Hidden Challenges

Hidden Challenges by David Macfie

Early the following morning, the helicopter landed again in front of the bluff. Jamie and his team climbed out and walked up the ramp-path to the flat area in front of the cave. All of them were burdened with the “camping” gear that Jenny, Robert and Laura were going to need while they waited for Jamie to return. Of course the robots didn’t need anything much but they carried blankets and technology for recording and filming the everyday lives of the band. As they reached the top of the path, Leader and the other four members of the council came out to meet them. Each of them carried a sling bag, made of animal, skins over their shoulders.

“We are ready,” announced Mother, almost impatiently. A hunter also came out.

“This is Fleet-foot,” said Leader by way of explanation. “He is the one who will protect and guide your band members until our return. Now we may go.”

Jamie kissed and hugged Jenny then turned and led the way back to the helicopter. The team had already said their goodbyes and agreed on a communications schedule.

Inside the helicopter, Leader insisted on sitting next to Jamie, while Mother, Wiseman, Feeder and Healer sorted themselves out behind. Jamie showed the people how to strap themselves in.

“Sometimes the bird flies roughly,” he explained. “These belts are to make sure nobody falls out and crashes into the ground.” He had no arguments about belting up.

When he started the engine the noise startled his passengers, so he went straight to silent mode, and let them calm down a little before taking off. He explained that he had to direct the bird and explained the controls. Finally, he gently lifted the bird into the sky and set course for Newtown. From that moment he was bombarded with questions on everything inside and most things outside. He did his best to answer all of them and was surprised by two things. First that his passengers seemed to have no fear of flying and second that they had an insatiable curiosity. They instantly grasped the panoramic view and pointed out landmarks to each other. Clearly they knew their territory extremely well. Finally they started to cross the first lake on their flightpath. Leader was fascinated by the bird’s eye view.

“How I could hunt if I flew in a bird like this,” he whispered, his face showing his yearning.

“You Might think so, but it is a false joy,” replied Jamie, with a serious expression. It is like catching fish from a very small pond. It takes all the skill out of the chase. The meat turns to dust in your mouth, with the disappointment.”

“Wise words, said Mother. “I understand Jamie’s message. A great hunter, is only great because he can do things that others want to do, but cannot. With these birds all could hunt too easily.”

Jamie pointed out the crocodile and hippo look-alikes and then changed the subject.

“When we were studying the land to the south west of your cave, we saw another band of people like you. Do you know of them?”

“We know of them,” replied Leader, his face showing sadness and anger at the same time. “They were part of our band, but did not agree with the choice of me as Leader. So they decided to separate and go their own way. We and they have an understanding about where they belong and where we belong and we do not mix.”

It is sad for us,” said Mother, looking miserable. “Their leader is our son. He butted heads with his father and thought he would be better to be leader. He is young and headstrong. But he is not yet ready, because he doesn’t think things through and makes rushed decisions. He has lost two hunters already in only one season. And three children have died also.”

Jamie nodded in understanding.

“I must make contact with him, as I did with you. He must be part of our plan for Baltra. Do you have a problem with this?”

Leader didn’t answer immediately. He thought about the question, reinforcing his reputation as a wise and careful leader.

“I understand that you must include him and I think that is the right thing to do. He must know and approve of whatever affects him and his band. I hope he can see the way.”

Jamie heard, in these last words, Leader’s doubt about his son’s reaction and noted it for the planning of the first contact with that band.

The helicopter flew all day and reached a fuel store, between the lakes to be crossed, just before nightfall. Jamie landed and erected tents for the night. The council were extremely interested in this innovation and examined the structures minutely. Meanwhile Jamie refueled and made a fire. He cooked a meal and fed his guests, much to their delight. They had brought some of their strong drink and willingly shared it. Conversation was constant and wide-ranging given the multitude of new things that were being discovered.

Late the next morning, Jamie reached Newtown. He began by overflying the whole area, showing the council everything from desalination plants, to materials factories, to wind farms to power stations to roads to houses and finally to the space port. He’d been in contact with Pantando-Ka to warn him of the visitors. The Taurian, in turn had told Jamie that a space freighter was at the space port and had agreed to meet Jamie’s party there.

Jamie saw him as they descended towards the freighter. He pointed to him and drew the attention of the committee to the towering figure.

