So that’s what happened to the wee folk
Monday morning. I was hung over as usual. What made today any different?
A small person lay on my back porch, just outside my sliding glass door. I could tell that he was male, non-human and sick as hell. Why non-human? Humans don’t mature at fourteen inches tall, have tiny scales all over their skin or have pointed ears. How did I know he was sick? He was curled up in a ball, shaking despite it being early summer. The shakes were getting visibly weaker as I watched.
Screw work. I unbuttoned my shirt and gathered him up close against my chest. He was freezing! I tried to get some water into him but he acted as if he were allergic to it. What the hell?
I switched off to the big plastic jug of orange juice in my fridge, cold or not. He greedily sucked it down before passing out. His heart beat was stronger and his breathing seemed more regular.
He slowly opened his eyes and met mine. I became a bit dizzy as I heard “Iron poisons us. What has touched iron poisons us.”
I said, “Boy, did you ever land on the wrong planet.”
“We didn’t have much say in the matter. The ship was coming apart around us.” He passed out once again.
I continued talking to the little guy, even though I knew that he wasn’t listening.
Well, little fellow, you surely won’t thrive around here. I’ll have to think about where to take you that hasn’t been quite so impacted by society and technology. Ah! The old boy scout camp. There’s a natural spring on the property, it’s adjacent to a stream and the local farmer grows wheat.
The scout camp hasn’t been visited in generations so we can hack together someplace for you to live that won’t poison you.
Experimentation showed that he had no reaction to copper, tin, titanium or any plastic I could find. I figured out that his proteins reacted poisonously to iron ions, so anything made with iron tools had to be heated until it glowed to force the iron into oxides that could be brushed off.
We sent off for titanium cooking and eating gear. I got that ordered over the web, then left him resting comfortably on my bed while I paid a visit to the hardware store. A local cooking store sold ceramic cooking knives, which I scored for him. I had a little brass kettle lined with tin that I donated to the cause. With a seven inch top diameter it was something he could handle as a stew pot.
They stocked brass rings, screws, hammers, screw-eyes, hinges and hinge pins, all items he could touch and use. For cordage they stocked hemp cord as well as glassware and stoneware plates and cups. What I really needed was natural rope, canvas and brown dye. All this and half a load of wood went onto my credit card.
NE couldn’t take an inquisitive government brain-drain “fact finding” mission. I had to insure that his camp site was camouflaged.
He was still quite weak despite his best efforts to help his recovery. I started a batch-dye of all the canvas while I cleared a dirt oval out of the wind, then began to harvest standing dead firewood. The ground shelved off down to the stream which gave me a place to dig for gravel. The ground around the spring was severely mucky so I started filling in a path one small wheelbarrow load at a time.
I wasn’t in the best of shape and didn’t need the complications that would ensue from a heart attack.
We slept in the truck for several days. Each morning I stirred the dye pot and made oat meal for us with dried fruit such as raisins and fruit jam as a sweetener. He was forced to become a vegetarian due to the iron in our hemoglobin. Then it was back to digging gravel, filling in mud holes and cutting firewood.
It was finally construction time. The canvas was ready. Despite it still being wet I cut a dozen and a half poles as close to sixteen feet long that I could find, then spread them out into an oval and tied them down. Next the canvas was stretched over the poles, cut and sewn in place to make a twelve foot tipi. To make it comfortable it needed a liner. For that I used white canvas to tie in a liner at about five feet from the ground, then anchored the bottom at each pole.
It still needed a fire pit, a bed and furniture sized for him. The Salvation Army had a nice, durable child-sized chair. I used dimensionally cut lumber from the hardware store and brass screws to make a bed frame sized for a child-sized mattress with a solid plywood bottom, then pieced together a broad desk. Everything got a good sanding and a coating of polyurethane varnish.
A pillow and bedding finished the interior. I left him a small hatchet with a fiberglass handle and a tiny little child’s garden wheel barrow to help bring in water and firewood. I knew that I had a next-generation battery-operated LED camp light somewhere. I just had to dig it out of the pile of stuff I’d accumulated. I finally found it wrapped inside a hand kerchief, stuffed inside a plastic mug. That and a twenty-four pack of AA batteries would provide enough light to read by. For reading material, I shelled out forty bucks at the library on a withdrawn set of encyclopedia.
