Dad had left early with Andy to survey upstream, leaving me in charge of my two sisters. Not that “in charge” really had anything to do with it. Truth be told, they could basically take care of themselves if they needed to. They need us emotionally, of course, but that’s different. They really are frighteningly smart, and they don’t suffer from the lack of common sense that so many smart kids (and adults, for that matter) seem to have. Like Buchanan and Reye and their slackers – brains, but no concept of reality or sense of responsibility. Hell, I’m 17 and I know more about contributing to the common good than that whole lot combined. Shit, even if they care about nothing but themselves they should help out, if just to avoid making enemies. But nooooo, they just don’t get it. God I can’t stand useless people.
But anyway, that’s not the point. I had just sat down to breakfast with the twins at Hanna’s when a girl not much older than me came over to our table with her tray. She was tiny; beautiful. Delicate. I almost laughed. She reminded me a lot of me, when I was eleven or twelve, only I’m pretty sure she’s college age. In some ways she did look her age, but she still had the innocent, carefree look I lost years ago.
“Mind if I join you?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied. “Pull up a chair.”
“Yeah!” Aya agreed. Arra chimed in, “Have a seat May.” They were sitting on either side of me, stuffing their faces with the MREs.
“Ok Arra,” she laughed, sitting down. “I will. I’m Maylin, Chen-Ling’s daughter,” she said to me. “I’m helping out Em and Liza with the daycare, which is how I know these two rascals!”
“Good luck! They’re holy terrors!” I exclaimed, mussing Aya’s hair. “Remember that time you lit your babysitter’s hair on fire?” Arra glanced at the slowly whitening young woman and winked. The poor girl looked terrified! Aya giggled and I couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh jeez, I’m sorry. They’re little angels, really. They could be no end of trouble if they wanted to be, but they’re really just about the nicest girls you’ll ever meet, honest.” She laughed, though she still looked a little uneasy.
I noticed Kara getting breakfast and waved to her to join us. As she sat down I clapped her on the back. “Congratulations on being the first person on Alchibah to slug one of the slackers. And from what I hear you did a pretty good job of it too. Ol’ Les still has a bit of a shiner!” I laughed.
“Pompous jackass,” she muttered. “I mean, really, houses! Houses! And if that prick calls me ‘little miss’ one more time, so help me…It did feel pretty good though,” she admitted, almost sheepishly. “The only thing I regret is that my hand is still sore. Hard headed little…”
“Oh don’t you worry, I can take care of that. Before I’m through with you you’ll be able to punch him in the face whenever you feel like it!” We all got a good laugh out of that.
We finished the meal, talking about how the first few days on Alchibah had been. Maylin also asked a bit about what I had been doing, which was kinda annoying because I didn’t really have any results to speak of. The lab wasn’t up yet, and without the lab there was little else I could safely do with the samples Sin and I collected. There were other ways of determining toxicity and poison content, but they weren’t as reliable or safe and to do them right could take a fair amount of time. So for now I had to be content with the answer “collecting plant samples.”
As we were walking over to the daycare the girls were running ahead, playing. Kara split off, towards the cargo area, waving goodbye. Maylin seemed like she had something on her mind.
“Yes?” I asked. She looked up, startled. She hesitated, and then spoke up.
“So, your dad and my older sis seem to be getting along pretty well, huh?” she asked. I don’t think my face or body language showed anything, but I was definitely doing a serious mental double take.
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, she helped him collect samples all day the day after we landed and then this morning she went and had breakfast with him before he headed out. I mean, he’s like ten years older than her or something, but I think she likes him,” she confided. Yup, this was definitely not something I had the foggiest about. Pops has some serious splainin to do.
“Huh. I dunno. I’m sure it’ll work itself out.” Hmmm…could I possibly have been more non-committal? And then, thankfully, we reached the tent. I mouthed “later” as we walked in.
