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NaNoWriMo 2006 — Chapter Three

Chapter Three

The first shift took their positions in pairs. Arthur Bradford was paired with Zeke Jefferson.

“What sort of work did you do in Torthúil?” Arthur asked the younger man.

“I was a weaver. Baskets and stuff.” Zeke grabbed a hunk of grass, bending it back and forth to test it. “If the grass is like this stuff where we end up, I should be able to work with it. And you? What did you do?”

“I was a teacher. Before that I was in building construction.”

Zeke looked at the older man more closely. “Um, can I ask you something personal?”

“OK.”

“Well, I’m not good at ages. Were you born … here?”

Arthur heard the same question each year from his students. “Yes. My parents were born on the space station. They were kids when they landed here. I’m way too young to have been born there.”

Zeke was fascinated, and alert. He also wanted to avoid any questions about his relationship with Amy — since her husband was supposed to be here, not her lover. “Your grandparents … were they …?”

“No, they weren’t in the mutiny party. They were simply trapped along with everyone else. That’s all my parents would tell me. They wouldn’t tell me why the mutiny party refused to return to Earth when they were supposed to, or why they didn’t just stay in space. I did hear once, though, that the space station people were primarily scientists and so they didn’t have the experience to overthrow Wilson’s group.” Arthur sighed. He did wonder sometimes what it would be like to grow up on Earth. His grandparents didn’t talk about it much when he was a child, and they died when he was very young.

Suddenly Debit and Credit were standing, their fur equally erect. All of the guards noticed right away, and held their weapons pointing outward, although they couldn’t see anything. It was the time between the moons, and so the only light aside from the stars came from their fires. Unfortunately, all the fires did was make them easy to spot. They made it harder to see at a distance.

Arthur looked at the dogs and faced the direction they faced – which happened to be toward the mountains. He moved sideways away from the fire, as Zeke watched to protect him. Eventually he was in an position to see pairs of glowing eyes. He counted three pairs. These could be native animals, or descendants of some experimental hybrid, or … no real way to know. He returned to his position with Zeke.

“There’s some sort of animals out there. Three, I’m guessing, but of course there’d be a lot more somewhere.”

Zeke shivered. “What do you suggest we do?”

“Well, if we just sit here, it may make us look like supper. I think if there are guards circling our perimeter, we’ll be safer. We can take turns. One of each pair can go to the next fire pot. Like this. I’ll go over to that spot. When I get there, one of them will move on. When someone gets here, eventually, you move on to the next spot. Got it?”
“I think so. But won’t that make me alone for a long time?”

“Hmm. Well maybe if those guys on the other side see what’s happening, they’ll catch on. Then you won’t be alone for long.”

The movement of the patrolling colonists kept the animals away for the night. In the morning everyone ate, and the camp was packed. Harris Cambridge led his group onward, toward the mountains, but mindful of the fact that there were animals of some sort ahead.

“We should be heading away from the animals! We don’t know what they are, or how dangerous they are.” Fr. Casey was much more used to being a leader than a follower.

Harris sighed. “Right. In our case, that’d be like walking around the long way to avoid a grocery store. If there are animals ahead that think we’re edible, then they’re edible to us as well! Our food won’t last forever.” He tried not to look at the priest. How did he manage to end up with one whose idea of roughing it was to open his ice box himself? But colonists weren’t screened as rigorously as they were in the beginning. Really, as long as you weren’t a direct descendant of Thadden Wilson or his mutinous group, you were accepted for the trip. Too bad.

The group of two hundred trudged along a second day – their first full day – without incident. It was a remarkably boring day, without change of scenery or activity. On the plus side, the weather was nice, and it was easy enough to avoid being with people you found distasteful.

The following morning, Sr. Matthias was the first to notice it. “What’s that? Ahead of us?” she asked of no one in particular. Sleepy eyes turned toward the mountains where she was pointing.

“Trees, silly.” January looked at the nun, who was perhaps her age. She just didn’t understand the whole nun thing. This one couldn’t be all that bright if she didn’t know trees when she saw them! Maybe that explained … well….

