Castaway Resolution – Chapter 15
Whips pulled himself up as high as he could, then dropped back to the floor in a flopping landing that stung his belly pad. The thud transmitted itself loudly, echoing up through the column. “How’s that?”
“Looks great!” Maddox said, squinting at the readout in his omni. “Mel?”
Melody Kimei — ten centimeters taller but just as thin as she’d been when they landed — nodded. “Well within strain parameters, and Whips outweighs any two or three of us. That floor will hold just fine.”
“How far below it is the column floor?” the Sergeant asked, sticking his head in the newly-cut doorway.
“About half a meter,” Mel answered. “Makes sure we weren’t relying on it even indirectly for support.”
“Still nice to know it’s there. Will we be able to check on that if we have to?”
“Oh, easy. We had to make a hole in it anyway,” Whips answered, gesturing with a flick of tendrils at a large tube already in place at one point of the floor. “Some of the Nebula Drive dust was perfect for monitoring stuff like this.”
“What’d we need a hole for. . . oh.”
“Unless you want to have a lot clumsier waste disposal, this is the best we’ve got,” Whips confirmed, flickering his own colorful grin at the Sergeant. “Dumps everything into that hundreds of meters deep volume inside the island. We’ve been doing that all along in Sherwood Column.”
“And with the screens and monitor dust we can make sure nothing comes up in either column,” Maddox said proudly. “Added some of that to Sherwood Column’s disposal, too.”
“Good work. How long you figure before we’ll be ready to move in?”
Whips checked the display in his omni, ran some work calculations, and blinked, then checked it again. A rippling laugh emerged. “Wow. You have no idea how long it took us to build the first one, but with the tools that Emerald Maui brought, and the extra manpower, and all. . . I think if we all pitch in and follow the plan, we could get everything else set up in a week and a half, two weeks tops. Then put together stuff like additional furniture, stuff like that, over the next week.”
“Then we stow away the shelter, huh?” Maddox asked.
Campbell rubbed his chin, then shook his head. “You know, I don’t think so. Not yet.”
“Well, once we have our own tower, then each of us has our own home, but even small towns, it’s nice to have gathering places that ain’t home. I figure we’ll build us a town hall or market or church or whatever, but until then, a full-size shelter’ll do just fine. Enough room to have a few different setups — little gaming room, a theater, something like that. Okay, so our choices of social partners might be a little limited, but the more stuff we can do, the more it’ll feel like we’re living somewhere civilized.”
Whips had to agree, though a part of him felt more left out than ever. The arrival of the survivors from Emerald Maui had been a godsend — that much he couldn’t argue. But none of them were Bemmius. A lot of socializing of his people took place in the water, and even the best of the humans — Sakura and, to his surprise, Francisco — couldn’t even begin to keep up with him in the ocean. He’d spent more time on land, dragging himself from point to point, in the last year than he had in. . . well, probably the whole rest of his life.
True, that did mean his arms were stronger than ever, and his belly pad was so tough it was practically armor plate by now, but it just wasn’t the same, and what was really annoying was that Sakura wasn’t around nearly as much, hanging around almost all the time with Tavana, which was. . .
He froze, unaware for a few moments of what everyone around him was saying, as what he was feeling finally broke through his thoughts. Vents Below and Sky Above, am I. . . am I feeling jealous of Sakura?
He hated that thought, but as soon as he allowed himself to recognize it, the truth was there, staring him down with the human’s metaphorical bright green eyes. Sakura had been his best friend since they were both so much younger. He remembered her even as a toddler, walking in a confident but stiff-legged thumping gait ahead of him as he tried to drag himself after her, his second-growth griptalons not even in yet, and then her turning back, draping his arms over her shoulders and pulling, dragging him along so they could both get where they were going.
And they’d always been that close. They played together, and worked together, and . . .
It occurred to Whips that even back home, he’d spent more time with Sakura than he had with anyone outside of his own family. He’d hardly ever gone for even a casual swim with some other of the people. He’d never thought. . . never thought of a time where she wouldn’t be there.
Depths, I’m going to have to think this out.
He became aware that something had called Campbell back out. Mel and Maddox were checking the floor mountings one last time and arguing about the details of the next steps, even though the basic plan was already set. Whips undulated over to the exit and saw Campbell talking with Akira.
“What’s up?” he asked. “You look serious, Akira.”
“Well, yes,” Akira said. “In the last week or so I’ve noticed a marked downturn on traffic along our accustomed gametrails. I think I’ve noticed some others, but they’re farther from where we currently are, which means a longer walk to get there and back.”
“Well, a lot of animals ain’t dumb; if you’re killin’ them at the same general place, they’ll tend to stop going there,” Campbell pointed out.
“But we’ve been doing this for, oh, six months at least, and I’ve been careful to avoid making it obvious. Give me some credit, Sergeant; I may not be a hunter by training, but behavior of alien species is my specialty.”
“Oh, sure. No offense. So you think something else is up?”
“I’m fairly sure of it. The problem of course is that we haven’t been here nearly long enough to understand the long-term behavior of species. We’ve been here slightly longer than one Lincoln year now, but that’s hardly a guarantee that we’ve seen anything close to all their typical behaviors. Various species on Earth and other planets go through cycles that are multi-year in span.”
“You know,” Whips said slowly, “things . . . smelled a little different this week. When I was in the water, I mean.”
“Day before yesterday? When you dragged in that golden-sided fish thing?” Campbell asked. “You did mention you hadn’t seen one of those before.”
“I hadn’t. And Finny and his friends seemed a little more energetic. Though it’s hard to tell with them.”
