Saturday Story: Fountains of Mercy: Part 6

A few months after the unrest in Unnamed City, Basil Peilov has her hands full of farm and baby and ColLandPlat.

Basil finished nursing James and shifted him to her shoulder, patting his back as she counted fleece bundles. She reached eighty-three about the time he burped. The number matched Kos and Itzak’s counts, so she initialed the tally page, wiped the baby’s mouth, and laid him in his rocking carrier. She’d volunteered to certify the count while the others were planting and working with the animals or in the gardens. Kos and Itzak had gone with Mr. Krehbiel, a neighboring farmer, to see about finding parts and getting news, so Basil took on the indoor work. James, born just before Passover, didn’t do well in the summer heat and heavy fieldwork affected Basil’s milk supply, as she’d discovered with her first child. Task done for the moment, she picked up her spinning stick and wool weight to see what she could do.

Over the winter, through trial and error, she, Gomer, and Bethany had taught themselves how to spin sheep wool, and were experimenting with shahma fleece as well. In some ways Basil thought shahma spun more easily, once you got it combed and clean, as long as she took her time. Shahma felt more fragile and tore if she tried to spin quickly, so Basil had decided to try a lighter drop weight on her spinning stick. She fed some of the fleece clumped on the end of the carry stick into the little bit of yarn she’d already made, then dropped the pyramid-like weight and holding stick, spinning it with a flick of her long fingers. As the weight sank, she fed more fleece into the string, rocking James and his carrier with one foot as she did. The yarn felt tight and smooth, so she wound the finished thread onto the drop stick, started a new piece, and fed more fleece into the thread. She spun almost a meter without any breaks or bumps, and decided to stop for the moment and move to her next task.

Basil triple checked the vermin traps before locking the wool shed. Everything had given birth during the spring, including the little scurrying pests that fouled what they didn’t manage to eat or carry off. No one had any of the repellant spray left, at any price, so Kos and the boys had found pictures of traps and, by using scraps of wood and wire, devised a way to reduce the number of pests that got inside the buildings at least. The family also took great care not to leave any bits of food or other things out to tempt the wiggly, nasty reptiles and rodents. After finding one in James’s cradle, Basil no longer thought the rodents were cute.

She carried baby and workbag up to the one guesthouse that remained open. Tilde had returned to working in the restaurant kitchen because people still came to eat, breaking their travels between the new city and the mountains, but far fewer stayed overnight. Five rooms now served all the guests. Basil checked each one, making certain that they’d been cleaned to her standards, and freshening the towels in one suite, airing out another for a few minutes as she made a note about the quantity of soap. One of Tilde’s experiments, the soap proved to be very popular and guests had asked to buy any spare. Kos gave them his blessing to make more and Tilde, Bethany, and Kossina now made large batches of herb-scented soap using fat scraps and wood ash, along with the grease from the sheep wool. Shahma-fleece-fat soap refused to set into bars, so they saved it for household use.

James fussed a little and Basil stopped, picking him up and checking his nappy. He hadn’t finished processing his snack so she cuddled and rocked him, humming a little tune as she looked out the window of the guest room. She could just see the men out in the grass-field, cutting the last of the hay for the milk cows. Only one of the big mowers worked anymore, and even then they couldn’t be certain when they’d have power to charge it, so the men had improvised tools to cut the grass by hand until they could find plans for an animal-powered mowing machine. The baby burped again and smiled, then fell asleep. “You are such a good little boy,” Basil hummed, returning him to the carrier.

To her delight, when she got to the main house she discovered that they had electrical power from the grid as well as the wind chargers and solar panel. She plugged in two of the floor cleaners to charge and turned on a third, sending it out to do battle with the dirt in the rug in the main living area. Basil quickly tossed a large pail-full of dirty diapers and sanitary pads into the washer/sterilizer, and loaded the heavy washer with work clothes and set it to chugging and sloshing away. The wind charger could not power the big appliances, plus the stoves, and the chargers, so they made the most of when they could get grid power. Basil sat down to watch the progress, rocking James with one foot and spinning. When the chargers’ chimes sounded, she removed the floor cleaners, launched one, and put two electronic readers and the communication boxes on to recharge. The first floor cleaner returned, so she emptied its tank and hopper before plugging it in. She fed James again, changed his nappy, tossed the clean nappies into the drier, and ate a little lunch.

