Pathfinder’s Journey, part 4

Pat collected her dinner and looked for a place to sit. The doctor spotted an empty seat at one table and headed for it. As she neared the table she overheard the grumbling of one woman named Petra.

 “I just don’t get it. They’re bringing in men. I thought we wanted an all woman colony but they bring in a bunch of tribes and now families. Why are they bothering?”

Pat sat down and cleared her throat. “Genetic viability,” she said simply and sprinkled some salt onto her meal.

“You want to say that in English?” the woman asked of Pat.

“It’s simple. If we had kept it all women with just a few kids then we would die out in just a generation or two. Right now our genetic pool is a muddy little puddle and drying up fast. Ideally we need over 5000 unrelated people to have a stable and thriving population a hundred years from now.” Pat took a bite and chewed, unconcerned that she had confused the woman and several others at the table. They had thought the influx of people from the tribes had been more than enough for breeding purposes.

Another woman understood the implications. She knew that they needed more people but Petra and a few others had been grumbling behind the council’s back. She decided to ask questions so they would understand and quit bellyaching.

“Because too few people cause inbreeding, correct?”

 “Exactly. You can only reuse the same genes so much before the kids pay for it with birth defects and other medical problems.” Pat took another bite and waved her fork around as she spoke. “By theory you can get away with less than 600 unrelated people to breed but the smallest setback like an epidemic or natural disaster will end the same way. Sort of like that hideous children’s Indian song, just substitute lesbian and you’ll get the general idea.”

Petra looked at the doctor with a terrified expression. “You mean the ‘Ten little, nine little,’ song?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. People would die off. Some day in the future an alien would look down at this Earth and say ‘Gee, look at that, an empty town. I wonder where all the people went?’ and find very little left to study.”

One of Petra’s friends chuckled. “Still want to kick out the guys, Petra?”

The woman shook her head. “No, I guess they have their uses. I never thought about it that way.”

“Well, that’s what the council is for, to think about the future,” Pat shrugged, scooping up the last bite from her plate and standing up. “See you all later, I have a patient to see in a bit.”

“Get out of here you sorry excuse for a feather duster!” Sharon shouted at the parrot. The bird squawked and flew out of the kitchen with its stolen booty, taken from the prep table.

Muriel barely noticed her pet return to her shoulder, quite accustomed to Buddy coming and going as he pleased. He had the ability to fly but never went far, keeping her in sight at all times.

“Muriel! I’m gonna skin that bird of yours and cook him for supper one of these days!” Sharon threatened when she reached the table.

The potter glanced up and saw that Buddy was munching happily on a piece of pepper.

“Sharon, he’s just getting himself a snack. He’s harmless.”

“Harmless my granny’s garters. That demon from hell enjoys tormenting me and don’t you deny it!” The older woman stalked away, mumbling about possible recipes for stewing the bird.

 The crops were nearly ready for harvesting and the council discussed the upcoming trading event. The previous one left them with a better idea what the other clans wanted for trading and they had adjusted their goods to suit it.

Maggie had produced quite a few metal arrowheads and knives. The doctors had produced more packages of herbal medicines and filled crocks with salves. The beehives had produced quite a bit of wax and honey, a commodity not easily found by the two nomadic clans. They had collected the beeswax, leaving some in each hive, and made candles for the coming winter. They had estimated how many they wanted for their own use and would take the remainder to the trade.

The glassblower and Muriel, the potter, had combined their skills to produce two kinds of lamps. One that burned rendered animal fat and the other to burn candles.

Lisa, their leather expert, had a huge demand for horse harnesses and for her one specialty, saddles. She didn’t make many during the year but the ones she did produce were coveted.

Shane, one of the gay men who recently arrived, had a skill that was appreciated by the villagers, his ability to produce working models of clocks, compasses, and gadgets such as water sculptures and other long lost mechanics. Very few people bothered learning the old methods of making machines that worked by motion, water, or gears.

The first item he had built was a device that seemed simple because it used a sundial, but it kept track of the estimated dates by shadows as it moved across a complex carved top. With it, they could roughly guess the time of year without using a calendar and knew the times of the equinox. All of them realized that eventually their digital watches would die and the sundial would at least tell them about what month it was. There was little need to frantically keep track of the days except for knowing when to meet for the trading events.

It was easy to imagine a future when time had no real meaning. There would only be morning, midday, and night for the population. In all honesty, there was little need for it now. People got up and slept with the sun, and cared only about when meals were served. Anything else was trivial. Most likely, in future generations, things like birthdays wouldn’t be celebrated. They would only know the season they were born and refer to themselves as so many seasons old.

His second device was an old-fashioned derrick. With it, the villagers could lift heavy items without strain. He used the wheels from the carts the new arrivals had brought and made it mobile. Eva shook her head, wondering why she hadn’t thought of it.

Tracy had reminded her that she was an architectural engineer, not a mechanical one. They thought about and approached problems from different angles. Neither was better than the other and complimented their abilities. Eva felt better and returned to her project of building a windmill.

