Middle of the Summer

Compiled From the Various Logs.

Alchibah - Day 150
The happiest, and to many the most notable thing, to come with the fullness of summer was that love was in the air. By now many colonists had settled into stable relationships. Maybe it was something in the air, or perhaps it was caused by the profound feeling of being alone that could sneak up on a person given a bit of time to think about the distance to and separation from the rest of humanity. But something was different on Alchibah.

Marriage dates were being planned right and left - Gabe and Elana, Rocco and Sinopa, Connor and Kaiya Yamasak – all in all a dozen couples had decided to tie the knot sometime before winter. Puppy love was rampant as well, with the entire ‘Young Guns’ crew pairing off, mostly (but not entirely), with each other. As lovers became husband and wife the day to day operations of the colony continued unabated.

The summer was half gone and we were harvesting our first crops, those we replanted after the storm and asteroid strike. Not as many varieties or the quantities we would have managed if things has gone smoother. Only the grains; wheat, oats, barley, and rye, grew as well as back on Earth. Anything that grew underground, potatoes and beets, in particular were a big disappointment. The bacteria in the soil weren’t the right type and the local variant of the worm would eat at the roots. We got a few weak growths and crossbred the best of a poor lot in an attempt to get some improvement next time around.

Corn and beans did poorly as well, but we found a couple varieties that did well enough that we were fairly certain they would turn out fine in a few more generations. The one plant that thrived was our tomatoes. They were so popular with the local fauna and especially the devils that if we hadn’t covered them with a wire mesh there would have been nothing left for us. The Ortegas, Manuel and Felicia, had the largest acreage but all the farmers, and most of the small household plots, held a few plants.

We had a brief scare, call it a concern, from lack of rain but it only lasted a few weeks and the climate cooperated after that. We were making plans for irrigation and were happy to discard them. Those with their own plots were asked to concentrate on the local edible varieties for insurance and so that once we knew how to grow them the farmers, with the bots helping could, plant on a commercial scale.

Thal Isaacson, with a little help from Jaisa Benjamin in her rare time off from her other duties, had been especially successful in adapting the local plants into his permaculture “forest garden” as he called it. While he is only expecting to produce a small harvest this year he seems sure that in years to come he will more than make up for it. A few of the other farmers have been getting his advice on setting up small forest gardens of their own as well.

There were some milk cows growing in the incubators but they were months away from being ready to decant. Connor Benjamin, in his position as colony veterinarian, was working closely with Reye. It appeared that the two breeds of Earth Dogs brought by the Benjamin’s (German and Australian Shepherds) and one by the Stuart’s (Dobermans) would decant before the Cows

The first attempt at using the incubation tubes failed because of the power outage after the tsunami, but he was just about ready to ‘Birth’, that sounded better than hatch, four litters of pigs as the Stuarts had given up any priority’s they might have had to allow for the pigs. They babled something about a real BBQ. Their gestation period was 115 days and had been restarted as soon as they had recovered from the flood damage.

Les Reye, determined to deal in livestock, had a dozen head of unicow and grazing in his fields and was bringing in a few more every week. Milk from a unicow was a poor relation to what we were accustomed to. Reye, with help from the labor pool bots, needed to fence the grazing areas in; if he didn’t the animals would just run away as soon as they were let loose. The fences were more like a low stockade, needing that kind of strength, and that meant the area he could enclose, even with the bots doing most of the work, made his setup more like a feedlot than a dairy farm.

Les, his son Mike, and the four colonists he had working for them were bringing in grasses for the unicows current consumption but also preparing hay for the coming winter. Six months remained until snow was likely to fall but barns were built and hay was drying before being put away.

His next project was going to be an attempt to raise some alchelo but that might prove an even tougher proposition than unicow. One never knew unless one tried. It might be that in small enough groups, certainly not herd size, they would be manageable. Time would tell.

The RBJ Brickyard, with Rocco Williams and Bradley Jones as proprietors, was running 20 hours a day and couldn’t keep up with demand. They had their own bots working and rented others from any colonist willing to trade their bot’s labor hours for bricks. With so many people building, they had more offers than they could use, at least until or unless another kiln was built. Because of that, the colony didn’t need to assign them robot time from the general labor pool, except for brickwork that would go into colony buildings.

Enough of the infrastructure was in place that the labor tax on humans was cut to 10 hrs a week. All of the robots, unless working at a colony critical job, were still assigned 60% of the time to the colony with the colony board deciding how they would be used.

The situation at the lumber mill was about the same as at the brickyard but with Gene Washburn doing half of the day-to-day supervision and plenty of people willing to put in time for finished lumber, Bartlett and Fortson only needed to put in five hours each on a typical day. That left them time for a few other projects.

The first such project was Joe, Bart & Sin Market Hunters. It wasn’t like there weren’t lots of people able to do the same but Joe and Bart were specializing in alchelos, not just for the meat but also and more profitably for the hides. Sinopa had also been putting her hunting talents to the test against some of the area’s more dangerous residents, bringing in varg and vira, their smaller forest dwelling relatives.

