Bitter Fruit

I suppose it’s self-indulgent to be both recording the future history of our new world and to be making these personal entries in my log but I think it’s important that there be an official version as well as my personal version.

After Travis left me a couple days ago, Day 1 as it were, I re-thought my plan to explore the river. That could wait. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was too old to be useful. I helped some of the others clear areas for new tents, removing what stones I could pick-up. I was also wondering how a lawn mower hadn’t made it’s way onto the Mayflower manifest but one can’t think of every possible thing that might be needed.

During Day 1 and Day 2, several trends became obvious to me. First, that we already had some unhappy campers who apparently thought only of themselves and their needs and were not psychologically ready or able for the teamwork needed to form a functioning early settlement. A group of about 10 of them, with Lester Reyes and Burt Buchanan seeming the ring leaders, were already grumbling about things and wanting to start their own colony somewhere else, perhaps on the southern continent.

Second, a leader would need to be elected or selected. Perhaps a committee or even a town council. Come to think of it, what should we name this first village of ours?

Third, a system of dividing up the immediate area for homesteading, of divvying up the land would need to be devised. A lottery, perhaps?

Lastly, it’s all well and good that most are pitching in right now to get things done but some sort of barter system or even a monetary system should be devised. After all, once we’re established and I have my chickens transported down, I don’t plan on giving them or the eggs away for free for the rest of my life! I had thought about that. While I enjoy raising them, it’s also a fairly stressless sort of work that even an old codger like me could do to earn my keep and trade for other goods. Appearances must be kept.

Within a few days, I suspected we’d need to hold a meeting of all colonists to work through some of these issues.

Day 3.

It was another crisp and cool morning with some fog in the river valley. I really think we made a wise decision choosing this spot, near the mouth of a large river but on land sloping up away from it. I don’t know exactly where this slow moving river (note to self: We’ll need a name for it, as well) starts off but if it’s quite far north, as the hemisphere continues to enter springtime, there could be floods from snowmelt hundreds of miles to the north.

It seemed that several of the colonists with some initiative were building a fine looking meeting house. I thought their selection of the site on top of the bluff overlooking the river valley and the initial camp (grid square U1) was a good and picturesque choice. It was also high enough to escape any but the worst of floods.

i decided to make myself useful again and after discussing with Bart the night before what I would need, was pleased to see the components, the rough lumber for my project stacked outside the framework of the new town hall. Using one of the portable jig saws, I began cutting the parts for trestle benches for the new hall. It was rather amazing, this sort of self-sealing wood, the way the sap hardened into an almost varnished finish. Granted they were crude, but any roughness of the benches would eventually be worn smooth by the backs and bottoms of the colonists.

After lunch, Travis and Rocco found me. The Galileo had just brought the last of the colonists down. I suggested we follow the river south for a ways to see what there was to see.

One of the other colonists, Robert Bova Thompson he called himself, joined us. I had my trusty 30-30 on my shoulder and we made a leisurely stroll south, past the falls (another thing to be named!) and the landing field. We walked in silence for awhile, each of us taking in the beauty — and strangeness of our new world. Occasionally a slizard would leave or enter the water. They seemed to ignore us completely. We were neither prey nor threat, so why should it pay us any heed!

I noticed something else that Kara had mentioned, that a few of the plants had yellow bulbs, on them. I was wondering if such fruit was bitter, like our lemons. It wasn’t long before I would regret that comparison.

As we walked south, the river was wide in places, perhaps a couple hundred feet wide, and narrow in others. It was a slow mover and had worn down the rather steep banks. A future “Grand Canyon” in the making?

Travis broke our silent reverie. “So,” he said, “how are our malcontents getting along?”

Robert answered, “They aren’t. They’re bitching more than ever and contributing little to our efforts here. They want to be somewhere else, away from us.”

Rocco said, “That can be arranged.”

We had stopped by a particularly narrow part of the river [cc12]. Here, on this finger of land, the river was only about 50 feet wide.

possible spot for bridge
It would make a good spot for a bridge to the other side. I mentioned this to the others and Travis pointed out that there were several long structural steel beams lying loose within the Mayflower, to be used for future excavations in the mines. Since there would not be much of that, perhaps a couple of them would be brought down and placed, perhaps by chains dangling from the bottom of the lifeboat we had here, across the span. We could attach planking to the top of them. We decided that would be a useful project sometime in the near future.

