Iris again. It's a month later and almost time for an explosion to go off under me. Not a metaphoric one either. It's still night and the comet's tail wraps from one horizon to the other. The comet will land at Thor's north pole in about two weeks.
But first a status update. I shed my fur and skin a week ago, not a pleasant operation, but my new fur is the envy of Gondolin, white and gold stripes. It stays pretty clean, and after heavy work shoveling potting soil I can simply shower and it comes back bright as new. I was worried about that part.
Valeria Victrix -- she soon allowed us to call her that again -- now looks like a miniature Wilma: a halo of crinkly black fur on the head and nowhere else. I'm used to Wilma and Willie but it's bizarre to see so much bare auburn skin on a Novanima. But the two humans have gone totally googah over Valeria. And I suppose it's appropriate for one of the human representatives to at last look like a human should. The only disadvantage is that Valeria is cold when the sun doesn't shine. She and Wilma are working together to knit a blanket out of polyterephthalate fibers similar to the ones Wilma and Willie already have. The humans wrap a decorative piece of cloth around their middles when inside (not outside, to keep the cloth from getting dirty or torn), but Valeria says the blanket is already a lot of work and she's going to forget about the wraparound.
Valeria and I and Tiger whipped together an explanation of that morning's pyrotechnics. It turned out that a number of people besides the 'uomi were just a little uncomfortable having, as they perceived it, two kinds of humans. I was surprised to find Wilma and Willie among them, considering that they had been in on the original decision. But making the decision and living with it are two different things, Willie explained. Now all is sweetness and light, and everyone kind of assumes that Vulcan decided on the 'uomi name. I felt it not useful to claim credit; getting everyone headed forward is the most important result.
I'm happy that the big writing job we did turned out well, and it's given me the confidence, as well as some skills, to try another big project on a topic that worries me. In parallel with Tiger, and working from some of her notes that she let me copy, I analyzed our response to the coming comet impact. I'm used to smaller projects where you start and finish the same day, but this job was much too big for that approach, so my first day's work was actually to slice it up into bite-sized chunks, easy little steps for muddy little feet, as Tiger put it. So mostly I was able to finish each chunk like I'm used to, on the same day. I'm happy with how I did the project, but not with the conclusions I've come up with. That's why I'm in dome one.
Tiger: I read it: good work. See how it helps to split up a project? And try to think of another advantage of splitting a project that has to be done fast.
Me: Well, you can focus on one part at a time and not waste your time on bits and pieces of the others... If a project has to be done fast, it helps to have more people, and each one could do a part, the part he's best at.
Tiger: Right, all three points. Now your conclusions were somewhat different from mine. Why do you think that is?
Me: To you, every person is equally valuable. Obviously all the adults have to be in orbit. But I'm in a position to compare the value of particular people in handling comet problems with their future value in case something goes really wrong, which with Wilma guiding the comet isn't likely.
Tiger: How professionally you put that.
Me: I have a good teacher. Now if we come down from orbit and find that the dome covers have burned, fallen on the plants and killed them, we're going to be awfully skinny, and if there's any damage to the water electrolyser we're going to be breathing carbon dioxide even before then.
Tiger: Your point is very good that we need to put the electrolyser in the tunnel. I certainly will do that, despite the fact that we'll have to disassemble it to get it down there.
Me: Thank you, Tiger. Now about firefighting...
Tiger: We're reducing the oxygen content of the air as much as the ants and dry worms can stand. Remember that only the inside air supports combustion.
Me: And settling of the foundations and wind damage to the domes.
Tiger: We're agreed, aren't we, that there's not a thing you can do if a cover rips; the wind will have it off in a second, and it's better if you aren't there to get hit.
Me: Agreed, but in Two Years Before the Mast the problem wasn't sudden failure but gradual weakening. Followed by sudden failure. Someone in the dome with a roll of plastic and a bucket of glue could save the day.
Tiger: Fiction, Terran fiction about wooden ships and iron humans seems, shall we say, distant. Moving on to foundations, I worry more about a tunnel collapsing, and neither one is a ten minute job to fix.
Me: I really would be uncomfortable if nobody were down here. I think you're overestimating what the intrinsic safety design can do, and underestimating what I can do, because I'm a kitten. And overvaluing me in the future.
Tiger: Well, now his tail is showing. You're admitting out loud that you want yourself as the emergency person. What I'm maybe overestimating is how resilient we are after a total loss. I do worry about these things, you know. On the other points, if you're valuable in the present crisis you're even more valuable in the future ones. But it's true, you've caught me thinking, oh, what can a kitten do? Tell me, when it's your turn to ride the lander up to the ship, what will you do?
Me: Go up. And if nothing goes wrong I'll tell you afterward, it might have happened. And if we come down to find wreckage and dead Chang plants, I'll say, I told you so. And then get very, very hungry.
Tiger: Thank you for that consideration. I showed your report to the other adults, and they were impressed. They also saw through the passive voice and indefinite pronouns and identified who was being left on the surface. They had a range of opinions about the risks you describe, all of which we're well aware of, and of your possible effectiveness, and of the ethics of letting you do the job. I'd like your estimate of the hazards you're letting yourself in for.
Me: If pieces have come off the comet, Gondolin could get hit, and me in it. That's the main reason for concern about fire: not knowing if the fragments would even reach the ground, or would be big enough to turn us into a new crater, or would be intermediate and set a fire. In the earthquake one of the iron trees could fall over on me, or there could be another landslide, but it's not likely here; that's why you chose this place. In the wind, again a tree could be pulled down on me if the cover ripped, and the wind might be strong enough to blow off my helmet, which probably would be fatal.
Tiger: And what do you get out of doing the job?
Me: I hope I'll sit down here and be bored for half a day. If something bad happens I hope I can make it a little less bad. I could get dead. I hope not.
Tiger: What do you think the other kittens will say about you doing the job?
Me: Tiger made a good choice: Iris is the most expendable.
Tiger: They'll probably think you're a hero, especially if you put out some fires.
Me: I won't turn away praise, but they'll forget it in a day. Look, Tiger, I really appreciate how you've taught us and how you organize things around here. Just because I get a different idea on the comet risks than you do, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the job you've done, and after all, most of the work was to get the data in those notes, which you adults all did.
Tiger: I won't turn away praise either, but what brought that on?
Me: I thought about forgetting in a day. We kittens mostly complain about you. You know, stuff like why does Tiger make us get a second person to go swimming? I tell them patiently and remind them what happened to me, but they forget in a day, and it must make you feel sad.