“I know they’re trees! But why are there so many of them? And why are they so close together?” More people started to look. That really was an awful lot of trees, not just the occasional tree here or there.

Arthur Bradford broke the silence. “I’ll bet I know where those mystery animals live.”

NaNoWriMo 2006 — Chapter One

Chapter One

Daria looked at her sister’s family, clustered in the living room. “We can only take three of the kids with us.” She turned to her husband for support.

“Three. I’m sorry. That’s all we can afford, what with the cost of the passage on top of raising them afterwards. But we will take three.” With that, Ricardo Blake excused himself and went into the kitchen to put the tea on.

The children looked back and forth between their mother and their aunt. Finally their eyes settled on their mother. The final decision would be hers. The small woman cleared her throat, not returning her children’s gazes. “I can’t do this.”

Just then, Ricardo returned with the copper tea tray. However, on the tray were eight cups up-side down but no tea. He motioned to one of the children to approach. The 12-year-old boy brushed the curls out of his eyes slightly and approached his uncle. “Pick a cup, Raúl.” The boy turned over a cup. A black wooden knight fell out. Ricardo nodded at his nephew, who stepped aside slightly. Raúl then motioned to his siblings.

Luz was next. She carefully turned over the sturdy mug as if it were the finest china. Pawn. She went and sat back down by her mother. Each child took a turn, by age. Esperanza, white knight. Carlos, pawn. Manolo, pawn. Diego, pawn. Marta, pawn. Julio, knight. It was decided.

Raúl’s mother stifled a cry. “I’ll bring them tomorrow with their things. If that’s ok. That’ll give you time to get the paperwork done.” She got up to leave, but turned around after a few steps. Daria went over to her sister and they held each other. Then the children and their mother wordlessly left.

Ricardo went back into the kitchen and got the actual tea things this time. As he poured the hot tea, he mused aloud. “I’m not so sure about this. What if they don’t let us take the kids with us? And even if they do, really, what are we doing?”

“We’re giving them a better life. And helping the ones left behind as well. Really. Besides, we are a family already.”

“But are you sure Father Orlando will do this?”

“It’s all arranged. Tomorrow we take Raúl, Esperanza, and Julio to the church and have them baptized. We’ll be listed as their parents, and the baptismal document will be enough. They don’t check that closely any more. As long as the tickets are paid for, they don’t care!” Daria sighed and took another drink of her tea.

Ricardo got up and sat next to his wife. He put his arm around her and held her close. “You’ll see. Everything will be okay. We’ll have a family, and a new life. For all of us. Really. We’ll be fine.”

***

“For our Sisters who are about to embark on a journey, that they travel in safety, we pray to the Lord.”

“Lord, hear our prayer,” responded the congregation. While some actually looked like nuns, with veils and various styles of habits, others looked like perfectly ordinary women. Each of these had quite a firm opinion about this trip, as well as the three who were chosen to undertake it.

Sr. Damian glanced around the Motherhouse chapel.  It was hard to believe that soon she’d be traveling with only two other sisters, and never see the rest of her religious family again.  Not that she was close to all of them; there were certainly members of her community who drove her up the
wall.
In fact, there was a time when she thought that Sr. Gregory was so pompous that … no, she shouldn’t think those things in chapel. Plus, she’d have to put the past behind her; Sr. Gregory was one of the chosen. The third was Sr. Matthias. She was pretty young, and it was a surprise that she’d be going along. She certainly hadn’t been in the community very long – only a decade or so. But that’s who the Superior General picked, and that was that. Sr. Damian put her Office book away and followed the trail of sisters to the refectory.

***

Mitch rolled over and looked at his wife. He was really surprised, actually, that she’d agreed to embark on this journey. They hadn’t been that close lately, but he knew the trip would be just the ticket to get their marriage back on track. It was already beginning to work, and they hadn’t even left yet. But now she was taking more interest in her appearance and had even started wearing perfume again. Not that he actually cared for that scent, but it was nice to know she was making an effort!

