— by Ted R. Blasingame
Aldo Banner found it difficult to rest up from his injuries. He'd still been laid up from his encounter with the thunderpigs following the initial hunt when the attack on the cavern had taken place, and although he had seen none of it, he'd heard the screams, roars and gunfire amidst the destruction of the colony, and had taken part in the gathered conversation afterward. Now that things had calmed down and a repeat attack hadn't come as expected, the sounds of rebuilding and cleanup were keeping him up the long night.
The bloodhound would be out of commission for some weeks due to two cracked ribs and a nasty gash from his hip to his armpit. The gash was healing well due to a liberal application of purple Stitchgloo, a biodegradable, painkilling medical adhesive commonly used in surgery that bonded the edges of skin and muscle tissue so that natural healing could take place beneath it. He'd also had to be immobilized with a spray-on body cast over cheesecloth in the area to keep him from pulling it back apart, and this also doubled as a splint for his poor ribs.
Having been raised on a farm in the North American Heartland, the quiet Canis was used to being active during his time awake. Being idle and immobile for long stretches of time was getting on his nerves, and it had only been a few days since his injury. In the months they'd been on Bonestell, he'd already read all the books he'd brought with him loaded onto his PBJ and now he was bored. Sissy had queried others in the camp and several had generously transferred other books they'd brought to his unit, but he was finding that their tastes in reading material differed greatly from his own.
In time, he'd switched over to reading the tech manuals sent along for reference material in running a starter colony. He'd learned a few things reading them, but found the material dry. According to his Bonestellan watch, it was several hours past sundown, not that he'd known it from the perpetual ambient light inside the cavern in the vicinity of his quarters.
Something large bumped into the side of his personal geodesic dome and he saw the walls flex for a moment. A curvy silhouette suddenly filled the doorway outside the smoky grey plastic curtain that served as a door partition.
“Are you okay in there?” a familiar voice asked.
Aldo cleared his throat and replied. “I'm alright,” he said quietly, “but did a big pig just run into my house?”
There was a chuckle and then a light knock on the fiberluminum door frame. “No, I am not a big pig. May I come in?”
A worn western hat was the first to emerge through the split in the curtain that covered his doorway, followed by the floppy ears and nose of a Border collie. Cheryl glanced across his tidy room and spied him on his bed, gifting him with a warm smile.
“Sorry about the little earthquake,” she said. “I was carrying a couple sacks of rice to the new supply dome and I'm afraid I got overbalanced. That was me that fell up against your wall.”
Aldo raised an eyebrow and couldn't help but smile. “Are you okay?” he asked. He had always liked Cheryl, another who had grown up on a farm and was used to hard work. That she wore nothing but a pair of overalls and a cowgirl hat helped complete the country picture.
“Yup, I'm fine and thankful the bags didn't split!” She approached his bed and pulled up a slotted-back chair from his table. She sat down and then leaned toward him with her elbows resting upon her knees.
“How's your side today?” she asked politely. She'd been the one who'd field dressed his injuries on the spot and helped him limp back to the valley while everyone else fought off the pigs to bring their kill back to camp.
“The pain meds help,” he answered quietly, “but I'm bored just lying around in here. I wish I could help with the cleanup.”
Cheryl reached forward and gently brushed the bloodhound's light brown bangs from his forehead. “You've always been a big help, Aldo,” she said quietly. “You've been dependable, but now it's time for others to do the work so you can heal properly. If you like, I can come by and keep you company in my free time.”
The bloodhound looked up at her with deep brown eyes and swallowed. “Yes,” he said in a hoarse voice. “I think I would like that.”
Cheryl gave him a big smile. “You can count on it. I need to get back to my work now, but I will see you later.” She stood up, looked over her shoulder at him, swished her tail a couple of times, and then disappeared out the door.
Aldo rubbed his sore side, but shook his head silently as he stared at the curtain she'd passed through. This was a pleasant, if unexpected, development and he discovered that his extra-sensitive nose enjoyed her female scent, too.
“I believe I've ascertained the cause of our electronic failures,” Norman reported. The black bear found Jon where Avon had fallen, cleaning up the grisly stains on the stone wall and floor with a mop and a bucket. Everyone else had avoided the place so the cougar had taken it upon himself to handle the solemn task.
Jon looked over at him with interest, grateful for the momentary distraction. “What have you… ascertained?” he asked with a smirk at the bear's uncommon word choice, setting the mop aside up against the wall.