Tiger: No, it doesn't. I chose this job, and what I chose doesn't make me feel sad. OK, I've decided: I don't own you, the converse of a point you made in your essay, and if you feel it's prudent to put specifically you specifically here during the comet impact, you have my permission. Not my order, not my recommendation, but my acquiescence.
Me: Thank you, Tiger.
Tiger: Thank me after it's over, if you're able. Now for preparation I'd like two items to start with: suggestions of how to make your presence more effective, preferably items that kittens such as Vulcan can help you prepare, so we don't have to divert adults from preparations I have them doing. Second, some plans for practice. I'll get you started: put out a fire, put cement in a crack, patch a rip. Got it? I'll review the plan and suggest improvements; then you'll execute it at least once and if possible more times.
Me: Thank you, Tiger.
Tiger: You're getting repetitious. Now scat! We both have work to do.
Well, I asked for it. It's been a frantic week doing the final preparations. Today is a type three day with night beginning at lunchtime, perfect for viewing the coming spectacle, and spectacular it is. Wotan has sucked in the entire comet's tail and wrapped it around in a halo covering half the sky. Earlier we could see the comet's body, even a tiny disc by eyeball, and spectacular in the telescope, now safe, supposedly, in the backbone tunnel. Just an hour ago Tiger hugged me goodbye and for the last time flew the lander up to the ship, in polar orbit around Wotan rather than vulnerable around Thor. For the whole morning Willie was ferrying kittens up there two at a time; they would go into one of the agricultural pods and put our two laboriously knitted kitten-size space suits in the airlock for Willie to take back down.
Now Thor has rotated to just about the optimal angle to take the impact. I'll watch the northern horizon, plus on my machine I'll watch the video from the the two mapper spacecraft. Wilma has been steering the comet hour by hour, compensating for irregularities in tail gas production, and she should be taking the butterfly chips off right about now. In the thirty minutes until impact the comet will wander off course at most a hundred meters.
I'm as ready as I can be, and I have a patchwork of singe marks on my pretty fur to show for it, as well as glue globs. To re-practice gluing, I put up a small tent of dome cover material. We filled it with dome air, the reduced oxygen mix we planned to use, and put in two potted Chang bushes, a tank of liquid carbon dioxide, and me (in my helmet). Willie lit off what he calls a thermite bomb on top of the cover. I hardly had time to aim the carbon dioxide before the cover was a cloud of flaming bits, and the Chang bushes went up like torches. My fur is more fire retardant but I just hopped the flaming perimeter into external air, lacking oxygen, then blasted away with the carbon dioxide from out there. I put out the fires, or more realistically, the oxygen-containing air moved away, but the plants and tent were a total loss. I was afraid my fur was the same until Simba showed me that the carbonized and matted outer fur could just be pulled off leaving the color intact, if not the contour.
The second test went a lot better. We made a new tent and filled it with 20% oxygen, balance nitrogen. That's not enough for the ants and worms, but they only had to endure it for a few minutes. The thermite lit a big circular hole on fire as well as igniting the bush under it, but I had plenty of time to spray both of them liberally with carbon dioxide. We brought the two pots back into dome two and the next day the ants were recovered enough to harvest the crop, some of it pre-toasted on the bush that burned. For the last twelve hours we've been pumping oxygen out and nitrogen into our dome system, and we have several big tanks of liquid nitrogen and oxygen (and heaters) to inflate the domes when the wind comes. From this one comet the air pressure will more than triple, and simulations suggest there will be pretty fierce winds as the air spreads itself over the planet.
Each dome has two tanks of carbon dioxide, one with a short hose and one with a polyimide fiber reinforced plastic tube long enough to put the carbon dioxide right up to a burning patch of dome cover. Also there are two light but sturdy ladders of the same material which I can move to whichever dome and climb to glue on patches. And each dome has a plastic bag of dry regolith and water to mix it into patching cement, and a roll of dome cover material, and a supply of glue and a brush. Simba started his bugs making the materials as soon as I told him I was working on this analysis. Evidently he prejudged the conclusion, correctly.
I'm in dome three, normally not allowed to me, so as to be located centrally.
Tiger (on the helmet speaker): Impact in five minutes. I suggest you take a leak. You forgot that, didn't you?
Me (peeing): Yes, Tiger. OK, I'm watching the mapper feeds. Number one is tracking the comet, right? I see the big ball in a kind of halo.
Tiger: Right, three minutes.
Three minutes is so long. Tiger counts the final seconds. I'm sure everyone who's crammed into the agricultural pods is glued to their screens like I am. There it goes! The comet body stays amazingly round as brilliant blue plasma squirts out from under it. The long trench it cuts into Thor's crust serves as a conduit for gouts of flame coming out to the rear. Finally all dissolves into a squatting fireball as seen from mapper one, pierced by rays of white heat. I look at the northern sky. The plasma races upward above my horizon, followed by four lances of fire.
Tiger: Awesome! Surface person: do you see some jets, kind of columns of material? Is any one of them vertical or close to it?
Me: Yes, the second of four is vertical.
Tiger: That means it's going to hit you in twelve minutes.
Me: Roger. I'm retiring to the ramp into dome three.
If I thought three minutes was long to wait, twelve is an eternity. Combat simulations are one thing but it's entirely different to be stalked by an implacable adversary for real. But how powerful are its weapons? My lessons say that the key is to meet your fate with equanimity: to remain steady. That gives you the best chance to make something good out of a bad situation. Mapper two is panning to follow the estimated footprint of the jet, where sparklies in the air can just be seen in the image on my machine. Gondolin is marked with an X.
Tiger: About thirty seconds. How are we doing down there?
Me: Scared but steady. More or less. Let me listen for impacts, OK?
Tiger: Good luck.
Krak! Then there's a roar of multiple hits. Boom! I'm thrown in the air and almost spat out of the ramp; the carefully closed doors are blown off. Dust roils up from the tunnel. A quick systems check: my hoses and polycarbonate helmet seem undamaged, and my epidermis, though I have bruises under it and I'm having trouble hearing. The rattle of impacts is decreasing but another crackling can just barely be heard.
Me: Multiple hits, and a big hit on an unknown one of the tunnels. Five seconds and I'm going out to fight fires.
Silence. My helmet speaker is inert. But my machine still has an image. It's on a different data and power nexus from the speakers. I select the NetBoard session and type ``audio dead, tunnel hit, going to fight fires.'' I run.