Eva and Shane had agreed that building a wind-powered pump would benefit the community. Although their town experienced only a few breezy days a week, it would be often enough to make the pump worthwhile. It would allow them to fill a water tower in case of fire or drought. They could use it to irrigate fields easier, or to bring up water from wells. They were building a prototype to work out the bugs and find the easiest method to produce them.

Cierra walked up to the two engineers, wondering what was wrong. Both were glaring at the plans in front of them. “What’s up?”

Eva turned around and faced her queen. “We don’t have enough brass to make a single pump much less a dozen.”

Cierra knew nothing about metals and prodded Eva for more. “Can’t you just make brass? Maggie said there were lots of ore mines in California.”

Eva sighed. “Yeah, there is. All of them a long distance from here and in different locations. The problem is that one of the compounds for brass is zinc or calamine. Either can pollute the environment. We all signed a treaty not to do that, so even if we find a vein of the metals we can’t use them.”

“Is there anything we can substitute for brass? Like gold? We can get our hands on it easily enough.”

Shane spoke up. “Gold is too soft. We’d have to add another metal to it to use it. Like copper or silver.”

Eva snapped her fingers. “Wasn’t there a huge copper mine east of San Francisco? The Sky Dancer clan is not far from there already. If they could bring us a supply of copper ore then we could--”

“And the silver at Mt. Davidson--” Shane inserted.

“We could make alloys that were strong enough for the pumps!”

The two engineers did a high five and bumped hips. Cierra watched in amusement then told them to do what was necessary before walking away.

A technician clipped a microphone to Carmen’s blouse. She had been asked to appear on one of the local talk shows nearly a year after she had returned from Mother Earth. She had already given several magazine interviews for a price. The money had allowed her to relax and live without having to find a job.

She had painted a very dark picture of the colonists and especially of Cierra, telling everyone who would listen about the power hungry bitch that ruled over the colony with an iron fist.

Carmen liked the attention and hoped to find a position as a television host. The interview today could very well help her reach that goal. The woman sitting in the interviewer’s chair cleared her throat and waited for her cue as the man in front of her counted down silently with his fingers.

“Good morning. Today we have Carmen Wells with us. As you all know, Carmen spent a brief time on Mother Earth and returned, quite disappointed with the reality of the New World.” The hostess turned her gaze towards Carmen. “Could you tell us about what you experienced there?”

The woman smiled charmingly at the hostess and began speaking.

“I had doubts almost from the first moment I arrived. We had been crammed into an old smelly bus along with farm animals. The smell was awful. The two women who had brought us to the jump site were bossy and rude but no one dared say a word.”

Carmen paused briefly to cross her shapely legs. It never hurt to show them off. “When we got there, they fed us rice and water. Those meals made me remember that program on how people were brainwashed in those cults. After that, they took us on a tour and told us what work they would have us do the next day. They gave us wigwams to sleep in and our beds were nothing but grass with a rug over it. Believe me, sleeping on that is almost as bad as the bare ground and just as cold.

Carmen glanced at the woman interviewing her, wondering why she asked no other questions but kept speaking. “The next morning, at sunrise, they woke us all up by pounding metal. It was like boot camp from hell.  They expected us to crawl out of bed and start our labors. I was angry. First they barely fed us then prevented us from getting any decent sleep. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to give in to their demands and would ask to be returned as soon as I could find Cierra.”

The female host hummed but didn’t ask for more. Carmen smiled weakly. “Anyway, I was trying to scrounge up some food that morning but the head cook refused to give me anything unless I earned my breakfast by working. I was outraged, let me tell you!”

The woman finally spoke. “So you demanded to be brought back here?”

“Yes, and I was glad I escaped. I shudder to think about all those poor women trapped on Mother Earth right now.”

“Well, I think we can provide everyone with an update on all those ‘poor women’ and reassure those who have loved ones in the alternative universe. May I present the Hollingsworth family, recently returned from Mother Earth.”

The audience applauded politely as the four family members joined the hostess and Carmen on the stage.

“Welcome back to America everyone. I’m sure you’re eager to tell us all about your adventures during this summer.”

Carl smiled and nodded. “Thanks. We had a great time there. Everybody was so friendly that we hated to leave. Funny how people view things, isn’t it?” the man said, giving Carmen a disgusted look.

Carmen tried not to show her panic. When she was the only one on Earth that had been there she could say what she pleased. She had no idea anyone else had gone there and returned. She wanted to swear at the television crew that set her up.

Carl kept his eyes on Carmen. “By the way, the head cook is my Mom. She was known as one of the nicest women in our hometown and would give the shirt off her back to anyone who needed it.”

Luke spoke up and asked a question. “Dad, wasn’t Carmen the one thrown out because she had a princess mentality and practically wanted breakfast in bed?”

The audience roared in laughter. Carmen spun in her chair and the hostess was very glad of the four-second delay in airtime because of the number of words that needed to be bleeped.

* * * *

Continued in Part 5

Return to the Academy