Norman held up his own Personal Business Juxtapositioner, which appeared tiny in his large hand-paws. The former NFL linebacker had learned dexterity with his claws since his transformation and had no difficulty opening the clamshell device and activating one of its applications. He turned his back to the spot where their former leader and friend had probably breathed his last and tried to ignore the scent of blood and bleach.
“Avon … and I had discussed several possibilities on why our electronics were failing. Did he say anything to you about our conversation?”
Jon shook his head. “No, nothing.”
“We'd narrowed it down to two causes that we could think of,” Norman explained. “We figured there was either something in this mountain producing a strong electromagnetic field that was affecting the circuits, or it was possible our local star might be sending out EMP bursts with solar flares.”
Jon nodded. “I've heard that solar flares from Sol often played havoc with sensitive circuits, but that the Earth's magnetosphere usually shielded everything from all but the strongest of them.”
“Exactly,” Norman stated with a nod. “We were both leaning toward that cause, so he asked me to look into it. My PBJ has a relevant application for detecting electromagnetic activity, but due to the recent issues with the pigs, I hadn't had time to check it out.”
“Until now,” Jon guessed.
“Until now. There's been nothing to suggest there's anything in this mountain that would play funny with our stuff, but I have recorded a number of solar CMEs impacting our area. The mountain shields us for the most part, but the surrounding rock likely reflects some of it inside the cavern. This could be why only some of the electronics have been affected but not all.”
Jon frowned. “I understood most of that, but I'm not familiar with a CME.”
Norman smiled. “A CME is a colossal coronal mass ejection of electrons, ions and atoms by a star into space, and it appears that they might generate electromagnetic pulses when they hit Bonestell's magnetosphere. It's the EMP bursts that are hitting our electronics. The helix circuits are taking the brunt of it, and they're among the most well-protected of common electronics, but something with military-grade shielding would probably handle it okay.”
“What about radiation?” Jon asked. “Is that a concern?”
The black bear scratched his head and shrugged. “I dunno. Honestly, I'm no expert in this field. Most of what I've just told you comes from general high school knowledge and a little reading on my PBJ application. I would guess the radiation levels would depend upon how well the planet's magnetosphere shields us, but I haven’t tried using the colony Geiger counter yet.”
He waved a hand out toward the valley where Kristen and a few others were examining new flowering buds that appeared all over the branches of the trees with the black, twisted trunks that made up the majority of the little forest that surrounded the colony. It appeared to be a byproduct of the recent rains and cooler temperatures.
“We've found abundant life in our tiny little corner of this world,” he said, “from hardy creatures down to delicate microbes. Any regular bursts of radiation haven't seemed to have affected them harshly, but who knows how our different physiologies might handle it. It's my guess that we're in no physical danger from the solar flares, but our electronics may get the brunt of it. The question is, 'Are the flares a common recurrence or is there a solar cycle where this only happens once every few years or so?' Who's to say?”
Jon mused on the bear's words for a moment. “Well,” he said with a shrug of his own, “if what you're guessing at is true, and I have no reason to doubt your research, I don't know if there's anything we can do to protect our electronics if it's an ongoing phenomenon.”
“I may be able to put together a Faraday cage further back in the cave to house our smaller electronics when they're not in use, but I can't guarantee how well they'll be protected.”
Jon nodded. “Good, let me know if you need anyone’s help constructing it. Ultimately, if that doesn't work, we've already had training back on Earth on how to survive using more primitive means and we may have to fall back on them – like we've already started to do using the salt to preserve our meat in the cool cavern as an alternate means of using these freezers.”
He looked up toward the ceiling of the cave as if peering up into the sky. “Y’know, it all makes sense, somehow. The satellite left in orbit from the original colony was out of commission when we got here. If solar CMEs such as the ones you described were common occurrences, it may be no wonder the satellite had to be replaced when we arrived.”
“It makes me ponder how long we'll have this one in operation,” Norman remarked. “Even if nothing happened to us, Earth might think they'd lost us like the first colony if they lose contact with Second Chance.” The bear looked as if he’d had a sudden clarity of thought and added, “You know, that could explain what happened to the Ferdinand Magellan. An EMP at the wrong time could have knocked out all their communications with Earth. Maybe they landed as planned, but just couldn’t call back home!”
