Only six weeks on our new farm on Home, and I feel like I've been here for years. In the last month our cattle have already produced several new calves. I am down to Greg, the Bugs, and myself as crew, but we have over 40 tons of grass hay stored in the field and the barn. That could hold us a few weeks. We have all of the holding pens and cattle-chutes built, and are building gravel roads and paths around the farm buildings.
The only farm machinery I own is the big tractor, small tractor, a few attachments, and some wagons. However, we belong to a farm coop that has everything else I need to plow, plant, cultivate and harvest. That is where I "borrowed" the hay baler. I have also helped a few neighbors with my big tractor. The big autonomous tractors are built here on Home, and there aren't many of them. Most farms, or clusters of farms have small tractors, also built on Home, but the big ones are rare. I wonder how I ended up with two tractors?
This morning I borrowed a ditcher, and now we are laying drain tile around the barn, when a big truck with a canvas top, painted with splotches of brown and various shades of green pulls in the driveway, and drives right up to me. The front of the truck is almost touching me when it stops. I don't know whether to be pissed about almost being run over, or start laughing at a prop out of a twentieth century war movie on a planet that will not have enough people for a war for centuries.
A small man in an improbable starched military uniform leaps from the passenger seat of the truck, and strides toward me. I know it is exactly the wrong way to react to a small man with a big ego problem, but I can't help myself, I break up laughing. The little guy barks a command, and about twenty guys in uniform jump out of the back of the truck. They don't have guns, but they do have big clubs, and there are a lot of them.
I am not laughing now. I notice Greg coming from where he had been getting more tiles, and Martha is running from the house. Thank goodness the Bugs are out of sight. Spoke too soon, here they come on the little tractor. Then the big tractor comes around the side of the barn. The big tractor rolls around behind the "army", and lowers the two three-and-a-half meter mowing bars. Then the tractor revs up the hydraulic motor that powers the bars, and the noise almost makes me climb up on the truck. I have always been really cautious around mowing bars. Dozens of 10 cm teeth that can bite off small trees, all cutting back and forth at once is pretty impressive.
The "army" gets the idea, too. They are totally outgunned. They are already back in the truck. The big tractor folds the mowing bars up, and swings out of the way, to let the truck leave. But the truck doesn't leave just yet. The little "officer", I think of him as the Inspector General, leans out of the cab and tells me I can't "get away with this." I almost start laughing again. But this time, I retain self-control, and ask him what he wants.
He then informs me that he is Colonel Douglas Service, and, as the commander of the Unitary Military Expeditionary Force, he is the ultimate authority on Home. Well, I know that the only military on Home is intelligence, which actually means research and communications. These guys don't even have guns. Most of them accepted the one-way trip because they wanted to become colonists after they fulfilled their term of service. This guy isn't in charge of anything except a few impressionable kids. However, he does control off-planet communications. It is hard to say how much damage he can do when the next ship arrives. Those of us who live here are going to have to do something about this guy and his misguided troops.
Next he tells me that he is here to take the Bugs as prisoners of war. I thought he must be up to something like that.
So I tell him that the Bugs are tax paying members of the Union, and that they have bank accounts, and that they are attending class so they can vote when we have elections. The Inspector General turns so red; I think he is going to have a heart attack in my barnyard. But he recovers. Says "Alright, I see how it is," disappears inside the truck cab. The truck backs out onto the road, and speeds away in a cloud of dust.
I send a broadcast alert out to every civilian on the planet. There are three towns, and a few outlying communities. Most of the rest of us live scattered around those towns and communities. I recommend a Town Meeting in Commerce, for anyone who can make it. We will meet in the Stadtlers' barn. It is a big one-story building with nothing in it yet, and it is always available for community events. I guess this will be quite an event.
I tell everyone what I can about the Inspector General's visit, being careful not to use the words Inspector General. There seems to be more interest in the behavior of my tractor than in the behavior of the Insp... excuse me, the Colonel.