“Thank you Lord!” she exclaimed when the chime for the drier sounded. She tossed the now-dry things into a basket and hurriedly loaded the heaviest of the work clothes, turning them on to tumble. Then she folded everything. The power stayed on until the heavy load dried, and Basil did a little dance with James. “And now I don’t have to try and haul all the laundry out to the drying racks by myself,” she crowed. James blinked and smiled, gurgling something happy sounding. “That’s right!”

Basil disconnected everything from the chargers and threw the breaker. Then she threw the breakers on the washer, drier, and other equipment as they finished their tasks. By now the time-consuming practice had become ingrained. No one wanted a repetition of the milking machine scare, thank you! Through the mercy of the Lord, they’d only lost two of the units instead of all twelve, and those two could be repaired with bits scavenged from older machines David found in the re-processing yard at Donatello Township. “No thank you,” she whispered to James. “I don’t fancy milking that many cows by hand, especially since they all want to be milked at once!” Churning and running the separators was enough work. Speaking of work . . .

Basil went back to the house kitchen and found Bethany, hands on hips, glaring at a long list written on a piece of slate. “I’ve got a little wash to hang,” Basil started. “If you can help me, I’ll put James down for his nap and give you a hand.”

Bethany, tight-lipped, gave a curt nod. They carried the last still-wet work-shirts, skirts, and heavy aprons out and hung them on the lines and draped the coveralls on the wooden rack. Basil left James in his bed in her room, tiptoeing out and walking back to the kitchen. “Where should I start?”

A loud, dramatic sigh gusted through the kitchen. “If you’ll cut up the whiteroots and herbs, Mom Baa, I’ll get the cheese and start the last peas soaking.” Basil studied Tilde’s menu and instruction list as Bethany continued, “I am soooooo tired of whiteroots.”

Basil shrugged and began counting out tubers from the bin. “Until we get the motor on the grinder repaired, it’s whiteroots or porridge,” she reminded the young woman.

“I know.” Another sigh, “I just miss noodles and sweet buns.” She disappeared into the storage room, returning with a chunk of cheese and a kilo of dried peas. “It’s the good cheese: the hard, tart one.”

“Oh good! That’s my favorite. No offense to Tildie, but I don’t like how the curd cheese squeaks on my teeth.”

Bethany flipped her braid out of the way and laughed as she tied on an apron. “Me either. And now that she leaves the salt out, there’s no taste but sour.”

“Well, Kos says we should have a good honey crop this year, so maybe we can experiment with sweetening the curd cheese some way, and using it in fillings. And the boys think they’ve found a salt spring, up in the pasture area, if they can figure out how to make salt from it.”

The two women set to work. After rinsing off the tubers, Basil pulled a stool up to the huge worktable and began chopping the hard roots. Bethany rinsed the peas, picking through to get rid of any little stones or bad peas before pouring them into a large bowl and adding water. As soon as Basil filled the root bowl, the other woman whisked it out of the way, dumped the pieces into a large pot, and returned the bowl. “Hey, how am I supposed to know when to quit if the bowl never fills,” Basil protested, laughing.

“Thpppth.” After the last root vanished into the pot, Bethany consulted the list. “Mom Tildie wants lemon balm, lemon basil, thyme, and,” she stopped, peering at the slate. Her lips moved as she tried to decipher the last word. “I think it’s just a smear, but it could be sourleaf.”

Basil made a face and tucked a stray twig of hair back into place. “I vote for smear. With lemon basil and lemon thyme, sourleaf’s going to be too much. The poor peas won’t have a chance.”