The meat was surprisingly tasty and ended up making some great jerky, but again their hides were the really valuable commodity. All that meant setting up a tanning operation far from, and down wind of, Liberty City. Thankfully, the smell had no effect on the bots and so the messy drudge work was handled with almost no human intervention. The leather, after a bit of experimentation, was very good and in high demand for both clothing and furniture made in a small factory building in town.

Sinopa had also taken it upon herself to raise a pair of vira cubs whose mother she had unknowingly killed on one of her expeditions, a pastime which understandably made some of the other colonists – including her finance Rocco - a bit nervous. By all accounts she was doing an incredible job and the young animals seemed very nearly domesticated, though she did keep them under tight control. They didn’t show any of the aggressive tendencies one would expect and people were quickly getting used to having them around.

Janie Bartlett spent some of her time at the lumber mill but split the remainder between the windmills and working at the house on the point. She wasn’t much when it came to gardening but was supervising the bots and colonists working off labor hrs owed from purchases at the mill and tannery. A big project nearing completion was a staircase down the bluff to the river below. She also spent some time keeping the records and orders straight and dealing with the inevitable problems the other two businesses generated.

Sabbu Akai spent most of his time servicing the bots and doing maintenance of the colony electronic gear including that on board the shuttles and busses. He had very little left over for personal projects.

Gabe had somehow managed in his few short months on the planet to set up a small cellulose ethanol (“wood alcohol”) plant that using the scraps from the lumberyard and some of the fast growing water grasses was producing barrels and barrels of nearly pure ethanol. In addition to supplementing the Stuarts’ efforts to supply Hanna’s with libations this was quickly becoming the cooking and (when needed) heating fuel of choice, as Gabe had also taken it upon himself to start building small, efficient stoves for the colonists. He also had gotten Council approval to, with the help of Andy Stuart, start designing a network of small power plants capable of supplying power to a dozen or so homes each that would supplement the hydro power the colony currently relied on.

Karl Nash gave up any day-to-day involvement with the small police force. In a real sense there was no longer any need. With the end of Jack the Blade and with Jedediah Dobswell ensconced on the Southern Continent, a place some wag suggested be called Canaan, a name that stuck, the crime rate had sunk to zero. Nash and his wife Pamela finished supervising the building of a dock on the Liberty City owned portion of the river and they had a one shed boatyard in operation.

Two 30 ft. fishing boats from out of the yard were already working the river from the rapids to the mouth of the ocean. Each of the small craft was propelled by four oar-wielding robots. We had no small motors yet though they were on the list of things we needed to produce.

Erbert and Lars Nielson, two brothers who had come out with the Dancer each operated one of the boats and the competition between them was a sight to behold. Two boats, even with the smallish nets the Nielson brothers were using, provided more fish than we could eat but they were also smoking, salting, and storing for winter.

Rajnar Singe and the Benjamins provided the strands of fiber for the netting material from Connor’s stand of pillowbark trees and they were hand knotted, a job the robots could not do at any reasonable rate of speed as their tactile feedback was not on the level of us humans. Rajnar was working on a way to spin the long fibers of the river canes in hopes of getting a more readily available strong flexible strand that could be held together at the cross points with a drop of tree sap glue (the softer pillowbark fibers didn’t stick to the sap well, and the tougher ones were too scarce to use for netting) but he wasn’t there yet.

He also had been using the pillowbark fiber harvested by the Benjamins to make new clothing that had begun to become very popular. It was interesting to see the new fashion trends that were cropping up. The best way to describe them was perhaps a cross between rustic American and modern Asian garb.

Karl was building small rowboats for those willing to trade for them and had a large hull in progress, one that was commissioned by the colony. It was going to be used as a coastal transport and maybe even for exploration when finished. It would carry much more weight than any of the atmospheric craft. With luck they would be able to give it an adequate engine, even if steam powered.

His pride and joy though was a 60 ft Bermuda rigged schooner he was building for the Bartletts. With the way the lumber mill was prospering, especially since they were running the circular mill and not just the colony owned band mill, and with the tannery taking off, Bartlett and Fortson, along with the Stuart clan (due to their power plant operation) owners of the RBJ Brickyard Rocco and BJ and the Benjamins with Gabe’s projects and Connor’s fiber supply had all in relative terms become suddenly very wealthy compared to most of the colonists.

There wasn’t much complaining now but Karl wondered how long it would be until natural envy set in. Well it wasn’t his problem and anyone who wanted to work for it could do as much as conditions on the planet permitted. And that was more than any could have said back on Earth.

Nash was surprised though that Bart wanted something that large. Why not a ketch with a single mast, something smaller? It would be easier to handle and be almost as fast and very suitable for inshore waters. Bart had been adamant and the ship he was building should be completed in about another month.

Andy Stuart said that since the name schooner derived from the Scottish word scoon, meaning skipping or skimming, in this case cross the water, it was wholly appropriate. As a mater of fact he might just get one for himself. Then they could do a little racing. Unfortunately, He had a few other things to do first. But, still offered to foot the bill for the first real race.

Karl wished he could afford to do the same but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Still he was overjoyed with the chance to build the first one.

