Saturday Novel: Fountains of Mercy: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

Well, Peter Babenburg thought, studying the water system’s master plan for the thousandth time, we’ve finally got enough labor. I just wish to hell it hadn’t happened like this. Dear Lord, how I wish it hadn’t happened like this. The last of the refugees had streamed in that morning, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. They looked behind them with almost every step, as if afraid the very hounds of hell were on their tracks. No, just two-footed hellhounds, Peter sighed, rubbing tired eyes.

A meaty hand gripped his shoulder. “Easy there, Peter,” Arturo Montoya said. “Worry about the water and organizing supplies for the city. Let Ann, Martin, and I worry about defending the farms and everything else.”

Peter rubbed his eyes again, then ran his hand through thinning brown hair. “I am. Worried that is. We need a miracle.”

The former space marine colonel turned colonist grinned, white teeth shining against dark tanned skin. “We’ve had one already, Pete. Now it’s our turn to show our gratitude by doing the next bit ourselves, as best we can.”

He’s got a point, Pete told himself. Water and tunnels are your thing. Fighting is his. And Ann’s. And if you don’t get some sleep, you’ll nap through the next meeting and find yourself elected mayor or something equally horrible. “OK, I surrender. You keep the bad guys out and I’ll keep the water in.”

“Deal. Because I’ve seen what happens when you try to shoot. No offense but I’d be safer standing right in front of you than anywhere else.”

“Uh huh.” Pete straightened up and folded his arms. “And who was it that didn’t believe me when I said don’t drink from that spring, hmm? And how long did it take you to recover?”

The angry growl answered his question. Pete slapped Arturo on the shoulder and went to his napping room, just off the hall from the engineering offices. Only one out of every four lights shone, giving the long hall an air of depression and weariness, if a building could be weary.

After Pete finally got home late that evening and he and his wife put Pete Junior to bed, he poked at his supper and grumbled, “There’s something I need to do. I just can’t tell what it is.”

Cynthia shook her head and smiled a little. “Pete, love, Arturo’s right. Two years without being attacked is a miracle and you know it. Let him and Ann do their thing and we’ll do ours.”

“Mrgf,” he said around a mouth of beans and mystery meat. The tang suggested it came from the native pig-like species. Shit, Bettina and her mob will scream if they learn we’re eating the native fauna. But eating the wildlife beats starvation. Who’d have thought we’d reach this point so fast? Besides the marines—they always plan for the worst, and they’re rarely disappointed.

“Does it need salt?”

“No dear, it tastes fine. What’s the meat?”

“Pseudo-boar. I know,” she raised her hands, fending off complaints. “Can’t eat the natives, respect for all species, yes, yes. It was tearing up the vegetable plots so Martin Krehbiel shot it. This isn’t five years ago.”

Peter swallowed another bite. “Nope, it isn’t and our food comes before the native non-sapient fauna. And it doesn’t taste at all like chicken.” Actually, it tastes better than our pigs do. Five years has turned me into a xenovore. What will the neighbors say? Not that he really cared at that moment, not with his mouth full of good, hot food, his children safe, and his wife sitting at his side. Five years, only five years, and everything has turned upside down and inside out, and the Company failed us all.

 

Five years to the day before, he’d stood on top of a low ridge overlooking the new city, jaw agape, staring up at ferociously beautiful crimson and green curtains dancing and spinning, turning the night to day and hiding the moon. Spots of brilliant white light swooped up to the zenith, part of the waves of furiously energetic electrons. Gerald White and Don McAllen had stood beside him, watching the results of a powerful solar flare in stunned silence. Waves of light advanced and retreated, billowing like draperies in a breeze, or marching with the steps of ghostly soldiers, fading only to return even brighter. The hissing and popping from the sky almost drowned out the sound of blowing transformers in the hills behind them. “I don’t think we’ll be arguing over the water plan at the meeting tomorrow,” Gerald observed after some length of time.

“Nope.” Don agreed from the shadows. “Those are scary beautiful.”