This incident seems to have touched a chord in the community. The Bugs have become a symbol of overcoming our differences and working together. Beyond that immediate concern is the problem of who we are, as a people. What is our relationship to each other, and what is our relationship to the world and the cultures that produced us? This is going to be a very well attended meeting. Some people are even flying in from remote outposts.
Only five hours after the Colonel's visit, and there are so many people gathered at the Stadtlers' barn, that someone goes and gets a sound system. Someone who is supposed to be knowledgeable estimates that there are almost three thousand people here, and more coming. Of course we are meeting outside. There is not enough room in the barn. We are using a big wagon as a platform. There are no steps, so people have to scramble up and down. Maybe that will help keep us humble. I ask Bob Roberts to be with me while I explain what happened. He brought Carl Brodman, the tax collector, immigration service, government procurement officer, etc. Well, I guess he is the whole civilian bureaucracy. The guys from the road crew are here. I guess they are most of the rest of the civil service.
No one seems anxious to be a spokesperson. Bob, Carl, and of course Martha, are beside me. Bob and I look at each other. He picks up the mic. and says "This is Dr. Frank Harner. He is our community microbiologist, and he is the one who has been hosting the Bugs on his farm outside Commerce. He would like to tell you about the confrontation at his farm this morning." Then he hands the mic. to me .
I just say hi, and retell my story. There are lots of questions, about the "military" being armed, about my big tractor's part in the confrontation, and about the Bugs, who are close at hand.
There has been almost no crime on Home, except family violence, and that has mostly been handled with support from friends of the family and voluntary counseling. This is completely different. I don't really want a government at all. I think a lot of other people feel the same way, so I take the risk and ask.
"How many people would like to have a regular government with regular elections, politicians, taxes, public services, police and courts?" There are only a very few hands raised, and they don't seem too enthusiastic.
How many would like to have standing committees to help with public services, and a few public servants like Carl and the road crew? A lot of hands are up.
Are there other suggestions?
A sharp voice protests from the back. I say come on up and speak into the mic. It turns out to be the Colonel. As he walks up, I hear more than one person say "the Inspector General." I don't offer to shake his hand, but I do give him the mic., and he commences.
"You are good people who have risked everything, and left everything you ever had behind on Earth, to make a new start on Home. Don't let the actions of a few trouble-makers cause you to risk it all again."
This guy is a little heavy handed, but some people may really not want to risk their new start for a few Bugs and a guy they don't know. I am getting a little nervous, then the noise starts. It is the crowd.
People are giggling and tittering! One man is laughing silently, but so hard the tears are running down his cheeks. Someone is asking the Colonel to come on down and have a drink. Now the Colonel starts shouting into the mic.
"You think this is a joke? I'll show you a joke. When the next ship comes in, there will be 20,000 colonists on it. We won't need any of you. You either get on the right side, now, or you will be crushed and replaced in two and a half years."
Everyone looks stunned. We hadn't heard about a ship with 20,000 colonists. And in only thirty months! Why weren't we told? Who are these new people? Where are they going to live? What are they going to eat? What is going to happen to us, and to our families?
There is a sort of boiling at the back of the crowd, and suddenly there is a clear space with about twenty men bunched together in the center. It seems the "army" has been rounded up and disarmed. I guess the Inspector General has his answer.
I pick the mic. up from the wagon bed where the Inspector General had thrown it. "All in favor of incarcerating this man and his "army", raise your hand. It looks like everyone has a hand up. "Any nos?" No hands up. I say "My wife is the historian, but I think this may be the first time in human history where this large a group came to a unanimous decision." A laugh ripples through the crowd, and someone yells "What about the communications site these guys came from?"
I say "I think we better get out there and put it under civilian control. Do we have any people who have worked there and can help us get in, and then run the site?"
A few people push their way forward, and I am not too surprised to see Beth and Doris in the front of the small group. Beth shouts "Hi Frank!" It's funny that I never asked Beth and Doris what they did in the Service. I guess we were just too focussed on getting ready for the cattle.