***

“No, you’re not taking the dogs! I have the list right here of what we’re allowed to take, and it doesn’t mention dogs.” Louise looked at her 16-year-old son, knowing what was coming.

“Well, it doesn’t say we can’t take them either, does it? And dogs might come in handy! Keep us safe, and all that.”

“And warm,” added his sister. “If it turns out to be colder than we think, the dogs can at least sleep with us!”

“Fine. You go down to the office tomorrow and get permission. I have too much to do before we leave.”

“But what if we just happen to have them with us? Once they see the dogs, they’ll see the wisdom of having them with us, and they won’t refuse us.” Mike looked back at Michelle. They were good at this, from years of practice.

“Plus, if they decide to turn the dogs away, they’ll have to take them themselves. It’ll be too late for us to make arrangements for them!” Michelle noticed an older man enter the room. “Grandpa, tell mom we need to take the dogs with us!”

“Actually, I was thinking of that myself, honey. We don’t know what we’ll find once we get there, or even along the way. The earlier colonists didn’t exactly send back postcards. And if they didn’t bring any dogs at all, then our two dogs will mean … well … that we’ll have dogs there.” Arthur Bradford had grown rather fond of Debit and Credit himself in the past two years.

***

“How will we feed them? Once we get across the Bay of Sorrows, provided we all survive that nightmare, we’re facing the unknown the rest of the trip. But I’m willing to bet we’re not going to run across any stores.”

Arthur had thought some of this out already. “We’re going where some colonizing parties have gone before us, but not so many that they would’ve already killed off all the wildlife. These were bred to be hunting dogs, in spite of what your husband named them!”

“Well, you guys have to work out the dogs thing yourself. I have too much to do getting the rest of us ready!”

***

January Peterson looked again at the list in her hand. She already had the paperwork saying she’d passed the physical and gotten all her shots. Her outstanding debts were paid off, and being single meant she didn’t need a consent affidavit from a spouse. The packing was going to be the hard part – deciding what to take along and leave behind. She only had one crate she could fill, aside from what she could carry herself. Tomorrow she’d see if she could find out if anyone else single was going; perhaps they could travel together and only bring one set of cooking utensils to share, freeing up space for both of them.

***

Fr. Casey looked around. Packing would be the easy part. He just hoped the nuns in the travel party knew how to make communion hosts! Surely he had instructions for that somewhere. Too bad these weren’t diocesan nuns. He had no say in who was chosen. There was nothing he could do about that now. As long as they understood the need to take care of the priest – cooking, cleaning, etc., then he’d be free to do his important work. There was some Protestant pastor coming along as well. Jim something. Kiesling. Well, as long as he stuck to his own people and didn’t get any ideas about collaboration, there wouldn’t be any problems.

***

Harris Cambridge looked at his list. He divided them into Families, Singles, and Others. The nuns and priests were Others. Tomorrow when they all met, he’d have to get the names of the three Blake kids. Including himself, there were 200 people in this travel party, as there had been in the earlier ones. He just hoped he had the skills and good luck to lead them all. Once they found the previous colonists, they’d have to decide if they wanted to join them or start their own town. Of course, that would depend in part on how many survived the trip.

NaNoWriMo 2006 — Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Harris smoothed his mustache, and then stuck two fingers in his mouth to whistle. On the third try, the everyone in the huge room was silent. “Right. May I have your attention please?” It wasn’t a useful question, as every eye was already on him, finally. He still paused another moment.

“Right. On behalf of the Ministry of Colonization, I welcome you. My name is Harris Cambridge. I’ll be your guide and leader on this journey.” He looked at the singles and groups before him, none of whom were mingling with anyone else. “Time will pass quicker than you think. Very soon we will be leaving for the unknown. Before you leave, Secretary Capobianco will give you a new checklist to help you make sure you’ve not forgotten anything. Please give him your paperwork that you should have with you, including your certificate of health and immunization from your doctor, your spousal release, and your financial paperwork.