“Yup.”

After several more awe-struck minutes Gerald sighed. “I hope we don’t get any forest fires from those transformers or from static on the wires.”

The shadow that was Don shook its head. “It’s plenty moist up here, and the trees are in good health. We should be fine. In the dark for a while, but fine. I’m starting to recall all those jokes about lowest bidder again, though.”

Pete grimaced, even as a little bit of him danced with glee, both for getting to see such an amazing aurora in person, and because his basic water system would keep running even without pumps and electrical switches. We’ll need to arrange for buckets or something from some of the low reservoirs, unless Don can jerry-rig a river-run pump for the moment, at least until we get power back up. Although having one in reserve might not be a bad idea, if the Company will allow it. He added it to his mental list.

He heard a large, loud yawn from beside him. “Scuze me,” Don said. “Short night last night.” The warning from the solar weather monitors had jolted everyone out of bed, even those who should have been left asleep.

“No argument here,” Pete agreed. They left Gerald oohing and aahing at the curtains of light and walked back to their work cabin, near the head of the main aqueduct feed tunnel’s final run into the city.

Pete’s antique desk watch rang all too early. They had a four-kilometer walk before they got to the city council building, and the meeting had been scheduled for 0800, solar storm or no solar storm. In a sane universe, the planning committee would cancel the meeting in order to deal with the problems caused by the storm. I wonder if I’ll live long enough for us to locate that universe? Pete mused. “I don’t suppose the rover is running,” Pete said, but only after watching Don gulp half a container of coffee-chocolate.

“No. And I don’t know if we have spares for the electronics.”

Pete grunted, shrugged, and finished tying his shoes. “Hope last night was it.”

“Last night wasn’t supposed to happen.” Don pulled his pocket computer out of its safety shielding and tapped it back to life. “Aaaannnd the water plan meeting is still on.”

“Oh for flap’s sake, that’s . . .” Pete heaved his middle-aged self to his feet, grabbed his rucksack and stormed out. Don slapped him on the back as he passed and locked the door behind them. They walked down the long, low ridge, squinting into the rising sun.

Long black, slow-moving shadows showed where farmers at the Rural Heritage Center complex and their families were already out working in the fields. Pete nodded. The presence or absence of electrically powered technology meant little to them. They’d come to Solana on what might have been the strangest transportation contract Pete’d ever heard of. In exchange for passage for themselves and their animals, they’d agreed to live without modern technology for ten years, using animal power and pre-petroleum fuels alone, with an exception for oil lamps. Some of them belonged to ancient religious sects, including Mennonite and a few he still didn’t understand. Others just wanted, well, Pete didn’t know. They provided color and atmosphere to go with the new city’s quasi-Earth-medieval design, something the colony’s sponsors encouraged. Maybe those stories that Colonial Plantation LTD really wanted this to be a continental park were true.

“So, what’s Bettina going to pull out of her . . ,” Don winked after they’d covered half the distance to the council buildings.

“I have no idea. I really don’t.” He thought for a few minutes as they walked, enjoying the cool spring morning air and listening to the sounds of birds, human voices, animal baas and moos, and harness bells.  At first the relative quiet had made him nervous: he’d been too used to city noises, to the constant tramp of people, human and otherwise, to the unending rumble of vehicles and construction. Now he relished the empty air of open green space and an unbuilt environment. Cynthia, born on an agricultural colony world, had adapted faster than he did. Their grown children preferred the bustle of Carmarlen and had not joined their parents’ move to Solana.

Pete shrugged. “She’ll have something to complain about. Probably that we failed to properly ground and protect the electrical grid, such as it is.” That’s why we always use the fail-safe thorium-sodium reactors for the first four generations at least. And one for each settlement. But not this time. No, the Board of Governors had decreed that the new city would have a reactor for electricity and would also supply the outlying settlements in the hills and on the other side of the Donau Novi River. What a silly name for a river.

“You engineering types are up awful early,” a morose voice observed. Pete smiled to see the lean shape of Professor Command Sergeant Major Martin Starhemburg standing in the shade of the grey “stone” blocks of the city wall.