There are only three military sites on Home, and they each have fewer than a hundred personnel. We are expecting to have to deal with fewer than eighty people, many of them not interested in fighting, and none of them armed with more than clubs. We decide that two hundred of us would be about right for this job, and decide that everyone else will meet us back here at nine tomorrow morning. Some people have chores to do before they can do anything else, or have kids to take care of.
A couple of hundred men and women sort themselves into a group. A few men volunteer to stay with the prisoners. A medical doctor and a few medical technicians join our group, and we are ready to go.
I defer to Bob Robinson. He was a military intelligence person, and should know more about the communications site than anyone. Bob defers to me.
"But Bob, I haven't been elected or anything!"
"The crowd pushed you out in front. I don't know of a more honest election than that. If you insist on a formal vote, we could do it in a few minutes."
"Never mind, let's go."
Suddenly there is a man with a white beard in front of me. I have never seen anyone who impresses me so much at first meeting. He says "I am Tom Foster, I'm a member of the original exploratory team. I can fill in some background on this, but we have a more immediate problem now. Let's talk later."
So Bob and Tom and I squash into the cab of a truck with the driver, and we are on our way. Bob is trim, but Tom and I are pretty big guys. I'm glad it's a short trip. Well, maybe I'm not, considering the unpleasantness that probably awaits us.
As we pull up to the site, and I see that a three-meter high fence topped with razor wire surrounds it. The gate is closed and locked with a chain. I expect we could cut through the fence in a minute, in several places. But as we pile out of the truck, Bob puts a hand on my arm, and pulls out a phone, and dials. We can all hear the conversation with the site DO over the speakers in the trucks.
"Hello, this is the UMEF Commerce Site."
"This is Bob Robinson, I am here with the legal civilian government representatives from Commerce. We are placing this site under civilian control."
"Just a minute, someone will be out to open the gate. Do you have a doctor with you?"
I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. They are just going to open the gate? They need a doctor? What is going on?
Then a light dawns, the gate was locked against the Inspector General's return, not against us! But why do they need a doctor? Or if they need a doctor, why didn't they just call town?
Bob says "Yes, we have a doctor, how many are hurt?"
"Six, and they are in pretty bad shape. We are doing what we can, but our medical tech is one of the victims."
Victims; the Colonel; it starts to pull together. There must have been protestors when the Colonel took over. I guess he decided to make and example of some of the protestors to control the rest of the site personnel. But what did he do to them? Were any killed? Well the gate is open and we are walking into the site. Our guide, a young woman, points into the open doorway of a small building with a cement floor. We can see that the floor is covered with blood. My stomach is churning. I dread what we are going to see.
It is worse than I imagined. There are six people laid out on mattresses on the floor. They have been cleaned up and they all have IV drips going. All I can see is their faces, but they are so battered I get no feeling for how the people must have looked before.
Our doctor and medical technicians are on their phones, calling for more people and more medical supplies.
I suddenly almost sit down on the floor my knees are so weak. I had really thought the "army" with their clubs was just going to intimidate me to get the Bugs. Now I realize they would have been willing to kill all of us if they could have. That tractor probably saved our lives.
It's getting dark as more vehicles pull into the Communications site. Bob Robinson has called the other two military sites, and they have agreed to place themselves under civilian control. They seemed to be waiting for us to take over. I wonder what would have happened in the long run if the Colonel hadn't forced things? I guess all of the military personnel would have finished their tours, and have become civilians. Then we would have taken over anyway.
The Colonel and his men took control of the Commerce site almost two weeks ago. Two days ago, the rest of the personnel went on strike. The Colonel's group seized six "ringleaders", four women and two men. Then they raped and tortured them. They finished with the beating that left them all in the condition we found them. Then they went off and left them to die. The remaining personnel at the site had waited for the Colonel's group to leave, then they had broken into the shed and taken the Colonel's victims inside to give them the best care they could. Then they prepared for the return of the Colonel, and a bloody confrontation. They must have been really glad to see us show up.