“Agreed.” Basil read the next bit of assignment and fetched the mustard seeds. “How are we on white goop?”

“You mean mayonnaise, Mom Baa? We need more. I’ll get the eggs.”

Yuck. White goop reminds me too much of subsistence proteins and soya paste. She took advantage of the lull to go turn James over. He needed a nappy change, but she decided to let him keep sleeping. After three months, he seemed to be settling into a routine, and his mother liked it that way.

“By the by, what are we doing with the cheese?” she asked when she returned to the kitchen.

“Making a melt with the peas, I think.” Bethany returned to the slate. “Yes. Cut five hundred grams. Grate. After the peas are done and seasoned, toss in the cheese and keep warm until serving.”

They did as requested, covering the cheese with an up-turned bowl until they needed to grate it. Bethany washed the dishes and cutting boards, Basil dried, and they shared a bottle of fruit juice.

“When’s Da due back?”

“Today, I think.”

A faint sound distracted her, and Basil leaned back, toward the doorway. “Someone’s awake.”

Bethany made a little shooing motion and Basil went to tend to James. As she did, she wondered when Bethany would find a husband. Only five years separated the two women, although Basil had “grown-up” at a much younger age than Bethany. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, she shivered at the memories. The Lord must have had a reason for saving me from that pit. I don’t understand why anyone who could get out would stay a subsistence citizen. Why come to Solana just to live the same way? So much for “improved” citizens. I’d rather work and improve myself without any more Company “help,” thank you.

As hoped, Kos and the others returned late that afternoon. Basil, napping as James digested his afternoon snack, heard them come in. She debated going to help unload whatever they’d brought back, yawned mightily, and fell back to sleep. The scent of simmering peas woke her up, along with the odor of a very bad diaper. Eye-wateringly bad, which explained the crescendo of unhappy noises coming from the cradle. Basil changed James and seriously considered tossing the nappy into the burn pile for the generator, but refrained. Instead she sealed it in a baggie until she could deal with it outdoors. Crisis averted, she played with James for a few minutes before laying him in his carrier and going down the hall to see what was new.

A large mound of grated cheese towered over the cutting surface, for one. And the peas appeared to be in danger of boiling over. Basil set James down and hurried over, stirring the peas and puffing over the top of the pot as she turned the heat down a notch. “Thanks, Baa,” Karina called over her shoulder. “I’m almost done with putting things into storage and I’ll take over.” Basil found a tasting spoon and sampled the peas. Needs something . . . She glanced around for inspiration and spotted the little green mound of chopped fresh herbs. Ah, there’s the problem. She turned the heat down again and added the lemon basil. A luscious, sharp and sweet scent filled that corner of the kitchen and she inhaled deeply. Fresh herbs still seemed miraculous to her, even after six years of hard work in the gardens.

“Great. Thanks, Baa,” Karina returned from her errand. “How’s James today?”

“So far so good, although his last diaper would have cleared a riot.”

The older woman laughed, nodding with sympathy. “I hate to say it, but: orangeroot.”

Basil made ferocious warding off signs with both hands. “No. Do not say that word. Do not even think of that vegetable.” Miriam’s diapers after eating orangeroot had almost inspired Basil to leave her daughter outdoors until she completed potty training. “Speaking of which, besides the whiteroot salad and the peas-n-cheese, what is for supper?”

Karina leaned over and whispered, “Seedcake. And fresh milk custard—it’s cooling in the dairy room right now.” She straightened up. “Can you keep an eye on these, please? I’ll make sure everything’s ready in the dining room.”

“Give me a moment, please.” She got her work bag and returned. She pulled a stool over to the stove and settled down with her spinning.

That evening after supper everyone gathered in the main living room. Kos’s wives sat in their chairs and the children found seats or played on the floor. “Thank you for all your work while David, Saul and I were away,” Kos began. “We got a lot of good trading done, and learned some things that will make our lives easier in the long run. In the short term, I’m afraid we are all going to be working harder than we ought to for the next few months.”