Oh, no! Every dome is burning. Triage time: three, where I am, is pretty bad, so I grab the long-nosed can and start spraying. The cover quits burning fairly easily, though there's now a big rent that's never going to last in the wind. I blast two groups of Chang bushes with the other can, then I'm out the airlock. Crack, a laggard rock hits somewhere; I can't tell where. Which way now? Dome five, my home, is a conflagration, a writeoff. Dome one isn't, and the most important tools and stuff are there. In an instant I'm inside through its airlock. Poof, squirt, whoosh, I hose down the cover, two circles of flame, and then spray carbon dioxide with abandon on Chang bushes around the edge that got hit directly and a cluster that were ignited by falling droplets of burning plastic. Five-A, the auxiliary dome next to five is no longer there. Crack! How long are the rocks going to keep coming? The other five aux domes on this side, their covers are burning and I can see burning plants inside. I want to save them, but I made this decision already in my report: residential domes come first, because they contain more than plants.
The ramp into dome two would be fastest but is also likely blown up. I dash out the airlock and around into the neighboring dome. Its circles of fire are larger but they yield to the spray of cold gas. I may have to forget about repairing the most damaged cover; I may not have enough plastic sheet. Now the bushes... Crack! Aaa-aa-aaa! I'm on fire, not only pain but real flames from the fur on my chest, my right side! I instantly turn the carbon dioxide on myself. E-e-e, the freezing cold can't have done the wound any good, but now the only fire is metaphoric for pain that shoots through my whole right side every time I breathe. Burning bushes flicker around me.
Steady, Iris! You stayed steady when they chewed off your tail tip. First, assess the situation. I'd better get what remains of my tail away from one burning plant. I'm on my feet; that means my heart or aorta wasn't blown out. The hit seems to be on my right side. I can feel air go in and out of the wound. That means I'll have only half breathing capacity until the hole is plugged, which may not be a wise thing to do just yet. Any motion on that side seems to set knives moving within my chest wall; nonetheless, I'm still holding the carbon dioxide can (with my left hand). Staying alive means not just surviving the next few minutes but the next few weeks, and therefore I have to save plants. So spray them! Painfully I regain my grip on the short hose and blow out the fires around me.
I stagger out the airlock and around into dome four. I'm not as swift as before but I economize on motion, and I find positions so I'm able to hold the heavy tube up to the cover and extinguish the flames. A patch of ten or so bushes are burned completely to ashes but their neighbors can still be saved. Now, gasp, I struggle into dome six. A meteor struck the short hosed fire extinguisher and it must have spun around crazily; I can see the arcs all over the dirt floor, and a number of plastic pots and their residents are smashed to bits, but the cloud of carbon dioxide, dense and hugging the floor, dealt with fire in the bushes. The nutmeg plant is safe on its table, giggle. I spray along the edges of the large round hole in the cover. My infrared sensors show me hot spots in dome five and its auxiliary dome, but the fires in the other residential domes stayed dead. What about the other aux domes? Unroofed completely, every one, but when I came in here I glanced at six-A, despite my pain, and I saw that many plants were charred, but most were still green. When the cover went up and let out the air, or when large numbers of bushes burned, the blaze must have gone out for lack of oxygen. So my job is done. I sit. This is right about where they made me sit to chew on my tail, giggle.
Was it worth it? They can't live at the ship; there isn't enough area for plants and the air will be tight just for twelve hours of refuge. They can't live in their helmets either. Speaking of which, I wonder if the hit on the tunnel wrecked the water electrolyser, which is used to fill helmet air tanks? Anyway, let's stay focused. The first job will be to put covers over the aux domes and their surviving plants, get rid of the carbon monoxide and methane, and capture their oxygen production. Speaking of which, I wonder how many of the tanks of liquid gases survived. But to do the work of reroofing, the bug factories in dome one have to be accessible, meaning covered. Is that bad grammar? Sorry, I have distractions in my chest. Let's stay focused. I have to repair the cover on dome one at least, so it will last in the wind. And I need to manually turn off the tanks in the writeoff domes so we can save the oxygen for breathing. Yes, it was worth it to risk someone on the ground; it all happened exactly as I said it would.
Now, what's happening in my body? It feels good to rest here. My body is telling me, get under cover, curl up and close your eyes. Sorry, that's not going to be possible. But am I going to survive this? I feel bad, but not a whole lot worse than when it happened. I gingerly feel around my diaphragm area, and tentatively try belly breathing, a lion's backup mode. It doesn't feel worse than anything else. Meaning my liver and guts are probably in one piece. I feel higher. Aa-a, my ribs definitely aren't, likely two or three ribs broken. The meteor must have struck through my rib into my lung, and lucky for me it couldn't go further. So my main threat is bleeding in my right lung. But since the wound leaks air that lung isn't moving too much. Likely I'm going to be alive for the next phase of my assignment, though with only half power. After that, we'll have to see.
It's about half an hour until the seismic waves get here. For that, my instructions are to get into an emergency can on the surface and ride it out, five to ten minutes of violent shaking. That's going to hurt. If I suspend myself from or between iron trees, that will save me from at least part of the shaking. I hope. If the trees don't break off at the base from metal fatigue. Willie mentioned that and I have no idea how significant it is. About two hours after that the wind comes, we think, and dome repairs have to be done by then. I'd better get busy.
However, I'm not the only person in this colony; information and advice could be helpful. What I should do now is to go back to dome three and call in. I struggle to my feet and head for the airlock. No! Having a little time now, I should explore the tunnel. The doors are off here too. Likely all the doors are gone and the air can move freely, like, outside air can get in from the uncovered domes. That's not good in a residential dome. But a door is too heavy for me to put back alone, even uninjured. I'll report it but do nothing about it. Plastic sheet: I'll see if I can cover ramp portals with plastic, if I have enough.
Down in the ramp there's dust all over and the concrete walls are cracked alarmingly. No point going up to the wreckage of dome five. The main branch looks bad! There's debris on the floor. Gulp, a piece of a tank and some wiring. The way is passable, if I'm careful where I step, to the ramps up to three and four, but beyond that the regolith has spilled into the backbone tunnel. I struggle up into dome three, collecting my machine (in my left hand) as I go. It's still working. Aah, a chance to sit again on someone's mat. Jeez, my ribs hurt. The last posting on the main NetBoard session is: Surface person, what's going on? Please reply.
