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Expansion of Mankind Chapter Two

Problems and Diplomacy

After a long, faster than light flight, the huge colonization spaceship had reached its destination. There the passengers found three planets in the liquid water zone of this faraway star. To their dismay they found that the planet they had hoped to colonize was already inhabited by an advanced race that didn't suffer interlopers.

There was a second planet that would serve but it was a very malignant place with its flora and fauna lethal to humans.

The third planet could be terraformed to make it viable but would take many centuries, time they didn't have.

The Marines that had accompanied them had set up a base camp on the planet, and after much discussion and argument it had been decided to do their best with the only option left to them. They started their colonization. Fortunately the natives of the other planet had decided to help them.

The Marines had expanded the perimeter of their encampment until they controlled quite a few square miles. The dangerous plants were drained of their energy and it was stored, and left nothing but ash as if it were burned, which is what burning is, removing the energy. More Marines and the first colonists arrived on the surface where they set up their homesteads. They were issued basic prefabricated buildings to use until they could build what they wanted.

They all had the tools they needed to start and on the original site factories and mills were built. One of the first was a sawmill where the native trees were turned into lumber. This was going to be a self supporting colony as soon as crops could be grown and harvested.

Among the first to arrive was Kari Smith and her two sons, husky men in their early twenties. Instead of rushing off and grabbing the closest land she studied the maps and asked the Marines and Troyal about the different areas. They decided on some property that had a good sized stream running through it, even though it was a ways from the encampment. It hadn't even been cleared for usage yet.

Many of the other colonists didn't think to consider if their sites were sustainable land, they just grabbed something that was free. Others had no interest in the land at all, but just took their allotment to trade later for other assets to build businesses. Land speculation was an ongoing enterprise.

As more and more people descended from the ship the amount of land cleared for colonization grew. Now the colonists themselves were the main force in pacifying the vicious plant life as the Marines were busy protecting them from the dangerous beasts living there and acting as a police force in the ever growing city and its environs.

The first fatality had been a Marine that didn't study too closely the warnings given them by Troyal about the plant life. While chopping out a small plant with poisonous thorns he disregarded the tall innocent looking plant behind him.

It was a tall plant with long leaves that sprouted from the base into a columnar figure. As he was working, suddenly one leaf unfolded at the top to reveal a club like head with long, sharp, pointy, branches. It snapped out and impaled him, almost pinning him to the ground.

He had enough breath before he died to give a loud wail. When help arrived the plant had already dragged him into its middle and only his boots could be seen. They hacked the plant to bits to find he was already partly digested.

He was the first, but by no means the only. As the settlement spread there were more casualties to the lethal environment, most of them of people who didn't study the warning hologram that had been broadcast to everyone's personal device called a Budeez.

Much like the Marine's manual, these had a full library of reference material and could be used for communication as well as entertainment. At a voice command a hologram could project a play or the spoken reading of a book.

When the people saw what could happen if they didn't know what to beware one of most popular holograms was the one based on Troyal's information on the dangers in the environment.

The insect problem was the next big killer. Even the Rovers didn't have all the information on the millions, possibly billions of different types. The medical staff was being overwhelmed trying to formulate antidotes for the many poisons that people were getting when bitten or stung.

Troyal had given them a sample of a repellent made from local ingredients that allowed the Rovers to walk unharmed through the jungle. When used on the human volunteer testers it raised huge blisters and even proved fatal in a few cases. After extensive analysis they were able to find the ingredients to make one that worked without the pernicious side effects although not as efficiently.

That left the native animals as the biggest threat at yet unsolved, and it was a huge one. The large carnivores weren't much trouble. Because of their size they needed large territories and when they did contact the colonists they were able to be dispatched by the human's powerful side arms which everyone carried. They learned to avoid the human areas and even when they didn't they found humans very unappetizing.

The smaller, more numerous animals were posing the most pressing dilemma. For example, there was a few inches long worm or snake that lived underground. When it felt vibrations from footsteps it would ambush the walker and bite the foot or ankle leaving a deadly infection with flesh eating properties to predigest the victim. They quickly acquired the name “nippers.”

Many native animals were found with the carcass seething with the creatures like large maggots, devouring it completely. Not a few colonists suffered the same fate. Soon everyone was wearing knee high metal greaves. Eventually they found a native plant that had a compound that interrupted the life cycle of this deadly pest and it slowly became less of a threat on the land where it was used.

It seemed that for every danger there was, a solution could be found from a native source, but it took heartbreaking time and effort to find it.

About a month after first landing there was an emergency meeting of the principals in the new headquarters built on the landing site. Captain Minetta, Colonel Ross and Doctor Keith had come down from the ship to attend in person. Newly promoted Major Anders and Sergeant Buckles represented the Marines on the ground and Kari Smith the colonists.

As the senior person Captain Minetta opened the meeting, “I would like to know your latest reports on where we stand and where you think we're going. Dr. Keith, will you please start.”

