A Lumbering We Will Go

From the “Log” Files of William Bartlett

     I had run a few Galileo landing and takeoff sims in the last four years but had made well over a hundred piloting the Surprise. Andy Stuart, having more time in type, took the drop seat and I got the co-pilots chair and the better visuals. We each ran through a couple of preflight and touchdown sequences while waiting for final loading. After Glenda Cumberland announced all on board and belted in Captain Monroe did a walk through and sent me to double check the storage holds.

     As I returned to the bridge I happened to see Janie Cantarubias sitting next to her robot R. Madame Currie, “Emycee or Emy” for short. Janie had already gotten the bots basic personality set and with the Jeep’s help a fair amount of the speaking and mannerism detail which made all bots distinctive. Out of the crate the robots appearances were all identical. On board the Mayflower we had found that fact could be extremely confusing, passing a bot anywhere and not being able to tell if it was your own without asking. We solved that problem with paint. The Jeep had on his torso, upper arms, and legs, three 2 inch wide bands. “Black, Silver, Black.” In addition on the top of his head was painted, in quadrants, a black and silver beanie. Janie had chosen Lavender, Silver, Lavender for Emycee’s colors along with a lavender cap and also painted M. C. in script right where the heart would have been. I had noticed that improvement on the Jeep also, (but in block letters), and now knew where it came from. A few of the other bots had color schemes already but most colonists hadn’t had time to get to it yet.

We locked out of the Mayflower did the inertial alignment and de-orbital burn. The Galileo had to brake for reentry, no ablative tiles, but plenty of energy to do just that.

     This was the view as we left the Mayflower and started down.

     The landing sequence was automated and plotted before we made our first burn. But the last try by Copernicus didn’t work out so well did it? Captain Monroe made the final touch down on a sandy field by a small tributary of the main river which ran North/South into the hills above the landing site.

     Standing at the top of the ramp, under a warm sun and gentle breeze, I watched Linda and J.J. Parker, their family and the Benjamins all set foot upon Alchibah together. A glance around and a few deep breaths of the incredibly fresh smelling air and back inside I went. Off loading began immediately. When the portable timber mill went rolling down the ramp I figured I had found a job for a while.

     With the Jeep, R. Asimov, and a few of the other bots doing the heavy lifting the Galileo was soon on it’s way to being empty. For this task not much teaching of the bots was necessary. All of the training files from when the Hist , the Jeep, R. asimov and I, were cleaning up after the sabotage to the Mayflower were loaded into all the other robots and we had done a lot of moving and loading besides that over the years. All that was needed was to point to an item and indicate where to take it. Soon there was a constant stream of people and bots heading away from the Galileo, up about a 1000 feet of sandy slope, and then 500 feet westward to where the tent site was to be located, and back again. There were a half dozen wheelbarrows and a couple of four wheeled carts but as yet no powered vehicles to pull them. A couple of robots on each cart and they moved along as fast as a man could walk. Two hours after touchdown the Galileo was empty. Everything still piled at the ships base had to be moved before the jets could fire again. Two hours later we watched the Galileo depart.

     A group had started laying out the fabric and supports for the first of the two large tents. Figuring that was well in hand I took an axe from a chest of tools, got the Jeep, and made a quick trip out to the nearby forest edge. I was armed with my Glock and the Ruger I used on the Goonie cruiser.

     I said to Jeep, “Pay attention to the woods and if you detect anything larger than a mouse coming in our direction let me know.” All I had seen so far were a few, small, insect like things that didn’t seem attracted to me I’d put on some standard Earth type repellant and hadn’t been bothered yet. I wondered if the Jeep’s infrared detectors worked on cold blooded life forms. The Jeeps visual acuity was much better than mine but without being trained on what to look for that might not count for much. I decided that in the future I would not to get more than 50 yards away from a source of possible hidden danger without having another human with me. A couple of swipes at the base of one of the trees told me that it was sawable and well “woodish”. That’s all I needed to know so we went right back to camp.

     I found Janie and her bot Emycee assisting Zoe Heroit and some others restacking and arraigning supplies into a semblance of order. I asked her if she could give me a hand with the mill and she readily agreed. On the way over to it I managed to get a couple of colonists I knew through the introduction to robots class to let me borrow their bots for a couple of hours. We, or I should say the bots, loaded one of the low flatbed carts with a couple of 30 gallon drums of fuel, and a five gallon bucket of chain oil, and a crate labeled logging supplies.

