Drafted Beyond the Stars
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2020 by Wendell Jackson

The village was secure and warm during the long winter days. Tom=s return with the prisoner Mary Witt, brought good news and bad news. The good news was they’d found oil. Crude oil, that needed refining. It wasn’t quality fuel that could be used in the Rovers and Anphib vehicles, but It could be used in the open flame lamps. The shelters were much warmer now, with the addition of the thick oil to the stoves. Richard set up a drip system that fed the oil to the flames at a regulated rate. It was possible to adjust the flow, thus the temperature too.

Richard devoted almost all of his time trying to find a way to refine the crude into something that would run the Rovers and other vehicles. After many tries, he announced that he wasn’t proficient with the lack of tools and equipment. There was the right equipment and tools needed in another Base. Richards study of the Medical computers enabled him to scan the complete manifest of the entire group of landers, now Bases. One Base held the machinery to make more machinery. That knowledge provoked a dream in Richard of having an unending supply of Oil, diesel, gas and the many by products that science could provide. All they had to do was find that Base and make the equipment needed.

The plan was to make what they needed there, and bring the product back. The lathe’s and welders were much too heavy for transport with the vehicles on hand. It was likely the landers had touched down completely intact, and with the resources needed. At least for now, later if there was much use of the supplies, they would be hunting for raw materials. Which wouldn’t be easy. Far better to get there and have them make the equipment before they ran out of supplies. Finding iron ore, and smelting it into a usable form, was a whole technology years beyond their present capability.

The bad thing was, Tom brought back a Rogue. Mary Witt had once turned against them, and joined the band of no goods. Her reasons were never explained, but without a band to join, she was not a threat to the village. Tom’s word that he’d killed everyone of them, except for Mary who was carrying a child, was good enough for the village. He did give them the problem of deciding what to do with Mary. Like Tom they couldn’t bring themselves to Kill a pregnant woman. Nor did it help, when Tom explained that the oil might never have been discovered if not for Mary sticking her foot into it.

It was in the end, for Shondra to decide Mary’s fate. She couldn’t bring herself to ostracize Mary from the village or the other settlements. Nor could she just forgive and forget. Mary had wronged them, and aided the enemy. Something had to be done, but what could it be. She didn’t want to imprison anyone, and that didn’t leave much option.

Shondra finally decided to let Mary earn the trust of the people. In a formal meeting, the details were laid out, with Mary having the choice to either except the terms or go off on her own. The terms were a sentence. She would serve the people of the village for one year. In that year, she would be at the beck and call of every man woman in the village. She would perform any duty, asked of her, without Rancor or complaint. That did not include sex. She was not to engage in any relationship during that year. Any wrong doing, or complaint regarding her, would result in banishment, and death if she should ever be seen again.

Mary excepted the conditions as everyone expected. How long they would be enforced was a matter of speculation. A private pool was set up, with estimated times of the conditions coming to an end, or of Mary reneging on her promise. Tom wondered what or how they set the time limit on the pool. That was something that Shondra couldn’t bring herself to do.

Life was slowed down, with the heavy snows. Games were invented and played daily. Competition card games, with homemade prizes were organized. A cooking contest was the main entertainment enjoyed the most. Using the lab to test the different fruits and plants for dangerous ingredients and chemicals, they were coming up with new food stuffs. Shondra was not very happy with the added work, but realized that soon they would be using the newly discovered foods for most of their meals. In the mean time she prayed for a successful harvest come next fall.

Another large shelter was set up on the snow, then shoveled out, letting the shelter settle to the ground before attaching the floor covering. Richard had found a way to coat the flooring with the foam and use the harden surface to draw diagrams and illustrate idea’s. It became the center of activity for those tiring of games and wanting to plan for the coming spring. Richard drew out the plans of building a refinery. The young men, studied his ideas and conferred with the data base of the computers to further their education.

They kept coming to the same conclusion, the refinery could be built. But not with the tools on hand. They needed several large fabricated containers and boilers. Several other things that could only be made on a precision set up such as lathes and Milling machines. Those machines were to be found at another lander base. Just where it was, they had no idea, only that it must be somewhere to the east. It was one of the landers that made up the first launch with General Devon’s group.

No one wanted to team up with them. Putting themselves under the General’s control was next to slavery. As hard as life was, they liked their independence. It was quite a discussion when the idea of looking for the other bases was brought up at a winters meeting. Despite the desire to stay isolated, Sam Nelson made the argument for contact. A heated discussion rose, as the subject came under intense discussions. Nelson pointed out, that they were few in number, and that having the manufacturing ability the lost Base would provide, they’d be able to produce enough to live on, and raise the next generation.