“We seem to have our heads above water at this point, but not by much. There are new problems sprouting every day and my people in the labs are just about exhausted trying to keep up with it. I think we will have to rethink our earlier projections on how fast we can bring people down.”

“Major Anders, what are your thoughts on that? You're the senior person on the ground.”

“With all respect to the Doctor, I don't see it that way. Yes, I have lost almost five percent of my men and about fifteen percent of the colonists are dead, but we know most of the unknowns now and are overcoming them. If the new arrivals are thoroughly educated before their feet hit the ground our attrition rate will be much lower in the future.”

Doctor Keith objected, “But Major, just extrapolating your figures would give a number close to fifteen thousand deaths. I couldn't condone such a figure.”

“Neither could I, Doctor. But I'm sure it won't stay at that pace. We know what the big killers are and have safeguards now if the people follow them.”

Kari rose, “I have to say something about this. Do any of you know the history of the early United States? They also had a mass migration as they moved West on their continent. You should look up how few of them reached their objective, and they didn't have the advantages that we do in medicine and technology. Yet, less than a hundred years later they were the most powerful nation on Earth.

We will have a winnowing of the weak and inept just as they did and it will make us a better society from that. It's a harsh way to look at it but true nevertheless.”

Captain Minetta said, “That's a good point, Kari, but we have to feed them too. Can you tell me how that's progressing?”

“I believe I can. There are plantings already of the fast growing strains we brought with us. The soil needed certain additives that weren't found here but we have them available and can synthesize more. We have identified many benign native plants and animals that can be food sources. If we don't run into an unforeseen obstacle I think we're fine at this point.”

“Thank you, Kari. Sgt. Buckles, would you like to add anything to this discussion? You have the most day to day, hands on experience of anyone here. ”

“Yes sir, I would. I think we need to strengthen the Marine forces. We're running into malcontents among the colonists and if they're not checked we're heading for trouble with the Rovers. I also think we're making a mistake not having Troyal in these meetings so that he can see the problems we're having. He has been very helpful in anything we asked and keeping secrets from him could turn out to be disastrous.”

Kari said, “I second that motion. Troyal has been a very valuable ally and keeping him in the dark about anything is not a good idea. We can't afford to forget the Rover's views on greed.”

“Point taken. Is there any discussion on this before a vote?”

Dr. Keith stood, “I don't think we should reveal all of our military might, we may need a surprise in the future.”

Major Anders snorted, “Doctor, if you saw a flintlock rifle wouldn't you know immediately what it could accomplish? I think that's how Troyal views our weaponry. He has shown no curiosity about any of our military equipment. I'm sure he already knows what our capabilities are. I think it's a moot point.”

The vote was unanimous, Troyal would be an attendee to all future meetings. The awakening and arrival of more colonists would proceed as planned. The fatalities and injuries did decrease as more knowledge was gained. More and more land was colonized and settled on.

However, with more settlers came more whiners and troublemakers, and as with most people, loud voices draw an audience. Most of the people listened for a few minutes and walked away, shaking their heads, but some always stayed.

There was an informal meeting with Sgt. Buckles, Troyal, and Kari discussing this.

“What do you think we can do about some of these fat mouthed idiots, Kurt? They're starting to infect the whole colony with their bitching. Even those that don't agree with them are wondering if there isn't some truth in what they say.”

“There's not too much we can do, Kari, until they cross the line and start pushing rebellion or something. Troyal, you must have the same sort of thing in your society, don't you? How do you handle it.”

Troyal had a full grasp of the language now and spoke better English than some of the humans, “Of course we have people that are dissatisfied, but they are given a place to lodge those complaints. Then the complaint is rectified if possible. If it's an unreasonable complaint and the person is still making trouble they are cured or eliminated.”

Kari was wide eyed, “Does that mean what I think it means? You kill them?”

“Not at first. We try to cure them of their mental discontent. If that doesn't work we do what you would do with a cancer in your body, we eliminate it. I take it from the looks on your faces that wouldn't work here.”

Kurt sighed, “Oh, it would work, but we wouldn't be able to do it. Everyone would object and it would just drive them underground. But the first part, having a place to air their grievances, that might help. Once their unreasonable demands were aired the rest of the people would see them for what they are. I'll see the Major about setting something like that up. Don't you think that would help, Kari?”

“Yes I do. Maybe even setting up a clinic of some sort to help them see the error of their ways might help. I'll talk to the colonist's council and the medical staff about that. Do you have any other suggestions, Troyal?”

“My pardon, Kari, that was not a suggestion. Just an answer to Kurt's question about our practices. These people are your problem and you must solve it yourself if you don't want us interfering. You do not want us interfering.”

A complaint council was set up and met every week. On the council were five elected representatives from the colonists, two psychiatrists, and one from the military. The first week the hall was jammed but mostly from spectators that wanted to see what was going on.