It doesn't look like any of the victims are going to die. I am glad for a lot of reasons. I am glad for the people who survived, and I am happy for the rest of us. People who would stand up to that monster are probably going to make good friends and neighbors.
I can't do any more here. I guess I'll head home. I could use some dinner, and I am exhausted. I suppose the stress and shocks of the day are adding to my fatigue.
At home, I find I must deal with a "pile" of mail. I eat supper at the computer while I try to convey my sense of the day's events, and my misgivings about the decisions we will have to make tomorrow. Finally, I get to bed, and against my expectations, I immediately fall into a sound sleep.
I wake early, and check the cattle, and gaze wistfully at the ditch where I thought we would get drainage tiles in place yesterday. The kids want to skip school, and come to the meeting. On Martha's advice, I agree. The truck is pretty crowded with our family, Greg, and all seven Bugs, but we are on our way.
We get to the Stadtlers' barnyard early, but there are already more people than were present yesterday afternoon. There is a band playing soothing music through the sound system on the wagon, and that is keeping the energy of the crowd under control. I could kiss those musicians.
I walk over to where the Colonel and his gang are locked up in the granary. It seems they tried to break out in the night. One of the guards was hurt, but not badly, and they are quiet now. I walk back to the wagon. It is almost nine, and Bob is already on the wagon with some people I don't know. One of them is the man with the white beard that I met for a short time last night. Oh right, he said his name is Tom.
Bob greets the assembly, and hands me the mic. I feel a little odd about just walking up here and taking over. I don't suppose this crowd would let anyone get to far out of line, but I feel the need of a vote of confidence.
"Is it OK for me to preside?" I ask.
There is a sort of a cheer, and a few remarks about not letting me get too far out of line. Well, that is acceptable to me.
I start by repeating a brief version of the confrontation at my farm, and what we found at the Communications Site. Everyone looks grim. I say that I don't see how we can turn people lose who would engage in such violence for so little reason. I see a lot of heads nodding.
A man I only know by sight stands up. Everyone turns to look at him. I toss the mic. down to him. He says, "I only see four ways to deal with these men. One is that we just let them go. Anyone in favor of that?" No response. "Two is, we can keep them locked up for the rest of their lives. Anyone want to build and staff a prison? Remember, we seem to be getting twenty thousand hungry guests soon." Everyone knew this was not a possibility. "Three is, we can exile them somewhere. But where could we put them, where they could survive, that they couldn't eventually work their way back?" There were no comments, so after a brief pause, he went on. "Four is that we could kill them. Do we have any other choice?"
There is a long silence, which I finally break. "I am afraid for myself, I am afraid for my family, and I am afraid for my community. I do not want these men to ever get the chance to do again what they did at the communications site. I want them dead. That is my fear talking, but in my intellect, I also can't find any other solution. So, do we kill them?"
Everyone just stands up. After a moment, I say "OK, please sit down, because now we are coming a part that is even harder. Who is going to kill them? I have based my life on eliminating violence in my life, and trying to reduce it in my community. I know many of you feel the same way. So who has to become a killer?"
Bob Robinson leans over and says into the mic. "Some of us have already killed." He grins at my look of surprise.
Without even thinking about what I am saying, I say "Then I move that anyone who has already killed be excused from participation this time." I pause at a thought. "I guess that includes me, I killed two of the Bugs."
More than three fourths of the crowd is on its feet again, and it is Bob's turn to look surprised. Then he grins from ear to ear. "Well Frank, you never cease to surprise me."
So I take it up again "I have always said that a person who eats meat is responsible for the death of the animal. I guess that applies here. Every one of us who has approved of this death sentence is equally responsible for the deaths of these men, but someone has to actually do it. I propose we decide by lots. I further propose that no one be forced to be involved. Is that OK"
It's not unanimous, but most hands are up, so I go on.
