©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame
Chapter Nineteen - Earth Mother
Life went on in the newly-christened town of Tellus Mater, named after the ancient Roman earth mother. Suggested names for the first town on Bellerophon were mostly from Greek mythology, since the planet itself was so named, but most were voted down as undesirable or overused. It was the raccoon biologist, Dominic Silvanus who proposed using Roman names instead. Several were bantered about, but once suggested, Tellus Mater received the most votes. They were no longer on the planet Earth, but were still her children and most thought the name appropriate.
Construction of the first building in Tellus Mater was well underway. A good portion of the town had been surveyed and markers laid out in a standard grid pattern. The Central Authority building would be right at its center with a planned park to surround it as a town square. Plans for the town had already been drawn up before they had left Earth, and although personal vehicles, work trucks and electric carts had been included in the manifest, roads would not be paved until plumbing, optical and electrical lines had been buried beneath the surface. That did not keep people from using them, however, and regular traffic was already becoming commonplace.
In addition to the lake and its feeding rivers, Arion had detected an aquifer of underground water beneath the crater surface at a depth of one hundred seventy-three feet and work had begun to dig a well and construct a water tower for it. While one team was busy with those tasks, others were assigned to lay lines from the tower site to where a waterworks facility would be erected, and from there lines would be spread throughout the town site.
Although the colony personnel were not in an actual rush to build their town, it was a daily concerted effort to stay busy and get things down. Everyone was involved in something every day, with tasks that may or may not have anything to do with individual specific skills.
For several days following the memorial services for Whitney, Barry and Angel, morale was at a low, so Mayor Robeson suggested adopting a typical Terran work week and give everyone the chance to sit back and relax two days out of every seven. There was a nice sandy beach area on the lake and visits to the clean waters became a frequent site to visit on their days off. After the first couple of weekends, overall morale improved and most tried to put those horrible losses behind them.
After daily scans, both onsite and from orbit, there did not seem to be any indigenous fish in the crater lake aside of the abundance of tiny brill, the name given to the Bellerophon version of krill, although there was plenty of microbiology. So far, nothing in the lake seemed to present a hazard to the settlers from Earth, so Piale Bonavita was tasked with hatching Terran fish embryos to begin stocking it with freshwater aquatic life.
The colony gardens of Terran plants were already showing signs of green, and while the plants were still in their infancy, native insect life had already showed interest in the area, so it was hopeful that they would aid in pollination when the time came.
As the days and weeks passed, the only native creatures found to come into the crater valley were numerous flying avian types. The Belle Stars herbivores seemed to enjoy munching on the crater weed, but none of those were ever seen far from the outer ring of mountains and never came all the way to the lake. When not tied up with the construction of Tellus Mater, the biologists were quickly adding to their records on each new kind of indigenous life forms they encountered. Flitter flights into the rainforest garnered more discoveries in vegetation and indigenous life forms, though most of them would likely never have the natural opportunity to spread into the crater itself.
It was likely there could be carnivorous predator types just waiting to be discovered living beneath the rainforest canopy outside the crater, but so far none had been detected and cataloged, although that was assumed to come later. Despite that the lands within the high ridge mountains seemed to be safe, it was decided to keep the perimeter fence in place as an additional precaution. There had been no more sightings of the large shadow flyers that Kate and Barry had seen occluding the stars on separate nights; Arion’s drones had never detected anything either, but Ginger sometimes wondered if the large sleeping black bird she had seen in the rainforest might have been what they had seen. Whatever they were remained a mystery, but so far none had presented a danger.
With the barns, paddocks and corrals in place and populated with live animals decanted from the ship, life was shaping up in Tellus Mater. There were ninety-five colonists to establish the initial footprint on Belle, and all the work that needed to be done between town-raising and care of the animals and gardens almost seemed like too much to do for so few people. Still, they had five years in which to work on it all and none of them had to be in a hurry to provide a living for the other fifteen hundred to follow.