“Do not put anything in your crate that you will need immediately. One of your carrying bags should include a blanket, a canteen, and food. And of course personal hygiene items. Oh. And might I suggest that you get to know at least a few of your traveling companions before we go? That’s the other reason for being here tonight. When we go into the next room, you’ll notice that each table is set for ten people. This will give you a chance to talk to others before we leave. Enjoy your meal! If I don’t get a chance to talk to you sooner, I’ll see you at the dock on Saturday morning.”

With that he made a little bow and headed toward the door at the far end of the room. The silence ended as people followed him to the next room to eat dinner.

***

Saturday morning was dawning grey as the people arrived on the Bay of Sorrows docks. Their crates were labeled and taken aboard ship as the people were checked off on clipboards for the last time. No news reporters nor photographers were here; this wasn’t a big deal any more. Groups left, no one heard from them again, and life went on. One could only hope they were living happily ever after somewhere.

Harris Cambridge stood guard as a ship’s captain would. The captain himself was having a stiff drink. He didn’t mind traveling around the world for months at a time, but he’d never heard a good thing about traveling across this Bay to the other side. Ships were lost or destroyed on the short trip. The distance would only seem to require a few hours to cross, but legend said it would take nearly a day, and it wouldn’t be a very happy day.

The legends were right, of course. Dense fog, choppy seas, some lightning and thunder for special effects, gusts of heavy rain and high winds – it was basically a nasty trip. No one died, though, and aside from strong damage to the sails, the ship survived the passage fairly well. Nevertheless, the colonists (and dogs) were delighted to reach land.

Apparently an earlier group had rigged a dock of sorts – out of what looked very much like the remains of their ship. That was actually the only sign of human life when they reached land. The ship was emptied of crates, people, wagons, pack animals, a few dogs and cats, and small firearms. The burly seamen loaded the crates onto the wagons and harnessed the animals. Then the ship left, and the people stood there a moment, looking around.

Harris was tempted to just have the people remain where they were, and build a town here at the port of entry. It could become a rich town as trade was begun with their nearby homeland and all future travelers passed through here.. and yet … the pull of exploring the unknown won out, as it had with the previous colonists apparently.

Looking to the south and southeast, the guide saw mountains in the distance. “Right. Well, let’s aim for those, then.” He pulled a paper out of his pocket and consulted it.

“I have a schedule here, a chart for guiding the animals, making the cooking fires, standing guard at night, and all that. This should keep it simple while we’re on the road.” He looked around. “Well, while we’re on the move then. Right. Let’s go.”

Soon everyone was sorted and the trek began.  It took nearly half an hour for the novelty and excitement of being an explorer to wear off.  Being a colonist sounded a whole lot better when one could envision the colony itself.  The idea of traipsing across wild land with no amenities was quite a different story.  It didn’t help that the mountains made no effort to appear closer, no matter how long the group traveled that day.

“Beer.”

“What?”  Daria switched Julio to her other hip and looked at her husband.

“I could really use a nice, cold beer right now.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”  She looked over at Ricardo and shook her head.  A nice bubble bath and a hot cup of tea, on the other hand, would be fabulous.  Not only was indoor plumbing a distant memory that probably wouldn’t be repeated in her lifetime, but the luxury of a hot soak in the tub was usually reserved for the childless.  She now had three children to take care of, and once the novelty of being away from the rest of their family wore off, they’d be as whiny as everyone else’s kids.

Sr. Damian trudged along with Sisters Matthias and Gregory.  They’d been well trained to never complain, but hiking in a full habit just wasn’t the least bit comfortable.  On the plus side, she’d be warmer at night than those dressed in ordinary clothes.  Somehow it never occurred to her that there would be no road here, at all.  Not even a decent path.  The terrain simply looked as her own country must have at some point.  It was really weird to imagine that what she was doing wasn’t all that different from what the original settlers to this planet did.  Only the original colonists had been the cream of their home planet, in theory.  Now the group she was with were simply those people who were willing to make the trip and could afford the fee.