“No rest for the wicked, but the righteous don’t need any,” Don called back. “What are you doing out? I thought fresh air made your hair fall out.”

“Helga’s cleaning. The light show got her all wound up and she decided to clean the house.” The retired academic gave them a pitiful look. “It’s safer outside the wall.”

“Really.” Pete sympathized, not that he would ever say such a thing.

Martin straightened up and dropped his guise of a poor, pitiful male. “Actually, I wanted to see if anyone had any of the vehicles up and running, and after getting blessed so thoroughly that I was tempted to look in a mirror to see if I’d grown horns and a forked tail, I stepped out for a while.” He sounded disgusted. “Someone left most of the vehicles on the chargers.”

“Shit,” Don snarled. “Idiots.”

Pete grimaced. “I know what the meeting will be about.”

“Hoh yeah.”

 

Bettina Monsiérvo, Colonial Plantation LTD’s Donau Novi Sub-District Regional Senior Administratrix, glowered at the engineers and town administrators. Pete wondered which of her long list of irritations had upset her this time. She’s a great manager, so long as everything goes according to the proper forms and databases. Too bad reality won’t always cooperate. She’d gotten worked up enough that her bright black eyes started to bulge, never a good sign for Pete’s tranquility.

“What do you mean we have no electrical power for the vehicles? The lights are on.” She waved her hand in the direction of the ceiling. “No one’s started the reactor failure evacuation procedures.”

Andrea Okofor repeated, “I’m sorry, Ms. Monsiérvo, we have no electrically powered vehicles at this time. The electromagnetic storm yesterday and overnight destroyed the power and control circuits in all but two of the ones in the central parking area, and those two were, and still are, in need of repair.”

Bettina glowered at the black-skinned power system manager (and acting chief of transport) for the settlement. “Well, fix them. They need to be functional by the time I send the quarterly status report to the District office.” She flipped the screen on her computer to the next topic. “Why have we not heard broadcasts from New Benin, New Amsterdam, ColLandPlat, or the other major cities yet today?”

“Because we can’t hear from anyone unless we use the emergency surface relays; too much ionizing radiation still in the air. Should have something tomorrow.” Arturo Montoya’s clipped report left no room for argument or debate.

“And whose fault is that?” Bettina demanded.

Pete cleared his throat. “The sun’s fault, Ms. Monsiérvo. The solar weather observers warned that the magnetic storm that hit yesterday would do this. The effects should taper off over the next two days.” He did his best to sound soothing. No point in saying anything about the shorted-out equipment, or that you should have heard and read about all this in yesterday’s bulletin and briefing.

“Humpf.” Several minutes of silence passed while everyone checked their files and tried to look inconspicuous. After a long pause she said, “What’s the progress with the water supply system studies?”

“They are complete, and routes and requirements have been selected and determined.”

Bettina’s shadow spoke up at last. Raymond Young, Bettina’s smooth and polished secretary and technical assistant inquired, “There are only two power units on request for this project, Mr. Babenburg. Where are the rest of the equipment lists?”

Here we go again. “There are none. The system is straight gravity flow until it reaches the city.”

“I do not see any infrastructure on these plans, Babenburg,” Bettina added. “Where are the tanks and purifiers, the warmers and flavoring adjusters?”

“There are none,” he repeated. Pete glanced over to see Don making an invisible tally mark on his imaginary scorecard. “The system runs subsurface the entire route.”

“But without visible infrastructure, people won’t believe that anything has been done,” Harding Korso protested. “My voters want to see where their credits are going. They want pipes and towers and pumps,” the municipal administrator told Pete.

Don faked a cough to cover a rude word. Pete glared down at his stylus before answering, “Mr. Korso, would they prefer blue-painted pipes or fresh running water that does not require electricity to obtain?”

“I like buried pipes,” Montoya reminded everyone. “Buried pipes and low tech for the same reason we have stone walls.” He glared from under shaggy black eyebrows. “We’re too far out to yelp for help if the Gormonigons come sniffing around.”