Basil, ensconced in one of the rocking chairs with James, wondered what that meant. Are we going to have to expand the gardens? It’s awful late in the season. They’d passed midsummer the week before.

“To begin with, at least one representative of the Company will be coming by in a few days to check on regulatory compliance.” A chorus of quiet groans and sighs arose from the family. “I agree. You know what you need to take care of, so it should not be as much of a problem as in the past. Getting the hay in takes priority and if the inspector complains, remind him or her about the animal welfare clauses. Which reminds me, Baa?”

She finished shifting the baby. “Yes, dear?”

“Would you consider taking a veterinary course? Just basic animal care and obstetrics,” he assured her. “You don’t have to answer tonight, but I’d appreciate it if you could log on and see what the certification requirements are and how much time it would take.”

“Yes, Kos.” Looking is easy enough. I probably won’t do more than that, though, if it requires as much study as the other higher degree courses do. She had to sleep sometime!

Kos passed on more of the news, and explained what he’d brought back. “And I downloaded several books about food preservation, cooking, and cloth making from the pre-colonial period. I brought back four cases of paper and new print-heads, so you can print out what looks useful. There’s also works on carpentry, construction, and other things we might need.”

“Da, you sound like you expect another spate of equipment failures,” Micah protested. “We should get repair chips and assistance after the next goods shipment arrives. That’s what the messages from the corporation say.”

“I hope we do, Micah,” Kos replied, stroking his short summer beard. “But there’s been trouble in the larger cities and settlements, and we may find ourselves back down on the list again. In case things wear out before we can repair what’s ailing, I want to be ready to do something besides mope and cry as the sheep go un-sheared or the apples ferment in the cellar.”

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. What we have on hand, we won’t need. After all, it was always the thing you left in the shed, or forgot to bring in from the cellar, that you really wanted so you could finish whatever it was. James wiggled a little. Already? He relaxed, smiling in his sleep, and she slipped a finger into his coverall. “Excuse me,” she took him and his carrier back to her rooms, changed him again, and put him in the cradle. “I swear, little one, you put out twice as much as you take in!”

“He’s going to grow up and be a dairy cow, then,” Kos teased from the doorway. He crept into the room and looked down at his sleeping son. “How is he?”

“Healthy and happy so far. He’s awful quiet compared to Miriam.”

He smiled and hugged her. “Are you complaining?”

She shook her head so hard her hair-net slipped off. “No! Dear heavens no. That young lady never runs out of either energy or questions.” She’d gone visiting Itzak and Gomer, giving Basil a few days of semi-quiet. “I’m glad to be part of such a large family, so we can take turns watching the children.”

“And I’m glad you get along so well. Susannah, are you happy?” His serious question demanded a serious answer.

She thought for a moment or two. “Yes, I am, Kossiusco. I love you and our children, I like Tildie and Karina and their children, and I’m grateful to be here instead of in a sub-sett, even if some days I work more than I want to.” She softened her complaint with a smile. “I just wish beans and tomatoes did not double overnight.”

“I confess, I got tired of beans by February, too.” He took her hand, then drew her into his arms. “How do you feel?”

She looked up into his face and saw more than just concern there. “Fine. A little tired, but I got a nap this afternoon. Everything else is back to normal.”

“Do you feel up to . . ?” He caressed her back. “If not just say so.”

“I think I am. Let’s cuddle a little, please, and see what happens,” she invited.

He kissed her. “You are more precious than rubies, and more beautiful than all the cedars of Lebanon.”

 

As forecast, the first Company rover rolled onto Peilov farm two afternoons later. Basil finished feeding James and triple checked that all his developmental records were up-to-date. I wonder; does anyone ever look at these things? Or do they vanish into an electronic fog once the system confirms that they’ve been entered? He’d had all his vaccinations as well. Tildie had objected, but Kos reminded her that it was Basil’s choice for her children, and that had been the end of the matter, at least in public. Basil took James and her fleece bundle and went to the room the family used as the learning center. “Karina, company’s here. I’ll take over.”