“That is a Taurian male,” he explained. “He is named Pantando-Ka and he is the leader of this settlement and of all the work that is being done here and on the rest of Baltra. He will be your guide as we look around. I will interpret.”

As soon as the helicopter came to a stop, Jamie opened the door and helped his guests to alight. Then he turned into Pantando-Ka’s bear hug.

“It is good to see you, my friend,” rumbled the green giant, who immediately turned to the council and introduced himself. Jamie interpreted the greetings of both sides and continued to do so as Pantando-Ka led the way into the freighter. He gave a complete tour and explained everything in simple terms. Then he dropped a huge surprise.

“Jamie tells me that you wish to understand all that you can. So I have arranged for you to fly to Genesis in this big bird. You will be brought back here to fetch the helicopter for your return home. We will now take a look in some of these workshops and storage units where we service our transports and keep food and other essentials. During these tours, the council members became quieter and quieter. Jamie noticed.

“Leader, Mother, I notice you and your people seem worried about something. Are there questions you wish to ask or things I must explain?”

A rapid fire conference ensued between the council members. At the end Leader explained.

“We feel overwhelmed. Everything is bigger and better than we know. We understand what is happening here. But it is happening on a scale we find difficult to comprehend. It is very unsettling.”

“I think I can understand,” replied Jamie. “The Taurian people are extremely advanced in many ways. In lots of those they are far beyond what my people can do. A simple example is the freighter you saw. The humans of Earth cannot travel space the way the Taurians can, in ships like that. We could not have come here by ourselves. But there are some things that we do better than they can and they needed us to help them, so they came to fetch us. Now we work together for the betterment of both. And, together, we achieve things that we could not have done by ourselves.”

“There is more that bothers us,” admitted Mother. We are few and weak compared to what we see here. We cannot understand why you came to us to talk. Instead you could have isolated us or killed us. Why? It makes no sense to us.”

“Yes we could have done that,” admitted Jamie, candidly. But we would have gained little and lost much. All life is precious to us and we believe that we must find a way for all life on Androm to flourish, following the lives they choose to lead. We also believe that all can learn from each other. Yes there are things we know and you don’t, but there are also things you know that we don’t. We wish to share to the benefit of all. That is why we contacted you and why we will also contact the other band of your kind.”

“We are relieved that these are your views,” said Wiseman, with a toothy grin. We were wondering how we could beat you in a fight. And not getting far.”

This caused some laughter and relieved the tension that had been building. The afternoon was spent touring the settlement and looking at the houses and factories. Finally, Pantando-Ka had arranged a barbeque. Once that was done the travelers were taken back to the freighter, which took off and headed for Genesis. For the first hour or so the council stayed on the command deck and watched through the panoramic windows as the ship sped on its way. They were entranced and persisted with their incessant questioning. Jamie was kept hard at work, interpreting and explaining so he was relieved when, finally, the council ran out of steam.

Before dawn, Jamie woke them again.

“I thought you’d want to see as we come down into Genesis,” he explained.

“That would be interesting,” said Leader, not looking enthusiastic.

But once they reached the control deck their excitement returned. Genesis looked pristine in the early sunlight. The freighter touched down with barely a bump and the guests made their way down the ramp to a reception from Komando-Ka and his leaders. Jamie had called ahead and suggested it. Jamie did the introductions in Taurian and then translated into the language of the band. He explained who everybody was and the role they played in the project on Androm and in the band respectively. The whole group then took a stroll through the streets of the town to give the guests a feel for the place. Jamie showed them around his house and demonstrated the appliances, much to the amazement of the visitors. They were particularly awed by the large entertainment screen. Jamie played excerpts from wildlife documentaries, musicals and space travel programs. The council were like kiddies in a sweetie shop so Nunamo-Ge, who had learned their language, volunteered to look after them in front of the screen, while Jamie met with Komando-Ka. Jamie apologized for his absence, explained and promised to take them to visit farms after lunch.

The commander wasn’t surprised when Jamie had video-called and asked to see him.

“I’ve been expecting you,” he’d said with a solemn face. “Given the discoveries you made on Baltra, you were bound to wonder how such things could be missed. You have now realized that it’s unlikely and so you suspect there might have been a cover-up. And you’re coming to find out why. Am I correct?”

“Yes. You’ve just paraphrased my opening remarks.”

And so the meeting was arranged.

In his office the commander kicked off the session.