He wanted to high-five the semi-retired space marine officer. Instead Pete nodded, “Precisely.” I saw the images of what happened on Deepak’s Planet after the Gormies’ first hit. If it wasn’t stone or underground, they slagged it. Took a generation to rebuild, and all we have is a truce, not a treaty with the Gormies. “And before anyone protests that the Gormonigons or other unfriendly cultural groups would never cause problems in this sector, might I remind you that Colonial Plantation Limited’s charter and basic terraforming manuals all put weight on low-visibility, high-durability infrastructure through the fourth post-settlement generation. Which describes the gravity-flow water supply system expansion that has been planned for this municipality.” I can quote file number and subsection if I have to, Bettina. Don’t push it. You want numbers? I can argue numbers.

Arturo shrugged, “We still need to finish laying out the route for the western road. It’s going to be a causeway in places because of the old river channels, so we could compromise and bury some pipes and power cables there if need be.” Andrea Okofor gestured her agreement.

In the face of logic and numbers, Bettina, Raymond, and Harding backed down, if only for the moment. “Speaking of numbers, how long before the transportation and communications systems are back up? Everyone I’ve talked to says their food producers and preservers are off-line and need parts,” Mr. Korso said.

It was Don’s turn to shrug. “Depends on how well the other depots prepared for the storm. I’d say at least two days for full communications, just given the atmospherics,” and he nodded to Arturo and Pete. “We should have some communications equipment back up and running before then. As for parts,” he shrugged. “I’m a big wires and junctions guy, not a little circuits guy. Sorry.”

The meeting shifted to other topics and Pete made notes, mostly about what he needed and worst-case scenarios. At last Bettina reached the final point on her long list. “I have heard rumors that people are trying to consume native species.” She shuddered, Raymond Young turned faintly green, and Korso looked disgusted at the very thought of eating the local plants and animals. “And worse, the rumors about attempts to tap the indigenous mineral resources are getting more numerous. This must stop at once. You know very well that autochthonous life forms are to be left untouched unless human life is in direct and immediate danger. And,” she shook her finger at everyone in the room and glared out from under delicately shaped black eyebrows, “any form of mining or drilling except for water is strictly prohibited by the planetary charter. Unique geological features are to be preserved for future generations to observe and appreciate,” she recited.

I wonder who got caught? Pete glanced at Arturo and Don, both of whom made little “not me” hand signs. Probably some kid on an educational enrichment trip picked up a pretty rock, or accidentally squished a worm or something. Pete made a note of the reminder so that, if asked, he could say he’d made a note.

“The meeting is adjourned.”

Arturo caught Harding Korso’s elbow as they were leaving the room. “Say, is there any progress on coming up with a formal name for this settlement?”

The acting mayor shook his head. “Not yet. ‘Donauton’ was rejected because it means something obscene in Deeparka dialect.” Korso shook his head. “We’re back to square one, since no one wants to name it what the company recommended.”

Because Vlaatplaat is an invitation to giggles and ridicule, not to mention confusion. Pete nodded and attempted to look sympathetic. Once clear of the bureaucrats he and Don shared grimaces. “Because having two urban areas with similar sounding names won’t cause any confusion at all, noooo.”

Don mimicked the heavy accents of the group who settled the northwestern coastal estuary. “Vaat do yew mean, ferklempt?”

They parted company and Pete ducked through a few alleys to reach his office without encountering any irate officials or unhappy townsfolk. I’m a hydrologist and civil engineer, not an electrician, he kept reminding people, but they didn’t want to listen. Unless I can see the leak, I can’t help you. He unlocked his office and strolled in, waiting for the lights to come on. Nothing happened. Pete turned around, bent down and waved his hand over the motion-detector. Nothing, not even the clunk of a dead solenoid. “Glad I’ve got windows.” He opened the shades by hand, letting sunlight flood the spare, half-furnished room. “And hard copies.”

