SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 22:

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

Re Habitat 37.

Date: 2120-11-4 Time: 15:31 NMT

From: Chief Scientist S. Guthrie (Environment Construction)

To: Chief Construction (Spacefitting) Officer M. Kabongo

 

Re: repair and maintenance robots.

 

            Mike K, you're a cantankerous and ornery pain in the butt. Look, the Brethren are archaic agriculturalists. These guys actually kill pigs and chickens to eat. That's had the animal welfare groups on Earth in ferment and it’s got the Brethren claiming they're victims of religious persecution. The habitat environment is set up on the lowest degree of mechanization we can contrive. They've even got synthetic soils instead of stable granule growing mediums. They're planning on growing trees! The microdrop set-up is supposed to be manually serviceable, which as you know from A23 the others aren't. These guys plan to cart dung and fertilize their soils. It's primitive but it might just outlast those JB232 units you're fussing about. Where the hell is this lot going to get the knowhow to repair a JayBee? Our modeling analyses show that complex and varied agricultural units have a degree of plasticity and biofeedback that more mono-focus ones don't have. There will still be micro-monitoring and macro-consumables replacement while they're in Deep Space. They're way under carrying-capacity and as long as they restrict their population growth, they'll be probably be better off than some of the other habitats.

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            Now that Kretz was healing and talking, and had proved less demonic than Howard had secretly feared, Howard found that he was beginning to enjoy his house-guest. For starters, he never knew quite what Kretz would say next. For a second thing, Kretz liked talking about mechanical things. He liked to work out just how they worked. And he kept asking Howard. This gave Howard a great rationalized excuse to think about them. Of course there were some areas of confusion to clear up.

            Firstly, that pigs were not intelligent part owners of New Eden.

            And, secondly, that humans were very different from Miran, despite the similarities.

            "Transcomp wishes to know what the honorifics 'Brother and Sister' mean, since they seem to be more than simple family references."

            "Who is Transcomp?" asked Howard.

            "It is my mechanical translator. It works on the vocabulary I have established and also deduces other meanings and words and the way the speech should be structured. Zawn is… was our expert on translation. He said that your language was old, because it was complex and had absorbed structure and words from several logical rule-pattern stems."

            That didn't clarify very much. Well, Howard thought, it was his turn now. He blushed, just thinking about trying to explain sexual differences in humans to Kretz. Perhaps he could get Sister Thirsdaughter to do it. She was a midwife, and Kretz… was somewhere between the two of them. Hopefully… she'd do it when he wasn't around!

            He heard her outside. She had a habit of singing choruses while she walked. Howard hastily found a reason to go and do some chores in his kitchen. Never had chores seemed so attractive.

            But scrubbing his table-top was interrupted by Sister Thirsdaughter calling. Reluctantly, but worried in case something was really wrong, he went.

            "Explain to Brother Kretz that you are not female, Howard. He believes that because you are big and your skin is taut you might be."

            Howard lost himself in a tangle of half-sentences. The only small comfort was that Kretz was obviously as embarrassed as he was. He was attempting to hide his face behind his hand.

            Sister Thirsdaughter was taking all too much pleasure in it all. "He also labored under the delusion that because you were bigger than I was, you were much older. I gather that you were able to persuade him that pigs were not another form of human this morning?"

            "Yes," said Howard, eager to change the direction of the conversation. "One of my shotes got out of the sty and looked in at the window this morning. Kretz had seen wild ones up near the core."

            "You will be relieved to know that I can tell my fellow councilors that you did not undress a woman after all, Howard. Kretz is male, at the moment, and will be for some years, still. Then he'll change to having babies instead of fathering them. They keep growing throughout life, like trees. They have babies when their bodies are large enough. It makes good sense actually." She cocked her head and looked at him. "A penny for your thoughts, young man."

            "I have just realized that 'looks like' does not mean 'is like'," said Howard. "A door is still a door if it is made of wood or metal, but the stuff of it, and the making of it is not the same."

            "You're too bright for your own good," she said with a smile. "Now, I have decided that it would do Kretz a bit of good to take a short walk outside. I've never believed in bed-rest unless absolutely necessary. The muscles become pulp, and the digestive system doesn't work properly. But he needs someone your size—even if you're not female—to catch him before he falls over. That arm needs protecting. Walk him around your garden. And then I shall sit with him while you go and irrigate your crops."

            So Howard took Kretz out to the look at the herbs and then—to Kretz's evident excitement—to the chickens. Kretz stared at them for a long time, before Howard went and caught him a new hatched chick to hold.

            Kretz shook his head. "They are so much stranger than you. We have nothing like this on Miran!"

            The cow and the pigs and even the sheep, while plainly fascinating, failed to make as much of an impression as a single egg, and the flip-flop of rooster-flight.