Castaway Planet – Chapter 15
“Can’t I please come with –”
“No.” Her mother’s answer was firm. “You seem recovered, mostly, but you were in very bad shape for a while yesterday. I don’t expect to see any more trouble, but for today you’re staying near camp. You’ll have plenty more chances to explore, I promise.”
“Sorry, Saki,” her father said, and gave her a consoling hug. That didn’t exactly make up for it, but it was a hug, anyway.
Akira straightened and beckoned to Melody. “Come on, Mel. You were hoping for an adventure a while back, now’s your chance.”
Sakura saw the momentary excited jump up, and turned away to hide a smile. Melody was normally lazy, and she cultivated the bored appearance at times — why, Sakura didn’t know, it wasn’t like she was old enough to be acting like that — but that was right now clearly fighting a battle with Melody’s curiosity and desire to be one of the people who found something new on this planet.
Of course, she suspected that Mel had another reason for volunteering to be the third member of the expedition.
Whips waved to all of them, and the three disappeared over the edge of the landing scar, heading for the shoreline, which they planned on following for a considerable distance to observe what the local sea and shore life was like.
“All right, Caroline,” Laura said briskly. “It’s up to you and me. Sakura, you’re in charge of continuing camp setup and keeping an eye on Hitomi.”
“And you call me if you feel anything wrong, you understand?”
“I will, don’t worry.” She meant that. She wasn’t going to forget the terror she’d felt as the poison worked its way through her, not any time soon. If there was a slower-acting component to the thing’s venom, she had to admit there was no better place to be than in shouting range of her mother.
And it did, at least, give her an excuse to not be digging the deep disposal pit, which was where they’d put the, well, crap that would eventually have to be emptied from the shelter’s toilet facility.
“C’mon, Hitomi. We’ve got chores to do before we get to play.”
Hitomi made a face, but stopped her run towards the edge of the landing scar and came back.
Sakura first had Hitomi help scrub out the shells she’d brought back with sand, multiple times. Her mother’s tests had shown that the tough little shells were a mix of carbon-based material and silicate, but didn’t have any toxic components of note. The same couldn’t be said for the remnants of stinging land-anemone or whatever that was inside, so they had to get every little trace of the animals out.
This was, fortunately, exactly the kind of thing Hitomi was good at. Get her focused on one task that she could keep doing and that needed a lot of attention to detail, and she could keep doing it for a long time. Sakura didn’t find this task quite as engrossing, but it was nice to see the things cleaning up so well, becoming smooth, shiny white-green bowls. They’d have to rinse them out with water too, but if they got all the hard part done with the sand it’d go a lot easier.
After that was done, she and Hitomi carefully swept out the shelter, using a bundle of frayed wiry fibers from the crash tied to a broken support rod. She glanced at the sun, noting how far it had risen, and checked her omni. “Hey, Mom, it’s been a while — I think it’s lunchtime.”
“Really?” There was a pause, then, “You’re right, Saki. I was thrown off by the sun. Makes it look more like, oh, ten thirty in the morning.”
“Thirty-two hour rotation instead of twenty-four,” Caroline confirmed. “That’s going to be a little confusing.”
“Yes, we’ll be out of synch with the light cycle,” Akira’s voice came over the omnis. “Our natural cycle will still stay around twenty-four hours, so our “morning” will migrate from actual morning to afternoon to late night and back to morning again over three of Lincoln’s day-cycles.”
“You’re still in range, hon? It’s been several hours, I’d have thought –”
“– I’d have gotten farther, eh? Well, love, first of all we are quite a ways away. But we have Melody’s omni, which does have better range, and I moved Caroline’s up to the highest point near the camp so it could be a relay. Also, we’re following the coast. We’re probably about a kilometer and a half from you as the four-winged whoosiwhatsis flies.”
Sakura and Hitomi were getting out some of the rations as her mother and Caroline came trudging up the slope. “So how is the expedition going, Akira?” her mother asked.
“Oh, very well. Unlike the broken area near the ex-lagoon, which got rather well cleaned-out by the fall of that mass of rock, most of the shoreline does, in fact, have an extensive mass stretching out underwater — a beach and shore or surf zone. Whips has done some quick survey work and says in places he can scan it can go out two kilometers or more.”
“That should be a good thing for us, yes?”
“Very good, yes. Shallow-water ecosystems like that will be easy for us to harvest from, and will tend to keep the worst predators from getting too close in to shore.”
“How’s Melody doing?”