Me (on session): I'm injured but running at half power. There were extensive fires, all out now. Domes five and five-A are a total loss. All auxiliary domes are uncovered but most plants survived. Residential domes except five are covered but every one needs repairs to withstand the wind. Not likely I can finish all. Explosion in the tunnel between one and three. I think the water electrolyser is wrecked. Tunnel doors are all off. Nutmeg plant is safe in dome six. What do you suggest?
Tiger: Describe your injury.
Me: A meteor made a hole through a rib on my right side. Air goes through the hole. No damage beyond that. Lucky.
Tiger: One minute for planning; please wait.
I'm about to close my eyes and I almost miss the plan.
Tiger: You rest; you do not climb ladders to patch holes. Willie, Wilma and two kittens will relieve you in fifteen minutes, moving at high G in both landers. You will return here in an emergency can hung under one lander, which I will pilot by AATS. You did a good job to rub our noses in what could happen, and a brave job to put out the fires. You're a hero and I won't forget it in one day. Now await reinforcements.
It feels good to lay down the burden.
I wake in dome two on someone's mat, my head resting on a big scorch mark. The air reeks of ammonia. My ribs still hurt, and so does my right lung when I breathe. Evidently Simba plugged the hole: yes, it seems like the colony's entire supply of gauze is tied around my chest holding a rolled-up human underpant to close the wound. The dome cover has been patched extensively. It flaps in the wind; apparently the air is still moving around even though the most violent wind is over. I can see extra thickness in the cover where the iron tree holds it up, which wasn't there before. On the foundation over toward the side there's a dark area of fresh cement; from this angle on the ground I can't see details, but it looks like a slap-together job. Jeez, what's happening now? The ground shakes.
Me: Um, people, should we get in the tunnel? Or...
Simba, smiling: So, our little hero is back on duty. Iris, that's a minor earthquake; they're hitting every few minutes. We've just been ignoring them.
Me: That's minor?
Simba: Compared to the main shock, yes. The waves from the comet impact were bad enough, but they knocked loose every fault on the planet including our subduction zone, so local earthquakes were added. We're getting echoes of the impact as well as aftershocks of the various quakes along this trench. Just like you said might happen, the ground settled at this end of the colony and the foundations were undermined in domes one and two. Willie and Wilma shoveled regolith underneath and patched the cracks.
Me: Were the landers damaged in the shaking?
Simba: They were hovering! With you in the can. Seeing an earthquake from above is bizarre. Two iron trees fell, in domes four and six. They had to write off dome six; they didn't have enough plastic nor time to repair the cover. Who knows where it was blown to!
Me: How's the nutmeg plant?
Me: It was taking so long to get back and forth to the ship; how did you get here in fifteen minutes?
Simba: We optimized the ship's orbital phase so it was on this side of Wotan, just coming over the pole, at the time of impact. We all had our suits on, for safety, and as soon as the nexus for the helmet speakers went dead the reinforcements started out at 2.5 G, an adult and a kitten in each lander. They didn't wait for you to call in. It was a really good suggestion to add more pusher chips to the landers. We were so used to them the way we had built them that we didn't think of that.
Me: Is there any food? Maybe I can sit up, aa-a, there, I've got it. I need to pee. I need to drink. What a mess I am!
Rose: Here, Iris, here's a cookie and a cup of water. A lot of stuff still works. They made these cookies in dome three and sent them over.
Me: Thanks, Rose. Simba, where are the other adults?
Simba: In the tunnel trying to find out what survived. The vault is mostly OK but the data nexus for the helmet speakers got knocked off the wall and Tiger will have to make time to put another CPU chip in it. You were right, the water electrolyser is gone. You mentioned an explosion down there; do you have any idea what happened?
Me: Jeez! A bunch of meteors came down all at once and it must be a big one hit on or next to the tunnel. The explosion almost threw me out of the ramp and it blew off all the ramp doors. That's when the helmet speakers went dead. Did you get the doors fixed?
Simba: Yes, we did; Vulcan earned that name making new hinges on short notice.
Me: I feel like I ought to stretch, aa-aa-aa, very gently stretch. I'm so stiff! I'll bet my nice fur is ruined under that bandage.
Simba: I'm afraid so; I had to shave off a patch. Tiger says you look almost as bad as she did after her accident. Actually she was worse but she couldn't see herself, only feel.
Me: Rose, keep quiet about this question, OK? Simba, how does Tiger feel about what happened? Is she mad at me?
Simba: Why should she be mad?
Me: Well, I was right and everyone knows it.
Simba: Come on, Iris! Tiger has her faults but that's not one of them. She's kicking herself for underestimating what would happen, but she's not taking it out on you. She was fussing over you so much; I suppose you slept through the whole thing but you would have been embarrassed. I finally had to tell her to shut up, get out of the way and let me and Titania work on you. I dug out the meteor, by the way: a bit of nickel-iron. It must have embedded itself in the comet ages ago, and then it was spat your way. You were lucky it spent most of its energy exploding a piece out of your rib. I'll give the meteor to you later.
Me: Thanks. What do you think I should do now?
Simba: No climbing or chinups until you can raise your arm and do isometric exercises with minimal pain. Walk for exercise; run as you can; if your lungs or ribs hurt, stop and walk back. No swimming until your staples are out and your lungs are pain-free. And of course until the swimming tent is rebuilt; nobody's checked but I assume it's ruined. The staples should come out in a week. When we get things settled down I'll want to examine you thoroughly with ultrasound and with a magnetic proximity sensor to make sure all the little dots in there are bone fragments and not metal that I missed. The bone will dissolve in three to six months and you'll be as good as new.
Me: OK, I'll take care of myself. But I really meant, what should I do right now?
Simba: Sit around and be bored. Do lessons; gossip; whatever. If you're feeling energetic it's getting around to dinner time and people will be cooking in dome one. Thanks for saving our home, by the way, and I'm sorry about dome five. As far as I could see, a meteor hit the liquid oxygen tank.
Me: I guess my stick figures burned with the rest. Well, I'm not going to cry over them. I'm going to try walking over to the food area. The ramps are open, aren't they? I never looked over here.
Simba: Yes; the backbone tunnel is closed indefinitely but the ramps are safe. We put the normal dome two people in one and two and their complement in three and four. Lions and otters have their homes in one and three; 'uomi and jaguars in two and four. Except people from dome five are minus their mats and will have to make do with plastic sheets. Except, I want you on a proper mat because I don't want you getting any stiffer than you are already, and Rose gave you her mat: the one you're sitting on.
