Malan Mothers on Rehome
The professor wanted to see the fish market and meet some fishermen, so Tom got permission from his boss – his wife - to escort her there and make the introductions. The market was simply an area next to the harbour, with a few stalls erected to protect the catches from the sunshine – on the days when it was sunny. Otherwise it was to shelter the fish from the drying winds from onshore.
Tom explained that you had to time your visit correctly. If you arrived just as the fisherman came ashore with their catch, you were just a nuisance. They needed to sell their catch while it was completely fresh, to get the best price.
Come too late, and they were off home for a rest after their labours; to get a good feed and some sleep. Much of their fishing was done at night, when more of the fish shoals were nearer the surface. There was still tension while they were out fishing. They had to ensure the boat did not drift out beyond the limit set by the protective emissions of the electronic monster scarer device.
The scarer was a series of transmitters set in the shallows beyond the ocean source heat pumps that ultimately powered the city. They were electronically tied together to operate as one unit, sending signals that the large ocean beasts read as danger signals, forcing them to stay clear. If the fishermen's boats crossed that boundary, they could be in real trouble.
Having been advised correctly, Tom had brought the professor at the appropriate time. He explained that she was an expert in marine biology, and asked them if they could spend a little time answering her questions.
He left her chatting while he went around admiring the boats, then having a look at the unsold fish and crustaceans in the market. Speaking to a young fisherman who seemed to have been detailed to clear up the place, he asked about this unsold bounty of the sea.
The lad explained, "Most of it is fish that is no good for human consumption, plus a few odds and ends that was not saleable today. It will go to become fishmeal and be turned into fertiliser for the local farms. The group has a deal with the fertiliser company, to take all such leftovers for fertiliser. It is better than trying to dump it."
"Dump it? I hope you don't throw it into the harbour, my lad."
"Gosh, no. Before we had the fertiliser deal, we had to cart it to the rocky beach beyond the harbour, and pile it on the rocks. I think it was assumed the tide would take it away. I don't think that's what happened, for we don't have much in the way of tides – no Moon, like we had on Earth. It still vanished, so I suppose scavengers removed it."
"You were dumping a pile there, every day, for a while?"
"Did you ever see any scavengers there?"
"Nope, but we were never there, except when we were dumping stuff, and we don't do that now, so no reason to be there at all."
"What sort of scavengers would you expect to help themselves to your offal?" Tom enquired.
"No idea, mister. I am not interested in scavengers. Fishing is time-intensive, so you don't worry about stuff that doesn't matter. I am sure it is the same for all of us in the industry. It is history now, anyway."
Tom was pondering the question of scavengers as he ambled back to the group of fishermen clustered round the professor. He arrived just as they were closing up and going home. The professor looked pleased.
"Ah, Tom. These fishermen are fascinating, with their tales of the sea. I have made notes of all their catch species and amounts. The fishery here is extremely productive; from what they say."
"That is probably because they are the first fishermen to make use of these waters, professor. The fishery didn't really get going until the electronic sound barrier was switched on a year or two back. It was too dangerous before that time."
"It is not just that, Tom. They are being eco-friendly too. Any species they catch which are inedible for humans, they sell it to turn into fish fertiliser, and the local fertiliser company sells it to farmers."
Tom nodded. "Yes, they do that now, but not always. Previously they dumped their discards on a rocky beach beyond the harbour, day by day."
"They did? That must have stunk to high heaven after a few days."
"Apparently not. A lad was telling me that it vanished every day, supposedly taken by scavengers. As far as I am aware, Rehome has very few scavengers, so it puzzles me."
"Oh? Now that is interesting. Is there a discard pile here at the moment? I'd like to look through it, if I may."
"Last time I looked, it was still there. Someone comes with a high-sided cart, to take it to the fertiliser company."
They went round to the back of the market area, where the pile of discards lay. The professor searched for a tool to investigate the pile, and found a suitable rake to allow her to search through the discards. She delved into it, exclaiming quietly as she found one thing after another of interest to her.
Then she exclaimed loudly, "Hah! I thought so!"
Tom was puzzled, unclear as to what she had found. "What?"
"Scales. Reptile scales. Specifically, epidermal scales, of the type very common on reptiles. These ones are large, much larger than usual indicating an animal of unusually large size."
"So, what's new?" asked Tom. "We know there are huge creatures out in the ocean, so I don't see what is so special about reptile scales."
