6. Town Meeting
I. Taking Stock
Day 6, 2PM, Mayflower Lounge.
Due to the fact that the population of the Mayflower had dwindled to only a handful, almost all business and meals and other such meetings were conducted exclusively in the lounge, what with the kitchen near by as well as, er, the bar.
Seated around three tables pushed together were Travis, Monroe, Dr. Hibbes. Glenda and Steven Fallon were there, both having decided that they preferred to remain in space — that was, after all, their chosen profession! Both were in training to pilot ships and handle the Mayflower equipment.
Rocko and Historian were there. Historian had come back last night to check on his chickens. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Monroe to care for them properly, just that — okay, he didn’t trust him to care for them properly. Also, he wanted to harvest a few of them and gather the eggs, which had been piling up in the refrigerator, for tomorrow night’s feast following Town Meeting.
Natasi was there, deciding that she much preferred life in orbit, where she had originally been born and raised. She had some piloting experience from her time on Moon Base. Also, she seemed to like the Historian quite a bit…
There were a couple of newcomers, two colonists who wanted the excitement of being space jockeys, Greg Bugbee, 26-years-old metallurgist, with wavy blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He was also helpful in getting the mining operation and the steel mill limping along but operational with the help of several robots.
The other, Darren Calver, 35, was a real find, an escapee of the Martian colony who had operated one of their planet skippers there but had used the solarnet to make contact with Hamilton’s chat group and wanted out of the rebellious colony before the UNWG crushed it completely. Travis knew him from the olden days, though didn’t realize until now that he was one of the colonists as Calver had come into this under an assumed name and had grown a full beard — now shaved off — to disguise himself. It’s not that Darren was against the rebellion or for the UNWG, just that he resented being what amounted to an indentured servant of either side. His experience with the medium sized cruisers (which is really what the skippers were) would serve him and the others here quite well, now. Captain Monroe had already had him practice piloting the massive Galileo.
And then there was John Chandler. At 60, he was the oldest of those who would be living on board the Mayflower. He had tried living on Alchibah for a few days but then yesterday night had requested that Captain Travis return him to the Mayflower where he promised to earn his keep sweeping floors, cooking, whatever it took. He just wasn’t into roughing it as much as he thought he would be. Travis had his doubts, as Chandler was somewhat frail and apparently asthmatic, complaining constantly of the smoke from Travis’s cigarettes, but returned him to the ship.
When introduced to the others this morning at the meeting, Hibbes had exclaimed, “John Chandler? Dr. John Chandler of Brisbane University?”
“Well, um, yes.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, do you know who this man is?” Dr. Hibbes Asked.
Hibbes glanced around the table at the others, expectantly. When he was met with only blank stares, he continued, “He’s only one of the world’s great theoretical physicists! His work in string theory and particle wave properties is the standard these days! My God, what are you doing here?”
Chandler blushed, a stark reddened contrast to his unruly white hair, stuttered a bit and said, “The UNWG made me an offer I had to refuse. They wanted me to work on a project of theirs called ‘Starward‘, where I would be designing the next generation of engines and communicators, both designed to bring them to worlds such as this, based upon my researches into standing wave particle physics.”
“And you refused them?” Travis asked.
“Yes. My family goes back nine generations in Australia, back to when we were rough and tumble and resented an all oppressive government. While they had taken over all of Earth, I had no desire that they should . . . spread beyond the confines of the solar system. So I refused. They threatened to cut off all state funding of my research. I refused again. They threatened to hold me in ‘confinement’ and I still refused. That was five years ago — excuse me, nine years now — I guess.
“Anyway,” he said, “One night soon after that, my laboratory burned down. I suppose it could have been an electrical accident but then my wife was found blungeoned to death in an alleyway in Brisbane. Ruffians, the police concluded. I reached a different conclusion and went into hiding, first in the outskirts of Queensland, then in India, and finally via tramp steamer I made it to Iceland, one of the few countries that still refused to join in the UNWG in reality or mentality. I was rather amazed when, sometime later, I received contact from R.J. Hamilton. How he found me, knew my assumed identity, I never could figure out and now I guess I never will.”
Rocco gave a short laugh and said, “He has his ways… Had.”
Dr. Hibbes said, “I request, Dr. Chandler, that you work with me in my — in our laboratory here on the Mayflower. We have so much to do!”
“You have a laboratory, here on the ship, Dr.?” Chandler asked.
“Oh yes,” Hibbes replied, almost with glee, “quite well stocked, too. After all, I converted this large rock into an interstellar ship in the first place.”
Captain Monroe smiled and said, “We made him set up his physics playpen on the other side of the Mayflower, away from the living quarters, in case something goes wrong.”
“So.” Captain Travis said, “Not counting Histy and Rocco, who will spend most of their time planetside, there are nine of us full time residents here. In addition, we have 35 robots at our disposal. The rest, one for each colonist plus a bunch of extras to help with the settlement, are all down at the colony now.