Me: Thanks, Rose! You didn't have to.
Rose: If it weren't for you we wouldn't have any dome covers at all and we'd have to live in our helmets. When we get the right bugs growing you and I can work together to make both of us new mats. Quin is learning how to grow the bugs; right, Simba?
Simba: Right. I have some salvage work to do over in dome six. Would someone please come and get me when dinner's ready? And I'll leave you two to get busy killing time.
Yes, I'm able to help with dinner, not a lot but I can stir Chang seed mush with my left hand. It seems I have to retell my tale and show my bloody bandage individually to each of the seven other people in our group, sometimes more than once. Tiger praises me publicly. She reminds people that I worked with her, not fighting her, even though we disagreed, and that gave a better result than either of us working alone could have gotten. Selen beams at this wisdom and I have a feeling from the look Tiger gives him that he may have asked her to slip that tidbit into the speech. Late in the evening Ken comes up to me.
Ken: Look, Iris, I'm kind of embarrassed. I'm not, well, exactly friendly with you because you're not very good at studying and you don't do things that interest me, but I didn't, well, I undervalued your good points. I'm sorry. I could never have done that. I'd be paralyzed trying to decide what to do first while the domes burned around me. If I could even psych myself to come out of the tunnel at all.
An interesting admission from someone named ``Sword'' (in Japanese, a Terran language). And he understands himself better than I thought he did, though perhaps too much to the extreme.
Me: Oh, Ken, you underestimate yourself too. Come on, let me hug you, but careful about squeezing my right side. You're my model, you know. I'm trying to improve my concentration and my lesson progress, not that I can match you, but I can see what you do right that I don't. Look, I'm not going to be able to do my usual antics for a while, and I have a feeling we're going to be locked in these domes until the adults verify and re-verify that it's safe to poke our noses out, so let's go over your mind games, maybe tomorrow, and see what I can handle. And after I heal if I'm doing something you might like I'll invite you to try it with me. Like swimming; you swim pretty well, for a lion.
Ken: Thanks, Iris, for not acting like me.
Me: (Yawn.) Selen's good cheer rubs off on me. Look at me yawn! I'm running down and I think it's about time we all went to sleep. What a day!
Ken: Right on. I'll see... Just a sec, listen quietly.
Tap, tap... tap.
Me: Where's it coming from? Shush, Petra, try to hear it.
Petra: It's coming from all around, and it's getting more. I'm scared!
Xena: The stars have gone out! I thought it was just soot on the dome but they're not there. I think we should go on combat alert.
Me: Ken, your mat, or plastic sheet, is in dome one. Would you go ask the adults what's happening and what we should do? Valeria, could you turn the lamp so we can see the top of the dome?
Valeria: Just a second. Well, will you look at that! What is it?
Xena: And can they get through the dome? That one's rolling downward, kind of like water.
Wilma, from the ramp door: It is water. Did you study about rain? This is it. Ken said you were worried over here.
Xena: What happened to the stars?
Wilma: I think you didn't get to the lesson yet. The comet is about a third water by mass, and the vapor condenses; you've seen that happen when cooking. It covers the sky and you can't see the stars. The drops stick together and get big enough to fall out of the air, and that's the sound you hear. We hope in the future rain won't be rare.
Xena: How much water will come down on us? Is it dangerous?
Wilma: Well, if you took the comet and spread it evenly we'd get almost half a meter of water. But it doesn't come down evenly, nor all at once, so it has time to soak in. We're expecting the trench to get less rain than other areas. You can watch the rain a while, then go to bed. Call me if you need me.
The rain is interesting in the lamplight, but we're all sleepy after a very jumpy day, and I particularly am tired out by the constant pain in my ribs. The ground jumps in one of the innumerable aftershocks. After about ten minutes we turn off the light and lay on our mats. The unfamiliar sound keeps me awake for a while, but I have a lot to dream about and my mind insists on getting the chance. Mine are wet dreams, interspersed with fire.
I wake. Something's touching my foot.
Xena, quietly: Iris! Wake up, please. Iris?
Me: I'm awake. What is it, Xena?
Xena: Something's happening outside.
The rain sounds different now: it goes splat.
Me: We'd better find out what it is. Here, I'll turn on the lamp. Whoa, what's happening here? It looks like we're floating. I'm not supposed to get wet, so would you put your helmet on and stick your head out the airlock real quick? Then, let's see, we'd better wake Tiger.
Xena does as asked, as Valeria and Petra sit up and marvel at the raindrops splashing on the flat surface of muddy water near the dome, seen through the plastic. I'm not that good in math, but I do a quick calculation: the center of our area is about a meter lower than dome two, so the average thickness of water is at least half a meter, if not more. There's more than our share of water in the saucer and it's still coming down. We dug a ditch to carry off water. Obviously it filled in during the earthquakes, and if we want to have dry mats we'd better clear it.
Xena: There's water as far as I can see. A lot of it! But the plants in what used to be the aux dome are sticking up above it; the water must be only a centimeter or two deep.
Me: On this side of the aux dome it's shallow, but it's deeper further away. Now we go on combat alert! I'll go and wake Tiger.
I wonder if I should have sent Xena; I'm moving slowly like an adult, not running properly like a kitten. What's this underfoot at the bottom of the ramp? Regolith and cement chips, yes, but is it damp on my toes? Aa-a-a, it's hard to reach down. But yes, my fingers (the left hand) confirm it's damp. This is serious. I struggle up the ramp into the other dome. The adults are on their mats but I don't actually know who sleeps where. On infrared there are no colors or stripe patterns, but this person looks a little broader; I hope it's Tiger. Now what's the best way to wake her? Like a kitten? I'll crouch at her foot end out of reach of a slash and... Aa-aa-a, so stiff! I touch the foot and snatch my finger back.
Me: Tiger, wake up, please. Tiger!
Tiger: Um, what? This had better be good. Is that Iris?
Me: Yes, and it's not good. There's water filling our area up to dome two, and it's damp in the main tunnel.
Tiger: Oh, shit! You did right to wake me. Hmm. We adults are going to make plans and would you please wait out of earshot?
So what's the big secret? Tiger is much rougher than I was waking the other adults: she jabs the bottoms of their feet with her finger (no claw) and they jump. Then she turns on the lamp.
Tiger: Flood alert. Everyone awake, please, and discussion in Tiger signs.
