A Little Help From My Friends

Day 5 — 00:05:04:30

     Daybreak, the temperature in the 50’s but the brisk wind made it seem colder. After a quick breakfast Janie went back to Windmill Hill and I went to the sawmill to take over from Joe. He updated me on the past ten hrs of operation, good progress and no real problems, but he said an extra bot or two would have helped. I agreed and told him what I’d heard about the dustup in camp, but since it happened before Janie and I got back in last night, I really didn’t know much. Finally I mentioned that Jules Parker was going to preside at a memorial service for Thompson, Arte Clarke, and Harlan Allison in a couple of hours and how sorry I was I wouldn‘t be attending.

     Joe said, “I didn’t hardly know Thompson but he carried his own weight and was with us on the cruiser action and that makes him the next thing to a blood relation. I’ll pay my last respects and tell you about it tonight.”

     “Thanks Joe. And if you can find the time before you hit the rack will you make a cage, or see that one gets made for the Armadillo the Jeep captured last night? Just make sure it’s sturdy and has a lock and is screened to keep the curious from trying to stick a finger in or pet it. I’m not sure about the teeth but the spikes on that tail are vicious.”

     As Joe walked slowly away, these hours were taking something out of all of us, Eugene ‘Snitch’ Washburn came over and said “Morning Bart.”

     I handed him the plastic thermos and a couple of breakfast rolls and some reconstituted eggs and ham I had taken from the mess tent. Eugene had volunteered to work last night at the mill on a midnight to noon shift. He had brought with him his robot R.Krebbs. I thought he might be trying to distance himself from Jack the Blade. Not a bad idea in my book.

     We needed two armed humans here at all times if we were to continue working this far from camp. The nearer tents were still barely a quarter mile away but it was the treeward side that worried us the most. At night we needed to have two bots doing nothing but stand guard, constantly alert. Up till now during the day we had been dispensing with that practice but after the various sightings of the past several days reported by the Benjamins that didn’t seem like it was such a good idea after all. With R.Krebbs, RoDan, R. SirTom, R. Mycroft, R. Nug and the Jeep as the full robot complement, Joe had been very short on help.

     Joe and Eugene had been cutting from logs that took 4 bots to lift at one time, those 16 inchers in diameter and smaller. The planks they cut came near to filling up all the available drying racks. They had kept both saws working almost at maximum. With better light I needed to do more clearing and cutting of larger trees. The largest logs the big mill could handle took eight bots to load. Plus I wanted to get a good supply felled for chainsaw work and to leave enough logs stacked near the mills for Joe tonight.

     “Wait a sec before you start eating Gene and keep the saw going, I got a call to make.”

     I commed back to camp and will wonders never cease, Reye and his wife Judith had left their bots Hadrian and Augustus in the general pool and both were unclaimed as of yet. With all of the work being done clearing stones and rocks from the land we intended to farm I would have thought every bot in camp taken by now. On second thought, after the fracas last night, (I was almost sorry I missed it), that wasn’t such a surprise. Well for the next almost ten hours they were mine. Then I called over to the windmill and left word to send over the first two recharged bots destined for the general pool.

     “Help is on the way.” I said. And as Eugene finished his coffee I filled him in on our schedule for today. Pointing at the grid map on my comm screen “We’ll keep going south on the Q’s and P’s until we get everything cleared down to about 6. That will probably take at least another full day. After that we have some decisions to make. I think it might be best to just keep moving south beyond the break but a case can be made for going westward or even to the north of the Community Building. In any event Janie should be back at noon to relieve you so lets get to it.”

     We had been working for fifteen minutes when R.Augustus and R.Hadrian showed up. I wondered what had kept them. It shouldn’t have been more than a five or six minute walk at best. Then I saw the red low charge light blinking through the clear material on Hadrian’s chest.

     Damn! That fool Reye hadn’t even bothered to make sure they were charged! “Over here.” I summoned, pointing at a spot by the head of the saw. “Jeep come over here too.” I soon had the Jeep operating the mill which was for him low energy work and Hadrian and Augustus both tied in taking on a charge. Two hours of time and valuable labor from each was going to waste. But there was nothing to do about it. I shouldered my Ruger, picked up a chainsaw and headed to the forest edge. RoDan worked with me and kept all of his sensors active.

     File under things to do. See if I can get some .30 cal hunting type bullets made. The UNWG penetrators are too hard for game and will pass right through any animal without dumping much energy and that means even a direct hit to a vital spot might not make for a one shot kill. And at this time, except for the Giant Slizard we don‘t know anything about the other animals or their vital spots. I’m using explosive rounds for now but don’t want to waste them on anything small.