The proceedings were recorded and sent to everyone's Budeez. From then on the crowds were not nearly as large as people could watch it at their leisure. Still, there were numerous people with complaints the first week. Some were just misunderstandings on aspects of the colonization and were easily settled. Some were more serious, as a dispute over property lines.

Kari, the head of the council, called one of these up. “Mr. Harkins, what is your complaint.”

“My neighbor, Mr. Keller, is farming some of my property.”

“Mr. Keller, is that true? Are you farming some of Mr. Harkins land?”

“Yes Ma'am, I am, but he can't farm it and it would just lie fallow if I didn't. There's a big ravine between his land and that parcel. Sometimes there's water in it which we both use, but he can't get his machinery across it to farm it.”

“Do you have the same amount of land that he could have access to that you would trade him for the disputed land?”

“Huh, we never thought of that. Harkins, would you take that piece on my Southwest border in trade? It's closer to your house than mine and it's good land but a long way from my place.”

“You got a deal, Keller, and this way we both have access to the water. Thank you, Mrs. Smith. I don't know why we didn't figure that out.”

“I'm sure you would have in time. Go to the registrars office and sign the papers transferring the parcels. Next case.”

Not all were that easy. “You're next Mr. Ames. You look familiar, have we met before?”

“No, but you might have met my brother, he was thawed for awhile. I don't know why he went back into the freezer. If I find out he was bullied there'll be trouble.”

“What is your complaint, Mr. Ames?”

“I got cheated, that's what.”

“Oh, how did you get cheated?”

“I was promised a good piece of land. That Harkins that was just up here got a whole lot better piece than I did.”

“Which group did you come down with, Mr. Ames?”

“I was in the third group, what difference does that make?”

“Well, let's see. According to the records Mr. Harkins was in the fourth group. That piece that he has was still open when you came down, why didn't you take it then, it was open?”

“It wasn't ready for settlement, that's why. I didn't want to wait.”

“Is the land you have not any good?”

“It's not as good as his and I was promised good land. In fact, I demand it.”

“Very well, Mr. Ames. According to the survey map there are plenty of land parcels not taken on some of the best land. You may trade your parcel for one of them if you wish.”

“Damn it, lady, aren't you listening? They're not ready for settlement yet. I was in the third group and shouldn't have to wait.”

“But you didn't wait, you took a parcel. What would you have us do, throw someone off their land so that you can have it? That's not going to happen, so what else can we do to make you happy?”

“That's up to you, you're the high and mighty commissioners. I just want what I was promised.”

“I can see that we won't be able so settle this now so we'll send this to the uh, appeals section. Next case.”

After the session convened Kari and Kurt were walking together. “I swear, he's a bigger fathead than his brother, Kurt. I hope the psych panel can talk some sense into him or I'm thinking the Rover's way wouldn't be so bad for idiots like that.”

“That's just your temper talking. You know we wouldn't do that and couldn't, Kari. What we can do is if he makes trouble is put him on the brush cleaning detail on the unsettled land and hope for the best. I doubt if he stepped up to do his time like everyone else to make this place habitable. Let him argue with some of those fatal plants.”

“Yea, I'll bet he's one of those that didn't look at the warning hologram either. Didn't we pass a law that people who were inciting trouble could be sentenced to extra time on those details?”

“If we didn't we sure as hell should. I'll bet that would quiet a bunch of them. I'll see about it first thing.”

There were other panels set up to deal with the problems that occurred. One of these was the Disciplinary Panel. If someone was found violating the laws and restrictions that all had agreed to on Earth they were brought before this panel. Unless they were violent or a danger they were allowed freedom until appearing. It was headed by a three judge panel, Major Anders being the chief judge.

It was held in the town hall, a hastily constructed wooden building. A new, more permanent, stone building was being erected on the same property.

One of the cases brought before the bench was interesting.

“Mr. Harold Ames, please step forward. Mr. Ames, you were found irradiating your property in violation of the ordinances, do you have anything to say?”

“Damn right I do. They talked me into staying on that property and maybe trading it for some better later, but I wanted to get a crop in. Those little nippers in the ground are deadly so I sterilized the property to kill 'em, what's wrong with that?”

“Well, for one thing, you'll not get a crop on your land for years, you killed all the organisms that are necessary for a crop. There is a legal way to take care of them, you should have used that. You also used an instrument that you had no legal access to, where did you get it?”

“I didn't steal it, I just borrowed it and I put it back when I was done. Someone should have told me about the things in the dirt. Now what am I going to do with the land?”

“You were told, Mr. Ames, you were given the information in your Budeez. Didn't you read it?”

“I can't be fooling around with all that stuff, and how come every time I turn around one of you Army guys are badgering me. Aren't you supposed to be protecting us, not picking on us?”

“Mr. Ames, we are Marines, not Army, and part of our duties is to act as a police force until one can be set up. I was elected to this position by everyone, didn't you see my name on the ballot?”

“I haven't got time for that foolishness, besides, one vote don't make a difference.”

“Do you have any more to say in your defense?”