A hard-copy note waited for him. “Rejected. River levels to unstable to support necessary equipment.” He read. What the—? Pete looked from the note to the sketch plan of his proposed run-of-river floating mill and water pump. Someone had added footings and fill, turning the floating current-driven mill into a standard fixed-position water-mill. Oh, for shit’s sake. He’d proposed a floating mill precisely because the Donau Novi rose and fell with the seasons! But someone had reworked his proposal before it reached Bettina and Co. Right. I’ll just set that aside and work on what I’m supposed to be doing, then go pester Gerald; see if he has any suggestions. He gets along better with the managerial side than any of the rest of us.

Since Cynthia didn’t expect him home before noon, Pete sat down and sketched out a finer version of his ideas for the next stage of the water supply system. He wanted to tap the hills for drinking water rather than the river. The hills west of the town collected water and the aqueclude at the eastern end of the range had created a rich reservoir of ground water that supported some enormous springs. Pete drew the side view of the hills, the valley, the low ridge between and the last kilometers to the city. If the system tapped the sources southwest, where the road would come off the hills, he’d have almost 200 meters of fall that he could use for pressure. The central ridge only rose 150 meters or so, leaving both pressure and a way to slow the flow using an inverted siphon. Pete sketched away, humming quietly and out of tune as he worked.

Only when the light shifted so much that he could no longer see the finest lines did he stop and stretch. His neck caught and he cursed, then rotated it carefully, working the kink out. Satisfied with his progress for the moment, he closed the blinds and left. He waved his hand over the sensor again on the way out. The lights still failed to respond, but that didn’t surprise him. They’d always planned for emergency drills, and his office got power last of all, after the medical and fire facilities, then residences, businesses, and finally little shops and work areas. Colonial priorities differed from the central worlds, as everyone knew. Pete locked the door and strolled to his and Cynthia’s apartment.

The summer morning sun beat down, augmenting the heat still radiating from the “stone” walls and pavement of the town despite the cool night. Actually, Pete mused as he ran his fingers over the gritty surface of a wall beside him, since they used local rocks, ground up, melted, and then extruded as blocks, it was stone. Cool inside in summer, warmer inside in winter, a pain-in-the-ass to wire and run pipes under if you didn’t plan ahead, but life-saving at times. He shook his head a little. Who would have thought that leaving Earth’s solar system and settling the galaxy would make medieval construction important again? Probably the same wise soul who’d warned about spaceships, blasters, and anything else built by the lowest bidder.

Pete turned off the main street, down a quiet lane and strolled into a cluster of eleven apartments built around a courtyard. Cynthia had picked this square because she liked the wrought-iron-looking trim on the safety fences on the upper levels. Pete liked the central location and rapid access to the main infrastructure control center. Three children came stampeding out of the shadows and he jumped back out of the way as the Lei family went out for “fresh air.” “Sorry Mr. Babenburg,” Pat Lei said. “They stayed up too late and are still wired for light and noise.”

Pete waved off her apology. “I was too, when I was their age. Going to the park?”

“Out to the farm. Today is petting day.” Pete saw the wagon behind Sam Lei, loaded with snacks.

“That should wear them out a little,” Pete agreed. “Have a good trip.”

“Thanks.” Sam and Pat would be pulling at least one of the kids in the wagon on their return trip, Pete knew. He waved and climbed up a flight of steps to his and Cynthia’s level, traveling around one side of the square to reach their door. He opened it and inhaled the scent of something good. “I’m home, love.”

“Oh good. You can stir,” a melodious voice called from the kitchen. Pete dropped his rucksack by the door, walked into the kitchen and took over stirring. “I just need to get something out of the oven.” Cynthia disappeared out the front door. A few minutes later she returned with three loaves of bread and a pan of rolls. Pete struggled manfully not to drool on the floor as the scent of fresh-baked bread filled the kitchen.

“Cynthia, beloved, paragon of womanhood, source of all beauty, pearl without price, please tell me that some of those are for us.” He tried not to beg.