Several men stated that they were doing just fine without the advantages of contacting the Base. They could keep up with the demands and needs of the villages, without it. They remained steadfast in their stubbornness, until Shondra gave them something else to consider. As they aged and grew old, they wouldn’t stay strong and vernal. The babies would not be ready to shoulder the work. She also pointed out, that even when the current crop of babies reached adult hood, they were too few in number to make a difference.

The only way to survive was to produce more children. Man power was the short fall of achieving success. With the aid of equipment and repairs, they could farm, and produce enough until the day when the next generation could take over. Without manufacturing ability they would stumble into failure.

The more boisterous slowly settled down as they thought it all through. Warily they wondered just how it could be done. To find the Base and use its machinery without involving themselves with General Devon’s forces. Once the General knew of their existence, he could by earth laws assert his control over them. He was in fact the only one authorized with command of the whole planet.

Sam Nelson, knew his orders, He was to support the authorized commander. That was the General, but Nelson didn’t want any part of that man’s organization. Admiral Bueller, if he succeeded in landing safely, out ranked the General and could give him new orders. Until he found the Admiral and was released from the Generals command, he would be violating the chain of command. He was stewing over his dilemma when Tom found him in the Chart room.

After Sam explained his problem. Tom shook his head with laughter. “Hell, Sam, that all changed when everything went to hell. Were surviving on our own down here. The General, god bless him, is his own problem. Not ours. I saw the General and his hatchet man the Major, kill a man just for asking a question. No way will I be a part of his operation.”

“I haven’t been relieved from my duties.” Nelson continued.

“Well then, I hereby do so. Your relieved. Not only that, your reassigned to this village, to lead and protect.” Tom put a hand on his shoulder. “I do so dub you, Our shining white night.”

“Who’s a white night.” Richard asked, as he came into the Shelter.

“Just relieved Nelson of any attachment to General Devon’s mission, and dubbed him a knight.”

“Well, he’s certainly no longer attached to them.” Richard agreed. “He’s now a knight in Shondra Morrison’s court.” He added with a smile. “I hope that end’s any talk of misplaced loyalties.”

“I could be placed under arrest for not trying to rejoin, the original mission.” Nelson lamely surmised.

“No, they might try, but we are not under anyone’s jurisdiction. If A relief force should show up to take us all back home, just maybe they might have an argument. That’s not going to happen, so forget this business about General Devon. I doubt that he will last very long where ever he is. Someone will get sick and tired of his crap and put one right between his eyes.” Richard stated with some irritation, walking to a table and rolling out something thin and wide. “You want to see something wonderful. Take a look at this.”

What Richard spread on the table, was a large sheet of paper. It was rough looking, and had a light grey hue to it. Both Nelson and Tom touched it, seeing if it was real. “Made that myself.” Richard beamed.

“Took some of that inner bark we’ve been peeling off, and boiled it up.” He explained as both men continued to feel the sheet. “Boiled it to a pulp, then poured it all in flat squares. This is just one of many. First try, and success.”

“How long did it take?” Nelson realized the importance of having paper to work with. To write, draw, and even with some shellac, to make windows.

“Couple hours to boil, and a couple days to dry out.” Richard took out a piece of charcoal and drew a line, down the middle of the sheet. “Need a better way to press it, so it’s smoother. That will be worked out, but we do need a better pencil.”

The first thing Richard did, was commission Tom to draw a crude map of the village and the trail to the crash site. More accurate maps would be made in the future, but this one would be the first. Many others would add to it. Lakes, hills, valleys and forests, It would aid in accurate descriptions of routes and places. Using the Tablet with its details would insure accuracy

“Next, you’ll be inventing the printing press.” Nelson joked.

“Already have.” Richard countered. Which he showed them in the next shelter, where a few men and women sat carving letters on small blocks of wood. It would be crude, but later as they acquired more tools, the workman ship would be finer. “Right now it’s sort of a hobby.” He grinned along with those carving the letters.

That evening as Shondra closed up the clinic and joined Tom in their quarters, She found him busing making marks on a large sheet of paper. He was using charcoal sticks that Richard had fashioned out of ashes in the stoves. Now that they were primarily using oil to heat with, the wood fires were less and less. One bonfire was built and covered quickly with dirt to turn it all into charcoal. Soon they would have sticks of the stuff and better writing implements. It would still be crude, but it would work. He was enjoying making the map and Shondra saw no reason to spoil it. Her man was happy and growing younger every day. Well not younger, as he was still old, but more thriving, and zestful. She’d given him a through physical, and found that his strength had improved since the last exam. His overall health was improving. Shondra figured his life line had been greatly extended.