“What good would it do, you already made up your mind, you're always imposing on us poor folks.”

After the judges conferring for a few minutes Major Anders delivered the verdict and the sentence, “Mr. Ames, you are found guilty of the charges and sentenced to three months of brush clearing with no pay. After that time you may stay on that detail and will receive pay or find other employment. The land will be returned to the common ownership to be rehabilitated.”

“What! That's not fair, it was my land and I should be able to do what I want with it. I'm not going on any damn brush clearing detail either.”

“That's your choice, but you will not receive any of your ration of the food if you don't. There are edible native plants and animals out there. If you look at your Budeez you'll be able to find them. Good luck.”

The next group of colonists that came down from the ship were mostly tradespeople rather than farmers. These were people that had no interest in farming, but in building a business.

As the perimeter of the settlement grew roads had to be built for the farmers to be able to reach the markets to sell their crops and buy their needs. Housing had to be built, better than the simple shelters that had been issued, along with barns, equipment sheds, and the business buildings themselves.

Space was set near the lumber mill for a planned industrial area. Soon a grain mill was built, then a foundry. Power was not a problem in the heart of the community as it could be broadcast from the power station, but some of the far outlying farms had to do with power cells which could be recharged in the town.

Someone discovered how to distill the huge amount of foliage that was cut down daily. Suddenly the proceedings of the Disciplinary Panel grew sharply. Although the vast majority of the settlers just had an occasional drink after a hard day's labor, some didn't stop there. It didn't present a huge problem yet.

This wasn't a poor group of people by any means. Before they left Earth they had to show that they had the wherewithal to survive when they reached their destination before they started earning a living here.

Some had come for the adventure, some for a new beginning, many to leave the teeming crowds on Earth. And a few, of course, had left Earth just a few steps ahead of the consequences of their indiscretions.

Crime overall wasn't much of a problem. There was an occasional theft, mostly of personal items as the settlers had access to all the essentials quite inexpensively. With the forensic capabilities the Marines had these were almost always solved quickly and the perpetrators went to the brush clearing detail. As the fatality rate was much higher than the general population on these jobs so the crime problem was self healing, so to speak.

This changed one bright and sunny morning as Sgt. Buckles was sitting in his office going over reports on the previous day's police activities. As acting chief of the temporary police force he was happy to see very little trouble reported. Then his head phone clicked.

“Sarge, we got trouble.”

“How come every time you call me it means trouble, Davies? Why don't you call me with good news sometimes?”

“Uh, sorry, Sarge. I can tell you about a party Saturday, it's....”

“Never mind, what have you got?”

“I think this farmers been murdered.”

“Murdered! Why do you think that?”

“Well, he's hanging by his feet in his shed and his throats been cut and, uh, I think you should see the rest yourself. It ain't pretty.”

“Alright, stay there and don't let anyone else in till I get there. Don't you do anything either, stay away from him.” He got directions from Private Davies and pushed that channel off.

Pushing on a tooth he told Corporal Sanchez to get their ride ready, then punched a key on the phone on his desk and called the doctor.

Another tooth, another call, “Major, I think you should come with us to a crime scene, it sounds like a murder.” Listening for a moment he said, “Yes Sir, pick you up in two minutes.”

Leaving some orders with the Marine on the duty desk he walked outside where he was almost run down as Corporal Sanchez skidded around the corner and just missed him. She slid the vehicle to a stop a few feet past. The vehicle would have been recognized easily a few centuries in the past.

It wasn't much more than an open bodied platform with short sides and a shield in front of the driver. It would seat two semi comfortably and two more uncomfortably. It resembled an antiquated vehicle called a jeep and the same name was used now. There was a difference, there wasn't an engine in the front but a covered platform to carry things. The power was from a cell that fed energy to small motors at each wheel.

The driver, Corporal Sanchez,was a small, extremely attractive, seemingly young lady with very short, black hair showing under her cap and and a huge sparkling smile. “Is this a duty ride or are we finally going on a date, Kurt?”

“You won't be so chipper by the end of this day. First we'll pick up the major and then the doctor. Let's move it Sanchez.”

His tone wiped away her smile as they sped to the Major's office to find him waiting outside. Kurt moved to the back as the Major got in. At the doctor's office the Major moved to the rear as the older doctor sat in front.

It was over a two hour drive to the outskirts of the perimeter of cleared land, most of which showed the green blanket of sprouting crops. Occasionally there was a native tree and other foliage that was known to be benign. Sometimes they passed fields of almost mature crops from the very quick growing seeds they had brought from Earth.

Passing newly erected prefab shelters or buildings under construction were far apart as the land parcels that the farmers had were huge, based on how much they could manage with the advanced equipment they had. Some of the larger equipment was owned by a cooperative as it was only needed a short time each year on each farm.

When they reached their destination they found Private Davies guarding the door to a newly built, tall shed with two doors, one large for equipment, the smaller for people. The only other building was one of the prefab shelters they had all been issued.