With their backs to me; what's the big secret? Mica and Selen sit up and look at each other, puzzled and a bit apprehensive. Simba's tail lashes and his body language indicates he disagrees with Tiger's plan. Willie's shoulder jerk in my direction suggests I'm being discussed; why? Tiger stamps her foot: annoyance at a challenge. Simba insists on something and Wilma backs him up. Tiger seems to acquiesce in this, and they turn around.
Tiger: Iris, would you please deal with it?
Tiger: I'm sorry, but on the disc you can do lessons when it's convenient for you. The real world tends to throw them at you in the middle of the night when you're injured. Do you have enough juice to get us unflooded? I think it would be really a good lesson for you, but if you can't...
Me: Well, I had thought about what to do...
Her body language has ``I told you so'' written all over it. I roll my eyeballs.
Me: Look, Tiger, I'm not Super Lion. I'm just a kitten, and smarts isn't my strength. I don't know how long the job is going to take. Will you be there for us? If I'm losing it, or if I get stuck and can't think of an answer, will you take the job back if I ask? If not, I'm going right back to dome two and put myself to sleep.
Tiger: Yes, we're all here for you. But the rule is, you act first and I'll whisper criticisms in your ear afterward. I don't want to hear, Tiger is this right? If you need advice or execution from an adult, make a proper assignment to us. OK?
Me: Well, OK isn't the right word, but I'll do the assignment. First: the way we're split up, none of the kittens on this side are allowed in three or four. Would one of you go over and wake up the ones we mustn't meet? Give them my IP address, not the name of course, and tell them to watch for a NetBoard session titled dome three and four. OK?
Tiger: Which one of us?
Me: Hell, you're the leader; pick someone! I'm delegating the whole stupid job to you. Ken, you're in charge of the kittens on this side. Everyone watch the session for dome one and two.
I notice that Willie gets the wakeup job, and that Tiger is smirking. Now I run to dome two... Now I walk quick as my body allows back to dome two, and start up two NetBoard sessions. I type on one and paste the text onto the other sentence by sentence.
Me (on sessions): The rain which is falling is filling our area much more than expected. The drainage ditch is probably blocked. We're going to gather information about where the blockage is, then fix it. Dome three people (Titania and an older kitten with a careful attitude) please scout the ditch starting between the boulders until the blockage is found, then come back. I'll plan using your information. (Report on NetBoard when you leave and when you come back.) Too bad the helmet speakers are still broken. Dome one people (Selen and Ken) please scout around the edge of our saucer in the opposite direction, looking for water that may be flowing in, because the rain we're seeing seems less than the water we're seeing. Go all the way around so you see all inflows (if any). Remaining people, make food quickly and eat it and leave enough for the scouts when they return. Go now.
I've been careful to put names only on the session that the named person will be reading; for example, Selen and Mica in dome one won't see Titania's name. And I've styled myself ``Leader'' on the dome three session. While inferences can easily be made by the pattern of names I use, I don't explicitly reveal my species or name. And conversely, I keep to a minimum my thoughts about some of the personnel over there who I'm assigning.
The next step will be to dig up the blockage. Now I'm assuming that there really is a blockage. But I'm virtually certain that there's also an inflow, because too much water is out there. On the blockage side, the narrow space is between the two center boulders, and that's probably where it is. There's limited room to work: probably four diggers and two wheelbarrows, judging from experience two years ago digging aux dome foundations and finishing the ditch that's now blocked. That leaves me a fairly large force to go dig up the inlet, assuming digging is going to be relevant. Hmm, what are the adults going to do? And there's a more immediate problem.
Me: Valeria, would you check something? The main tunnel was damp when I went through; see if it's any worse now, and figure out, well, the goal is to keep water from going under the door to the vault, and to my mind that means taking it off the floor down there, and how could we do that?
Valeria: Will do, Iris.
Me (on dome three session): Would someone please check if any water is on the floor in the main tunnel, and report back how much?
Valeria, popping her head out: I'd call it wet, not damp. I'm going to cut out a sheet of plastic to use as a scooper, and see what I can get into a bucket.
Oso (on session): There's about two centimeters of water down there. What should we do, Leader?
Me (on session): A piece of plastic will be brought to you as a scooper. Put the water into a bucket and keep scooping the water out as it oozes in. Take turns over there.
Me (on the other session): Tiger, would you ask Valeria to cut another piece of plastic, and have an adult take it to someone on the other side? Thanks.
I see the dome three scouts returning, and a blurry adult joins them; I can't tell who it is. From the ramp I hear scraping, and out of the ramp Mica brings in a plastic tray with four steaming bowls of Chang seed mush. Things are starting to happen now.
Titania (on session): Regolith fell off the tops of the two center boulders into the ditch. The pile is about two meters high. We waded in the ditch for about twenty meters and the sides have collapsed in some places.
Lesson on erosion: once the water is moving it will carry off any loose regolith that's fallen in. I copy Titania's report to the other session, then...
Me (on session): Good work. Eat your breakfast quickly and prepare to go out again and dig it up. I'd like Tiger and Simba to lead the digging team, and the six largest dome three people will work with them. Take half the shovels and wheelbarrows; that's all that will fit in the gap between the boulders. There will be two extra people to take turns when you get tired or to help move the wheelbarrows through the mud. Be careful when the water starts flowing because it will erode a channel and quickly speed up. Everyone eat, brush fangs, form up a group, and then go together. Smaller dome three people, take turns cleaning water out of the tunnel. That job is just as important; we have to keep water out of the vault. You may negotiate with your leader over there who scrapes water and who goes out to dig.
Me (on the dome one session): The dome three people are going to start digging the blockage, which is between the two boulders. If Ken and Selen come in over there, send them to me, and then I'll plan what our job will be.
Dimly by lamplight I can see Ken and Selen, and yes, they're dumbly going in the airlock where they went out. Soon enough they pop in here, holding bowls of mush, followed by Willie, Wilma, Mica and Rose: the whole crew. Selen is muddy up to his knees, since his legs are short. Besides his feet and ankles, Ken's tail tip also needs cleaning.
Selen: There's a big river flowing into our area on the other side!
Ken: The jumble of rocks on the other side, it was supposed to channel water around us. But something has blocked up the little valley and it's turned into a little lake and it's overflowing on us.
Selen: There were several smaller streams coming in but that one's huge! We had to wade a long way around through the water because the current was so strong.
Me: Good work, you two!