“Thank you, Baa.” Karina entered a code into the computer and straightened up. “Kids, remember to log out completely when you finish, and let Mom Baa see your work if she asks. No fudging your math, Carl.” The older boy ducked. “Or you, Kossina.” An unhappy sniff warned of a pending pout. “If you stick your lip out much farther, Kossina, a bird may land on it. All yours, Baa.” She went out to meet with the Company representative, leaving the children to finish their work.

As much as she grumbled about Company policies and resented the terms of the pay-back of her indenture, Basil agreed with the educational minima. All residents of ColPlat XI had to learn to read and write in one of the Planetary Union’s eighty-four basic languages, as well as learning mathematics through applied algebra, and general history and politics. Kos insisted on religious instruction as well, and Tildie and Karina encouraged the children (and Basil) to learn about economics. Not company version economics, as Basil discovered to her surprise, but real, ancient economics, including Hayek, Friedman, and Sowell as well as Marx and the Corporatist School of the Late Pragmatist movement.

Basil confirmed that no one had been wandering outside the educational files, and walked around the computer room. Basil smiled, wondering a little at their luck. They’d had all the “school” computers shut down and unplugged when the first solar storm hit, while repairing part of the floor after a water leak. And the Company had gotten the educational networks up and running faster than almost anything that wasn’t food-synth or medicine related. She looked over the children’s shoulders, checking their progress. Kossina and Carl worked on math programs, John and Tamara wrote composition assignments, and Ruth watched a history holo about the early days of space colonization and technological development, taking notes for the quiz that would follow.

Education had allowed Basil to break free, and she intended for her children to make the best of what they had access to. She’d taught herself to read while growing up in the slum on Deepak’s Planet. With that knowledge and a little bluffing she’d managed to jump out of the subsistence-level programs and into worker-track schooling. She’d done so well that her scores caught the attention of a member of the district’s educational advancement team, who recommended Basil for testing to move into administrative or scientific tracks. She’d clawed her way through the scientific track, sweating mental blood until she reached the point where she could qualify for emigration credits based on agro-engineering fundamentals. That had brought her to ColPlat IX, where she found too many agro-engineers and no work. And then she met Kossiusco Peilov.

While the children worked, she logged into the general ed net and called up continuation track learning programs—vocational. After a little searching she found “veterinary assistant/foundations of veterinary medicine I and II.” OK, what are the outcomes promised and the hours required? James fussed a little so she held him as she read through the course of study and the lab requirements. I’ve already done a lot of the basic science through to animal genetics and diseases. And the lab work is well covered. She skimmed the list of observational requirements, checking them off her mental list. I’ve observed at least two species of domestic animals giving birth, I’ve participated in basic animal care, I’ve assisted with veterinary procedures, and I’m very familiar with the reproductive cycles of domestic livestock, thank you. Basil scrolled down to the other certification requirements. That’s not as bad as I’d feared. But could she afford it? Yes, it would help the family if she could do more, but what about her indenture. She shifted James and read the price. Well, that’s certainly reasonable, compared to some. Especially since I won’t have the observation fees, and the laboratory work fees will be much lower. As she thought about it, the veterinarian would probably waive some of that in exchange for having her assist him, especially during lambing and calving season.

Basil got up and looked over the children’s work again. Despite her protests Kossina managed a perfect score on her math test, and Basil “signed” the page. “Do you want to start the next lesson?”

“No, Mom Baa.”

“Alright, you’re over the hour requirement as it is.” Basil gave her permission, allowing Kossina to log out and go play for a few minutes. Ruth finished her test and moved to the next video once Basil agreed. After a while John and Tamara completed their writing assignments and logged out to do chores.

“Arrrgh! I quit” Carl exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air. “Numbers hate me.”