As they pulled up Major Anders asked, “Whose property is this, Buckles?”

“According to the plot it's a David Kemper”

“Is he married? Does it say?”

“Yes Sir, it says married, no children.”

As they got out of the jeep Major Anders yelled, “Davies, have you seen a woman anywhere?”

“No Sir, I was looking for him and I first went to the shelter, then I went to the shed and found him.”

“Sanchez, go back to that last farm and ask about her. Play it nonchalant like you just need some information and for god's sake don't mention this.” Turning to Buckles and the doctor, “Well, let's take a look.”

Buckles grabbed the the wood high on the door rather than the handle and pulled it open to reveal a man hanging upside down from a rope thrown over a joist high in the shed. The other end was tied to a brace on the wall. His hands were tied to a heavy piece of machinery on the floor.

There were multiple cuts on his bare arms and his legs where his pants had slid towards his waist.

The fatal wound was apparently his cut throat. “Buckles, did you notify the forensic team?”

“Yes Sir, I left orders for them to follow us, they should be here soon.”

The doctor had walked around the corpse and stood by the Major, “You sure as hell didn't call me out here to see if he was dead, so what do you want?”

“Can you tell how long he's been hanging there and how long he's been dead?”

“Judging by how congealed the blood is I'd estimate four hours at least. I'll know more after we get him down, but if your forensic team is any good they could probably tell you more than me.”

Just then Corporal Sanchez walked in the door, took one look and ran outside where they could hear her retching.

“Go help her, Kurt, she's obviously not used to death like this.” He went out and got a clean rag and water bottle from the jeep and went to where she was on all fours, still gagging a bit. Wetting the rag he knelt and put on the back of her neck.

“Here Maria, take a little water and rinse your mouth. Don't swallow any or it'll come back up. When you feel better we'll talk.”

She glared at him, “We'll talk right now, you bastard. Why didn't you warn me why we were coming out here? You just let me walk into something like that cold.”

“Look Maria, I'm sorry. How long have you been in the Corp?”

“What difference does that make? Okay, so I've only been in fifteen years, does that mean I'm not allowed to have feelings?”

“No, but what it does mean is that they haven't exposed you to the grittier side yet. Until you reach twenty years and you sign up for another twenty they won't give you the permanent anti-aging and they sure as hell won't put you in situations where you'll see worse than this.”

“Do you mean you get used to this....carnage?”

“You never get used to it, but you do get to expect it. I have to keep swallowing to keep it down. Now, take another sip and see if it will stay down. Then, when you're ready, come into the shed and try to be detached from it. You're here to view the scene and take notes for a report. Can you do it?”

“I..I think so, it was just the shock. I'm sorry I called you a name.”

“You did? If I had heard it I'd have to put you on report, but I didn't hear anything. I'll see you inside.”

The forensic crew showed up a few minutes later, took their pictures, measurements, samples, and checked seemingly everywhere for DNA and other clues to identify the assailant. After they cut the man down they examined the body thoroughly and reported to Major Anders.

“The time of death that the doctor told you is correct. There was very little lividity except the hands as the rest of the blood drained through the neck wound. He was tortured before death for some hours. You'll have a full report by the end of the day. May we take him now for the autopsy?”

“Yes, proceed. Sanchez, what did you find out about the wife?”

“The neighbor says that she's staying with friends in town until they get the house started.”

“Thank God for that, we don't need two corpses. Sanchez, look up what religion, if any, they were and take their minister to see her. If she's alone, stay with her until someone shows up. We're done here, the forensic crew will check the whole place. I don't see any equipment or transportation. I wonder where that is?”

They climbed back in the jeep and headed towards town. When they saw Davies riding his motorcycle to town they stopped and got a report on what he'd seen, then proceeded. Davies had been guarding a brush clearing detail about two miles past the Kemper property when he'd received a message to investigate a disturbance at the property but didn't know who sent it.

When they returned to town they went over the information they had and waited for the inquiries they'd sent out to gain more. Corporal Sanchez and Private Davies returned almost together.

Sgt. Buckles asked, “Davies, who sent you to Kemper's place?”

“Like I told you, I don't know, they didn't say, but it came over the military band so I obeyed it.”

Corporal Sanchez put a report in front of Buckles. “This might be something, I was going over the reports on drunks that we picked up. It seems that that Ames joker got into a fight with Kemper the other night here in town. Ames was drunk and ended up with a bloody nose.”

“Davies, was there an Ames on your detail?”

“Yea, he was supposed to be, but he never showed, Sarge.”

“Who's out there guarding the detail?”

“Just Private Hayes after I left.”

“Sanchez, contact Hayes and see if Ames showed up. Then check to see if anyone's missing a military radio. ”

After a few minutes he said, “There was a radio stolen or misplaced the day before yesterday. Haye's not answering, Kurt. What should I do?”

