Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sept 28 764 AT, McHugh Regio, Tierra del Fuego

This entry is written in the high dry plains, in a barely habitable camp far from anywhere. For a hab-born girl like me, these wide-open planetary spaces are a little daunting; but wearing the tight, restrictive Stevens pressure suits gives one an almost reassuring feeling of claustrophobia amongst the immense landscapes.

Earlier today Ellie and I were working near the new landing strip built to supply a fusion generator which hasn’t yet been built. The concrete foundations and a few dome-huts are all that exist at this location; the parts for the generator will arrive in a week or two, shipped in by the long-winged freight aircraft that the Fuegans tend to use on this world. I've noticed that they tend to use their gigantic dirigible balloons for short trips, but the balloons are seldom used as transport to Atagonia Regio, because it is more than 2000 kilometers from our location

At least I'm not alone on these empty plains. We have about twenty Starlark colonists, plus a half-dozen Stevens clones led by Cora-Swift. As in any settlement, there are also a dozen mindless robots of all sizes that keep getting in everyone’s way. These were already present when we first showed up, having been shipped in to build the landing strips. A couple of Stevens robot specialists have come along to maintain these machines; they are Peters, apparently, a clone I haven’t seen before, but they keep themselves apart from the rest of the tiny settlement.

Every day or two another freight plane arrives, usually bringing more robots or a few scraggy looking colonists, and generally inadequate food supplies. We do at least obtain our own water here, from a salty borehole, which has to be purified before we can use it. The agridomes have not yet been inflated, as we haven’t enough water for food production yet. For some reason the torrential rains that plague the lowlands have passed this region by; but that is supposed to change after the next few comets hit the ground. Cora-Swift doesn’t seem to know when that will be; they may not arrive for several years.

Some cracks appeared in the rough roadway between the landing strip and the site for the planned fusion plant; Ellie went out to inspect the surface, to make sure it would be safe when the first heavy components arrived by plane in a day or two. I came along to give a second opinion. We’ve both worked on Mars, long ago, and seen this kind of damage before, although the gravity is quite a bit heavier here, and neither of us is all that familiar with structural behaviour in high-gravity conditions. Between us we had just about decided that some repair work was required (on Mars we probably could have gotten away with it) when the largest excavator bot suddenly appeared at the top of the slope. Without even slowing down, the dumb machine launched itself down the narrow roadway towards us.

We were trapped, halfway down the sloping roadway, with sheer walls of excavated rock on either side. The machine should have recognised us as vulnerable humans, and stopped as soon as it saw us; the robot excavators were always doing that at inappropriate moments. But this time the machine just came onwards at full speed. We started to run downhill, pulled by the Fuegan gravity faster and faster. Ellie was faster than me; she had my body, but it was much more than a decade younger. At every step I feared that I would break an ankle, or a knee, or stumble and crack my faceplate; the impact of my foot hitting the gravelly surface shot up each leg in turn, and I was running much faster than I wanted to but I couldn’t stop. Until that point I was convinced that I’d become accustomed to the higher gravity on this world- now I knew I was wrong.

Finally we came to the level ground, where the side-walls of the roadway opened out. We threw ourselves aside, and the huge robot lumbered past with its many digging arms bouncing up and down heedlessly. One of its camera-eyes looked right at me for a split second- long enough for its identification routines to kick in – but the eye flicked away with no sign of recognition.

Shaken, we radioed in a report to the settlement; Cora-Swift came and personally helped me back to the barracks, anxiously asking for details of the incident. The Peters came out, and ignoring us, opened various hatches on the bot and started their own investigation. Ellie and I had a precious shower, to wash the stink of fear off us; a minute’s worth of water was all we could have, and the run-off went straight into the ‘grey-water’ tank. Cora-Swift remained with us during our shower, still solicitous of our welfare.
“You poor chicken,” she kept saying, in her strangely anachronistic accent.

Ellie seemed suspicious of the way the Stevens woman tended to me, toweling me dry afterwards like an invalid; but I was grateful, and no doubt flattered. Later Elie said to me, "She's refta your saa, cousin." Damn stupid backslang.
I said "And your problem is?" It seems that someone in this harsh, inhospitable world, has decided to take an interest in me.

Outside, in the planet’s dark night, the Peters are still working on the excavator bot. Something doesn’t seem quite right there, but I am too tired to try to figure it out.

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