Jon blinked. “An interesting conjecture,” he mused aloud, “but there’s a couple things wrong with that scenario. If they’d landed as planned, we would have found signs of the colony right here in our little valley, which was to be their home site too. Like the Meriwether Lewis that brought us here, the ship was only supposed to land long enough to deposit the colonists and their goods and then it was to return to Earth. That never happened, bad communications or not.”
“Ah well, it was just a thought.”
“Nevertheless, I should probably forward your hypotheses to Stockholm, just in case our satellite is taken out by a solar EMP, so they'll know that it doesn't necessarily mean something's happened to us and not to abandon all hope for Bonestell if the com goes quiet.”
Norman closed his clamshell device and tucked it under an arm. “You know, it might come to that anyway,” he said. “We're supposed to be here as an advance presence to pave the way for a portion of humanity to later move away from Earth. If mankind can't use their precious electronics on this world, they may not wish to come here.”
“Well, look at it this way,” the cougar remarked with a wry expression, “we wouldn't have to worry about this planet becoming overcrowded. Perhaps it will appeal to the pioneer types who prefer a low technological life.”
“Either that or it could become a dumping ground for Furs that couldn't make it anywhere else in the AHCP's grand scheme of things,” Norman mused.
Despite his personal feelings that the pigs would probably leave them alone now, Jon was still reluctant to leave the cavern unguarded, but he wanted all twenty-six remaining colonists present at the town hall meeting he'd called for all personnel. Originally, he had intended to hold it inside the Great Dome, but if the pigs did choose to attack again at that time, he didn't want everyone trapped inside. Instead, he had everyone set up their chairs out in the open cavern so that if anything did come at them, they'd have the ability to scatter to some kind of safety. Along those lines of thought, he'd had Manny arm several of the Furs around the perimeter of the group just in case.
Idle conversations faded when he stood up and faced everyone and after a moment, everybody was looking at him expectantly. Everyone was there, including those who were injured. He glanced aside at Kristen, who merely gave him a silent nod, and then he cleared his throat.
“We have some things to discuss,” he said with a brief look at the small paper notebook in his hands, “and I would like to begin with reports on our current operating status.”
Manny raised a hand and Jon nodded to the arctic fox.
“Although we've tried to conserve our ammunition since our arrival,” the fox began with a sour expression, “one of the domes the pigs destroyed was one we were using as our armory.” There were sudden grumbles and remarks, but Jon raised his hands for quiet. This was distressing news, something he'd been unaware of until just now.
“The guns that were in use during the attack are the only ones that survived,” Manny continued when he could speak over the other voices. “A ton or more of pig weight not only knocked over the remaining firearms, but stomped them through the decking of the dome and into the stone floor of the cave. Most of them were trampled, broken or bent all beyond my ability to repair, even though I’ve tried to cannibalize undamaged parts of one to attempt to fix another.” His frown deepened amidst a resurgence of conversation, but he continued.
“However…” he said, “most of the ammunition escaped damage. A bunch of it was scattered, but I've been able to gather it all up and I've been sorting them apart by caliber. Some of the cartridges were broken apart, but we still have the majority of what we had. We're down to six rifles, three shotguns, four pistols and one flare gun, but we have plenty of ammo for all of them. We lost only two of the compound bows and none of the arrows. Fortunately for them, they'd been stowed haphazardly behind some boxes instead of put away in the racks where they should have gone, but I'm not complaining this time since the rack was also destroyed.”
“What about the explosives?” Norman asked. Several of the Furs looked alarmed, unaware that they'd even had explosives among their manifest.
“Did you hear anything blow up during the attack?” Manny asked with a smirk directed at the bear. “Thankfully, the grenades and plastic explosives were undamaged. Had one of them gone off, we'd have probably lost the whole cavern!”
“We have that many explosives?” Jasmine exclaimed, her ears laid back with a wild look in her eyes.
Manny simply smiled back at her. “Probably not as much as you're imagining, but if any of them had set off in the midst of our ammunition, yeah, there would have been quite an event!”
The vixen's sister looked back at Jon in shock. “Why are we even storing that anywhere near our homes?” Dahlia asked.
Jon frowned, wondering the same thing himself. Without answering the vixen, he looked back at Manny. “Perhaps the armory should be moved further back inside the cavern,” he suggested.