     By the time Janie and EmyCee showed up just before noon Hadrian and Augustus had been working as intended for a couple of hours and had enough charge for about seven hours more. We had a good rhythm going. As Janie took over the larger saw, which was actually easier to handle because it had more powered features, I said I’d message her from the other saw after I set Eugene free.

     I walked the hundred yards and reached Gene just as another cartload of planking was pulled off towards the Community Building. “Good days work for you Gene. I’m not sure how to manage it but I wouldn’t mind if you were out here permanently.”

     “Think I’d like that too Bart.”

     “What about Jack?”

     “To hell with the bastard! He don’t own me, at least not now, and It feels good to be useful.”

     “Good then, I’ll see you at midnight.”

     “You’re gonna still be here at midnight?”

     “Yeah were so short handed I’m working through. When Joe gets in he’ll relieve me at this saw and I’ll take over from Janie. That’ll let me spend the last five hours mostly standing at the power controls. See ya later.”

    I let Eugene get a couple of hundred yards away then messaged Janie. “Switch it to private darlin’, (I had picked that up from Ash but was still experimenting), and tell me about your day so far.

     “Went good.” she said, “The foundation sections were all complete and with the practice yesterday the bots knew pretty much what to do. The only real problem we found out about as soon as we raised the first mill up. With the wind speed today we were getting high rotation rates and gusts close to the blades shear limits. So what we did was take out a section to shorten them a bit. We still get our 20 KWH and have a little room to keep operating even if the winds pick up some more. If the wind gets too strong the blade edges will turn to face it, just like feathering a propeller, and rotation stops automatically. We can change back for more power if we find average wind speed slow down in the summer.”

     “After all three were mounted and operating I still and had time to get to camp for lunch. I heard Joe made a cage for the Aladillo and went for a peek. All the kids must have been there trying to give it a name just like it was a pet. Some of the suggestions were hilarious. Did you eat yet?”

     “Not yet but I can do it now and then I’ll fill you in on my morning.”

     ….. And as I finished up talking about the bots I said, “And considering by all accounts his accusing Jaisa Benjamin of being incompetent was last nights trigger, I sure hope the asshole isn’t around when I get back tonight cause if he is when I see him sparks will surely fly again.”

     “Yeah. Tell you what. When I get back after five I’ll find some way to make sure Reye finds out how pissed you are. Unless I miss my guess that will make another reason for him to keep a very low profile for a few days. Both he and Buchanan were missing from the group at his usual table when I went in for lunch. But the rest of his henchmen were there. Talking about making a ‘serious complaint’. But who do they think they can they complain to? I’m sure the message will get passed. Day after tomorrow the Hist says we are going to have a town meeting and set up some rules and procedures. That’ll probably be the best place to handle it.”

     “Sounds right to me. Well lets see how much we can get done before Joe arrives.”

    Several times that afternoon we had to get more of the pole pines cut and placed for drying racks. The thinner roofing boards we were working on now took up more space than what we had been cutting. With another human to help supervise we could have kept twice as many bots busy.

     Joe was a half an hour early and brought dinner to boot. Janie and Joe kept both saws going while I ate and then Janie went back to camp.

     It was getting dark, and seeing as how we didn’t have enough remote lighting to keep the farmland preparations going round the clock, Joe told me he had a couple of those bots lined up to be here in an hour or so. I’d send R.Hadrian and R Augustus over to the windmills and tell them to get in line for a recharge But for now I had them stacking small branches and useless scrap in a number of burn piles. Joe could light them and keep them going through the night as needed. Besides illumination, which might scare off animals, the ashes ought to be good fertilizer, or if we can make the processing containers be converted to potash. Potash is an extremely useful chemical I had learned, but more on that later.

     RoDan was getting a charge from the Jeep right now and both would soon be our advanced warning system. I know I say that once any bot can do something they all can… But for some reason I feel more comfortable trusting the Jeep.

     Gene Washburn showed up at 18:00 two hours early and told me he would pick up another two hours the next day. And from then on he said he would work with Joe on the night 5 to 5 and Janie and I could handle the day shift.

    “Thanks Gene,” I said, “I’ll try and recruit a few more people on a rotating basis to help out here. I don’t fancy any of us want to spend the next, God knows how long, doing nothing but cutting wood no matter how important the job is. And working nothing but nights is a real drag anyway and definitely not the way to see a new planet.”

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
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