As I was leaving Emily came up to me. “Do you mind if I join you for a while? May and Liza have this covered and I’ve been feeling a bit cooped up. I’m sure I can help with whatever you’re doing. I’m a quick learner.” She asked hopefully. Truth be told I didn’t really want her in my hair. She seemed nice enough, but I’m used to working with people like Sinopa and my uncle Gabe, not, well, high schoolers. But while I certainly don’t have what you’d call good social skills I knew that alienating one of the only people my age within 500 trillion miles of our new home wasn’t a good idea. So I said yes.
Our first stop was Hanna’s again for a pot of coffee, then on to Ash’s fortress of solitude. That man was working himself to the bone. I figured the least I could do was make sure he stayed fully caffeinated. I poked my head in.
“Ash? You still alive in there buddy? Got your bi-morning pot of coffee.”
“You’re too good to me girl,” he said, his bloodshot eyes looking up from their computer screen. “And you brought company! Where are my manners?” He started to get up, I presume to kiss Emily’s hand or some such silliness.
“Oh sit down you old rascal! She’s no older than I am and besides, you look like someone just killed you.” He slumped back.
“You’re no fun,” he sighed. “One of these days I’m going to find a beautiful woman around here that isn’t off limits. But until then, thanks for the coffee. Now get on with you. We’ve both got very important business and no time to waste on chit chat.”
“I’m going, I’m going!” I laughed. “Good luck, and get some friggin sleep.”
As we left the tent Emily gave me an odd look.
“What?” I asked. “He’s not that bad. And you have to understand, I’ve spent most of my life around little boys like him. They all work the same way. I’ve been one of the guys so long that Ash is a breath of fresh air after having to be around so many polite, upstanding people.”
“If you say so,” she said skeptically. “He still creeps me out, but I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, where to next?”
We headed to the landing site to meet the next shipment and pick up a couple of robots for the family. We had been holding off on getting them until now because we figured the ones that were already on planet would be of more use to the other colonists who were doing more manual labor. I also think that our independent streak was getting the better of us a bit. After roughing it for years it was going to be weird to have our own personal state of the art robots. I also needed to pick up Dad’s supply crate that he had shipped ahead and make sure everything was in order. Not that there was much we could do if it wasn’t.
I gave the two robots their names: R.Lewis (mine) and R.Eddings (Dad’s – I’d transfer ownership later). We were going to hold off on getting the twins’ until they were used to ours. After they had downloaded the accumulated knowledge of the other robots I had them grab the crate and we started back up to my tent. This whole time Emily and I were talking, about everything from life back on Earth (I was, shall we say, a tad less specific than she was) to how things were going so far to our hopes and dreams for the future.
My dad always says he’s sorry that the girls and I didn’t have a normal childhood. I say the hell with it. Sure, I missed high school and boyfriends and prom and all those other things that I was “supposed to” experience, but I certainly didn’t miss them. By and large they seem like a lot more trouble than they’re worth. Given the choice between prom with a bunch of twittering girls and drunken revelry in the northern reaches of Canada with Gabe’s Green Mountain Boys and Sin’s Fox Pack I’d chose the roughneck rebels any day. Which is why I was so surprised that Em and I hit it off so well. While I can’t really say we’ve got a lot in common, for whatever reason I really enjoyed talking with her. I almost can’t believe it, but I think I’ve actually got a friend who isn’t a trained killer.
When we got back up to the tent I had the robots put the crate inside my tent, open it and wait outside. Yup, they’re definitely going to take some getting used to. But anyway, the crate. My dad’s blacksmithing tools were there, but I didn’t bother to unpack or check them. Too much of a pain and I didn’t know enough to really do any good anyway. I did a quick check over the axe, maul and saws. All in good shape.
The vacuum sealed brewer’s yeast and the seed packets for the other brewing necessities looked to be doing fine, but I suppose there’s no way to be sure until we try and use them. I hope they work out. I love brewing beer almost as much as I love drinking it. Shame we couldn’t take any of the equipment, but I’m sure we’ll be able to rig something up. Next came the two duffels of spare clothes unceremoniously tossed into the corner. The rest of the contents I handled with quite a bit more care.