“Occasional minor complaints, but she’s been taking pictures with her omni and making muttered notes to herself. Whips didn’t encounter anything too large in his quick dips, but he thinks he’s found underwater burrows of creatures similar to the one he caught before. We’ll try to catch a couple and bring them back for dinner when we’re returning.”
“And what have you been up to?”
“Sampling everything I find, of course. There are a couple of tentative observations I have, but I’m going to need a bit more data before I draw conclusions from it.” He paused. “Melody’s calling me; I had better go see what she’s found. Talk later, Laura; love you!”
“Love you too.” Her mother smiled as she put the omni back on her belt. “Oh, thank you, Sakura, Hitomi. That was lovely of you.”
“We’ll need to find water pretty soon, Mom,” Sakura said hesitantly.
“I know, hon. I’m sure your father has an eye out for that, and we’ll keep looking until we find it.”
After lunch, Hitomi and Sakura cleaned everything up. Sakura stopped her little sister before she crammed the plastic wrappings into the disposal at the side of the shelter. “Wait on that, Hitomi.”
“Why? It’s trash. Mommy says to always put the trash in the trash as soon as you’re done.”
“Because stuff that’s trash back home might not be something we want to throw away here,” Sakura said slowly. “Mom?”
She heard her mother give a pained grunt, obviously lifting something heavy. “Yes?”
“Should I be keeping the wrappings from the rations? I mean, I don’t know if there’s a use for them –”
“Oh. Keep them for now. We’ll talk that over when everyone else is together. Now, honey, don’t interrupt me again unless you absolutely have to, Caroline and I are working hard on this together.”
“Saki? Can we go up there?” Hitomi pointed up to the land above the landing scar. “I haven’t seen where we are yet.”
I should be doing something useful… Sakura’s gaze lit on the pile of salvaged material that Caroline had brought back yesterday. There’s an idea. “Okay, we can, Hitomi. Just let me get a couple of things.”
The route the family was using to climb up to the higher ground was already starting to look like a path. That made it easier to climb, too, Sakura thought as she led Hitomi up, carrying a bundle of stuff with her.
“Wow, it’s so pretty!” Hitomi exclaimed, and started to run.
Sakura dropped everything she was carrying and snagged her sister. “Slow down, Hitomi! You listen to me. Are you listening?”
Hitomi looked slightly hurt, and shocked by the sudden yank. “What?”
Sakura knelt down and looked seriously into her little sister’s eyes. “Hitomi, we’ve just gotten here. We don’t know everything that’s safe, and everything that’s dangerous. You have to stay near me. You can’t go running off by yourself somewhere. Be careful. Watch what you’re touching. We know that most of this stuff doesn’t seem to cause any problem just by walking on it or sitting on it, but,” she held up her arm, where the sting marks still showed, mottled red-brown, “we’ve already seen something else that will kill us if it can.”
Hitomi’s eyes were wide, and Sakura could tell she now had her sister’s full attention. “I’m not saying to be terrified of everything, either. Just be careful, and if anything nips you, stings you, pricks you, you let me know right away. And stay near me.”
Hitomi watched as Sakura took the jumble of wreck materials over to a nearby flat-topped boulder and spread them out. Sakura sat down, and picked through the pieces. She’d chosen a bunch of reinforcement fibers which had been ripped free, a chunk of metal about the size of her fist whose origin was uncertain, and some smaller shards of metal, along with a rod of composite about a meter long and some composite pieces.
Okay, let’s see. We already talked about needing weapons, and if we’re going to protect ourselves and hunt, it’s time to start on that.
The smaller shards of metal were of generally triangular shape — ideal, Sakura thought, for spearheads. But she’d need to get them to a pretty symmetric shape and get them sharp on the point and edges, plus have something — a haft? she wasn’t sure of the right name — which she could use to connect it to a shaft, like the rod she had brought up.
Her Shapetool could of course configure to exactly what she wanted, but if it was strapped onto a spear shaft she couldn’t use it for anything else — and if it got used and the spearhead came off, they’d have lost one of their most versatile tools. Mom’d kill me. And that would be taking the really easy way out, anyway.
The three pieces she had to choose from were roughly the same size, but one of them actually had a bit sticking out which might be good for the… Sakura paused and checked her omni’s database. Tang, that’s the word! That should be good for the tang.
The rest of it came to a nearly-symmetrical point. One side had a thick edge, the other a ragged but much thinner edge. If she could hammer the one flatter and smooth out the other, it might make a good spearhead.
The hand-sized chunk of steel would make a good hammer. It fit nicely into the palm of her hand. She took a good grip, steadied the putative spearhead on the flat rock, and brought the hammer-chunk down.