Startled, James started crying. “Shh, shh, it’s OK,” Basil soothed. She walked over to Carl’s computer and looked at the display. He’d gotten ninety percent correct, well into the acceptable score range. “Carl!”

He grinned. “Fooled you. And the numbers still hate me.”

She wanted to swat him for his dramatics. Instead she said, “Here, you hold James.” A look of mild panic appeared on the sixteen-year-old’s face and he very reluctantly accepted the fussing baby. Basil “signed” the grade report and logged Carl out of the system. “For that, you don’t get any game time until after chores are done.”

“But Mom Baa—“

She took James back. “No buts. Shoo.”

He grumped out of the study room, leaving Basil and Ruth. Basil fed James and rocked him back to sleep. Ruth finished her second holo, did well on the test, and Basil logged her out. “No, you need to go get some sunshine and do chores.”

“But Mom Baaaaaa, it’s getting exciting! They just found the first habitable world, and started terraforming, and—“

“And it will be there tomorrow, Ruth. We both have chores,” she reminded the young lady.

Because of her late arrival, the Company’s inspector concentrated on the outdoor activities on the first day of her visit. The neighbors might call Kos crazy, but he knew his business and either complied with the regulations or could quote the exemption to the fourth decimal within the subfile. Basil, passing by the equipment shed, heard him explaining, “That is true. However, we are on the next shipment roster, barring greater priorities developing, and until then, unless we risk compromising the dairy cows’ nutritional completion standards, we need to mow the alfal blend by hand. As you are aware, letting the cows graze first growth alfal-blend without letting it air-cure is a violation of nutritional minima . . .” Basil shook her head. I’d fall asleep if I tried to learn all those regulations.

That night, Kos stayed out late working on one of the milk separator/churn units, replacing the burned out electronics module with one he’d bought. David gave the progress report. “Well,” he rocked his hand side to side. “Ms. Carver’s not happy but she’s not unhappy. Our using the big grass cutters makes her nervous about injuries, and she’d prefer that we didn’t use animal traction because of he possibilities of injuries to us and the horses, and the manure is unsanitary,” he grinned and winked. Tildie and Karina smiled back and rolled their eyes, and Basil wondered if Ms. Carver had ever seen a bad diaper. Horse apples, shahma pellets, and cow pats seemed scentless compared to what human babies could produce.

“However, ladies, there’s another company specialist coming tomorrow to finish with the operations and hospitality inspection. Ms. Carver is going to do a home quality visit, since we,” he straightened up and took on an officious air “employ an improved settler on indenture in an atypical domestic residence pattern.”

Now it was Basil’s turn to roll her eyes. She’d read about the cultures of the Planetary Union, and a joint household with three wives came nowhere close to what she’d consider atypical, even among humans. And some of the others . . . well, deep down she wondered just how much of what the anthropologists and xenologists recorded had been made up by the locals as a joke. “Maybe she can change one of James’s diapers to get a comparative manure specimen,” Basil offered.

Karina rested her elbows on the table and sipped a little choco-coffee. “I suspect it has to do with your educational credits, Basil. There’s a push on for women in the tech departments, and someone’s probably flagged your file because you are not working in a tech field.”

Tildie looked up from her plate, frowning. “I don’t like the seasonings on the meat. It should be less gamey with a smoother finish. We’ll use a touch more preiselberry in the marinade, then balance it when the sauce cooks down. And I suspect you’re right, Karina. Remember the fuss when Gomer changed from industrial chemistry to agricultural management?”

David tipped his head to the side. “Mom Tildie, was that the evening everyone was yelling and us kids spent the night in the hay loft?”

Tildie’s eyes bulged. “You shouldn’t have heard any of that, young man! But yes, I suspect it was.” She settled down and ate another bit of meat. “Kos’s mother exploded when Gomer said she couldn’t manage the farm, raise a family, and work in industry, and that Mrs. Peilov would have to pick two. His father, may the Holy One give him rest, couldn’t understand what the problem was. ‘She’s of age’ he said. ‘It’s her choice.’ Karina and I just ducked, didn’t we?”

