Kelot (second edition): part five of Of a Note in a Cosmic Song
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A new planet.
A new life.
A one-way trip.
The colonists of DJar, all seeking a better future, each with their own past, and their own beliefs about right and wrong, try everything they can to create a new government and a new culture they can all be happy with.
Benjamar has one last chance to get it right. If he succeeds, the colony will have a peaceful future.
If he fails, the red fog will wipe them off the face of the planet. But to take charge, he’ll have to give up everything he believes in.
From: Of a Note in a Cosmic Song, Part Five: Kelot, by Nōnen Títi
TWO TREE VILLAGE
Benjamar straightened up after coming out of the Hearth, ready for his daily walk. The early Kunlight was bright, the sky already pink. It promised to be another fine day. Even the odd-looking black cloud that had hovered overhead for a number of days had moved off to the sea.
He turned left, towards the South Hills, onto what was generally called the “plamal path” and which ran through the centre of the village from the north latrines to the south ones, cutting in front of the two plamals at the centre of the homes of his own family group: his own shelter and the big one the boys still shared together on the south side of the Hearth and the two women’s shelters to the north of it. The original girls’ home was now occupied by Laytji, Hani, and Maike, while the last one they had built now housed Nini, Yako, Marya, and Jema. They were eleven, including Remag, who shared their Hearth for meals.
It still delighted Benjamar every day how the place had been transformed, in the six moons since his arrival, from a small cluster of shelters to a real village of nearly four sets of people. Every four to eight homes had their own mud-built Hearth, while the homes themselves were made chiefly from reeds, their endless source of versatile material; Leyon had been a proud teacher, and rightfully so.
The north and south latrines were also something to be proud of. Frimon had put five in a row, diagonally in front of each other, on the down slope away from the village. To the west of the south latrines, highest on the slope, was the washroom, heated by a small furnace under its back wall. It was fed with water from the stream through a small irrigation pipe. The room had a bench on which people could sit to enjoy the steam they made by throwing water onto the hot wall. Outside, a second pipe filled a washbasin. This basin also benefited from the heated wall and was used to wash clothes and dishes in. The water jugs for the latrines could be filled up from the basin’s waste water and the remainder was drained off through a little ditch and away from the village.
Today, the steam room itself was open to the women, so Benjamar followed the path to the right, in front of the latrines – if he turned left he’d leave the village in the direction of the mud lake. There was no path leading directly south. Behind the latrines was the bush where Kunag had first found his animals.
To the right and due west the path climbed a little until it reached the stream. In the rainy season it may yet turn into a river, but for now it trickled gently down the entire length of the village; south to north, downhill to the cave. Without that stream, village life would not be possible.
With that in mind, Frimon had conceived his second ingenious design. Just a little south and thus away from most people, he had built a tiny water bridge from reeds. The hollow tubes – and that was a story all by itself – were filled, in the middle of the stream, from a cup that was connected to a lever and a rope one could pull. The water ran through the bridge into a small moss filter and into the vessel brought by the user – no, not that kind of user! That way, the water was always fresh, but below the filter sat a big reservoir that could be used for storage in case the rain stopped. Should the stream get smaller, then the water for the baths would be cut off first for the sake of irrigating the natural vegetation north of the village, but drinking water was first priority.
About the reeds being hollow tubes: The original reeds used for the homes were flat and looked like grasses. They could be pulled into strips of fibre so as to make rope. One day Marya had mentioned needing a more rigid stick for stirring, as the flat reeds bent with the movement. Leyon had brought her one only a few days later. To the question where he’d found it, he had unceremoniously mentioned having asked for it at the lake. Still not believing, Benjamar had joined him the next day and mentioned the bamboo-like grasses they’d had on DJar. Something that size would be excellent. He had let Leyon do the asking – after all, it was one thing to test a theory, but another to make a fool of yourself in the process. Nevertheless, two days later, the thick reeds had been there, ready to be used for anything they wanted, even furniture. The idea that the planet, or at least these reeds, could understand them and, thus, had intelligence was unsettling, to say the least, so Benjamar tried not to think about it too much on his daily walk.
He could leave the path and cross the stream if he wanted to. It wasn’t deep, but on the other side, in the thicker vegetation of the South Hills, sat only Remag’s lonely home, so he turned north. More homes stood along this “water-edge path”. Stopping here and there to talk to people at their hearths, he walked to the north boundary of the clearing. Here the stream disappeared into a tiny underground cave, just after the water-edge path and the plamal path converged. Due west of the cave was an area of native plamals, but following the path north, further uphill, were more homes. Farmers lived there, mostly, while east of them the vast expanse of tubers and orange bulbs stretched as far as the eye could see.