“Finny” was the name Campbell had given to a streamlined predator which seemed to include a large streak of curiosity in its makeup; Finny and some others of his species had followed Campbell’s crew all the way from their doomed island to the Kimei’s floating continent, and now stayed in and around the semicircular bay that Emerald Maui had arrived at. Whips didn’t think the “Finnies” were actually intelligent, any more than the capys probably were, but he wasn’t sure. They were smart for animals, that much was for sure.
Campbell laughed. “Yeah, ‘energetic’ is pretty much their default. But when you say it smelled different, you mean the water wasn’t the same?”
“Yes.” He thought back. “Might have been a little different in temperature, maybe warmer?”
Campbell rubbed his chin again, then suddenly looked at Akira. “Oh.”
“Easily checked,” Akira said at almost the same moment.
Whips looked between the two, and suddenly got it. He sent a query up to the satellites, and displayed the data on his omni.
What he saw made him draw in a breath with a faint hoot. “Oh,” he said, unconsciously echoing Campbell.
The outline of the floating continent they were on had moved. For most of the prior time it had been monitored — several months now, since the Maui crew had dispersed its cargo of satellites into space — it had wobbled back and forth but stayed, generally, in the same general latitude, straddling the equator.
But now it had drifted noticeably, heading northward at a slow, but definite, pace. Already the northern edges of the island were edging towards the borders of the tropical zone. Enhancing the image in different spectra confirmed what Whips was now suspecting.
“We’ve moved into some kind of current,” he said finally. “It’s taking us north — not very fast, the currents here are going to be pretty slow given the depth of the ocean and other factors — but definitely north.”
“Ahhh,” Akira said. “And we know most animals on the islands are adapted to be able to evacuate the islands, move from one to another. It would be unsurprising to find that there are entire populations that move as landmasses enter other climatic areas. That is, our familiar flora and fauna may shift as we move.”
“Or it may just leave,” Campbell said, “meaning we’ll be most of what’s left here.”
“I would tend to doubt that. As is said, nature abhors a vacuum, so a big empty landmass is a huge vacuum begging for new animals to fill it up. But either way we have to be ready for changes.”
“Big ones, maybe. Wonder what would happen if we end up going far north? Think these trees will survive?”
“Hard to say,” Akira admitted. “They have thus far seemed to be tropical in their type and behavior, but if they cannot move and such movements of islands are common, they must have some form of adaptation to such extremes.”
“Either way, we should prepare for significant changes,” Whips said, thinking about what he knew about different biomes and the challenges of survival in territory you didn’t know. In this case, the island might suddenly become territory they didn’t know.
“Damn,” Campbell said with a slanted grin on his face. “This world’s quirks keep throwing funny curveballs at us. Akira, how about the island continent itself? Is it going to be okay if things get colder?”
Akira didn’t answer at once, and Whips recognized his expression: he was considering a whole host of possibilities at once and trying to get an answer out of them.
Campbell apparently recognized that expression too, because he didn’t prod; just let Akira Kimei think.
At last, Akira nodded. “I think it should be fine. We have evidence that these islands persist for extremely long time-scales when left unmolested, and given the nature of wind, currents, tides and such, I cannot believe that these islands do not commonly wander across the globe. While the population of the island’s top surface may well change, I suspect the core animals, including key symbionts, are well able to adapt to wide changes in temperature, some in salinity, and so on. They may reinforce areas prior to entering colder waters and then go dormant, but the drift patterns likely take them out of very inhospitable waters in reasonable time.”
“What’s ‘reasonable time’, though?”
“Hard to say. Caroline and I will have to work on that, see if we can get a model going now that we have more data on the whole planet. It’s not out of the question, though, that we could spend a year or three in high latitudes before exiting them. I doubt we’d spend decades there, though.”
“Why’s that? Not that I want to spend decades up north, but why do you think we won’t spend lots of time there?”
“I can answer that,” Whips said, and the omni displayed the whole globe, rotating. “Take a look; most of our floating landmasses range from the equator through the subtropics; you don’t see too many of them far north or far south.”
“It would have to be, I should think. Wind naturally will play a part, but the vast majority of these islands’ mass and area is underwater.” Akira tapped the side of his omni absently. “The physical topology underwater would ultimately guide a lot of the currents and their courses, but as that is tens of kilometers down we have no way of knowing what that topology is and modeling it, thus we’re going to be discovering its effects, well, this way.”
Sergeant Campbell studied the display for another moment, then nodded sharply. “Right. I’m with you two, we do need to prepare. Stockpile, in case some of our food sources dry up. Figure out heating options for our columns — we can stock up on firewood but since wood’s the minority population in this forest, we don’t want to overharvest. Have to watch that.”
“Find a good way to ensure water sources, too,” mused Akira. “We have no certainty that we’ll have regular rainfall if we’re in different latitudes. Weather patterns will undoubtedly be disrupted by something this large entering different climatological boundaries.”
Whips was playing worst-case scenarios in his mind. “Can I make a suggestion?”
“Of course, Whips,” Akira said.
“Well. . . I don’t think there’s any immediate danger of anything, but it occurs to me that if the worst does happen — I mean, maybe the island separates into chunks when it gets too cold, or island-eaters get it, or something — we should be ready to move. We’d all fit on board Emerald Maui, right?”
Sergeant Campbell looked at him with a bemused expression, then grinned. “Son, you are thinking with Murphy in mind, aren’t you? I like it. Sure, those shuttles were meant to carry up to fifteen plus a pilot. Plenty of room for emergency evacuation and moving.”
“And if we keep some of the equipment on the island, and some onboard, we’ll have space onboard for survival supplies,” Akira said. “Excellent thinking, Whips. I think you should take point on that project.”
“Sure thing, son,” Campbell said, still grinning. “The reward for thinking of more things that need to be done? That’s you, getting more work!”