There was a sharp, buzzing whack, and she could see the impact had left a significant ding in the other metal. Ha! It’s softer than the hammer! Encouraged, she hit the thick side several times. It does seem to be flattening!
“What are you doing?” Hitomi asked.
Sakura explained her idea. Hitomi immediately wanted to try, but it was pretty obvious that she didn’t have the strength to hit hard enough; it wasn’t easy for Sakura, truth be told. “So what can I do?” she asked.
She’s in a helping mood. That’s good, if I can figure out something… An idea struck her. “You know what? I think there is something you could do that would help everyone, especially Mommy and Daddy.” Sakura fiddled with her Shapetool and handed it to Hitomi, now configured into a two-sided tool that was a pair of gripping tongs on one side and a cutting shear on the other. “Go over the local plants and things and get a sample of each one. Pile them in order on that other rock, there? That way Daddy and Mommy can go over them and see what kinds of things we have. The shear will let you cut pieces out and the tongs let you pick them up safely, just in case.”
“I can do that!” Hitomi said proudly. She took the Shapetool carefully and walked to the waving grasslike stuff nearby. Studying the stalks intently, the little blonde-haired girl very methodically selected one, clipped off a stalk, picked it up with the tongs, and carried it to the other rock; without being told, she took another loose rock and put it down on top of her sample, to keep it from blowing away in the light breeze. Hitomi went back, studied the grass, and cut another stalk.
“Isn’t that the same stuff? We want samples of different –”
“This isn’t the same!” Hitomi said defensively. She brought the newly-cut stalk over, gripped in the tongs. “See these bumps? They’re not the same on the other one.”
Sakura put down her hammer-chunk and went over to the first sample with Hitomi. Sure enough, the “bumps” — which looked to Sakura sort of like the joints seen on things like horsetails — had a different pattern that really did argue for them being different species.
“Sorry, Hitomi. I should know better than to argue with you.” Hitomi’s attention to detail, when you got her attention at all, was legendary. “You keep doing that and Mommy and Daddy will be very excited.”
Hitomi smiled brightly and skipped back to the surrounding greenery.
Sakura turned her attention back to the piece of metal. I’ve seen stuff kinda like this on some of the immersives I’ve played, but never really did any of it. Still, how hard can it be? Just pound the metal into the right shape, then sharpen it by grinding it down. I’ll bet I could use this coral-rock as a good grindstone kinda thing.
She started pounding methodically, working her way up and down the thick edge so that she hopefully wouldn’t flatten one area much more than another. It took a while to figure out the right angle and force to use to not jolt the heck out of her arm and hand and still get the metal to move a bit on every impact. Sakura paused and checked on Hitomi; her little sister had moved somewhat around the perimeter but was now carrying, very carefully, what looked like a dark green puffball in the tongs and placing it on what was already a fairly impressive array of pieces of plants and, probably, plant-like things. She’s focused now; she’ll do that for hours, probably, unless something distracts her.
Reassured, Sakura went back to her work. Now that I’ve figured this out…
But as time went on, Sakura found, to her chagrin, that what looked really easy in an immersive sim … wasn’t nearly so easy. The side she was pounding on was thinning, yes, but it was also mushrooming out, and parts of the metal were splitting slowly. There was no sign of a nice, clean edge appearing. She thought her Shapetool might be able to trim off some of the edge, but she had to, grudgingly, admit that her cavalier assessment of how easy this should be had been badly wrong. They make it look easy in the games — smith heats metal, pounds it, grinds it, got a blade. Sometimes just pounds on the metal.
She studied the mass of junk again. Making a blade wasn’t easy. Whips would probably be laughing at her for trying it that way. But maybe there was something else.
The long reinforcement fibers were like braided cord — and very strong. But they wouldn’t do as a whip; she’d intended them just for tying things together. The meter-long rod wouldn’t make a very good club; it was too light on its own. The hammer-chunk of steel wasn’t shaped in a way that would make it easy to attach it to something. She thought about various types of weapons. Well, tough cord could be used for a, whatchacallit, garrotte, but that’s not a hunting weapon. I’ve seen something people throw to tangle up prey… a bola? Her omni had a little information on those, including how to determine the right weights and lengths of cord.
But learning to use them would take a lot of time, and they’d be pretty useless as a defensive weapon up close. Sakura wanted something they could use for hunting or for protection.
She looked at the rod, then a thought occurred to her. She took it and tried to bend it. The rod bent, then sprang back to its original shape as soon as she let go.
Bow and arrow?