“Get an armed squad and take a truck...no, take one of the antigravs and check it out. Call me when you get there, and be careful, there's something odd going on.

Kurt sat back in his chair and wondered what else could go wrong. He was about to find out. After a while Cpl. Sanchez called in, “Kurt, we're above where the work detail should be and there's no one here. What are your orders?”

“Find a good open area and set down. Investigate very carefully and let me know what you find.” He reported to Major Anders while he waited and was told to keep him up to date.

Sanchez reported again, “We found Pvt. Hayes, he was shot in the back of his head and hidden in a pile of brush. There's an area where I can see where a group pushed into the foliage when they left. I think it's cool enough that if we get above them we can trace them with infrared.”

“Okay, try it, but stay high. At least that antigrav doesn't make any noise but if they see you they might shoot. Besides their personal sidearms I'm sure they took Hayes' laser rifle and that could put you down. Stay on the air so I know what's going on.”

After a bit he said, “Okay, we're high and I was right, they left a bright trail that we're following. Wait a minute.... there's another trail leaving the main one. I think it's just one person. Maybe we could capture him and find out what's going on.”

“Good idea, but be careful, it might be a trick and if he's got the rifle he could be dangerous.”

“Okay, we're following his trail....It's wandering all over the place, I think he's lost..... There he is! He's waving at us, I don't see a rifle... I think he wants us to pick him up.”

“Well, don't land, send the harness down on the winch and pull him up, then see if you can find the main bunch again.”

After about ten minutes he said, “I think they got into a hidey hole somewhere, Kurt, we can't find them, and their trail petered out on a black rocky area that was real hot from the sun. I'm sorry, I think we lost them.”

“Not your fault. Leave most of your squad at Kemper's place to guard the road. Bring Hayes' body back. Make sure your prisoner is secure and return to base.”

Some time later Cpl. Sanchez walked in followed by the handcuffed prisoner. He was followed by an armed Marine.

The prisoner was a wispy looking young man. His fear was visible from his wide eyed gaze that flicked around the room to the quivering chin.

Buckles started his interrogation, “What's your name, kid? How old are you?”

“Uh, Kenny Bates, Sergeant. I'm just nineteen. I didn't do anything wrong, they made me come with them.”

“What did you do wrong that put on that work detail?”

“No, no, I wasn't there 'cause I did something. I was just doing my turn like everyone else.”

“Check his record, Sanchez, to see if he's telling the truth. Tell me what happened, Bates.”

“I'm not sure. I heard a handgun go off, but I didn't think too much of it, some of those guys shot at anything they didn't like. Then I heard the Marine's rifle go off. They only shoot at something bad. I looked up to see this guy with the rifle peeking around a tree, pointing it as us. He made all of us put our guns on the ground except four guys that he knew. They took the charges out of them and gave them back.”

“How many people were there?”

“There were twelve workers and two Marines. One of them left and I saw the other one dead, I guess that was the first shot.”

“Okay, go on.”

“Well, they made us go back down the road a ways and pick up a bunch of stuff, then we went back and took off into the jungle. One of the guys with guns was the last guy in line. I was carrying some heavy stuff and I fell behind even him.”

“How did you get away from them?”

“When he went behind some trees I dropped what I was carrying and ran. He yelled and shot at me but that just made me run faster. I tried to get back to the road but I guess I got lost. Man, was I happy when I saw the antigrav.”

Sanchez returned, “He checks out, Kurt, he was just doing his duty stint on the crew.”

“Okay, take the cuffs off him and have him write everything down. Get the names of the four that had loaded guns. I think I know who shot the Marine. Was his name Ames, Bates?”

“I heard one of them call him that, Sergeant.”

“Put out the word on all of them until we know who's innocent and who's not. Get this boy something to drink and eat afterwards. I have to see the Major.”

When he arrived at the Major's office he found him looking as flustered as he felt himself. The major must have been running his hand through his hair as it was in disarray. He reported what had been happening since his last report.

“That's bad enough, Kurt, but there's more. I'm getting reports of crops and houses burned on some of the outlying farms near Kemper's. Send out all those antigravs we have with a squad on each and have them patrol the area both sides of the perimeter of cleared land for a few miles. Capture anyone they find that looks suspicious, if they shoot at us, shoot back. I'm going to call a meeting of the Council.”

The Council met in the town hall with Capt. Minetta, Dr Keith, Col. Ross from the ship Major Anders, and Major Anders, Sgt. Buckles and Kari Smith. There were also representatives of the colonist's different areas seated against the walls. Troyal was seated at the table too and was the first to speak.

“Thank you for including me in your discussions. I have been apprised of your difficulties and I hope you appreciate how serious this is. My superiors will take a very serious view of this if it isn't stopped quickly. They will not allow you to stay here if it escalates much more.”

Capt. Minetta spoke next, “I'm sure that you realize that this is only a few dissidents among the thousands of humans that are here. The vast majority of humans are peace loving and only want to live a good life.”