Chrystal’s tea’s and other concoctions had done wonderful things, improving everyone’s health. Though nothing like what Tom’s recovery had achieved. Whatever it was he came in contact with, it brought new life to the man. Tom walked with a stride, befitting a much younger man. Each step was made with confidence and balance. Tom might not realize his improving condition, but everyone else was aware of it. The knowledge that Tom had somehow came upon a fountain of youth, inspired a diligent hunt for the secret. Tom was question, over and over for anything he could recall. He tried his best to help, but Tom was growing weary of all the questions and wanted more and more to be left alone.

Of course Shondra was always welcome company, no matter what the circumstances. She could see that he needed to get away from the constant retelling of his first journey. The trail had been explored many times, and every tree and bush tested for the elusive medicine. A few had suffered from tasting a the wrong substance, but the drive to find it, hardly slowed them down.

The talk of finding one of the other landing sites, particularly one with manufacturing ability, Shondra thought it might be a good thing for Tom. It would get him away from all the nagging questions a while, and maybe it would all fade away when he returned. Shondra was aware that contact with General Devon’s command was to be avoided. Even with the potential danger it posed, she felt it was best for Tom, to do the exploring.

She was surprised when she brought the idea up, that Tom stated he didn’t want to go. He was perfectly happy with life around the Medical Center, and the occasional trip to the village. A hunt to fill the larder, was enough to fulfill his need for adventure, provided it happened often enough. Richard wasn’t happy when Tom turned down the idea of leading a couple men, to find the base. He came to Shondra and asked for her help in persuading Tom to take on the mission. She had already spoken to Tom, but assured Richard she would try again.

It was at dinner that the subject came up. She didn’t ask Tom to go, or even hint at it. She pointed out that the tooling was needed, to aid the harvesting when the men grew too old to do it by hand.

“Even now, it would increase production by hundreds of percent,” she mused. “The men are right, the babies are taking too much away from the work force. The mothers have to tend to them, and there’s going to be more. More babies and less help in the fields.”

Tom set his utensil down, and pondered for a moment or two before speaking. “I can provide more meat. There’s plenty of game, and were not wasting any.”

“We need bread too.” Shondra pointed out. Softly she added. “The gardens can provide almost all our needs, But we will be demanding more and more, as our number grow. We need to expand our fields, and we need better plows to do it.”

“Our numbers growing.” He mulled the words over, “You aren’t pregnant are you?”

“No, but I will be.” She smiled. “Tom, I’m not getting any younger. The time for me to have a baby is now.” She watched as her words sunk in.

“Okay, I’ll talk to Richard and see what he’s got planned and do what I can.” He agreed with an exhale of breath. “All you had to do was ask.”

The next day, Richard met with Tom in the chart room. A large map had been drawn out on the floor, and a smaller one on the new paper. Two men came with him, Steve Morgan and Ron Nadler. Steve had hunted with Tom on many occasions, but Ron was going for the first time.

Richard explained Ron’s presents as he knew what to look for, and could work the machinery if it was feasible. This trip would be to locate the base with the machinery, and work out an arrangement to use the machines or trade for products. It was primary a scouting mission.

Figuring the launch program of the first set of landers, would have set them down in a tight pattern to the east of them. That was the direction to go. How far, they didn’t know. Richard stressed that if all they accomplished on this mission was finding them, that would be enough. Contacting them only if they could do so without General Devon’s knowledge.

“If you can make contact, and it’s possible to get the refinery implements, we’ll work out a trade deal of sorts.” Richard went on to explain that even if the General was there, they might be able to do a black market deal. One without the general’s knowledge.” He pointed to Ron. “Let him work out the details, and get back here as fast as you can.”

“We’ll do what we can.” Tom assured.

To help carry more supplies for the journey, they use the bikes found at the crash site. Tom had no need of them, but understood that extra packs could be fasten on them, and they didn’t necessarily have to ride them, but just walk along side. Tom didn’t like idea as they were noisy, but they might need the extra rations, and water.

The three men left without fanfare. They traveled up and over the first ridge, where they got a good look to the east. There were mountains rising up out of a flat expanse of varied forests and bodies of water. Tom cautioned them about the dangers of the beasts they would encounter. The animals in the vicinity of the villages, had the fear of man. The ones’ they were going to meet along the way, didn’t have that fear as yet. So they could expect to be attacked by all sorts of creatures. They were to keep their weapons within easy reach at all times.