Ken: We should pile dirt in the channel and keep the water on its own side.
Not a wise maneuver. But I don't want to antagonize Ken; I need teamwork now.
Me: If we could get a big pile of dirt so it would block the flow all at once, that would give us time to relieve the rising water. But individual shovelfuls would just be swept away. What did the area look like? Is there anything we could avalanche into the channel, a big pile of dirt?
Ken: Well, not really; it's a low point between some rocks. I don't think we can move the rocks.
Me: Did you go around to what should have been the outlet of the lake? Can we dig through it?
Selen: Well... We should have thought of that, shouldn't we?
Me: OK, here's what we're going to do. Valeria, can you come up here for a moment? There you are. Here's what we'll do. We're going to assume we can dig. Let's see: Wilma, you're best at geology and subsurface, so we'll have you and a helper move fast into the area and make a plan. Mica has finished his food so he's it. The rest of the people under Willie's command will carry the shovels and wheelbarrows. Also take the pickaxes. Do what you can, and watch out that rocks or dirt piles don't fall on you and that you have an escape when the lake starts to erode the blockage. If it's impossible, come back and we'll try to think of something else, like explosives. I want two smaller people to stay here and defend the vault against leaking water. Valeria, with bare skin you'll suffer in the rain, I think. So I suggest you stay here. I know Xena will refuse to be left behind, right? I need one other person. Petra and Rose, tell me your preferences.
Rose: I'm kind of small, but...
Petra: I'll go if you ask, but I'm nervous about the rain and about stuff falling on me.
Me: OK, Petra, you stay with me. Willie and Wilma, I know Tiger said she didn't want to hear me ask if I was doing right, but what do you think of the plan?
Willie: It's good, Iris. I'd do the same things, pretty much. But don't count on the explosives; it'll take a day to make up the materials and I'd want to consult with Tiger about that in any case. Something else: Wilma should take a dome lamp since we can't see infrared.
Me: Good point, and I won't count on the explosives. Everyone, finish your food and brush your fangs. Wilma and Mica, immediately after that start out, and approach from the north side so you don't have to cross the stream. The rest of you, wait for Selen and Ken, then get going. Oh, Valeria, did you get fed?
Valeria: Not yet.
Me: Then would you show Petra what to do, and eat? Jeez, I feel guilty just sitting here and not pulling my weight shoveling. I'm going to try to stretch my arm so I can take turns in the tunnel.
Wilma: Ahem, Mr. Leader, sir, may little old me make a suggestion?
Me: Come on, this is all Tiger's idea, not mine! Just say it.
Wilma: You're needed up here to handle communications and planning. Let Petra and Valeria do their jobs without interference.
Me: OK, I'll keep my nose out. I wish there really were communications on the helmet speakers. Selen, if someone has to take a message quickly, who's better in the mud, an otter or a 'uomi?
Selen: Probably 'uomi. I can't use my swimming ability and longer legs are better to get over the mud.
Me: OK, people, let's get moving before we all get flooded out.
Well, I've done my part. Everyone's doing his or her job. What now? My mind is jumpy like after I've done a long (for me) lesson. I need a break, but what? Aha, this time I've done something else for a long time and the break will be into the lesson, not from it. Prime factorization: my current nemesis in math should be effective as a change of pace.
143, I'm sure that's prime. Aa-a, I can't even wiggle; moving on my left side pulls on the skin all the way across my body. Ken criticizes me for wiggling, and now my own body is doing it: Iris, stay focused! OK, the smallest factor can be no more then twelve. I did up to seven, so keep plodding... hey, eleven works: eleven times thirteen! OK, got that one right. Wiggle, aaa-a, keep focused!
I finally made some progress on that lesson, not as much as Ken would have, but enough. My wiggles, physical and mental, really interfere with my work, and the pain in my side, however unwelcome, is helping me focus a lot better than Ken's version of ``help''. Maybe later I can get rid of the pain but keep the benefit. I really need to stretch, aa-aa-aa! It's painful and I have to carefully work around motions that would put stress on my ribs and would stretch the skin, but I make good progress on my lower body. I was bruised in the explosion but my legs are ridiculously stiff!
In a simulation game I could just say ``dig trench'' and it would happen, but the real world takes so long! I have to wait until the two teams are done, and I'm getting sleepy again. I don't know if I can get through another lesson.
Petra, from the ramp portal: It's dark down there and I'm getting bored just picking up the water every minute or two. Vulcan is no good for conversation, just ``um'' and ``humph''. And I'm sleepy, but it's too dirty and bumpy to lie down on, with all the broken pieces.
Me: Let's use shoulder button two to wake ourselves up! There, I feel better already. Just give it a little squirt. Simba showed the lions how to use buttons two and three and he said it's OK if we don't do it too much. I'm passing the time by doing lessons. Take your computer and Vulcan's down there, and you could also borrow the lamp here. How's that?
Petra: Could I have a snack?
Me: Sure, if there are any cookies left. Don't forget to take some to Vulcan.
I'd like a cookie too, but I doubt there are many left. So what shall I do now in the dark? I turn on the backlight of my computer but lamplight is better. Tiger will certainly want a report on what I did, showing my motivations and errors. I'll get busy on that, at least make an outline. The first step was to recognize that there was a problem; Xena did that for me, and she deserves praise from Tiger. Second, I made a model of what was happening that was broad enough to probably enclose the reality but which was specific enough that I could plan the next steps. My model was no water out and too much water in, connected by the drainage ditch and overflowing onto us. Not to be too proud, but it was a good move to use quantitative reasoning to estimate how much water was out there and compare it with what should be there. All of that happened before I even went to see Tiger; she'll ask about that and then she'll probably embarrass me with praise. She'll also insist on having goals, issues and actions identified, even if obvious.
My first key action was to send out scouts to gather information, before sending my main force out of communication range. It was obvious that I was immobile, so I should delegate command, and Tiger gave me permission to utilize the adults, so I utilized the hell out of them by dumping responsibility on them that should have been theirs from the beginning. Against a rapacious and mobile adversary I wouldn't have split my force, but this threat was static and maximum force couldn't have fit between the two rocks, so I could split up and get started on the inflow problem immediately. Also there's the problem that people from the two groups shouldn't be mixed together. And Petra and Valeria down in the tunnel (and whoever it is on the other side) deserve just as much recognition as the older kittens with the shovels because they're directly defending the most important area. Hmm, I made a mistake. I should have thought about removing movable equipment from the vault before I sent out of communication range the people with write permission on the lock device. If the tunnel starts to flood I'll ask Petra to run and fetch Tiger or Simba.