“You ducked, I backed Gomer, and Mrs. Peilov almost hit me with the little cutting board, the one with the Hebrew motto painted on it that hangs in Gomer’s kitchen.” Karina shook her head. “And yet people claim that we women are the calm, mild ones.”

In this family at least, we just hide it better, Basil thought, fascinated by this bit of family history. She and Karina and Tildie had spats, but they kept them away from the men and children. And the other women knew that Basil could fight dirty, and had, and would again if she thought she had to. By mutual agreement they kept things verbal, and tried to talk through problems before they became acute.

“Will Ms. Carter be staying for any meals tomorrow?” Tildie wondered aloud.

David shrugged and helped himself to more bread. They’d gotten parts for the house mill, the little one beside the kitchen, and had flour again. “Oh, by the way, Mr. Krehbiel asked that if you see someone moving large, round stones, just ignore them.”

“Another Heritage project?” Bethany asked, speaking up for the first time since supper had started.

David rocked back and forth in his seat, his mouth full. “I’ll take that as a sort of ‘yes,’ his sister said.

“Just ignore them, please.”

Rocks? Oh, I wonder if someone is going to make a gravel road or needs foundation stones and doesn’t want to wait for the company to bring a synth-stone fabricator. That or one of those rock-worshipping religious groups is settling near-by. Basil shrugged to herself. She’d grown up “not seeing” things. Her safety had depended on it.

When David finished another mouthful, he added, “Oh, yes. We learned today that it will be the next equipment shipment rotation before we get the parts for the second separator, the remote harvester, and the robo-mower. And no one seems to have any idea when the ag nav satellites will be replaced, so once we get the big things fixed, we’ll have to program everything by hand, or go manual control. Oh, yeah, count on the power grid staying unreliable for the next few months, too.”

“Food production is priority one,” Tildie said, frowning. “Why did we get bumped again? Was the manifest in error?”

David poured himself more choco-coffee. “No, ma’am. There are major food supply problems in the areas with large improved settler populations, so those get priority.”

“I thought the urban fabricator units had already been repaired or replaced. They’re priority one plus, with at least a double set of spares required by United Planets law,” Basil thought aloud.

David wagged his hand again. “Officially, they have been replaced and this is just adding emergency back-up should the unthinkable happen again. Unofficially, according to some of the men at the equipment depot in the new city, which still doesn’t have an approved name yet, there’ve been riots in ColLandPlat and other cities because not enough luxury and tier two goods are available, plus a lot of repairs and replacements got diverted to Delhi II after the big riots among the indentured herd over there.”

Karina coughed and cautioned, “David,” then pointed to Basil.

He ducked. “Oop. Sorry, Mom Basil, no offense. I didn’t think.”

“None taken, this time. There is a difference between individuals like me and the people who are, well, sold as a group indenture, or moved as an entire sub-sett block. Those colonists don’t always adapt well to a new environment.” Or at all. They just replicate their old settlement on a new world and their developmental managers wonder why nothing changes. She added, with a touch of bitterness, “That’s why calling them ‘improved settlers’ smacks of stardust and sneering. If people don’t want to change, they won’t and to call old wine in a new wineskin ‘improved’ is silly.”

“Truth, Basil,” Karina agreed. “So we keep on as we have been, then. I wonder if there’s a way to run the second separator some other way. All it has to do is spin like a centrifuge of sorts, so could we devise a crank system?”

David looked at his brother. Carl had been ignoring the discussion in favor of eating a third helping of whiteroots, and David repeated, “Carl, can we rig a crank system on the broken separator?”

First Carl shook his head, then apparently changed his mind. He swirled his head a little as he chewed. “Maybe. We’d have to gear it, because no one can turn a handle that fast, unless you pre-loaded a flywheel, and  . . .” The boys and Karina launched into a discussion that grew too arcane for Basil to follow. Instead she ate and thought about the veterinary study track and what it required.

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

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