"Does anyone object to my excusing myself?"
"I would guess that there are almost five thousand people here. I don't think it makes sense to try and draw lots from five thousand people. With your permission I will divide the group, and toss a coin, a few times. The winners of each round will go on to the next round."
It seems odd to call the people who will have to be executioners the winners, but everyone seems to understand and agree. So I begin. I divide the crowd into left and right, heads and tails. Heads win. Good, I have it down to twenty-five hundred people, men and women. I do it again. twelve hundred. And again, six hundred. And again, three hundred. And again, about one hundred fifty.
The winners wait while someone goes into the Stadtlers' house and prints out one hundred fifty-eight slips of paper. One hundred thirty-seven say no, twenty-one are numbered from one to twenty-one. Mrs. Stadtler puts the slips into a box, and people line up to draw.
I remind them that nobody has to draw, but no one leaves the line. A chill goes down my spine. "How could our community have so many people who are willing to accept this level of responsibility?" I ask Bob.
Bob replies "That is the kind of people we chose."
Now it is my turn to be surprised. I didn't know Bob was involved in choosing colonists. I say "Bob, you never cease to amaze me!" He grins again.
Tom asks to speak, and I hand him the mic.
"This planet was discovered a bit over fifty years ago. First by a robot probe, then a manned probe took a look. Neither probe could land, or even sample the atmosphere. In fact, it has never been possible to return anyone from the surface of this planet to orbit. So, in order to find out if this planet really could support a human colony, someone had to land and report back. Just as now, it was a one-way trip. Only at that time, no one knew if humans could survive on this planet. So seventy-five dreamers and political extremists were chosen to be the "biological probe" as it was called.
The transport ship was experimental, the life suspension was experimental, and the propulsion system was a brand new, untested unit. So we went. Ten years after the first discovery. Riding our experiment into the "tunnel".
The life support and life suspension systems had problems, and the propulsion system only made it one way. Most of us did make it into orbit. There were sixty-three surviving "biological probes", and six surviving crewmembers. All of the probes, and five of the crew made a successful planet fall. One crewmember volunteered to stay in orbit, and get our results back to Earth.
After we had spent six months on the planet, the orbiting crewmember eased the stripped hulk of the ship out of orbit, and took it out, to the near end of the tunnel. There she fired an unmanned probe, with the records of our exploration, into the tunnel. We know she managed to do that. Otherwise none of you would be here. Other than that we don't know. Of course she died, but we don't know how.
The old timers know all of this, but most of you don't. I don't know why you were not told the human history of your new home. By the way, we didn't name the planet Home until after the unmanned probe had left, and we really accepted that this was all we would ever have.
I don't want to get off of the point. So far we know that you have not been told about the history of colonization of this planet, and none of us were told about the new colonists that will be showing up. How much else have you, and we, not been told? Are the new colonists coming to bolster our population, or are they supposed to replace us? What happens to us if we are not part of the new plan?
I want to have a say in my community. I do not want to be pushed aside. I do want more colonists. And I have one more piece of information that none of you have. I am a cosmologist. The tunnel is not my area of specialization, but it does have a big impact on all of modern cosmology. So I am very aware of the changes that new understandings of the tunnel have on cosmological theory. I'm getting off subject again. The latest understanding of the tunnels is that they are periodic. They come and go. It looks like our tunnel to earth is going to close soon. My guess is that Earth is rushing to get more colonists here, to secure the planet, before the tunnel closes.
Now I am going to shut up and sit down. Actually, I will take some questions first."
From the crowd "Why weren't we told?"
Somebody else "He said he doesn't know."
"Are there any weapons on Home?"
Tom "Not that I know of. They are too heavy to ship, and there has been no reason to make them here."
Quiet falls over the barnyard. I finally take the mic. back from Tom and say " I am most impressed by the question no one asked. Why isn't anyone upset at the idea of being separated from Earth?"