“One of the robots, R. Esso, is piloting the NIFT out to the fourth planet to collect Helium3. It should be back in a few days. I think we calculated a round trip of about 12 days.”
Steven said, “How are we on fuel, in the meantime?”
Travis said, “Very low. We have enough for just three more down and return flights for the Galileo. Rocco’s cruiser, The Surprise, is fully fueled. I might add that the lifeboat on the planet is nearly dry, too. The NIFT will bring back about 1/5th of our total capacity so it will be sixty days — five trips — before we and everything are fully fueled to capacity.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Monroe said, “Since almost all the supplies for the colonists are already there. The final load goes down on the next trip, early tomorrow morning.”
Travis said, “Greg? How is the forge coming along?”
Greg answered, “Good. The mill is functioning. Dr. Hibbes’ CNC program is working well and parts for the lifeboat improvements are being produced. I have commandeered six of the robots to do the heavy work, getting ore from the mines and bringing it to the mini-factory. All the parts should be ready in about a week. Or what passes for a week around here…”
Glenda said, “Steven and I, with several robots, have been stripping the remaining five lifeboats from the Lancer. Six seats out, four remain plus a bench along one side. We’re also preparing the hulls, under Dr. Hibbes instruction, to accept the new shielding and for weapons mounting. Space for the newly expanded fuel tanks is also being made. We’ll be ready when the parts are!”
“Good,” Travis said, “My goal is to give the colony four of the improved lifeboats. They’ll be much more functional, have a far greater range, cargo space, shielding, and weapons. With the Stuarts, Bart, and I think Jai expressed an interest, there will be four or five qualified pilots and four ships. With many armed colonists as their own militia — I think of them as the Alchiban Marines! — and a modest fleet. If anything comes up that we can’t handle — I think of us as the Space Patrol — they are the second line of defense as well as an auxilary force we can call up for help.”
Darran Calver said, “That only leaves us the two boats!”
“Well,” Travis said, “Actually only one of them. I’m sending the other out, manned by two well programmed robots, back to the vicinity of the wormhole to act as a sentry. They’ll radio us the moment anything comes through.”
Steven said, “That radio signal won’t reach us for a year and a half.”
Travis replied, “True. But it will still reach us a lot faster than any goonie ship will. It will give us plenty of warning.”
Glenda said, “Why two robots?”
“I could say for backup,” Travis smiled, “But really it’s much simpler. Even nuclear batteries run down and the robots will have to replace each other’s when that happens.”
Darren persisted, “So now we’ll be left with only one boat?”
Monroe said, “You forget, we have the Lancer, which is armed. The cruiser, which will be armed, and Dr. Hibbes is working on the next generation of fighter for us. Dr. Chandler will be a help there.”
Travis grinned, “Yes, I’ve seen the plans! Quite exciting if they ever become a reality.”
“What do you mean, ‘if‘?” Hibbes said with mock indignation.
With his hands up in surrender Travis said, “Okay, okay.” He lowered his arms back to the table and then said, “I guess there’s one last thing. If we’re to be a team, you all need to know what I’m about to say. Well, some of you do, but for the others, it will put things in clearer perspective. I must caution all of you to keep this information to yourselves. This is not something anyone in the colony needs to know about…”
II. Birds Do It…That evening, Histy’s Chicken Coop.
In the aviary on the Mayflower, Historian was cleaning bird poop and disposing of it in large bags. Then he spread out fresh straw. Muttering to himself, he said, “Knew I should have come back sooner . . . Never trust someone else to care for your . . . ”
Natasi was leaning against a work table, watching Historian with bemusement. She said, “Look at all the little chicks! Too many here in dis small place.”
“I asked Monroe to gather all the eggs each morning,” he grumbled, “But no. He missed two of the nests completely.”
Natasi said, “Hey, Mr. Historian, they just doing vat comes naturally.”
“And speaking of vich,” she continued, “After you done here, let us go my cabin. I have good russian vodka for you try.”
Both Natasi and Historian had their backs to the door or they would have noticed that Rocco and Calver had stopped by and were silently listening to the proceedings.
Historian was on his knees, with his head and shoulders within one of the coops. From within came his muffled reply, “Why don’t you bring it to the lounge and we’ll sample it there?”
“Oh, no, my pad much more comfortable,” she said and then noticed the two standing at the door.
Rocco winked and gave her the ‘thumbs up’.
“Besides,” she said, “We need to make babies for colony!”
“What!?!” Historian exclaimed and the sound of his head making painful contact with the roof of the coop could be heard.
Rocco and Calver burst out laughing and Rocco said, “Hey Histy, that’s the best offer you’ve had in four years!”
Historian withdrew from the coop, blushing furiously as the two continued to laugh hysterically. He looked at the two and said, “Don’t you have some place to be right now?”