“Yes Captain, I do realize that, but my people don't. They take a very dim view of these dissidents being allowed to do this by your authorities.”

“Would it help if we went and talked to them? We are doing our best to stop the criminals as we speak and hope to accomplish it quickly.”

“Yes, it would. They have wondered why you hadn't tried to do so before and has led them to believe that you are arrogant. That is not a good thing.”

“Troyal, in our society we wait for an invitation before doing so. Would you set up an opportunity for one?”

“Yes, of course. May I suggest that you do not crowd your visit with too many people. They are not interested in your advancements but in your intentions. As Major Anders had the first contact with me he is the one they will expect,and he has the day to day knowledge of what has transpired here.”

“Do you have any other recommendations?”

“I think that Mrs. Kari Smith would be advisable, she knows the colonists best.”

Troyal looked away for a few seconds, then continued, “They will expect you in two days.”

“I take it you are in constant contact with your people, Troyal.”

Troyal looked a little surprised, “Yes, of course.”

It was decided to follow the aliens suggestions that the delegation be consisted of Major Anders and Kari. They spent the next day studying the latest reports so as to be up to date on past occurrences, then went to the ship that had first landed on the planet. By now, all the troops and scientists that had used it for accommodations were in barracks or other homes.

They were seen off by throngs of people wishing them good luck. One of the last they saw was Troyal when he waved as the port was closed. It took a little less than a full day to fly to the Rover's planet and they took most of the time to plan how they were going to try to convey their message of peace to the Rovers.

Upon arriving Major Anders asked pilot, “Do you see any indication where they want us to land, Chief?”

“Uh, I don't know, Major, but it makes no difference, I haven't had control of the ship for the last five minutes. Someone else is directing us, and doing a damn fine job of it too.”

Whoever or whatever was controlling their ship landed them gently in a pastoral setting. They could see a small group of Rovers waiting to greet them. As the hull dilated into a port the first person they saw was Troyal. He stepped forward with one of his unusual smiles, “Welcome to my home, Major and Mrs. Smith, please feel welcome.”

Major Anders equivocated a bit, “Uh, Troyal? But we left you... I mean you were... is it really you?”

“Yes, I am Troyal, Sam. I could have traveled with you but I thought I would come ahead to make sure your accommodations were suitable. I take it I surprised you.”

“Er, yes, you certainly have but how..never mind, I probably wouldn't understand anyway. Well, now what?”

“Would you and Kari like to rest and have refreshments We have prepared a place for you if you'll come with me, it's not far.”

“Whatever you have arranged will be fine with us, we ate shortly before landing and are rested, so anything you feel is best is alright.”

As they approached the five other Rovers in the group Troyal said, “I'd like you to meet some of my friends. Unfortunately they don't speak your language and I don't think your tongues can form ours, so I will translate.” He then named each one in a language that sounded extremely discordant to the humans, much like scratching metal.

The humans saw that three of the group were some older than Troyal's age. The other two were older, showing some gray in their pelts and were a bit stooped, but in no way looked feeble and their eyes were clear with intelligence.

“Please tell them we are honored to meet them.”

“They feel the same about you, Sam, and you too, Kari. If it's agreeable we can have the meeting after you've become acquainted with your rooms.”

As they walked Kari and Sam noticed how beautiful the surroundings were. The grass, although showing no signs of having been mowed, was only as high as their ankles. It was thick and waved in the soft breeze. The trees and bushes were laid out randomly but weren't trimmed although didn't impede their progress at all. In places there were tremendous stones or groups of stones protruding from the soil. Small patches of bright flowers were scattered amongst the landscape.

“Is the meeting place far from here, Troyal?”

“Oh, no, it's right here in the city. Ah, here we are.” He took them around a group of huge trees all growing from a single root to a door in the base of the trees. Sam and Kari were stunned as they realized their rooms were actually in a living tree and they came to a halt and both of the humans took a closer look at their surroundings.

They realized that it wasn't a park they were traversing, but a city, an amazing, beautiful city. Now they could see that the tree groups, the stones, even the groups of flowering bushes were homes, so cleverly managed as to appear a primeval forest. The doors and windows were apparent when one looked for them, but to the casual eye were hidden.

Troyal opened the door and said, “This is one of our guest houses here in this city, please feel free to consider it as yours for as long as you need it.”

It had a small entry that opened into a living area, There were a few chairs but also piles of thick cushions against the walls. Two bedrooms could be seen through some archways that had thick curtains pulled to the side. From another archway a Rover entered carrying a tray with a carafe, glasses, and some bowls of what were probably delicacies of some sort. This Rover couldn't be identified as either female or male although it was much lighter of build than the others.

Troyal said, “This is Trivel, she will be your assistant. Then he gestured to the tray, “Please, help yourself, I'd be interested to see if you will like some of our foods. I assure you they won't harm you.” He poured glasses of the liquid for all and distributed them.

Kari took a sip and exclaimed, “This is delicious, may I ask what it is?”