“Sure,” said the arctic fox. “It'll take time and I'll need some help, but it will also make it farther to go to if we need to run for the guns in a hurry.”
“We can keep the guns and some of the ammo handy,” Jon remarked, “but it's probably best the bulk of it goes back into the cavern until it's needed. With luck, we won't need them again anytime soon.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
The mountain lion looked around the group. There were some looks of relief, others seemed genuinely surprised, but there were also a few dark expressions looking back at him. One of those belonged to Ivan. As soon as their eyes met, the fox cleared his throat.
“What do you mean, we won't need the guns again anytime soon?” Ivan demanded. “We're going after the pigs, aren't we?”
“No, we're not,” Jon said firmly. “I know all about the conversation a bunch of you had concerning your plans for revenge against the pigs, Ivan, and for the very reasons that were brought up then, you can drop that idea.”
The fox jumped to his feet and leveled a finger at the cougar. “See?” he said furiously to the crowd. “Just as we expected, he's too afraid to retaliate!” Voices erupted in support on both sides of the argument for both Ivan and Jon, some of them starting up their own arguments with one another.
The cougar waved his notebook in the air to get everyone's attention, but before all the voices died down he was already talking.
“The thunderpigs did not start the conflict — we did!” he said loudly. “We've killed an equal number of one another and it seems the pigs are satisfied with that. I'm no happier than you are that our friends have died in a conflict that could probably have been prevented, but the Furs of Earth are not going to mount a war against the native life forms!”
“We've got to eat!” Michael called out. “Are you forbidding us from killing anything to keep us fed? Our own livestock is going to run out pretty quick since we're all carnivores!”
“No,” Jon answered, “but we have to be more discerning before we indiscriminately kill off something. Some of us – Avon included – had already suspected the hogs here were far more intelligent than their cousins back home, and after the way they coordinated their delaying tactics with the ultimate attack, I believe it! Something dies so something else can live – that's a part of life anywhere - but that doesn't give us the right to eat anything we choose. We've found other animals we can safely eat that haven't acted as if we've personally assaulted their family trees.”
He looked around at the intense faces before him, keeping his own expression stern. “I know some of you want vengeance but as your captain, I'm forbidding it. We have neither the manpower nor the resources to mount any kind of a successful campaign. What we are going to do is continue to pick up the pieces to get our lives back in order.”
Others started grumbling again, but he continued as if he hadn't heard some of their comments. “From now on, the thunderpigs are off limits. Leave them alone and I'm fairly sure they'll leave us alone in return. If any of you still feel like arguing about it, see me in private, but I can assure you that I won't budge on this issue.” With a twinkle that touched only his eyes, he added, “Some of you already know how stubborn I can be.”
His face grew serious again when he looked around the crowd, but refrained from looking at any one person for any length of time. “For those of you I know of who think you can vote me out of my position, think again.” There were a few surprised looks at his knowledge of that discussion and Doctor Mochizuki suddenly looked uncomfortable.
“I can provide your PBJ with a copy of the bylaws and regulations set down by the Anthro Human Colonization Program and show you the legality of my appointment which is recorded in Stockholm. We're a long way from AHCP headquarters, but that doesn't lessen my authority any.”
The grumblings had subsided, but Jon knew it would take more than a few words to quell the need for retaliation for the loss of their friends. Deep down inside, he would like nothing more than to strike back himself. That was human nature, but he would have to make sure his new responsibilities to the safety of the colony were stronger.
Unwilling to let the current topic dominate the town hall discussion, he waved a casual arm and said, “Now, let’s move on. I need your reports on our current operating status.”
Also ready to get away from the hot topic, the Border collie adjusted the cowgirl hat between her floppy ears and raised her hand for attention. Jon nodded. “Cheryl?”
“We’ve recovered most of the livestock,” she said. “The remaining cattle, sheep, pigs, guineas and chickens are penned up again, though we’ll need to make better than jury-rigged repairs to the paddocks when we can. There’s been no sign of the horses, though. No one knows if they are still alive and roaming free on the prairie or if they’ve been killed and eaten by the pigs. They’ve been gone long enough they should have returned for food and shelter, but they haven’t.”
“We can live with the loss of a pig, chicken or a couple of sheep,” Jon said with a frown, “but losing the horses may present a bit of a hardship when we’ll need them in the spring to plow the gardens.”