That was it as far as my available vacation time. I left him with a couple 20 pound bags of potatoes, a few bags of dried peas and beans, a big box of squash, twenty pounds of apples and a big bag of carrots.
I couldn’t help but worry about him during the week. There he was, a member of a star-faring civilization marooned in an environment barely better than the bronze age.
Bezig sat in the chair so generously provided by his host and looked about. He snorted to himself. Other than some missing decorations and utilities it looked like his grandfather’s summer fishing retreat. He’d spent many a long, pleasurable day and night there listening to his grandpa’s tales of the old days when they first colonized the planet. He felt comforted.
His human benefactor had gone above and beyond what he ever would have expected of such a competitive race.
The host was easily flustered. It was proven by the fact that despite his caring for Bezig’s bed, water, food and shelter he’d totally slipped up on providing sanitary facilities or a way to start a fire. Thankfully Bezig was a telekinetic and could start a fire as easily as sneezing. It would take a couple hours’ work to dig and construct a sanitary, but that he could start in the morning. His first task though, was to wade the riverbanks, looking for a few specific types of crystals. With the copper and titanium alloy his host had so graciously provided him, as well as a nice little powered oscillator within the lantern he had the beginnings of a distress beacon. He had no instruments to check his harmonic circuits so he’d have to take it slowly, judging a circuit’s Q-factor by the heating of the components.
For now it was sufficient to cook some rations and sit before the fire, listening to the night noises.
Come morning he boiled some sweet potatoes and mashed them with some herbs found near the stream. An Earth native would have gagged at the taste but it had a mix of amino acids that he craved.
While sitting in the sun, apparently dozing to any observer, Bezig compressed the walls of a pit some two feet in diameter and twenty feet deep. The remaining wood from the construction projects slid over the ground as if it had a will and intent. The corner beams erected themselves, then the cross members were fastened to the beams with brass screws. Sheets of plywood crawled up the frame and held firm while more screws fastened them down. The roof plywood spun up from the ground to land in place where more screws fastened them down, preventing the structure from racking in a wind. Slowly, carefully the color of the plywood darkened as it oxidized to a color that blended better with the environment. The bench was screwed into place, the door was built flat on the ground and lifted into place where it was fastened to the frame with brass hinges. The most universal building among every culture he’d come across with a bifurcated bottom stood in all its glory.
It was bright enough to open the lantern and tap the oscillator circuit. After cleaving a piece of chert large enough to support the circuit he had in mind. He had no glue so he used TK to bore tiny holes in the stone to hold his coils in place. Exquisitely thin layers of more chert were stacked together, interleaved with almost a plating of copper to form capacitors. A helical coil acted as an antenna. If he’d estimated properly then the ship’s recovery craft would soon appear. There was nothing to do but hope and wait.
Bezig experimented with different insects for foodstuffs as, at a low level, he knew his body was starving and many insects did not incorporate iron in their life cycles.
Near the borders of the wheat field he came upon thousands of buried pupae, nearly two inches long. When peeled and fried with herbs and vegetables they were quite palatable. There would be a noticeable drop in the local locust population that year. Bezig considered them quite a delicacy for their bland yet nutty flavor.
The recovery craft should have appeared by the second day. He made a small adjustment in the resonator coils and eschewed impatience. Much time was spent reading the encyclopedia.
He heard a bell-like tone from outside the tipi during the early morning hours. His recovery craft had arrived!
Bezig immediately cleansed himself and took a broad spectrum multi-vitamin. On checking the occupied sleep cells he found his surviving crew members healthy and dormant. He ordered a report generated enumerating the local resources as he had to grow his own starship from local resources. There was no mechanism in place to rescue castaway crewmen. It being a planet with abundant lithium he sent it out to refuel, now that his emergency conditions had been met. All he removed from the ship before he sent it off was a “suitcase” filled with nearly microscopic circuit components, testing gear and a small fusion-based power supply.