Someone yells "That's why we came here!"
A scattering of people stand up. They look at each other, and one of them speaks. "In a way that is true, but we have such a small population, we may not be able to maintain our culture and technological level without contact with Earth."
I pass the mic. down to her, and she repeats her worry, so that everyone can hear.
Another woman stands up and motions for the mic. It is passed to her. "I am an obstetrician, not a population geneticist, but I can count. We have almost six thousand adults. Almost all of you are planning on having kids. Wanting kids seems to have been a requirement for being chosen to come here.
Over half of you are women. If each woman averages four children, the next generation will have about twelve thousand members. We will still be alive, so the total population will be about eighteen thousand. If we really get an infusion of twenty thousand new colonists, we will probably have a population of over fifty thousand in only fifteen to eighteen years."
Someone else motions for the mic. "If the tunnel closes, it closes. I am more worried about the new colonists. Could they be an invasion? It doesn't seem possible."
Bob Robinson asks for the mic., so it is passed back up to the wagon. "I helped choose many of you for this colony. I know what the guidelines were, but more importantly, I know what the politics were for the project, up until a few months ago. Based on the news from the last ship, nothing has changed, although they told me there would be about five thousand colonists on the next trip, not twenty thousand. The crew from the communications site says a message drone came in two weeks ago. It must have carried the news about the larger group arriving on the next trip. It may have been what set off the Colonel. Perhaps he thought that he could take control of us now, and be in a position to take control of the new colonists as they arrive. I'm sure he was supposed to alert us and help us get ready for the tidal wave. I wouldn't worry about the new colonists. I would just get ready to feed and house them."
I took the mic. again. "I think everyone has enough to think about. I suggest that most of us go home, and get back to work. We have a lot of work to do before we welcome our new neighbors. Those of us who are involved in the executions, and some people who think they could help with security and procedure should stay. I guess we can call another meeting, here or on-line, when we need it."
The chosen executioners, and over one hundred other people, move up to the wagon. Everyone else is leaving quickly. Those of us on the wagon climb down. We don't need the mic. any more, so I just place it on the wagon. As things quiet down, we can hear the prisoners pounding and screaming inside the granary. This is going to be really hard. I suppose they could hear everything, because of the sound system. At least we don't have to break the news to them.
After a brief discussion, we decide the executions should be performed with a small ax, and a chop to the back of the neck, just below the connection to the scull. I look at one of the smaller women doubtfully, and she glares back at me. I apologize, and she lets it go. I know I excused myself, but I just can't leave.
I am surprised. When we open the door to the granary, the prisoners don't put up any fight. A couple of them beg, but most of them just sort of go limp. The Colonel starts to bluster, then stops, and starts crying. I help hold two of the men against the chopping block, when it is their turns. That is all I can force myself to do.
When it is done, we throw the bodies onto a wagon, and take them to a big hole someone has already dug, way back in a field. We fill the hole, clean up all of the blood, and collect all of the clubs and clothes left behind by the prisoners. We try not to leave any trace to remind the Stadtlers' that their farm was the site of a mass execution. They say it is OK, but I wish we had thought to take the prisoners somewhere else to kill and bury them.
The executions were just this morning, and here I am, laying drain tile. I need some time to be by myself, and let things settle. I am not even thinking. I am just working and healing. Greg has the big tractor out mowing grass for hay. We are going to need to build the herd up faster than I thought. I won't be slaughtering any cows that can produce calves. I guess the neighborhood bulls are going to get a workout.
I look at our house. Two stories, plus lots of appliances and conveniences. The newcomers housing will have to be very plain and crowded. At least we will be able to expand our agriculture to feed them. No one will go hungry. I wonder if we will have to take in a family. Maybe it would be nice to have neighbors, even if they are in our own house. On Earth we lived that close to other families and thought nothing of it.
Next: Chapter 3, Bugs Again
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