The Pierces were off to a good start as well between John’s architecture and building expertise and work ethic and Elana’s role in most of the mining going on, and the Parker family had made out pretty well also. JJ Parker spent most of his time working with John on all manner of construction and design, much of it for the colony government but plenty of private business as well, especially when the sizes grew large enough that some real engineering became involved. Linda Parker worked in the Bio-Med facility to satisfy her tax payments but spent the rest of her time helping her parents at the First Inn.

Jules Sr. and Hanna Parker were like parents and grandparents to half the colony. Excepting from long after midnight until just before dawn the main room, if not packed, as around meal times, always had a goodly number present. They stayed open round the clock usually with the help of people who owed them so there was always a place to get a quick meal or a bit of beverage, alcoholic or not. Several people had noticed that Jules Sr. seemed to be a bit more sprightly these days, Alchibah must agree with him.

Emily Parker was due to deliver the first human baby born on the planet any day now but was not really enjoying all the attention. She stayed close to the Inn at all times now and her room was ready and one of the doctors was always on call. Kurt and Mariana were like second skins to her (something about them hating to lose), and Jaisa was almost visibly nervous for her friend.

The Stuart clan and those working under their direction were a major supplier of the hard stuff. Sure, anyone could brew their own, but when it came to whiskey, the Stuarts held the patents. They had gone in with Connor and Chavez and set up a brewery and by this date the supply of alcohol was secure. Gabe’s wood alcohol was a tad harsh for human consumption, being nearly pure, and was really only fit for dilution and flavoring (although somehow Gabe, Andy and Kat actually seemed to enjoy it), which of course was handled by the Stuarts. There were mumblings out of that group about things to come that people might not believe.

Chen-Lings grapes were doing well but it was still up in the air how much production he would achieve and how the final product would taste and be accepted. With the length of the growing year on Alchibah being almost twice as long as Earth’s this was going to prove interesting.

Mariana, Kara and JoAnn had a plot going up on the second plateau of the volcano which might produce Old Earth Coffee in the not to distant future. Thal had come up with the supplements they needed for fertilizer so there was great hope there.

There were two canneries operating in town. They didn’t use metal cans but jars from the glassworks and both were doing well even though competition was keeping the prices down. Phyllis Underton, another of the Dancer arrivals, petitioned the development-zoning board for help in starting a third, and when her request for colony support was denied we ran into some major issues.

But to say it again; the happiest thing to come with summer was that love, as they say, was in the air.

The Monthly Meeting:
Les Reye gaveled the meeting to order and Kara as town supervisor, clerk, and zoning commissioner, along with every other odds and end job that needed doing, read the minutes from the last meeting.

“I open the floor for new business,” Les said looking visibly pained.

Phyllis Underton stood and said, “I requested help and permission to open a cannery in town and was turned down by the zoning board. I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the fully assembled township.”

“You are within your rights Phyllis and may proceed,” Les said. “Make your case and we will vote. Kara will represent the zoning board.”

“Thank you Les and my fellow colonists. I think I speak for a number of us who came on the Dancer when I say that some of the policies set up before we arrived confer unfair advantages to those who got here on the Mayflower. Of course you were here first and we can’t rewrite history. But I just want to set up a factory and go into competition with those already established in a similar field. They received help and labor credit from the colony as a whole for their startup and I want nothing beyond that. I just want to be treated in the exact same fashion.”

Kara stood and addressed the gathering. “Phyllis, you were at the zoning meeting but most here were not so I will present our reasoning. We had a hard time convincing many when we began the town council that it needed the powers it would exercise. The greatest fear was just as you suggest that it would use favoritism in dispensing permissions and granting franchise. Yet we were and still are far too small to expect that all of the things that need to be done can be funded out of purely private resources. None of us came here with that kind of wherewithal.

“We set up a list of the things we knew we needed that would be eligible for governmental support. Food production was of course high on the list. We also knew competition was important, and the colony, just like the citizens, had minimal resources so we limited any sponsored franchise to two going concerns and on a first come first serve basis. That’s what caught you.

“Both of the canneries operating seem to be doing fine and the government finds nothing to fault with them. You might be able to do a better job just as you say, but there is no compelling need for a third such business and the government will not be in a position where we try and second guess our original decision so long as it seems to be working.

“By all means, start a privately funded facility, or buy out one of the existing owners. Or better yet start another concern doing something else that we need and I will wish you nothing but success. As I hope you are aware though it would be unfair to those already doing what the colony needed when they risked their time and effort for the government to fund further competition.”

She turned to Reye and said, “Les, I think you have something to add.”

“Yes I do,” he said. “We will take comments and then hold the vote but I will inform all present that should the township as a whole reject the boards recommendation I will veto the vote and it will be put on the agenda as the first order of business at the next meeting. Should it pass then the township will help Phyllis to the fullest possible extent. That being said I recommend a ‘No’ vote on this issue.”

We held the vote, and Phyllis lost, but one thing could be said; the kind of civility shown now was a far cry from what went on when we got the government started in the first place.

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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.