“They are not even the same species, but there are too many males taking an interest in Piale,” Emma Bonavita grumbled. She and her husband were driving a fat-tired electric cart between rows of food plants, spraying the young plants on both sides with water from the runoff river that segregated the gardens and stockyards from the town proper. Water sloshed back and forth in the large plastic container behind their seats.
“I wouldn’t worry about her,” Angelo replied. “She’s lucky she turned into an attractive species, but since there are no more like her, there’s no danger of her having kits out of wedlock.”
The brown bear snorted. “That won’t stop them from trying.”
“Piale is an adult. She can make up her own mind who to share her tent with.”
Emma gifted her husband with a cold glare. “Are you trying to pair her off?”
“Why not? If she can’t have kits, that doesn’t mean she has to be lonely.”
“What about marriage?”
“Pay attention to your driving; you almost ran over some of the plants.”
“Answer my question.”
Angelo looked over at his wife. “What does it matter now if she ever gets married? If she did, it would probably be a marriage like ours.”
She bristled. “And what’s wrong with our marriage?”
The lynx signed and gestured from himself to her. “Do you want Piale to have a mismatched life like ours because we’re different species? Emma, I love you, but you’ve been hard to live with since we’ve changed.” The bear growled deep in her throat, but Angelo continued undaunted. “I don’t imagine you’ve enjoyed the arguments we’ve had and no doubt I’ve been hard to live with too, but we disagree more than we agree anymore and we haven’t tried sex even once since we got here.”
The brown bear stomped on the brakes and then whirled on him angrily. “Get out before I knock you out!” she shouted. Angelo narrowed his eyes at her, but stayed in his seat. Incensed by his stubbornness, she reared back and slammed a large fist into his sternum. He launched backward into the dirt and then clutched both hands to his chest in pain.
Emma seemed genuinely surprised at the power behind her punch, but the concern passed within a heartbeat. “Find yourself another tent to live in!” she roared before she took the cart out of gear and then bailed out. She barely missed stomping across growing radishes, but then she dropped to all fours and ran as quickly as she could along the rows back toward camp.
Angelo struggled to sit up, but it was pure agony; he was certain he had felt the bone crack. In the periphery of his vision, he saw several others loping across the gardens toward him, and he was grateful that one of them was Jessica, the red panda farmer who had also served as Kazama’s nurse.
“Dr. Colton, I have a report to make on my findings on Bellerophon’s polar regions.”
A rather large anthro-hyena looked up from a microscope on a folding table inside his work tent. The personal tent he shared with wife and daughter was located right next door, but he needed his own work space separate from them. Their toddler was into everything and was a major distraction, but there had been enough additional tents in the manifest that there had been no issue procuring an extra for that purpose.
He glanced at the SI’s face on the tablet propped up at the corner of the table where he worked, but his sight was fuzzy. He rubbed his eyes to let them refocus after peering into the depths of the scope at slides for the past two hours.
“Have you reported to Dr. Kate on your findings?”
“No, Dr. Colton. As the senior biologist, I opted to contact you first. If you are busy, I can report to Dr. Silvanus instead.”
The hyena waved a hand and shook his head. “No, that isn’t necessary. Go ahead with your report.” He scratched at the bare fur on his chest, lamenting that he had already torn through an oddly-shaped shirt that the SI had printed for him before leaving the ship. The species arch of his back was not nice to fabrics that did not stretch well, although the garment had been nothing more than an experiment.
“I have had rover landers in both polar regions, exploring and examining anything of interest,” Arion began. “Continent Six sits beneath the northern polar cap, and although it is entirely covered in glacial snow and ice, I have found several rather large predators inhabiting the coastal areas, most traveling in pairs. The surrounding seas are rough, but contain a thriving ecosystem of small marine life near thermal vents that I have detected beneath the ocean waters. The large creatures feed off of the smaller marine life in a natural balance.”