Pushing the bikes wasn’t the easy transport that Richard versioned. Perhaps if there had been a smooth trail, they could have done it. After shoving and lifting the bikes over logs and through tangled brush, they made a decision to abandon two of them. Taking turns pushing only one, would have to suffice. Even just the one, was tiring enough, but they stuck it out. The other two were left hanging high in a tree where animals couldn’t get to them. That was the idea, but they didn’t expect them to remain intact. If they could put them up there, something could get them down.

Whenever they could, game trails were their highway. Most were well trodden, with few trees laying across the path. It was easier pushing the bike, but they didn’t regret leaving the other two behind.

In the clearings, they came upon many animals. Most ran off, jumping like deer. Some stood watching as the men passed. Tom had the feeling the animals were making a show of defending their ground, by not moving off. There was a new type, not seen before. They were white Shaggy beasts that Looked similar to goats, with furry manes. Tom assumed they were grazing animals as they too were in the meadows and clearings.

Camp that night was beside a pool of water, which was just a wide spot in a slow moving stream. The men set their packs down and rested the bike against a tree. A good pile of fire wood was gathered and they had a moderate fire going, in the hopes of keeping all critters away. The days were warm, and so they just used a bed roll rather than the big sleeping bags that were offered. Blankets were just as warm, and easier to pack. The large sleeping bags, though light, took up a lot of space in the packs.

Most of their food stuffs, consisted of jerky. The Smoked meats of different animals they used for food. It was all good, and some right tasty. Tonight they chewed a portion, washing it down with water. Tomorrow they promised themselves they would mix it with some rations in a stew pot, and have a hot meal. The only thing about having a hot meal, was it took time to fix, and they didn’t want to wait. A quick bite and a pot of tea, was plenty for the time being. One item that became a food source for them was the Pollen that filled the air over the grass lands. It was so thick, that one of the women, collected some vie a vacuum pump and used it to thicken stews. They found it useful in making a bread, that helped fill their bellies. There were still a supply of food rations they landed with, but now they were being used sparingly, as they kept coming up with new foods the planet provided.

Until they were further on their journey and closer to the Bases they were searching for, the camps at night were more relaxed. A fire was lit and fed throughout the evening. Each man taking a place round it, laid out his bedroll. There wasn’t for the time being any threat from other humans, now that the Rogues no longer existed. So they enjoyed the evening fire, and toasted some of the bread mix, for snacking. Once they were near the command of General Devon and his attachments, they would end the nightly bonfires.

The men rose every morning and checked their firearms and equipment. The small squirrel like animals liked to explore the strange bundles that the men carried. After finding some items scattered about one morning, the men fasten down everything more securely. The little paws were good at lifting flaps and poking around, but pulling the snaps and Velcro loose was more than they could manage. They checked every morning to make sure they still had supplies and ammo, just to be sure.

Tom’s companions were enjoying the outing much more than he was. Tom did like exploring, but would rather be doing it with Shondra. The other two men, didn’t miss the home life, as it was an adventure. The different trees and the fruits they bore, were of great interest. Tom cautioned them against tasting it, as with some poisons a taste was enough to kill. Whether the fruits were poisonous or not, they didn’t know. After watching some of the animals eat different fruit, the men thought it would be okay, just to sample one or two.

Steve reported that several tasted sweet, and two others bland. He didn’t eat any of them, as he thought Tom might be right about the toxic level. On the return trip, they would pick some and let the lab technicians sort it all out. Steve wasn’t sure, but the good night’s sleep he had after tasting the fruit, might have had something to do with it.

The first wisp of smoke told them they were near their goal. Tom sent Steve Morgan up one of the more climbable trees for a better look. He descended with news that there were many columns of smoke rising up out of the forest or jungle several miles ahead. After drawing out the details on the ground, the men decided to circle to the south and approach from that direction. If they were discovered by hostile members, they wouldn’t have a trail leading back to their own settlements.

The evenings meals were now just jerky and dry bread sticks, washed down with water. Not tea, as that would have required a fire. Ron Nadler, protested the cold meals, pointing out that there was many fires in the area, and no one would be able to tell their smoke from any other. His complaint fell on deaf ears. Both Tom and Steve, nixed the idea, and insisted on a cold camp. It wasn’t that cold. A simple blanket was enough for comfortable rest. Ron went along with the decision but wasn’t happy about it.

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