“We can use some of the cattle for that,” Cheryl assured him, “and they can pull our carts as needed, but we won’t be able to ride any of them as mounts when we need them for travel.”
Another hand was raised and Jon gestured with his notebook. “Kris?”
“The entire garden area was already over-saturated with flood waters from the rain,” the lioness reported, “but after the pigs stormed through the middle of them, I would have to say it’s a complete loss. On the plus side, we had a good harvest a few days before the rain began and just about everything that could be picked has already been canned and in the pantry or packed away in the freezers. We won’t have any starter plants from the ruined gardens, but we’ve saved back plenty of seeds to plant more.”
“The fall growing season is longer here,” Kevin reminded everyone, “and although we’ve had colder weather lately, I can assure you that we’re still a few months away from actual winter conditions. As with the autumns back home, the weather and temperatures will go up and down at times before it starts cooling down toward the end of the season, so although it’s rainy and chilly now, we may still get more out of the gardens once we get everything replanted.”
“That’s good to know,” Alicia remarked with a smile toward the diminutive desert fox sitting near the middle of the seated Furs. “I was beginning to wonder if it was almost time for us bears to go into hibernation.” There were a few lighthearted chuckles at her words and Jon was glad to hear them. Although the Ursis Furs shared part of their DNA makeup with Terran bears, they had no need to hibernate through the winter, although some of them thought that would be the perfect way to make it through the coldest months. Why suffer through trying to stay warm when one could sleep right through it all?
“Speaking of putting food in the freezers,” Norman said, “we’ve been able to keep them all going despite the EMPs that have disabled some of our electronics. We may have to keep an eye on them to be sure, though.”
“EMP?” Jenni repeated.
Norman nodded and gave a brief explanation, telling them all what he’d described earlier to Jon. Without any way of knowing for sure, everyone seemed to accept his theory on why some of their things were erratic in operation.
“In the meantime, I’m in the process of gathering material like the galvanized trash cans and other scrap metal to build a Faraday cage further back in the cavern to keep our electronics in,” the black bear told them. “There, we can store our PBJs and other devices until they’re needed – you know, to look up data on how to repair the stove, find medical procedures and the like, and then we should use them only long enough to get what we need from them. The helix circuits in the kitchen appliances, the solar power station and our other high-tech devices that are too large to shield will just have to take their chances. With luck, the solid rock of the mountain and the metal cage will help protect further damage to everything else.”
“Until we’re sure this is the cause of the problems,” Jon added, “Sissy has recommended that we use the supply of paper notebooks to record your notes on the things we discover here on Bonestell.” He held up the pad in his hands and said, “I know this is an old-fashioned way of doing things, but right now it’s the only way to be sure we won’t lose the knowledge we gain here. You can still use your PBJs for other things as long as they remain in operation, but don’t trust them to keep permanent information.”
“What about the letters and vids we send back to Earth?” Erin asked.
“As long as the equipment works, I see no reason to stop,” Jon said. “I’ll be making periodic reports back to Earth and can still relay your data and personal messages when I do. Now, we’ve already started working up alternatives to some of our equipment should they fail. Storing meat back in the cave that’s protected by the cool temperatures and a covering of salt to keep bacteria out is one such alternative to a nonworking freezer. We’ll need other options like this as a contingency should we lose something else. If the solar power collector goes out, we’ll need a substitute for the lamps in the cavern and maybe even an alternative fuel for the stoves. We have lots of data to look over stored on the PBJs as long as they work for us, but you all have brains to retain information too. We may have to revert to more primitive methods as a backup plan, so keep that at the back of your mind.
“We’re already using primitive toilet outhouses,” Hank remarked with a snicker. “Do we have a backup plan in case those stop operating?”
“Then you can answer the mystery that’s plagued mankind for centuries,” Michael said, “about bears going in the woods!”
Jon chuckled along with everyone else, but he waved his notebook again. “Any other reports?”
Kristen looked across the crowd at Jasmine, who had given her a great amount of help with what they’d done since their arrival. “I might recommend putting the new garden area further away from the lake, so we won’t have such a big issue with flooding,” she said.
“I think that’s a good idea,” the red vixen agreed. “Perhaps over to the southwest part of the valley nearer the forest.”
Jon nodded. Even if the pigs had never attacked, losing the gardens to periodic flooding would have prompted such a change anyway. Perhaps there might even be a way to build up the shores of the lake so that runoff would follow the little river instead of spreading out over the valley floor. It would be a lot of work, but would give them all something to do once they started something of that nature. He’d have to discuss it with others with more of a mind to engineering.
