Sometimes you have to wipe out the entire population in range of your people.”

He looked at Sakura’s expression, saw it mirrored on a lot of the others, even the people from his own crew, and shook his head. For an instant, Sakura saw his age on his face as it went both stony and somehow sad. “Yeah. I know. Back on Earth we just about wiped out not just the predators but thousands of other species, but you have to understand this: we could start trying to save them, to conserve and protect them, because we ended up dominating that planet. We became the danger, to pretty much anything else. That was a long time after we had to spend our waking hours wondering if we were gonna be someone else’s meal.”

Akira bit his lip, then gave the most reluctant nod Sakura had ever seen. “I. . . I believe I understand, Samuel. And . . . much as it pains me. . . I am afraid I have to agree with you.”

“Akira!” Sakura felt a pang near her heart; she’d never heard her mother sound so shocked. “Are you serious? We have ways of setting up safe perimeters, we could have chased even this one off with –”

“It’s establishment of territory,” Akira said bluntly. “Predators rarely attack each other unless they have no other choice; the potential cost of attacking something that is as well armed as you is far too great. But we are new creatures; we are not clearly recognized as what we — honestly speaking — are, the greatest apex predators in the Galaxy. Samuel is right. We have to treat any incursion into the territory we intend to live in as any predator would — driving off or killing any intruders that might threaten us and our children, until they learn to fear and respect us as a group.”

Tavana stared at the still shuddering corpse and nodded, muttering something in French. The running translation from her omni showed that it was mostly curses.

Pearce Haley drew in a deep breath. “Well, that was sure a good first lesson. You’d killed one before, right?”

“Yes,” Sakura said, overriding her embarrassment at the memory. “Twice, actually. But the first was more a matter of running into the middle of something without thinking, and the second we’d started it by bashing the column they were in. We’ve just kept away from the krakens as much as we could.”

“Well, given the weapons you had to hand, that was probably the right approach,” Campbell said. “But now there’s more of us, better weapons, and we’re going to need more space. And since we know from our prior island and Akira’s studies that we’d be really ill-advised to go around doing a clear cut and burn to make a perimeter, that means we gotta establish ourselves as the most badass things on this continent so we don’t have to do this more often.”

Thinking about it, Sakura realized he was probably right. “I guess. But I still don’t like the idea of just killing things, even the krakens.”

Campbell’s smile was more natural and sympathetic. “Saki, I hope to god you never like the idea. I don’t particularly like it either. But I don’t know any good alternative, and I think we all agree that we’d rather shoot a few hundred of these things than let one of them get the drop on Hitomi or Franky.”

Sakura had no disagreement with that.

“All right then,” Akira said briskly. “Let’s get back to work, shall we?”