“This is the nectar from one our native plants. One of my friends would like to know what you would like to accomplish on your visit?”

Kari said, “Our most important goal is to assure the Rovers that we come in peace and have no wish to impose ourselves on the Rovers planet. I do admit that we have a very small contingent of our people who don't follow those principals but we are trying our hardest to bring them under control and would not like to have us all judged on the actions of a very few. May I ask a question?”

“Most assuredly, please do.”

“What do you call this beautiful planet? From the little we have seen it is a paradise. We have just been calling it the First Planet.”

“You are very perceptive, Kari. You don't have a word that would be a direct translation, but Paradise would be close, or Heaven, or Nirvana.”

“Oh, I like that, Nirvana. That is what we hope to make of Prime through the coming centuries, a place of peace and tranquility.”

“Ah yes, so we hope too. Sam, what will you do with the dissidents once you capture them? Will they be exterminated?”

“At one time in our history we would have, but now, no. It would depend on many circumstances. They would be tried in a court first. The instigators and the followers would be reeducated if possible although they would be responsible for their actions and must repay society in some fashion. If they had been forced to commit wrong acts they would not be guilty of anything and would be returned to society after making sure they were no longer a danger.”

“What about those who could not be reeducated, will they be exterminated?”

“No, there may have been circumstances that warped their judgment. They would be put into some type of work to further society at no cost to the society. There is always the chance that they may realize their attitude is wrong.”

“And those who refuse to work?”

“They will not be fed or aided in any way, we need no nonproductive members in society. It's their choice then.”

“Another question from my friends, do you intend to trade with us?”

“Kari answered, “We hope very much to do so in the future. I'm sure there are things that both societies would like that can be provided by the other. That will strengthen our bonds of friendship even further. At the present time we're just trying to get our balance.”

As they tried the delicacies on the tray and finding them delectable more questions were asked and answered from both factions. It was a very friendly and relaxed conversation.

After some time Troyal said,”Now we must leave you to your rest. Consider this your home for as long as you like. Trivel will take care of anything you need or want.” He gestured to the other Rover who came in from the kitchen and bowed.

Sam asked, “When will the meeting with your superiors be, Troyal? We want to be ready.”

“Ah, Sam, was it not clear to you? You just had the meeting. Our decisions on it will be yours in a short time. Feel free to walk around the city if you'd like and meet some of our citizens. Trivel will be your translator.”Troyal gave one of his smiles and left.

“Good lord, Sam, I thought we were just chatting with some of his curious friends. I never got the opportunity to wear that fabulous gown or see you in a dress uniform. I thought there would be all kinds of formal presentations.”

“Yea, so did I, Kari, but it's just as well. We explained what we wanted to and didn't hide anything behind diplomatic language. I think we did fine.”

Kari asked, “Trivel, can you speak our language? Are you a female of your race?”

She answered “Yes, I am woman. Troyal taught me language yesterday, but I haven't absorbed all yet. If I make mistake please correct me.”

“You learned a new language in one day? That's amazing.”

“Oh no. Not one day, maybe one hour as you keep time. He just, I don't know how to say this right, put it in my head.”

“Wow, I'm impressed. Tell me Trivel, those men with Troyal, are they your government leaders?”

“Government? What is government?”

“Uh, the people who tell you how to act and do things in your society, the leaders who decide these things.”

“We do not have that. We all decide. The men who were here are ones who are wise in different things and tell us what they think. Two of them know business and trade, but I think never agree.

One was military man. Two were what you would call doctor.”

Sam said, “No politicians? That's a breath of fresh air. It sounds like a true democracy. I assume you have a common mind of some sort to be able for everyone to give their opinion.”

“I don't know how to explain it to you. We are given the facts and opinions of the wise ones and everyone else gives their thoughts. Whatever is strongest, that is what we do.”

Kari said, “I think I understand but it's a foreign thought to me. I guess I'll have to think about it more. Meanwhile, I'd love to see your city.”

Trivel led them through the enchanting vista, introducing them to some of the Rovers who came out of their homes to see them, a very polite people but a little reserved. After a few hours Trivel said, “We should return now, Troyal will be back to talk to you shortly.”

It wasn't long after their return to their lodgings that Troyal appeared. “You have been received very well by my people. They realize the differences in our cultures but accept your way of doing things the way you do even though they are strange to us. I have a private message from myself though. Do not allow any of your people to attempt to harm one of us. They won't be able to, but it would look very bad to my people if you allowed it to happen.”

“Yes I can see that,” the Major said. “I will make sure to strengthen our defenses around your station. Thank you for the warning.” Would there be a problem with us leaving in the morning?”

“Stay as long as you like and leave when you wish. Your pilot has been entertained while you were here. Just tell Trivel and he will meet you at the ship. Go with my best wishes and hopes for you.”

After he left Sam told Kari, “That almost went too well. I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Yea, Sam, I think we have a lot to do when we get back. Here's hoping we do it.”

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