The next two things I took out were a long, thin mahogany box and a small, squat burnished steel one. I placed these gingerly off to the side. The contents of those were worth more, in dollar value and to this family, than the rest of our possessions combined. After that I lifted out the half a dozen of my grandfather’s khukuris we had managed to bring along with his bolo, placing them aside for inspection. Finally the two CTAR-45s and the two Colt Pythons, identical to mine, that we were saving for my sisters, along with the ammunition boxes.
“So you’re a quick learner?” I asked the other girl. “You ever clean a gun? No, silly question right?” I said, seeing the look on her face. “Ok, we’ll start you out with knives.”
So I showed her the khukuris; how to properly take them from their sheaths, test for sharpness, rub them down with the tuf-cloth. At first she seemed a little uneasy, but she was right about being a fast learner. Not that anything we were doing was particularly difficult, but she quickly got much more comfortable with the big knives. This was certainly no twittering teenage girl.
Next I showed her how to clean the Colts and then moved onto the CTARs myself. I could definitely see her thinking something like, “Who is this crazy girl and why is she playing with assault rifles???” Which is, I suppose, the reaction I’d get from most people if they saw me disassembling my Tavor. It requires almost no thought on my part; my hands just flow through the motions. We kept talking as we cleaned and disassembled the guns. It was almost like some sort of surreal slumber party or something. After a little while she got quiet.
“If,” she hesitated, “if I tell you something will you promise to not tell anyone?” she blurted. “I mean, not anyone?”
I paused for a moment. I barely knew this girl and she was asking for my complete confidence. This is exactly the kind of shit I thought I had avoided skipping high school. But could I really say no? We were both alone on a new world and it’s not like there were going to be friends coming out of the woodwork. I sighed. “Yes. A promise made is a promise kept. I won’t tell anyone. What’s wrong?”
“I. I’m.” She gathered herself and started again. “You remember I mentioned my boyfriend? Well, he’s more than just my boyfriend. He’s…We’re…we’re married.” The words came out in a rush now. “We got engaged then we found out he was moving away and we eloped and then we just left and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and I miss him sooo much. Oh Jaisa I miss him. He was the sweetest guy. He always took care of me and worried more about me than himself. And now I’m never going to see him again and all I’ve got to remember him by is the ring and one picture from when we went ice skating and this necklace he gave me.” She pulled a beautiful opal pendant on a delicate silver chain from under her shirt. As she gazed at the stone she slowly started to cry.
“Oh, no. Come here,” I said, pulling her towards me as she started to cry harder. “Shhh, it’s going to be ok. Shhh.” I hugged the girl, rubbing her back. This was so not anything I was ready for.
“B-b-but th-that’s not all. I’m p-pregnant. And my baby is never going to meet it’s f-father,” she cried, hugging me back.
“Shh, shhh, it’s going to be alright. Long as I’m here you two will be alright, I promise.” Now I don’t know what made me say that, but something really made me want to protect this girl. And like I said, a promise made is a promise kept.
I really am glad she told me. I don’t know what will come of it, but I feel like I’ve made a good friend, which is something we can all use.
I spent the rest of the day out in the woods tracking with Sinopa. We found several more signs of the predator we had identified yesterday, including scat that pretty much proves that it is, in fact, a predator. We also saw tracks for a much smaller animal that also appeared (based on the movement and claw marks) to be a predator as well as several animals of various sizes that seemed more likely to be herbivores. The largest of these we estimated to be even bigger than a moose, with half a dozen smaller species ranging in size from no larger than a squirrel to about the size of a large deer. Still no sign of the rumbler (assuming it’s as big as it sounds), though based on what we’ve been hearing it seems farther away than we’ve been investigating.
Just as we were headed back we heard the distinct roar of one of the lifeboats taking off and saw the glare of its engine through the trees. I didn’t know what was happening, but I had no doubt that it was something bad. I took off for camp with Sin right beside me. We made it back in a matter of minutes, but far too late to do anything. I truly despise the feeling of helplessness that inevitably settles in when a comrade falls.
Thompson, rest in peace. Rest in Peace.