The professor viewed Tom critically. She questioned him, "Tom, what is the difference between a fish and a reptile, specifically, in their behaviour?"
"I dunno. Perhaps being able to breath air?"
"That is a pointer. Anything else, deriving from that attribute?"
"Able to go on to land?"
"Well done! You got there eventually. Now, your fishermen have a large animal scarer for the shallow waters off the beach of Metropolis. How far does this scarer mechanism extend in its reach?"
"I don't know, exactly. The question never came up, as it was to provide a safe shallow water area for fishing; nothing more."
"So we may assume it only covers the bay area beyond the beach of Metropolis?"
"That sounds a reasonable conjecture, Jane."
"As a conclusion, then, this means that a reptile can come ashore anywhere that this scarer signal does not operate. You agree?"
"Yes ... so?"
"So a large reptile may be coming ashore almost anywhere on the coastline."
"Oh, I see." Tom looked slightly worried. "The shore where the fishermen were dumping their discards in the past; that may have been outwith the signal's reach, couldn't it?"
"If the location is the other side of a headland, that may be so, Tom."
"That could explain why the discards pile was vanishing each day. It was being used as a feeding station by one or more reptiles."
"Didn't you say that they had stopped discarding such material? That would stop the reptiles coming to feed, logically."
"Yes. However, given that you identified that object as an egg sac, how big are these reptiles likely to be, assuming they are coming ashore somewhere?"
"Oh, dear, that could be a problem, yes. They could be the size of an elephant, but at the same time they are unlikely to stray far from the sea. They are basically sea creatures, so they would not move far from the shore, once on land."
"Still, I had best inform the Governor of the possibility, Jane."
"Quite so, quite so. Preparation is better than reaction."
Tom got on his phone to the Governor's office, and was put through when they heard it was the newspaper editor.
"Yes, Tom? I don't think I have a story for you today."
"Ah, but I may have one for you. I have Professor Jane Kelman, a marine biologist, with me, here to examine a biological lump found on the beach. She has identified it as a large egg sac, and has also seen some reptile scales at the fish market, that together suggest the presence of huge reptiles. These may be coming on to land which is not protected by the signal deterrent for large ocean creatures.
I just thought you should be aware of the possibility of one or more coming onto land, but according to the professor it would be not much more than on a beach."
"That sounds ominous, Tom. I think I will ask Diane to arrange for an occasional patrol of the coast by armed men. Thanks for the warning."
Bob thought about when he should speak to Diane about the threat. He came to the conclusion that earlier was better than later, in case there was some nasty incident before preparations were in hand.
He phoned his wife.
"Diane, my darling. Tom Pfeiffer has alerted me to a possible threat by large reptiles coming ashore where there is no deterrent transmission in place. A marine biologist has confirmed the probable existence of huge reptiles in the ocean, coming ashore at times.
I would like to suggest that you run some patrols along the coast, on the lookout for something of that nature, and keeping the populace well away from any that they find on a beach."
Diane gasped. "Bob, darling, this ties in with a sighting a lady made from a train recently. I had a report late today of an interview with her, and the train was between cities, and was near the coastline. She said she saw a huge monster as the train passed by. We have the approximate location, so I can have my men search that area for a start. Thanks for passing on the warning. We now know what we are looking for. Love you. 'bye."
Diane contacted her next in command, and passed on her instructions, ending, "Do whatever it requires to get the search underway. I only want to know if a sighting is obtained, or if a person is attacked. No-one goes near any creature seen, get it?""
Diane got back to Tom. "Listen, Tom, who is this professor you talked about? How come she is here?"
Tom was happy to explain. "Jeannette queried an entry I had added to the draft encyclopaedia, for it couldn't be what I had called it; and we went out to the beach and found it still there. We couldn't decide what it actually was, so we asked the Personalia, and they didn't know either. SO, we decided we needed a marine biologist to adjudicate and pontificate, and asked The Personalia to find one. They brought Jane to Rehome, and she identified it as an egg sac, but ten times larger than normal.
It went on from there."
"So who is this professor, this biologist?"
"Oh. I see. She is Jane Kelman, and is head of the biology department, a new department at the University of London. She is a lovely lady, except when she starts treating you like one of her students!"
"Tom, I am a woman, so get to the essentials. What age is she? Is she married? Height and build? Only here on a visit or likely to remain?"