A video feed appeared in a window of the biologist’s tablet and the hyena felt his pulse quicken at the visuals of new life forms. The large mammalian creatures were bigger than Terran polar bears, and while they looked as if they had fat reserves and thick, waterproof fur of the purest white, they looked nothing like them. They had skulls that were roughly triangular and scoop-shaped with the “bowl” of the spoon beneath their lower jaws. This aided in scooping up the fishy crab-like critters of the ocean.
“Marvelous…” breathed Jeffrey Colton. “Absolutely marvelous. Are you still watching them?”
“Unfortunately, no. My rover got within five hundred yards of where a pair of them were eating and they apparently took exception to the presence of an unknown competitor for food a quarter mile from their dinner. They rushed the rover with traction better than the rover’s wheels and trashed the unit before it could get away. Satellite imagery shows parts of the rover lander scattered across a wide frozen plain.”
“My rover on the floating south polar ice of Continent Five has fared better.” The video feed now showed numerous creatures that could only be described as being a genetic cross between a penguin and a sea lion with four large flippers – two fore and two aft. “As with the northern pole, there appear to be an abundance of small marine life in the cold waters surrounding the ice floes, although there are no detectable thermal vents in the southern region. This marine life is decidedly different and the various types are too numerous to catalog at this time with a land-based rover. Perhaps we can send a submersible when I can have sufficient time and materials to construct one.”
The hyena was practically salivating over the images he saw, though not from hunger at a potential prey, but in excitement from a biologist’s standpoint. These were the first true predators they had found. He wiped his jaw on the fur of his arm and had to tear his gaze away from the video.
“Can you please copy all video and collected data to my tablet, please?”
“Transferring now, Dr. Colton.”
“Thank you, Arion. If you don’t mind, shoot copies to Dominic and Kate as well.”
“As you wish, Dr. Colton.”
“If you can get the mayor to agree to the submersible probe, I would like you to appropriate resources to start printing up its parts right away. We’ve got to find out more about these marvelous life forms!”
“Very good, Dr. Colton. I will inform you whenever I have a decision on that project. Once approved, it will take approximately thirty-eight days to complete.”
Chef Rocky stood at the entrance to the galley tent with his hands on his hips and a smile on his face as his tail firmly held a cup of coffee within reach. He had been delighted to learn that his tail was prehensile and with practice he had been able to use it as a rudimentary limb to hold things. He had yet to try hanging from it to sleep, since his tent did not have an internal frame robust enough to hold the weight of his human-sized body, but he had often considered it.
He scratched idly at one of the scars on his neck, but gave the incident that had created it no further thought. The weeks that had passed since the attack had given him time to heal up with modern medicine, and counseling sessions with Dr. Fernando had helped him through it. Now that he was healthy again, the colonists had time to enjoy the cuisine to come out of his kitchens once more.
Things were about to change in that respect, however. Arion-1 had been practically emptied of all cargo, and some of the last food items to come out of orbit were thousands of previously prepared meals that had been sent along with them within a stasis field. The fresh food stocks that he had been using to feed almost a hundred mouths three times a day (not including snacks in between) would be running low soon, so until the gardens and livestock were ready to harvest, he and Victoria would soon start serving military-style Meals Ready to Eat. There were many different varieties of MREs, but since everyone now had a plethora of species-related tastes and preferences, it would take some careful planning to get everyone fed and satisfied with what they ate.
The opossum had no illusions over feeding in the coming weeks. People would become discontented with the MREs before there were enough ripened crops and livestock to go back to “real” meals again. He just hoped the carnivore types could keep control over their taste for fresh meat and did not start going after easy prey. This thought sharply reminded him of the trauma he had endured from one such who had not been able to see him as anything more than something to eat.
Local plants from the outlying rainforest were already being sought out and tested to determine if there was anything that the human-animal hybrids could safely eat. They were reminded that not all plants of Earth could be safely ingested, so they would have to discover which indigenous plants could be eaten, digested and broken down to provide nutrition. If they can find such analogous plants and vegetables, it would greatly extend the amount of food they would all have to survive on.
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