She smiled. “All of them are. Now go wash up so I can serve the food.”

The food tasted as good as it has smelled. “I am so glad you talked me into gas appliances,” Pete admitted once he’d had a second helping and another roll.

“So are Don’s wife and Ann Montoya. I let them use the stove while I loaded the solar oven on the roof. We’re going to have a lot of unhappy people until the power is restored and all the cookers and coolers have been repaired.”

Don finished mopping up the last bit of curry sauce with the roll. “If they threw the breakers, there should not have been any problems?”

Cynthia rolled her eyes. “Dear, not everyone can get to their breakers, despite what the construction regulations claim. And all the food extruders at the SubSett housing complex were still on-line.”

Aw shit. That means at least three hundred people without quick access to food. Ugh. Not my problem, but still not good. “I assume the repair people have started work.”

She shrugged and brushed away a bit of honey-blond hair that had escaped her bun. “I hope so. I was going to check at the Chapel and see if any provision had been made, just in case.” Cynthia finished her roll and licked a last bit of sauce off her fingers. “Do you think this will happen again?”

Her husband had been wondering that himself. He leaned back in his chair and thought. “I hope not. Things are going to be tight until we can get replacements for whatever got toasted, shorted, and what will wear out early from overuse. But, Murphy was a planetary meteorologist as well as an engineer and an optimist, so I’d assume we will. Not as strong, but probably at least one or two more solar burps.”

“Peter Babenburg, you have no poetry in your soul,” His wife of thirty years scolded, smiling. “Those beautiful dancers and colors in the sky, and you call them ‘solar burps.’ Tisk, tisk.”

He shrugged. “I’m an engineer. My last attempt at poetry was banned under the Deepak-Gormo Treaty stipulations, remember?” He preferred to draw and dig rather than write or talk. Pete got up, collected the dishes from the table, and started for the dish-sterilizer, then remembered. He put them in the sink instead. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner, light of my heart,” and he kissed his wife’s still-smooth cheek.

“You are welcome. Will you be home tonight?”

“Yes. I need to go talk to Don and Tom Kirkland, but I’ll be home around four or so.”

She shook her head. “No, around six. Shoo,” and she kissed him, then flapped a drying towel at him, chasing him out of her domain. He staged a tactical retreat.

 

He found Don overseeing repairs to the transformer serving the subsistence-settlers’ housing-complex, or sub-sett as the engineers and utility workers called it. At least this time the residents weren’t swarming the workers, demanding favors or yelling that they should go faster. Enough people had seen what happened when a human crossed high-voltage lines that they stayed well clear now. That was the last time anyone tried to do their own work, too, I seem to recall. Especially after the venters pulled the scent into the main ducts because of where the body landed. Pete understood why Colonial Plantation LTD had agreed to settle over a million indigents on Solana, but damn, the people living in the housing section in the city were now the third generation that refused to take care of themselves. He wondered yet again which bureaucrat with a sick sense of humor had labeled them “improved settlers.” Oh, a few managed to get out and make their own way as full citizens, but most stayed in the bureau housing, eating minimal rations and watching entertainment holos. I’d go mad.

Don took a break from his current task and walked over. “What’s up? You finally decide to cross-train on electrical work?”

“Nah. I still need to see my leaks,” Pete lobbed back, as usual. “I want to go on with planning that floating mill and pump. You have any problems, so long as I don’t tinker with the sewer inflow sensors and the floodgate wires?”

“Nope. You talked to Tom Kirkland yet?” Pete shook his head. “Do that first. He’ll have some ideas about the mechanics and flotation needed.” Don glanced up at the sky and beckoned Pete over a little farther from watchers and gossip gleaners. “I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get flamed again, Pete. Marie’s already talking about preparing to go black for an extended period.”

“Admin won’t like that talk.” But Pete agreed, even as he said what he was supposed to.

“Admin has other problems. Administratrix Senior Monsiérvo is already warning that we need to get the transports back and running before there are psychological problems stemming from the lack of noise.”