     I had popped the lid off that crate and checked the contents a couple of years before when I saw it listed on the Mayflower’s manifest. It contained axes, sledges and wedges, 6 chainsaws, gloves, a dozen pair of boots in various sizes, climbing harnesses, ropes , chains and all the common safety equipment along with an assortment of spare parts and blades for the chainsaws and portable sawmills. I had Emycee grab hold of the mills tongue and told the Jeep to push and follow me. Janie had two of the other bots doing the same with the flatbed.

     The “Log Trees” started growing about 300 feet to the west of the tent site and about the same distance from the raised mound 400 foot south of the tents. They ranged in height from around 70 to 120 feet. The foliage was a similar to an Earthly cedar though slightly more leaf like. The bark was smoother and browner rather than grey, rather like a very tough rind rather than a bark. The trunks of the taller specimens were 16 to 24 inches in diameter the shorter ones from 10 inches and up. They were very strait with little taper until the branching started about half way up their length. Their average spacing was about 35 foot or so. There was a minor amount of brush and low fern like shrubs along with a few smaller Log Tree sprouts growing up amongst them.

     Again telling the robots to keep a sharp lookout, for whatever good it would do, I put on the pair of boots I had broken in when I first examined the crate, and while Janie found a pair she could wear, grabbed a chainsaw, fueled and oiled it, made sure it would start, then said to the Jeep and Emy. “Watch cause this is how it’s done.” I walked over to one of the nearer, smaller trees. “First figure which way the tree wants to fall.”

     “How do you know the tree wants to fall Boss”, said Emycee, sounding remarkably like the Jeep but with a hint of Janie in the intonation.

     “Quiet for now Emy and it will all become clear. Even trees as straight as these lean slightly in one direction or another. Just figure on what side of center that is and put a notch thusly.” I cut a wedge shaped notch about 18 inches from ground level. “Make sure everyone is out of the way for this next step. Everybody move over there.” I pointed to a spot about fifty feet away. I started from the back side and cut towards the notch and in a matter of a minute yelled “Timmberrr!”, and stepped back watching the tree fall just as I had planed. Those summers cutting for the paper mill hadn’t been wasted.

     “Here’s the next part.”  I said taking the chain saw and cutting off branches. When that was done I cut the trunk into 3 sections. The first 16 feet and then a 20 and lastly another 16. The upper portion was too small to make lumber out of but would do fine for fire wood if it burned. I asked Janie to take Emy and drag some branches and the top back by the tent area and turn them over for a trial burn and start of a campfire. By the time she returned I had the three logs over by the mill and with the bots doing the lifting, gotten the first log onto the saw’s bed. There was smoke rising from an area near where the tents were to be but still no sign of the tents themselves.

     The cutting was done by a 20 horse band saw mounted on a powered trolley. First a skimming pass to give the log a straight base and the log was flipped and the cutting proceeding. Three or four sides would be cut first to insure even edges on the planks and beams which were the output. The rough cut boards, even on this new machine could vary by as much as an eighth of an inch in cut dimension. I explained to Janie how the squared up size of the log determined what size and shape lumber you would eventually cut out of it. Today I said we would concentrate on 1 ¾ in. planks four, six, eight, and ten inches wide. I wasn’t sure what we would be building yet but these sizes were standards. Tomorrow we would cut more specifically for the first buildings. When run to it’s full capacity the mill could put out a bit over 200 board feet an hour. I wasn’t long, with the bots doing the loading, unloading, and stacking, that Janie was up to near that level.

     I went back to the tree line, notched and cut another sample, then turned the chainsaw over to the Jeep. His first tree fell exactly where he said it would. He was never wrong. It must have been the visual algorithms. I had him do all the notching and I made the fell cut. With an hour of daylight left and 20 trees down it was getting dark and time to get back to the tents. We loaded up as much of the scrap wood and larger branches as would fit on the trailer, some of the colonists had already come out to gawk and take back some wheelbarrow loads, and the bots pulled everything back to camp.

     The Galileo had made its second landing; mostly with supplies and a couple of new arrivals. I saw Joe Fortson shaking his head at what he judged to be the mass confusion around the tents. At least they were up and I could smell some kind of stew and coffee brewing along with a slightly sweet aroma of wood smoke.

     I planed to have a quick meal with Janie and maybe a drink and to find out what the word was from the few people who had been scouting within 1000 yards of our camp. Then off to sleep for an early rise tomorrow. I got the meal ok but was tagged for the first of the three hour night watches.

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
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