Rocco said, with dogged persistence, “So what about Reyes and Buchanan?”

Robert said, “They want their own colony, on the other continent in the southern hemisphere.”

I said, “There’s about ten of them altogether — that I know of.”

Rocco replied sharply, “Well, fuck it. If they want to live on their own, let’s oblige them.”

I said, “I don’t know that we can spare anyone from our rather small contingent. Then again, can we afford to carry their weight?”

Rocco looked at me and said, “Hey, we can move them, their robots, their personal tents, give them a few heaters, a cook stove, lights, basic medical kit, some basic tools, even, and have them down where ever the fuck they want to be and then they’re on their own.”

Travis looked bemused.

I just said, “Hmmm…”

There appeared to be storm clouds gathering, in more ways than one it would seem. Of immediate concern were the ones to the west. We started back, taking a brief detour toward a rather ugly lone tree [Z10]. I’d noticed a couple others of these scattered about, always by themselves. The fruit on this one was a yellowish-green. The tree was squat, had intertwined, knarled branches, and nothing but some of the grass we’d noticed grew anywhere near it. It was about 40 feet tall.

Electric Tree
It was near dusk and with the overcast, I suggested we return to camp quickly.

Robert said, “Let me just pluck a couple of these fruit. Mariana could analyze them. They might be tasty!”

He ran to the tree and while standing on one of the many exposed surface roots, reached up to grab one of the orbs.

What happened next would haunt all of us for some time. There was a dull crackling sound, as of a short circuit might make, and sparks at both his feet and his hand, still grasping the fruit. His body seemed to twitch and he fell to the ground, convulsing a few times. Then he was still.

We ran over to him and dragged him away from the cover of the tree’s canopy. Travis checked his pulse and, nodding his head, proceeded to administer CPR.

I was on my wristpad calling for help.

In short time, the lifeboat appeared with Mariana, Sally, Andy and Bart.

The women went to work on Robert but it was soon obvious that he was beyond such means as we had at our disposal. Even the paddles gave no effect.

Bart had put on gloves and gingerly taken the fallen fruit into custody in a plastiglass container for further study. He examined the tree in detail.

By this time, it was dark and the rain had started. We gathered Robert’s body into the lifeboat, got in ourselves, and Andy piloted it back to camp.

I don’t think the irony was lost on any of us that we had landed on a planet that seemed to be Paradise and then one of our own had picked some forbidden fruit.

I made another, rather more somber mental note — we would have to decide where to locate a cemetery, too.

That night the rain came down hard. Travis had returned to the Mayflower in the Galileo. Most of the colonists were retired to their sleeping rolls. A few of us stayed awake, sitting at “The Bar” mixing our own drinks as we hunkered down in the smaller round tent we were in..

Bart had examined the “fruit” and determined it was more like a battery, with the roots of the tree being ground, as it were. I didn’t really understand the details but I’m sure he’ll report it in his own words.

Connor said, “I guess we need to be wary of all the yellow fruit we’ve seen around.”

I said, “It’s interesting that on this tree, what with the fruit a good eight feet off the ground…”

Andy said, “Go on, Histy.”

“Well,” I said, “Nothing else grows around these trees and some of the other plants. I was just wondering if this was either a very good offense, so to speak, you know, where by electrocuting various and sundry animals, the carcasses of the animals decompose and provide the various nutrients the tree needs.”

Bart said, “Interesting theory, Histy, but I didn’t notice any animal bones around the trunk of the tree. I suspect it’s more of a defensive mechanism.”

“And,” I said, “That brings me back to what I had started mumbling about a moment ago, before I had my thoughts fully formed.”

Connor said, “What’s that?”

I paused to get the implication set in my mind and then said, “Well, if it’s a defensive mechanism, and the fruit is so high off the ground . . . what is it defending itself against . . .?”

Nobody said anything for a while. The rain made a staccato of sound on the roof of the small tent as the wind howled outside. In one of those unpleasant kismet moments, there came a distant, second howl from the direction of the woods, above the din of the storm.

I suspect I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sleep well that night.

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Probably.

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Copyright (C) 2006 - 2011 by Jeff Soyer. All rights reserved.