Benjamar had asked the farmers to start trying to reseed those plants so as to have some control over the food supply. Kun DJar seasons were long, and if the natural foods didn’t grow in winter, they’d have very little to live from for a very long time. He urged them to experiment with preservation and storage. “I know this is not farming like you’re used to, but it’s the only way it will work here for now.”
On this morning Benjamar had no business up the hill, so he followed the path back east in front of the north latrines, which stood at the border between those crop fields and the clearing, but in a trench, sloping down and away from both. Here, next to an identical row of latrines and washbasin, Frimon had started an even more ambitious project. Instead of a steam room he was trying to build a proper bath, heated from below. However, despite the seemingly unlimited supply of reeds, there was still concern over the amount of fuel available for luxuries like that.
A third parallel path ran back south at the east end of the clearing and all the way to where the path to the mud lake was. Close to that sat the largest gathering of homes to share one Hearth: a doublekor of shelters around one big open fireplace. This was the hearth of the Sacred Praise Society. From there Benjamar returned over the plamal path to the centre of the clearing.
A sense of pride filled him every day as he took his morning walk, which, apart from getting to know the community, helped loosen his old bones a bit. He sat down on the bench opposite his Hearth for a rest. Between the two trees after which the village was named, this bench was where he spent most of his days. Here people came to find him. It was comfortable and even if it rained, the two large hoods of the plamals, which overlapped each other, kept it and the oven pretty much dry.
It had rained a bit more recently and the winds were strong, which had caught the Society members out a few times, but Frimon didn’t want to enclose his cooking fire as it was a ceremonial gathering place for his people. He knew the winds could be dangerous, but he was careful. When it rained the water fell in great amounts, which was good news for the stream and so far the dry ground had sucked it up quickly. The resin-covered mud did not seem to suffer, though they might have to resurface the outer layer of the homes regularly.
Also, to Nini’s relief, people had so far stuck to the rules about hygiene and nature. “It’s great that we don’t have to tell them twice,” she’d said.
“Just wait,” Benjamar had replied. He didn’t want to take away her happiness, but you had to be realistic. The same went for their health. Despite the lack of heat Kun produced, the light seemed to give them all a tan, even people like Nini, who were naturally pale. The only thing Benjamar wondered about, though he didn’t say it so as not to worry her, was how that tan could occur equally on places that never saw the light. And though the rules had been obeyed there had been some close encounters, so no matter how much better life seemed at present, Benjamar remained cautious in his optimism.
Remag was the first to bring him some news which proved his caution right. He’d been to the ocean several times, but this time he’d found masses of bodies scattered at the edge of the water. Among the different species had been many of Kunag’s eyecreatures.
“If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought they were just beach-growing plamals, but I checked them over. In most cases I had no idea what they were, except that they were dead.” They had all died together at the same time and were then washed into the ocean a few days later, leaving no trace. “I’m afraid to tell Kunag until I know why,” Remag said.
“Do you think people could have caused it?”
“Not on purpose. There are no signs of damage, as far as I can see. Besides, what would anybody want to do that for?”
Benjamar didn’t know that either, but people had been known to cause mass destruction before.
Remag was considering the possibility that contact with people had caused some kind of infection, but he had no evidence of that. The only people to regularly contact any native animals were Kunag and Remag himself. And why would they have died at the beach if the people lived a two-day walk away? “It could be a natural process. At least I hope it is, Benjamar, or Kunag will insist that we all move back to town.”
Benjamar agreed to keep it quiet for now, as it was only yesterday that Kunag had shared his delight over the variety of life they’d found since Remag’s arrival.
“At first we thought that Kun DJar had no animals, but that was because we were looking for DJar-like creatures,” he’d told Benjamar, showing off his thinly sketched drawings of the planet’s native life forms. The drawings were made on bits of paper, once again cleverly handmade by Leyon from, once again, the reeds, but there was no material for new pencils for Kunag.
And not just pencils; they still lacked many other resources. Though they’d been spared the dangerous animals, Jitsi and the children of SJilai had not been too far off in their first yearturn play: Clothes were a problem, though footwear could be made from the reeds. The early Bijari would have used animal hides, but Kun DJar had no animals, at least none with hides, and there was a lack of personal hygiene items like brushes and soap.