Each had their own reasons for making the journey, of course.  Sr. Gregory was loud and clear in her proclamations that she was going to spread the Gospel, making sure no area of this new world was without her religion.  Sr. Matthias was young and needed adventure, still — especially since most of the other sisters were older women.  As for Sr. Damian, the trip gave her a purpose, even if it was a minor one.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to continue living the way she had been, but the rules for leaving had been written when everyone in the Order lived on Earth.  She couldn’t exactly send a letter back to that planet to get a dispensation from her vows from a pope.  There wasn’t even any way of knowing if the position of Pope still existed!  It was easier in the end to just travel to a knew place and hope for the best.  Maybe the change of scenery, and the novelty of being actually needed, would help invigorate her.  If not, she could always take off for another colony.  How big could this place be, after all?  It shouldn’t be too hard to find another group, and to join them as a regular person.

The colonists ate on the move, pushing forward until it was nearly too dark to see.  Then the fire patrol made cooking fires and people cooked up whatever they’d brought with them that was perishable.

“Mr. Cambridge,” January addressed the leader, “I’m curious about something.” As most people were still strangers to each other and weren’t talking much yet, they turned their attention to the young-ish woman.

“Yes?”

“Well, it’s pretty clear that the groups before us just pushed ahead until the found some place, but we’re nowhere near any of those places, right? I mean, there’s no sign of civilization anywhere — no lights, fires, cooking smells, sounds — nothing to show people are here.”

“Right. They may have followed the coastline, or aimed for the mountains as we’re doing.”

“Well then,” January continued, “why isn’t this grassy stuff taller?”

“I beg your pardon? I don’t think I understand.”

“The grass. Why isn’t it taller? Isn’t this wild, untamed territory? No one here to cut the grass, plant gardens, make a sidewalk, etc. It’s been a year since the last group arrived. The grass should be pretty tall by then, after a year, shouldn’t it?”

The guide stared at her, his expression showing dawning comprehension.

“Really, this stuff is pretty short. We’ve had no problems walking through it.”

“Maybe there’s goats here, and they eat the grass,” piped up Raúl now-Blake. It seemed like a fairly logical conclusion to him.

“That’d take an awful lot of goats, to be eating all the grass from the Bay to here!” Amy squeezed the hand of the man sitting beside her. She didn’t really want to imagine what was actually eating the grass, but she was definitely glad that the man with her wasn’t Mitch. He would’ve been useless in danger, not to mention really boring to travel with. With Zeke she had a greater sense of being on an adventure together, and yet being protected.

“Well, if it’s animals eating this grass, we’d better keep an eye out for them! I’m surprised them dogs haven’t said anything!” Zeke squeezed Amy’s hand back.

“Still, that means an awful lot of grazing animals, and we haven’t seen any animals besides what we brought with us!” January didn’t want to be the only nervous person tonight. She really didn’t think they’d be safe tonight, but she was also hoping to hook up still with a man who was traveling alone, preferably one who had that protection instinct. “Surely, the food chain being what it is, that many grazing animals would mean predatory animals as well, wouldn’t it?”

“Unless the predatory ones already ate the grazers.” Jeff Wdowicki figured this would be a good time to enter the conversation. He’d been wondering what to talk to January about; now he had a handy topic. “But, of course, if the grazers were all already eaten, that’d leave hungry predators.”

Harris Cambridge was suddenly a lot more interested in the dogs, Debit and Credit. Perhaps they’d come in handy after all. He’d have to double the night watch, though, especially since his own fate was so intricately tied in with everyone else’s at the moment.

The night watch set itself up. “Mr. Cambridge?” Zeke was on the first shift, and looked at the weapon in his hands. “If we see some animal, are we expected to shoot it? Or wake everyone up? Or what?”

Harris sighed, but Arthur Bradford jumped into the conversation. “Do we have enough bullets? What if we use them all up tonight, or by tomorrow night? How will we survive after that?”

“One day at a time. Really. If something comes up, try to handle it. We have a long time ahead of us. And we need everyone to take their shifts, so they need enough sleep to be alert.”


NaNoWriMo 2006 — Prologue

“This isn’t going to work.” Doug lifted the body’s legs and looked at his companion. “They’re going to find out.”

“Yeah, but by the time they do, I’ll be long gone. That’s the whole point.”