"Governor Wells? We are the Personalia, and we have some tests we would like to run on your planet. They arise from an idea presented to us by Governor Kempe of Rehome colony."
John Wells was surprised. Normally Bob Kempe, as the Governor of the human colony on Rehome, would phone John personally. After all, John had been Bob's Head of Administration before taking on the Governorship of the New Eden colony planet. He did not say anything about that.
"Really? What kind of tests, and where do you propose to run them?"
"The tests would all be done in the lands outside the crater that your colony stands in. The idea is to discover whether we can scare away the mega fauna – the giant animals and their predators out there. Governor Kempe had discovered that very large sea creatures could be scared off from the fishing areas close to shore, using a mechanism left by the Braalians. The mechanism was attached to the ocean heat pumps; and it used sound vibrations to chase off these creatures. Governor Kempe wondered, could a similar sound frequency technique perform a similar task with your problem creatures on New Eden."
John responded positively. "That sounds an interesting proposition."
"Thank you. We intend to place several sound emitters on the ground surface and observe the reactions of the animals to each sound. We intend to try a wide range of frequencies, quite loudly, to ascertain the effectiveness of each frequency, and adjust the sound levels of the effective ones until we discover the most efficient solution."
"That seems a feasible scenario. What happens when you find a suitable frequency?"
"Simple. We establish a boundary with the sound emitters overlapping, and that clears an area where your settlers can log and start farming."
"Great idea. I am not so sure the settlers will want to move out there, though."
"What? Why would they not take advantage of pristine forest and grassland?"
"Human perceptions, I am afraid. Humans tend to distrust a barrier that they cannot see. It is a daft reaction, I know; you don't have to tell me, but it is a fact. People are wary of such invisible boundaries between them and dangerous wild animals."
The Personalia voice was astounded. "This is a weird reaction you postulate, Governor. Just because an effective barrier is not made of solid matter, they distrust it?"
"Yes. There is an unconscious fear that the invisible barrier might fail; and if it failed, they would be under threat without realising it. It is the fear of the unknown that unsettles them."
"This must have something to do with your evolutionary history, that you only trust solid walls to protect you."
"It was not so much only a wall. It was the barrier that had evidence of its danger. Many boundaries between nations that distrusted each other had an example. It was a pair of tall fences, with land mines planted and hidden in the space between the fences. That was very effective, even though one could not see the mines. People knew the mines were there: an animal would set one off from time to time. It was the confidence in such minefields that counted. Such confidence is simply not present for a sound frequency barrier such as you propose."
The Personalia mulled over this point. "So, a barrier has to be either visible, or be regarded as visible; believed to be dangerous, or preventing danger, to be felt to be effective."
"Yes. Something that can be switched off without any indication of that state, is not regarded as acceptable, but if it has a visible component that allows you to be immediately aware that it is missing: that is fine, as far as it goes. A passive barrier like a wall or stout fence, or an electrified fence, is still preferable."
"How about a simpler, less expensive, fence that is backed up by the sound generators?"
"That might be acceptable. We then have to consider other factors that do not exist within the crater walls. First of all, smaller animals that may use burrows. We have found burrows within the crater, but none of the animals has survived here, so we know nothing about them: they may be poisonous, or have sharp claws, or carry unwanted diseases, and so on. They may exist outside the crater perimeter mountains."
"But with an external fenced off area, you would have additional advantages; such as access to timber for all your wood needs; access to extra farming land, space to expand your accommodation needs, and so on."
"That is so, but there may be bacteria present in the soil that are inimical to human life. We would have to test for that: send soil samples to be analysed at the nearest agricultural laboratory. That would mean one on Earth. So even once we had some sort of barrier in place, it would take time before we could risk any settlers. Even then, we might have to offer a bounty to the first settlers, to encourage them to go."
The Personalia voice declared, "We could probably do your soil analysis for you. We can set up a lab within one of the ships in orbit, and bring all the chemicals and glassware from Earth. In fact, we might have to set up our own satellite for this purpose, for our Base ships do not have enough free space that we could devote to a laboratory unit. There are bound to be other items that have to be tested. That could be a fun project, too, as we love discovering new things."
John was suddenly looking at the project with new eyes. "If you were to set up such a research satellite round New Eden, we certainly could give you more items to analyse. Soil analysis to determine how fertile the soil is for particular crops would be a useful tool for us. Again, if brewing and distilling get started on this planet, it would be very helpful to be able to analyse their products before they go on sale, just to check how strong in alcohol the brew is; or the spirit that they distil."
"That should not be a problem. It is a simpler set of tests than for soil analysis. Every soil sample is likely to be unique, and there would a be a range of aspects to be checked for; such as PH, trace elements, fertiliser components, humus level, etcetera."
John was anxious to proceed with the proposed sound frequency tests. "Can I have a say in what area you use for your initial sound tests?"
"Certainly. Did you have a particular location in mind?"
"I do. The only break in the crater wall is where the waterfall descends. That is where we also have the outfall for our sewage pipe. If we clear an area out there, we could build a sewage treatment plant there. The sewage outfall means that when it falls into a pool it will be aerated, and that is a first treatment. If the pool then descends into a marshland with rushes and other plants, the plants will also clean and clear the water, such that it can be allowed back into the freshwater stream that descends from the crater. That will give us an environmental solution; much better than a stream of sewage as we have at the moment."
"A good idea, Governor. We approve of your concern for the environment. We shall do our tests a kilometre downstream, wherever we find suitable sites for the sound emitters. It may take anything from a day or two to several weeks, to establish the best frequencies, sound levels, and so on. We shall keep you informed. Please warn your people of what is happening, in case they should observe Landerships going down to land outside the crater mountains. They might imagine it was an accidental crash happening."
John retold all this to Muriel and Gloria that evening, as he relaxed in his favourite chair with a glass of imported wine in his hand. Gloria was sitting on his lap, wide-eyed at the amazing plans of the Personalia. Her mother Muriel was seated on another comfy chair, cuddling a sleeping baby in each arm.
"Will anyone be willing to go out there, to test the sound barrier they will set up? It sounds terribly dangerous," Gloria queried. Muriel just smiled, not saying anything. She was happy holding her and Gloria's babies which were much the same age. Both she and Gloria were married to John, and happy enough to be so. A year previously, Muriel had engineered matters to get John to marry her as well as Gloria. Muriel's abusive first husband had been shipped back to Earth from Rehome colony, allowing Muriel to divorce him. She had then taken advantage of the marriage laws on Rehome. She deliberately seduced a drunken John before he had taken Gloria's virginity, and got him to promise to marry them both if the law allowed it. She had already checked that it did, but it came as a surprise to John. Once Gloria realised John had bedded both of them, she accepted that her mother and herself should share John as their husband.
However, sharing John brought out the competitive streak in Gloria. Instead of continuing with her budding career in the medical centre administration, she did not want her mother to outdo her by having a baby first. Once Muriel declared that she had decided to try for a baby while she was still young and healthy enough, Gloria opted to become pregnant herself, and they embarked on that joint project with John's enthusiastic cooperation.
Now, with both having successfully given birth, they were more at ease with each other. John was happy to appreciate both women, and they now enjoyed the status of being spouses of the man who had become Governor of New Eden colony. They were both treated with due respect by the settlers and the colony staff, though one was much older and the other much younger than him.
.... There is more of this story ...