“Nobody said it would be easy” became the slogan for when people complained. It was used so often that Laytji painted it on one of the benches near the washroom with yellow dye. “Just to remind people not to come and bother you about it all the time,” she said.
More pressing were the small disagreements that started occurring between people over sharing resources, work, the amount of time spent in the baths, and other trivial matters. Yet, no matter how trivial, they were the first sign that it might be time to start thinking about regulations; time, maybe, for voting. Benjamar started making a list of all the issues that needed to be made into laws – until his pen ran out.
When joining his new family around the cooking fire inside their Hearth, where the ledge provided comfortable sitting for the evening meal, Benjamar made the mistake of mentioning what he had meant to put to paper.
“How many more times is this colony going to try for elections before realizing that they start wars?” Jema asked.
Benjamar tried to ignore that remark, but Marya jumped in and within no time they were engaged in a whole new debate, which between the two of them could last hours. Marya argued the need for input from all people and thus a majority vote; Jema said you couldn’t go by sheer numbers. They had a select population here, so any vote would always come out in favour of the farmers even if they had it wrong.
The younger people got involved, all taking Marya’s side for now, but that could change. Voting would keep people from complaining, they argued.
“No, it won’t. Complaints come easily, but appreciation is seldom spoken,” Yako said.
“That’s not fair.”
No it wasn’t, but that was the way it was with people.
“I don’t think it’s so bad if people complain. It means two things if they do,” Jema said.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Maike asked, her intonation evidence of the impatience she must also feel about those endless discussions.
“It means they care about what goes on, or else they wouldn’t bother, and it means they’re not afraid to speak out like they were on DJar.”
Benjamar nodded into the emerging darkness. Jema had a point.
Yako insisted that all people needed to be listened to. “Not just be allowed to speak, but be heard as well.” He suggested they take two kor prior to elections to give people a chance to come up with topics they wanted to have addressed. They all knew where to find Benjamar.
Laytji had one right away: She wanted to know when they’d start a new Learners.
“Probably never. Why stick children inside a hut and force them to learn to read, write, or do calculations when we don’t have pens or paper, nor prints and no need to calculate further than how many people will need to eat? Those children are looking at a future of farming or gathering,” Maike answered.
“I don’t think so,” Nini replied. “Bas and Anoyak are stressing over the mathematics to do with all the star relations and even the cycles of the two moons. Not all of these children will become farmers.”
Hani took her side. There was a need for new scientists, doctors, and other specialists. Now they had the chance to make new paper from the reeds, the people of the different settlements should get together and start rewriting everything they still remembered before it was too late.
With the discussion turning away from the political, Benjamar leaned back to listen. No doubt, there was enough interest here to show that people cared and bouncing these ideas around had often led to a good solution, as it had with the lamp, which Maike now put in since the fire had gone out.
The best lamp they’d ever had only needed to be pulled into the dark shelter to start glowing. Once it had been proposed that the luminescent substance from the plamals could be used for lighting their homes – since the lumps of reed-pulp that burned a life flame, though relatively safe, were cumbersome – people had started experimenting. Extracting it wasn’t the problem, but it glowed as soon as it came in contact with oxygen and nobody had airtight containers. Though Kunag protested their trials – and errors – it was hard to prevent people from tapping the plants, which grew on the other side of the stream in the natural area. Fiery arguments had emanated in their Hearth until Hani had come up with the obvious answer: if the substance could not be controlled outside of the plamal, then leave it inside. They glowed naturally after Kundown.
Kunag had reluctantly agreed to test planting them in a basket and, when that didn’t harm them, to transport them to the village. Now each shelter had a plamal in a basket, which bathed itself in Kunlight in front of each entrance in the daytime and switched itself on at night. Nobody complained, neither people nor plamals, and Kunag was satisfied.
Another problem solved, only a few more masses to go. Benjamar mentioned his failing pen. “What did the Bijari people of long ago use?”
“Kun DJar has no birds.”
So the debates went on, some more productive than others, some more tense.
“I never knew it could be this much fun to make rules and decide over things,” Leyon said.
“It’s no longer fun when there’s trouble. There are always going to be some people who won’t wait for decisions or who don’t accept them once they’re made,” Maike said, to which Leyon, wisely, didn’t respond.
Benjamar thought it all through, night after night. It had to be right this time. This settlement was made up of three main groups: farmers, Society, and everyone else. How hard could it be to get them to co-operate?