"Sorry, Diane. I saw her first as essentially a nice lady. She is 36, unmarried, tall, fine looking woman with a nice body which she has been hiding from display; a sort of bustier version of Jeannette, only taller."
"Interesting. You certainly seem to have noticed her vital attributes, Tom. Why so much interest from a twice happily married man?"
Tom's voice took on a note of concern. "Diane, don't start linking me with the professor. Nice as she is, she is only here on a short research trip, and we put her up in a local hotel. I am not looking at her with any romantic interest, I assure you."
Diane laughed. "You protest too much, Tom. Send her packing or you will find things getting difficult."
As he closed his call, Tom heard a soft cough of embarrassment behind him. He whirled to discover Jane Kelman standing there.
"I came to thank you for your help today, Tom. I didn't mean to listen in to your call. Thank you for dismissing me so quickly." She did not sound happy.
Tom found himself getting flushed. "Sorry, Jane. I didn't mean to dismiss you, I was being defensive with the Head of Security, Diane Kempe. You are much more attractive than I was willing to admit."
"That's much better, Tom. Where is Enid? I must have a word with her to thank her for such lovely meals."
"Right behind you, Jane. Listening to my husband extolling your virtues. I hope he isn't reacting to you like he did with Jeannette."
"Jeannette? His other wife? Pardon?"
Tom interjected, "A long story, Jane. In brief, Jeannette came to us as the first of the Malan mothers. She was looking for some way of finding her Malan child, as a widow without any other children. Enid found she had wanted children of her own but her late husband hadn't been able to impregnate her. My darling wife volunteered me to help with that target, then Enid decided that Jeannette was suitable to join our marriage. So Jeannette is not long married to us."
"That sounds terribly romantic, Enid! You are a wonderful woman for thinking to help another woman to have a baby. I noticed that you and Jeannette have slight baby bumps, but I didn't mention it before."
"Thank you, Jane. I understand that you have decried off marriage and children, from what Tom tells me." Noticing a startled look in the professor's eyes, she added, "Tom tells me everything, Jane. We have a great love and don't keep secrets from each other."
Professor Kelman felt she had to justify her situation.
"Enid, I had a bad experience in my youth, and I have not found a man to warrant spending my life with, since then. I don't go out of my way to search for a suitor either. Tom noticed my clothes and made a comment about how much more attractive I would look if I didn't hide my light under a bushel, but in my academic position, I can't afford to advertise my feminine charms."
Enid snorted, "Balderdash! You are just afraid to let a good man find you. I can spot these things, as Jeannette can tell you. Rehome has plenty of openings for women, especially ones with talent. Tom tells me you might be able to help us set up a university, but you could do more than that. You could head up the Rehome university, if you stayed here permanently. Any thoughts in that direction, Jane?"
"Gosh! You make it sound very attractive, Enid. Do you have a degree?"
Enid laughed at the ridiculous idea. "I am a farmer's daughter, Jane. I never had a chance to even consider university. My parents viewed my future as marrying another farmer and giving them grandchildren. When Tom and I fell in love, he had to promise to become a farmer before they would let me marry him. We came here seeking land to farm, and made a faltering start, but when the Governor wanted a colony newspaper started, he easily dragooned Tom into taking on that job. You can see how Tom felt constrained to refuse, can't you?"
"Ah, there you are! You found them both, Jane?" It was Jeannette, who had let Jane into the house.
"Yes. I did. Enid was telling how Tom was trying to be a farmer on Rehome."
Jeannette snorted at this. "Him? A farmer? Words are in his soul, Jane. He is a born writer, nothing else really interests him, apart from Enid. He would do anything for Enid: she is the love of his life, and a worthy target of his love."
"A romantic, then? I didn't see Tom as a romantic man. I thought he had a very practical bent of mind, even if he is somewhat imaginative at times."
Tom was incensed. "Jane! Don't you dare join these two in doing me down. I may love them, but they keep kicking me in the pants."
"Only in the rear, darling. What is in the front of your pants has value for us ladies."
Jane was amused. "He is like the curate's egg, then: 'good in parts'?"
"Not quite, Jane," Tom was quick to point out. "The curate's egg story implies that the egg was bad all the way through, and the curate was afraid to say so to his host the bishop, so used the phrase. It comes from a cartoon in "Punch" magazine in 1895."
Jane laughed delightedly. "See, Jeannette? You were quite correct in your judgment: words are in his soul. He loves to talk about them. You ladies have a wonderful husband."
