SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 60:
e-vox to: Sarah Printemps
From: H. Obisando
Sarah, their language doesn't even have words for any number above four. That bitch is sending them out there to get killed. I've given you the tapes. Can't you stop it?
e-vox to: H. Obisando
Van Pensdorm is history, Henry. But we can't stop them going. This came as a bit of shock to me too, but they're as keen to see the back of us as she was to see the back of them. We flooded their valley, and they haven't forgiven us. They're not stupid. A deal is a deal, and just because they're a primitive Pacaraima culture, doesn't mean we can break the law. Besides, there are some real heavyweights in SysGov Social psychology branch sitting on this one. I don't know why, but they want the uThani to go. Look, they'll have the best of everything, and the place will be stocked with livestock and plants from the that area they came from. There are only two hundred and thirty nine of them. Yes, they have a unique language. Yes, they been cut off from most of the rest of the human race for several hundred years. At low population densities… well, the habitat will be about twenty times as big as their valley. Maybe they'll evolve a civilization. Learn to count. With the repair bots and low pop. density, they'll have a thousand years (at least) to do it in.
It was a long night, in which nothing happened. Nothing… other than buzzing things biting them, and, at least in Howard's case, not much sleep. The noises—from the slightest splash of water or crack of twigs, to echoing, yarring cries—fed the imagination. The truth was that the things they probably needed to be afraid of, they wouldn't hear. But that didn't stop Howard straining his ears. Before the lights began to warm up again, Howard had had a lot of time to think as well as time to worry. He thought about home. About his confused feelings for the woman next to him. About the vastness of space.
He had to acknowledge that Kretz's sudden arrival in their midst had changed his perspective somewhat. Perhaps she'd been right. What he needed was a world of his own, where they took the good out of New Eden, and added it to the good in her world, had a place like this to develop, and where “outside” was not a place to fear, but to go out into, to explore.
Lani stirred against his shoulder. He patted her arm, awkwardly. She woke. He felt her tense against him. "Is everything all right?" she whispered.
"Fine. I'm sorry if I disturbed you," he said quietly.
"It's okay. I didn't mean to go to sleep. Did I sleep for long?"
"A century, I think."
She snorted. "Doesn't feel like it. Must have been one of the short centuries. Have you slept at all?"
"No," he said. "I thought someone had better stay awake."
"Yeah. Right. True. Well, I will now. It's time you slept. You can't do without any at rest at all either," she said gruffly.
"I will try," said Howard. "But have you had enough sleep to stay awake?"
She chuckled. "I need the bathroom badly enough to keep me awake. And no, I will not go out there in the dark. You close those eyes. I'll shoot and scream if anything comes too close."
"Thank you," said Howard. Tiredness washed over him in a huge wave, with handing his responsibility over to someone else. Lani might be a woman, but she was more dangerous—and probably more reliable—than any of the male Brethren he could think of.
As he was drifting off, in that zone where he was between sleep and wakefulness, when the guard on his tongue and mind are less than alert, He said: "Lani… do you think this place could actually be made into a world of our own? It's good farmland."
If she answered, it was in his dreams.
Lani sat in the dark, thinking about that last sleepy statement. It had… interesting implications, not least about how he saw her.
The place did change your perspective. True, it was pretty vile right now. But you had to start thinking about what it could be, rather than what it was. Diana was having trouble with food production. A few tons of these pumpkins, say, and there was the possibility of trading for some of life's little essentials, like a scoot and a fitted bathroom and a food-nuke. True, there were some minor problems, like some difficulties with Diana's Law. And a gulf of space to transport the stuff across. She knew a few other girls who were fairly peeved with life at the bottom of the ladder. And if Howard knew a few other New Eden farmers…
It was a pleasant daydream, anyway. They still had to survive at least until morning, but there was a faint glow in the lights. Dawn was always a lovely time of day. The breeze that picked up from the air recirculation system was always gentle then. Someone had once explained it that it was a question of temperature differential. It was hotter during the light-period and by dawn the differential between air temperature and the cooling and moisture scrubbing loops was less. That took the magic out of it somehow.
The different chickens of this place had started their calling. That was quite magical too. She almost woke Howard to listen to it, but he was sleeping so peacefully. She was getting hungry enough to think of those chickens with some interest.
Unfortunately, breakfast was more pumpkin, washed down with more of this free-running water. It was all very well for Amber to point out that the dilution factor for the goat and any other animal dropping was huge. It was still there, which eroded her desire to look at this place positively down to a hub. There had to be a way around that aspect!
They moved on, upwards, skirting water, avoiding a small herd of animals and later another group with coarse short hair that squeaked at them before plunging into the water. None of this seemed to give Howard pause. "It’s in bad repair, but it can be fixed," he'd said at least half a dozen times that morning.
And then on a small spit of sand, they came to something that did halt him in his tracks.
Ashes. A few bits of burned twigs. One still smoldered.
"There are people here." Howard's voice was full of the death of his hopes.
"But there is room for us, surely? I mean, we haven't even seen them," said Lani.
"Maybe. But this is their place, and will always be their place."
The big guy looked absolutely shattered by that spot of ash. Johnny Bhangella didn't see it the same way. It did away with one of his worst worries. Food. The Men's Liberation Army had always survived by eating food gathered from the plants of the upper corridors, by stealing from the women, and, principally, from “donations” from sympathizers. If they didn't give willingly, they would under pressure. He was within reach of two automatic shotguns, and a pistol. Power beyond the dreams of the MLA. If there were people here, well, their men could be pressured the same way. This place was wild enough to lose an army in.