“You are shitting me,” Pete sighed.

Don shook his head, grinning through his beard. “Nope. Says the lack of aural stimulation could cause psychological trauma in sensitive individuals and the newly arrived.”

Pete heard footsteps behind him, so he replied, “That is certainly a consideration.” He ducked out of the way before anyone could try to draft him for the grunt work. “Thank you for the update.” Rather than spend any more time in the sub-sett, Pete doubled back, then cut north to the edge of the city. He took the pedestrian gate out of the wall and walked east, upstream. The river murmured beside him, carrying secrets in its blue waters.

Tom Kirkland’s workshop sat near the banks of the river, above the flood line but close enough to catch driftwood and to make putting the boats in and out easier. You can always tell a colony world, Pete thought as the smells of hot metal and sawdust hit his nose, drifting over the dark, damp smell of a healthy river. You find both ends of the tech spectrum within meters of each other.

A sharp whiff of chemical made Pete’s eyes water and he skirted around the boatyard fence until he found the gate closest to Tom’s office. He started to knock on the frame of the open door but hesitated when he heard multiple voices all steadily rising in volume. “What do you mean the second welder’s out of commission?” That was Virgil, Tom’s assistant. Maybe I’ll just stay out in the fresh air for a bit.

“I turned it off boss. No one told me we were supposed to unplug them and throw the breakers as well as grounding everything.” The whining tone kept Pete outside, and he eased back from the doorway. Tom didn’t tolerate whining.

“And even though every other man, woman, and mermaid in this business was unplugging and throwing breakers, you somehow didn’t notice?”

“That’s not my job. I’m just an apprentice. Ms. Jackson’s supposed to make sure I do everything right.”

Pete backed a meter farther away from the door, getting clear of the line of fire. A third voice, deceptively placid and almost feminine, observed, “Correction. You were an apprentice. You are now fired for not taking responsibility for your fuck up and also for whining. Get out. Your last wages are in your account.”

“But it’s not my fault!”

Heavy steps and the sound of something squeaking and dragging came from the doorway. “If you keep whining I’ll dock you for the equipment. Think about what that will do to your indenture.” Pete caught a glimpse of a pimply, square-faced young man scrambling to get out the door before Virgil threw him over the fence. Pete waited for the sound of hands being brushed off before knocking. “Come in.”

Pete stuck his head in. When nothing flew at it, he squirmed the rest of him around the stack of parts, materials, and only-the-Lord-knew-what piled near the door and found Tom Kirkland and Virgil Evangelios looking at the remains of a remote programmable arc welder. “Is it terminal?”

“No, that’s the terminal,” Tom joked, pointing to a crispy bit. “We can salvage some parts and pieces, but the core’s gone. Idiot.” Tom always took people off guard, Pete thought. Almost two meters tall, shoulders about as wide, with a light, high voice and smooth manner.  “You here to apologize for making the sun sneeze?”

“Above my pay grade. Talk to Don. I’m here to ask about putting a mill on a boat.”

Tom folded his arms and Virgil squinted, the wrinkles hiding his black eyes. “In pieces? Or moving it all at once?”

“Nope,” Pete folded his arms. “A floating mill, one we can push out into the river and use to grind stuff or saw or what-have-you, then bring back to shore so we don’t block the run of the river or have to worry about floods.”

Virgil shrugged. “Not impossible, just hard. And heavy.”

“I can’t do it this season,” Tom said. “Let me think about and look at materials and people. Who would buy it?”

“I suppose the city, or one of the trades groups. Especially if we add a small pump or generator.”

Tom and Virgil exchanged looks before turning back to Pete. “You’re worried about more of these too.” He kicked the dead equipment side-plate.

“I am.”

(C) 2014, 2016 Alma T. C. Boykin. All Rights Reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Saturday Novel: Fountains of Mercy: Chapter 1

    • Thank you. It is about the most hard-sci-fi of anything I’ve written to date, unless you count Hubris (genetic engineering and the social consequences of a small, teeny misreading of two genes.)

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