The problem then would be arrows. They’d need something pretty straight, the right thickness, and a way to put heads on them — and making the heads would go right back to the problem she was having with making spearheads. Or maybe you could just take the stuff you used for the shafts and sharpen it? Fire-hardening, that’s what I’m thinking of. There’s some kind of trick to that.
“Well, Saki, what are you up to here?”
She jolted to her feet, startled. “Dad? I thought you were out exploring!”
“We were, but it’s been a long day.” Akira Kimei showed traces of sunburn, a lot of sweat, and his hair was disarranged and filled with sand and salt, but he was grinning widely. Behind him, Melody was trudging up, carrying a bag of samples, and the scraping sound and movement behind her showed Whips was also approaching. “But a very good day overall.”
She saw a potential disaster in the making as Whips emerged from the surrounding vegetation. “Watch it, everyone — Hitomi’s samples are on that rock. Don’t walk over it.”
“Hitomi’s samples?” Akira smiled. “Well, that should be interested. Where is Hitomi?”
With a shock, Sakura realized that she’d lost track of time — and she didn’t remember, now, seeing that movement out of the corner of her eye that told her Hitomi had brought in a new sample. “I… I don’t know!”
“Don’t panic,” her father said quickly. “Hitomi! Hitomi!” he called.
There was no answer.
“HITOMI!” she called as loud as she could.
There was still no answer. “Dad…”
“If she was making this collection, she can’t have gone too far. Let’s all look around.” Her father’s tone did not quite conceal his worry, and Sakura’s gut tightened. How could she have been so stupid?
She hesitated, took a deep breath. Got to think. Part of me must have heard her, must have seen her, last time she went by. Which direction?
She turned slowly, until a part of her said yes. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what told her that was the right direction, whether she’d heard some faint noise, seen some shadow, or what, but she was pretty sure this was the direction Hitomi had gone.
Please be okay, please be okay…
“Hitomi! Come on, answer me, Hitomi!”
Her omni pinged. “What’s wrong, Sakura?”
“Mom…” she heard her voice quiver. “Mom, I… I lost Hitomi.”
There was a sharp intake of breath. “How could you — ” her mother began to snap, then stopped. “You’re looking for her now?”
“Me, Dad, Mel, and Whips. They just got back. Oh, God, Mom, I’m so –”
“Don’t, Saki. Find her.”
She filled her lungs again and shouted, “HITOMI!!”
She heard the others calling too, in different directions, pushed on. There were so many things they didn’t know; so many things that could have hurt her. She had a grisly vision of one of those hole-dwelling things striking, dragging her little sister down… She shuddered, felt nausea rising. Or something could have stung her… poisoned her… God, I’m so stupid, stupid, I should’ve watched her…
She drew another breath, then stopped. What…?
Ahead, and a little to the right, she heard a rapping sound.
There it was again. It sounded like rocks banging together.
If she gets absorbed in a project…
She ran towards the sound. Sparkling, darting things flew in panic from the plants. Something else scuttled away, making a faint wheezing noise as fled.
Sakura burst through a group of jointed-stalked plants into a tiny clearing.
Hitomi was sitting there, a rock in her hand, carefully banging on another rock that was covered with plants. In that momentary glance, Sakura had the impression the unpounded ones looked something like very skinny celery.
Sakura felt her knees wobble, realized that the combination of yesterday’s poisoning and this new panic was catching up with her. “Everyone, I’ve found her!”
Hitomi didn’t even seem to notice immediately. She took another handful of plants, placed them carefully on the rock, and started pounding on these new additions. Sakura walked shakily closer, then laid a hand on Hitomi’s shoulder.
Her little sister jumped, then looked up with a suddenly guilty expression. “I’m sorry!”
Sakura dropped down on her knees and hugged Hitomi fiercely. “It’s okay, I just… just should have kept a better eye on you.” She looked at the green-spattered rock. “What in the world were you doing?”
“Oh! I was cutting a plant, and one of them … squished funny. And I saw it had these, like, strings? In it. And the way it squished was funny, and I wanted to see what happened if I squished more, but there were only a couple, so I kept looking until I found a lot of them in a big clump…”
Sakura shook her head. It was so very Hitomi. She got an idea in her head and it literally took over. “Well, look, Dad’s back. Let’s get back to camp.”
Hitomi looked back at the rock reluctantly. “But I want to bring it with me.”
“A bunch of squished plants? Hitomi, how could we carry it? It’s stuck to the rock! Even if it wasn’t, it’d just be a big squashy mess!” To prove her point she grabbed a mass of the fibers at the edge and pulled.
Most of the mass of pounded plants peeled off the rock in a single sheet, translucently green in the sun.