“Anyone else?” No one else spoke up, so after a moment the cougar nodded. “Okay, now that we’ve covered the priorities, I need to bring our attention back to the reason for all this. Despite our difference in opinions about how things should be handled with the pigs, we still have a few fallen friends to pay our respects to. Now that the rains have stopped and the clouds are breaking up, we’ll take time out of our activities an hour after sunup tomorrow morning to bury Wendy and Gerard and then have a memorial service for them and Avon.”
The crowd became totally quiet and he looked around at them all. “I’m no expert in such matters, so the service will be informal. I’ll say a few words over each of them and then anyone who wishes may say something in their honor. Afterward, we’ll need to return to work to continue getting the colony back in order. In addition to the gardens and the corrals, we’ll also need to rebuild the bridge across the river. We’ll need everyone’s help, so if I or someone else asks for your assistance, please give it to them.”
“Jon, come with me and look at what’s happened during the night.”
The cougar rubbed the crust from his sleepy eyes and sat up on the side of the bed he shared with Kristen. The lioness was already up and dressed, and the expression on her face was one of excitement. He’d felt a sudden sense of dread at her words wondering what had happened, but the delight in her eyes softened the feeling. He slipped into a pair of dark green furman shorts and a white tee shirt, and then allowed her to lead him by the hand to the mouth of the cavern.
They stopped beside Chieko at the smoldering fire ring and the red panda pointed out toward the forest that surrounded the valley with a grin. There in the midst of the red, yellows and browns of the autumn hues on the local deciduous trees, there was a color that seemed decidedly out of place. Although the forest contained a great many different types of trees and shrubs, nearly half of the forest was made up of trees with black, twisted trunks, and now each of them were suddenly abloom with hand-sized, cornflower-blue flowers. Some had white centers and others had bright yellow centers. They seemed to be everywhere and the little forest had virtually erupted in their blueness all around.
This in itself was something to instill delight in his botanist mate, but that was not the only new thing to grace their little valley. Moving with heavy footsteps were several large deer-like creatures they’d never seen before. Most were grazing upon the new blue flowers, but others were wading out into the lake to feed on underwater plants.
Standing at nearly seven feet tall at the shoulder, the new creatures had large, elongated heads with long droopy ears. Prominent nose flaps clamped tight over the nostrils of those in the lake when they dipped their heads completely under the water. The males and females were distinctive in size and genitalia, though they all possessed a single long horn that grew straight out of their heads in line with their spines. It was a solitary antler of sorts, splitting off into a few small jutting spikes at their tips. There was no young among them; the herd consisted of almost thirty mature animals that Jon could see.
Their tails were nothing more than a nub and the legs were long and spindly. They had hair so black that it almost had a blue sheen, but when the morning sunlight hit some of them just right, they could see dark and light vertical stripes. Several looked up at the interested Furs that were gathering in the mouth of the cavern, but they showed no fear of the Terran predators.
The mountain lion felt a gentle touch at his arm and he looked down into the dark eyes of the red panda.
“Jon,” she said quietly with hesitation, “I was the first to see these animals this morning. May I name them?”
“Of course,” he said with a smile. “Do you have something in mind?”
She looked back down at the ones in the lake and nodded. “Yes, I would like to call them ‘kirin deer’ based upon similar creatures in Japanese folklore. It is not the same creature, but it was the first thing I thought of when I saw them.”
“I think it’s a good choice,” Kristen said from Jon’s other side. “Do you think they’re migrating south to warmer temperatures?”
“That would be my guess,” the panda replied. She gestured toward those in the forest. “We have not seen these creatures before now, but it seems their arrival has coincided with the blooming of the blue flowers. This may not necessarily be a coincidence.”
“Take note of the date and we’ll see if they do this again next year,” Jon suggested.
Kristen looked up at him with a smirk. “I thought you said we didn't need calendars here,” she reminded him.
“Okay, that's your job now,” he said without hesitation at her jibe. “You can figure out a calendar based upon our new days and months. Just be sure to mark First Day and this event too.”
The lioness chuckled. “As the colony historian, Sissy has already created one! I'll let her tell you about it later.”