Enid added, "Not just a husband, Jane. He is a wonderful father as well. He reads bedtime stories to Beatrice without any complaints, as long as he gets here in time. Beatrice gets upset if Daddy is late, for Daddy makes up his own stories for her."
Jane was astonished at this revelation. "Tom writes bedtime stories?"
Tom retorted, "No, I don't write them. I make them up as I go along, just for Beatrice, my little angel."
Jeannette was viewing Tom with interest. "My darling husband, will you be telling bedtime stories to our child as well?"
"Of course, Jeannette. I enjoy it."
"Then your next task, my man, is to write these stories down, soon after you tell them to Beatrice. They will make a book of bedtime stories for parents to read to their children. Have you thought about what story you will tell her tonight?"
"Not properly thought out yet. It will be a tale of the confused woodpecker who decides that limestone cliffs could be fine for building a home for his wife and their chicks. His beak is even harder than usual for woodpeckers, so he can dig into the limestone without too much effort. His main problem is how to convince a lady woodpecker that a limestone cliff makes a good nest site."
Jane's brow was furrowed. "Why doesn't he just stick to trees?"
Enid gave a short laugh. "And spoil what could be a good story, Jane? Good bedtime stories often have impossible things happening in them. Don't try to be so scientific! Anyway, only his wives get to criticise what he tells to our children; is that not so, Jeannette?"
Jeannette smiled her agreement.
Jane scowled. "So I am being rejected again?"
Enid had a surprised look on her face, and she peered at the professor.
"Sorry, Jane. It was not meant to exclude you. It was just a standard social phrase that we use. We will not reject you. Tom will not reject you; he was just thoughtless in what he said on the phone: a typical man. You can be part of the group if you want to be."
Jeannette blinked, having a sudden feeling of Deja vue, and looked carefully at Jane Kelman's face, looking for something. She thought she saw it: a longing for something she did not have, could never have in his present life. The woman wanted completeness; wanted to belong, Jeannette twigged.
Jeannette spoke immediately to Enid, "You are starting again, Enid. Do you really mean it, dear?"
Tom realised something was going on around him that he didn't understand. "What?" he queried. Enid was dismissive. "Girl things, darling. Why don't you go and play with Beatrice for a while? She must be feeling neglected."
Tom roused himself, suddenly cheered up. "Yes. Me and Beatrice need to play on the carpet for a while. She thinks I am great for climbing over!" He immediately left to find his daughter.
Once he had left, Jane stared at Enid and Jeannette. "What was that all about?"
Jeannette said to her pointedly, "You, my dear. You may be our elder in age terms, but you are still a youngster when it comes to dealings with men."
Jane remained puzzled, "Eh?"
"Jane, you are lonely, my girl. Is that not the case?"
The professor examined Jeannette carefully, then did the same to Enid, before responding. "What makes you say that, Jeannette?"
"You, Jane. Your demeanour; the way you act and hold yourself. Your body language all shouts, I am lonely: I want to belong. Have you no family back on Earth, dear?"
Tears began to ooze from Jane Kelman's eyes as she replied, "My father died of a heart attack, and my mother killed herself in her grief. She took an overdose, fell into a coma and died. My only sibling, my brother John, was in the army and died when a spotter plane he was in was shot down by insurgents in the Middle East. His work could have been done by a drone, but his colonel distrusted drones and wanted eyeball observation. John suffered from that stupidity.
I have nobody left in the way of close relatives."
Enid told her, "Jane, you can regard us as your family now. You can be Beatrice's Aunt Jane. If you were still to be around when our babies are born, you can come and help us with the deliveries. Tom is not any use except for a hand to hold onto, and just being there for me. I am sure he will be the same for Jeanette, but a woman can be much more useful on these occasions."
"That is a great offer, Enid. I will seriously consider it, but I have to look into various career possibilities. If I came to live on Rehome, I would need a job, and education is my only avenue for employment."
"Jane, can I suggest you go and speak with the Governor? He knows how and where the Colony is going, so he may have some suggestions for you."
Jane thought for a moment, then asked, "Enid, what about the availability of men? What are my marriage prospects here?"
"For a highly-skilled professional lady? Pretty good, I would think, but farmers would not be your ideal choice. We have more and more professionals in many spheres, mostly in Metropolis, and the great advantage is that multiple spouses are possible here. If you don't mind being a second wife, the sky is the limit!"