He wasn’t a bloody genius and he didn’t have an eidetic memory. Bezig had an implant. It wasn’t quite an Artificial Intelligence. However, with the proper interfaces it could easily generate and control an environmental field, manage a point defense, escape and evasion ; boost to orbit, navigate to a star ship and dock all while maintaining a non-hostile environment, while expending a minimum of resources. If left to itself for a few hundred years it undoubtedly would evolve into an AI. One of the goals he’d been scored on was nurturing his implant into a sane mind that acknowledged its social debt. Its secondary responsibility was to serve as an archive, or library if you will. Once well-integrated into a captain’s sensorial he could hand off jobs to it such as building engines, field generators, power supplies and control subsystems. What the briefcase held was the second half of a rapid-response construction system.
Upon analyzing the resource report he learned that the locale was extremely short on native copper and boron, two elements which his technology relied on. Thankfully the place was virtually made of silicon, and the atmosphere was over half nitrogen. What few rare elements that were necessary for the ship’s construction could be located and fetched by the recovery craft.
Friday evening finally rolled around. I packed up forty pounds of wheat flour, ten pounds of salt, five pounds of dried milk, six liters of good corn oil, three pounds of powdered eggs, two gallons of vinegar, two pounds of raisins and two gallons of honest-to-god maple syrup. I realized that my guest had been living a very Spartan existence. I intended to rectify that.
I slowly drove up to the gate and closed it behind me. I brought a wheelbarrow full of goodies like a proud hunter returning with a moose carcass.
“Hello the camp!”
I heard a voiceless whisper in my mind--”Good morning, my benefactor. You never did give me your name, you know. mine is Bezig.”
I came into the clearing where we’d established the camp. The little fellow was sitting on a bench in front of the tipi, taking in the sunlight. He was wearing a garment quite unfamiliar to me--it appeared to be a light blue jerkin with a very fine weave. A belt was buckled at the waist, from which depended several small pouches. He wore some sort of stockings on his feet with thick soles.
“Good day to you, Bezig. I’m Simon. I brought a few treats for you so that your diet need not be so boring. I’ve brought the makings for pancakes, fried bread and baked bread or biscuits as well as a sweetener known as maple syrup.”
“I discovered quite a few large pupae buried just under the surface around the wheat field across the stream. I found them quite tasty.”
I nodded. “They were probably locusts. In a hot area of the planet locusts preserved in honey are a delicacy.”
“What is honey?”
“There are several types of flying insects you may have seen. The round, fuzzy-looking flying bug with a black and yellow striping are called bumblebees. Honeybees are brown and black. They collect plant pollen and transport it back to their hives. There they process it and store it away to feed the hive when flowers are not available. Honey is an intensely sweet, dehydrated syrup that often times tastes somewhat like the flowers from which the pollen was harvested. Locusts swarm, hatching in the tens of thousands. They can easily strip all the crops or vegetation from an area within days, leaving nothing useable behind.”
“I was thinking about taking some home with me when I leave. Now it doesn’t seem like such a good idea.”
I replied, “Let me tell you a story about Australia and Rabbits...”
We commiserated on the risks of moving species from their native habitats. Did you manage to contact your people? That garment is nothing like what I saw you with before.”
He nodded his head repeatedly. “I managed to generate a distress signal which called the ship’s emergency craft to my position. They’re built to be nearly indestructible.”
“Does that mean you’ll be leaving us soon?”
Bezig quipped, “Define soon.”
“I have no clue as to your requirements or projected time line. What are your parameters?”
“That’s an intelligent question. Nobody will come searching for me. I have to get out of this fix on my own. Thankfully all of our craft come equipped in case of just such a problem occurring. After adding a few elements that this area seems deficient in, I have to essentially “plant” a dedicated constructor nest and wait for it to complete the build. The finished craft should measure close to 600 meters long and 90 meters in diameter surrounded by three sponsons on pylons. Thankfully the stream is close-by as the process generates quite a bit of heat.”
“What elements need to be provided, and in what quantities?”
“The process model requires several hundred pounds of copper, roughly the same in nickel and roughly double that in boron. Then, before leaving, a large stock of organics will be harvested to provide a base for the crew’s food processor, and likewise the ship will tank up on water. The stream here should serve well.”