As they watched, Cheryl emerged from the barn dome and then she stopped and stared as one of the kirin deer approached the corral fence. Only a few feet away, it gazed back at her for a moment in indifference. The large male sniffed the frame of the fencing, gave it a tentative lick with a huge black tongue, and then turned quietly back toward the forest to harvest a few more tree blooms. The Border collie scratched the brown hair beneath her hat and watched the animal go.
“Do you think we’ll be okay having the burial service out in the woods with those things around?” Kristen asked in a whisper.
Jon shook his head. “I don’t see why not. That one didn’t appear to be threatened by Cheryl’s presence, so I’m guessing as long as we don’t get them stirred up, they’ll go about their business eating all the new tree blooms.”
Twenty-six Furs stood before four wooden markers that Alicia had made from bits of split wood from the ruined river bridge. The names of each had been painstakingly burned into the wood and were tapped into the ground at the head of each grave. Wendy and Gerard were wrapped up in the blankets each had slept in upon their beds and had been reverently laid to rest beneath the forest floor beside Rose’s grave. Since they had been unable to retrieve Avon’s body, a small box containing the remains they’d found was also buried beneath a marker erected for him. Hanging upon each marker was their identification dog tags.
When it came time to speak a few words of honor, there were only a few who had the strength in them to say anything. When all had become quiet, Jon knelt down at the head of Avon’s marker and appeared to be in prayer for a moment before he looked up at the others gathered around.
Several of the kirin deer were nearby, munching contentedly on the twist-oak flowers, totally ignoring the mismatched pack of predators that had made no move to hunt any of them since their arrival.
“Every colony sent to a new world goes with the knowledge that dangers may exist,” Jon said quietly. “In spite of this knowledge, it’s never easy when friends are lost, no matter the cause. Rose, Wendy, Gerard and Avon all had hopes and dreams of a new life upon this particular world and each of them did their part to pave the way for others who may come at a later time. Since Second Chance is the first colony of mixed species, the losses are especially poignant, as there are fewer of each kind of us.”
The cougar stood up, putting his hands behind him, and although he had never served in a military service, it felt natural to stand in a parade-rest stance. “However,” he continued after a moment of reflection, “the rest of us still live and we will do all we can to make this venture a success. We may have changes to make in order to ensure the survival of the colony, but we’re flexible and can do them as needed. In the meantime, we will honor our fallen friends, but I want to make a suggestion regarding our captain, Hiamovi Avonaco.
“Avon was gentle by nature, but he could be gruff and stand tall and immovable when he needed to be. He stood over us and every decision he made was for the good of his people. He may have been Ursis, but he never played favorites between our four species, seeing all of us as one family. At this time, I would like to set above us a symbol of the man who was not only our leader, but was the largest of us all. His big heart and big shadow are reflected in the mountain that has been sheltering us all since our arrival.”
Although they were under the trees of the forest, they could still see the silhouette of the mountain through the treetops that had already started losing their leaves in the season of fall. Jon looked up at the smallest peak at the end of the range of mountains that rose up above this land.
“I would like to honor our captain’s memory by designating our cavern home in the Hiamovi Mountain Range on the maps as Avonaco Mountain for as long as Terrans are present upon Bonestell.”
There were no objections at all to either suggestion, so Sissy made note of the new geological names in the colony history.
The walk back out of the forest to the valley clearing was quiet and somber. Each Fur was left to his or her own thoughts and walking was more out of habit than cognizant thought. Without conscious decision on anyone’s part, the whole group was down on all fours, padding quietly through the detritus covering the ground.
When they left the cover of trees, the morning sunlight was streaming down into the valley and the air was warmer than it had been in days. The lil-deer had spread out over the soft grasses that had somehow retained its greenness in the recent cold weather, some intermingled among the legs of the larger kirin deer.
Someone suddenly stopped in front of Jon and he bumped into her tail. When he looked up, someone else said, “Whoa, what’s that?”
Jon looked up facing the cavern and saw there was some kind of creature standing alone just inside the shadows. Everyone from the colony was with him, so a sudden chill went up his spine and the tip of his tail began to lash behind him.
What new critter had found their cavern home? With the morning sunlight in their eyes, the creature was little more than a four-footed silhouette, but then there was a soft cry from behind him and sudden rush as a she-wolf ran full out toward the trail up to the cave.
It was only then that Jon guessed who the mystery figure must be. The gyrocopter was nowhere in sight, but Carl had returned.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
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