Calver said, “Nope. Sounds like you do, though!”
“See!” Natasi said, “Listen to man, let’s go.” She grabbed his arm and tugged — Historian marveled again at her strength — leading him out to the corridor.
Rocco and Calver continued to chuckle as they heard Historian say loudly from down the hall and probably for their benefit, “Okay, let go of me. But just for drinks!”
III. Last Respects
Day 7, 6AM, Colony Cemetery.
The Galileo had come down very early that morning, landing at 4 AM. Travis brought it down, landing it with a feather touch. The last of the supplies that would be coming were on board. Several of the colonists met the ship, awakened by the noise. In the cargo hold were several needed items including a larger refrigerator for Hanna’s and one of the refrigerator/freezer combos that had been commandeered from the Mayflower kitchen, destined for the lab rats to keep specimens in.
There was fresh water, electrical equipment to create the rudimentary power grid, and even more bio-fuel for the sawmill.
The last of the MREs and other supplies were there. The Mayflower still had enough for itself, along with the chicken coop and the vegetable greenhouse that Historian had set up onboard so “the Space Patrol”, as Travis had jokingly called themselves, wouldn’t starve by any means.
There was also a large generator that could be powered by a paddle wheel if and when the hydroelectric project got going.
Travis, Rocco, and Historian (looking the worse for wear) made their way to the new cemetery located slightly north of the new Town Meeting House. They were silent as Travis and Rocco paid their respects to the recently departed.
A short distance away, Reyes and Buchanan and some of the others of their group were watching.
One of them said, “They’re always together. Historian and Travis, or Monroe, or the Stuarts or Bart or the Benjamins. Like a little clique.”
Buchanan said, “We’ll deal with them. We’ll keep them from gaining more power…”
IV. Town MeetingDay 7, 8AM, Town Hall.
As the first permanent structure on Alchibah, Town Hall might have appeared large and crude but to the colonists crowded into it, it seemed a wonderful thing. Sure, finishing touches would be added in the days ahead but for now it seemed almost the perfect symbol of their new start in life, here on this untamed planet.
There were the rows of benches, all filled. Colonists also stood two deep, lining the walls on three sides and there was also Standing Room Only in the back. At the front, centered behind a long table, sat Captain Travis. He was alone on his bench save for Historian who sat at the right end of it, recording the proceedings. He was looking somewhat better after a couple cups of coffee at Hanna’s.
As Travis looked over the crowd, he began to appreciate the phrase, ‘packed to the rafters’ but he was not intimidated by it. He was used to commanding and finally when it seemed that everyone who was coming was there, he banged a makeshift gavel on the table and said, “This town meeting will come to order.”
The din of voices quieted down except for some giggling from the youngest children.
Travis smiled and said, “Alrighty then! Seeing as we don’t yet have a flag to salute or a pledge to, er, pledge, I welcome you all to our very first town meeting. It seems remarkable that we’ve only been here seven days what with all that’s happened.
“It is a tradition, where I grew up in New Hampshire, for a reading at each year’s town meeting of those who passed away the previous year. I’d like to ask that we have a minute of silence for Robert Bova Thompson, Arte Clarke, and Harlan Allison.”
There was quiet. The door was open to allow air to circulate and from without came the sounds of their new home, of the strange insects and other creatures, and the light wind that was blowing on this very pleasant morning.
Travis continued, “I’d also like for all of us to take another moment to think about the important business at hand. What we all will decide upon today will affect all future generations on Alchibah to come.
“You are about to decide on such important matters as the form of government we will have and how that government will be elected. You’ll be choosing what economic system we’ll use, how land will be accorded, even the age of majority. These are weighty issues and they deserve your most serious attention.
“I would request that you put aside your personal biases, any petty grievances you might have towards each other or to me, and focus completely and impartially on the issues at hand. Decide what is best for all, not just for yourself. Put our colony first.”
Travis paused, letting the words sink in. There were some scattered muttering, especially from one contingent located near the front left-most row of benches where Reyes, Buchanan, Jack of Blades, and their cronies were seated.
Travis continued, “The first order of business is to choose a town moderator. This is someone who will simply run the meeting, and any future meetings, for one year, or until the next town meeting involving elections. It’s not considered a position of authority other than to maintain order in the meeting itself. Rocco and I will assist as temporary “sergeant-at-arms” if things get out of hand. So,” he paused, “Are there any nominations?”
There were a few but in the end, almost by default the job went to Historian. Travis and Historian switched places and Historian looked out sheepishly and said, “I would like to start off with one item not listed in the warning. Could we, perhaps, give this town of ours a name?”
There was some laughter from many and potential names began to fly.
At this point, I, as the Historian, am going to switch the proceeds of the Town Meeting to individual recordings as each piece of business is considered. . .
–From The History of Colony: Alchibah
3rd Edition, 2088
Author: The Historian