“Are you angry?”

“Not really. More puzzled than angry. I can’t see any reason that makes sense.”

“You don’t have all the information you need to understand.”

Jamie began to get a glimmer of the reason.

“It’s politics, isn’t it?”

“Yes. The Matriarch has to step a fine line between the realists, who completely understand the crisis facing Taurus, and the faction that thinks the whole thing has been exaggerated and the Androm project is a waste of time, money and workforce. This second faction is very powerful and, if they knew that a sentient life form exists here, they would demand instant cessation of settlement activities until steps have been taken to provide for their protection. That’s why establishing communication is critical. We have chosen to keep things quiet while we put the protection plan in place. We knew your team would find the “unknown” lifeforms but we have kept this knowledge under wraps here on this planet. The knowledge is restricted to my leaders and I, and Tipanapo-Zu prevented all mention of it from inclusion in the records. Even the robots are in the dark because they’re unable to tell a lie. The surveys buy us time to solve the very real problem of deciding how to co-exist, while conserving the diversity.”

“I see,” murmured Jamie. “Puts a difficult twist on our activities. You probably know that there’s a second group of these hunter-gatherers on Baltra. They’re a splinter from the group we found first.  We’ll make contact with them the same way we did with the group who are here now. They’re very smart, by the way, and not at all intimidated by all they’re seeing. They ask seriously intelligent questions and understand the answers perfectly. Now, how much can you tell me about what the other survey teams will find?”

“You probably also figured out that the joined landmasses have these new lifeforms, while the island landmasses don’t.”

“Yes we did.”

“Then you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the latter are very similar to Chatham and the two others mirror Baltra. As far as we can tell all the humanoids are closely related – same species at least. They live in small bands of twenty to sixty individuals. The only group on Debuffon is the biggest at sixty the last time we counted. There are four smaller groups on Bindlo. The three joined landmasses also all have the other surprising things you found.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“A continuation of the surveys plus making independent contact with each of the individual groups of sapient beings.

And the other unique lifeforms?”

“Absolutely protected conservation areas that are large enough to ensure healthy living for all the endangered species. This will be a fundamental part of our planet management program.”

“What choices are available to the people like Leader and his band?”

“They can continue as they are. If that’s their choice, the land they use will become a conservation area or part of one. But, if they’re as smart as you say, I doubt they’ll be satisfied with that. In that case they will become fully integrated into one of our settlements. Their leaders will then fully participate in the management of the planet. Of course there is a middle option where they remain independent but share our knowledge and put it to their own use.”

“Do you wish me to share these options with the council?”

“Yes, of course. And you must also complete the process for the second Baltra group. The other survey groups will be accountable for similar work on the landmasses they become responsible for. As soon as you’re done on Baltra, we will finalize the layout there, incorporating the conservation areas and whatever farms we can fit in. Ongoing management will then become the responsibility of the permanent Baltra ruling group, who will be elected by the residents according to a set of guidelines that ensure all the non-negotiable principles are fundamentally part of the framework.”

“Good enough. What’s the situation on Taurus?”

“Not good. There have been more earthquakes. We will fit in the last group of refugees in Genesis. They are due next week. But there will be more in two or three weeks resulting from the latest crisis. I have informed Pantando-Ka of the urgency of making Newtown ready as soon as possible. The Matriarch has commissioned a full scale evacuation plan, just in case.”

“So everything is now urgent – all the surveys as well as independent construction teams, like the one that’s busy on Baltra, for each of the other places.”

“Yes, it looks as if Taurus may have to be completely evacuated in the foreseeable future. We are under real pressure now. We might get lucky with all the problems subsiding, but we cannot take the chance. This also means that you and your team must wrap up Baltra soonest and then I want you all to start on the ring land. We need the survey there completed and a full set of recommendations delivered yesterday.”

“Normal service is normal service, but miracles may take a bit longer. But I was hoping that we’d get that assignment.”

“You are the obvious choice because of what you’ve achieved already. But, more than that, you’ve proved to be the most innovative and resourceful group we have. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”

“Not at the moment, but if something comes up, you’ll be the first to know.”

Jamie rejoined the council, who were having lunch. The afternoon was spent visiting farms and explaining all the reasoning behind growing crops and rearing animals. Afterwards the party returned to the space port and caught a freighter back to Newtown.

By then the council were exhausted and slept most of the way.