Ah, that's a good outline, and now I deserve a good wiggle. I was able to keep focused better that time: using my pain to my advantage. I don't think it's right that my skin is stuck in the wound area, but I'm going to let Simba help me with that, not just tear it loose. I can bear pain if I have to but I'm not crazy and I also don't want to do damage from ignorance. Let's just look around the dome in the dark, on infrared. Can I get my helmet on and stick my head out the airlock? Don't even think about it! The shoulder motions are too extreme. But here's an unpleasant discovery: the regolith near the airlock, on the lower side of the dome where it was patched, is very definitely damp. The dome three team had better dig faster! I return to Rose's mat and put a note about the dampness on both NetBoard sessions.
My mind will do best with a change, and I pick history. I read about Burgoyne's campaign in northern New York, wherever that is. Of course I refer to the area map, but Thor is what's real to me. Stay focused, without needing the pain! OK, after the abandonment of Ticonderoga...
So long, so long! I check on Vulcan and Petra; with the lamp they're snug in the tunnel, they're taking turns without fighting (the crisis has helped their cooperation), and they're keeping occupied with lessons and computer games. But the water seems to be coming in faster; they've had to dump the bucket two or three times. I wish I could go out and imitate Ken and yell at the teams to work harder! But even if I were allowed to get wet in the rain or to abandon my post, I know I'd just slow them down with that kind of behavior. With the stretching and walking I'm feeling better and I climb into dome one and hunt for food. Yes! There are some cookies still there. After eating my share I take some down to Petra and Vulcan, as well as a second empty bucket. I wonder if I should take a chance and go over to dome four to check on Oso and whatever companion. My tail tip reminds me that I'm just assuming it's Oso, and so I content myself with a message: how are you guys doing over there?
Oso (on session, after some delay): We're doing OK. The water is coming in more.
Me: Same on this side. Who's your companion?
Oso: Simba didn't want my companion shoveling because of a pulled muscle helping lift an iron tree.
Good thing I didn't pay a visit in person. Rules are there to make correct decisions automatic; bending them is risky.
Me: Are you getting food? Keeping entertained? Taking turns?
Oso: Yes, there's food here. My companion and I work together OK. It's awfully boring but we're doing lessons in the tunnel. But the backlight on the computer is hard to read.
Me: Take the lamp from one of the domes into the tunnel; that's what we've done. It's boring on this side, same as with you. If something comes up, post on the session, but maybe we both should concentrate on our lessons now. Bye.
After that nice break, what should I study? Let everything take turns: it's time for geology, specifically erosional landforms. If I were an ordinary person I'd be shoveling and I'm sure my arms and back would be aching now rather than my ribs. But they're taking so long for what should be a simple dig-up job. Just two meters of dirt. Just! Will it take through the daylight period to finish? We'll be underwater by then. OK, Iris, stay focused. At the end of a long period of erosion a peneplain is formed...
Who's this coming round to my airlock, feet splashing in not exactly shallow water? Well, look what the cat dragged in! Simba is covered in mud from the top of his helmet to the tip of his tail. At least the helmet kept mud off his face.
Me: Jeez, Simba, what happened to you? Are you OK?
Simba: It's hard to keep your footing in that stuff. First the good news: we got the channel open and the water should be going down pretty promptly now. The bank gave way under Night and dumped her in; but she's an otter and she got out by herself before being swept between the boulders. Quin had a wheelbarrow turn over; everyone did; but the handle got him in the solar plexus. He's OK now but I had him sit and watch after that. I'm here to let you know that the pressure's off, and to set up a shower and get the crew over there started cooking something.
Me: Jeez, it's a relief! But if possible, only one of the crew should cook because the water's coming in fairly fast. When the dome three people have eaten and gotten a little rest, could you send someone to find the other group and find out if they need anything: specifically, reinforcements? I'd suggest the 'uomi since he's getting awfully bored and I have Valeria and Petra here where they can't be stumbled over.
Petra: I'm bored too!
Me: You heard that the drainage is dug through? I'd better post it on the session, to be complete. But neither of you can go because their people can't replace you. Sorry.
Petra: But I want to go!
Me: I want to, too, but I'm going to be steady and stay right here because that's my job. That's a hint.
Simba: OK, it looks like you have this side under control.
Me: If the rest of the people are as bad as you, we need the outside shower. Why didn't the rain wash the mud off?
Simba: Too much mud, not enough rain. I'd better get going; the rest of the people will be showing up soon.
From earlier sections of the interrupted geology lesson set I've learned the power of flowing water. I wonder which is worse: a blocked exit, or an unblocked drainage ditch with a huge river flowing through it. Waiting is even harder now. Oso sets out; Simba didn't wait for his crew to return, choosing to let one person alone collect water in the tunnel. Oops!
Me (on session): How will Oso cross the drainage ditch? How will Willie's group cross it? If any of their people are on the far side of the river when they unblock it, they have to cross that too, if they can.
Anonymous: I'll ask Simba; stand by.
Anonymous (after a delay): Oso will half wade, half swim near the middle of the saucer. That will be safe. Wilma has a light that you can see clearly. Simba told Oso to remind Wilma and Willie about the cross river issue. Once they're successful they can return where the river into our area used to flow.
Me: Thanks. Bye.
Well, it helps to think things through, doesn't it? But I chose to act before Oso got out of recall range. I hadn't appreciated that the leader sometimes has to choose between being on time and stupid versus smart and too late.
I resume the geology lesson. Focus is hard but I mentally pinch myself whenever I drift off. When will Wilma and Willie be back? Pinch. I wish I had the lamp to read by, not the stupid backlight. Pinch. Aah, the section's over. I want to climb but I'll have to content myself with walking in the dark. I'm glad Novanima can see by infrared; how limited Homo sapiens are at night. Those mental pinches helped me stay focused. And it feels like my legs are getting back to normal, or is it just that I'm learning to move without jiggling my ribs? Do you suppose it's getting a little bit light overhead? My internal clock is totally scrambled. I give myself a jolt of button two. Yes, the sun should be rising right about now, and now would be our normal wake time on this type one day. I've missed a lot of my sleep period. I check the time marks on the NetBoard sessions: it's been four hours since we started trying to deal with the flooding. I start an agriculture lesson on how to graft fruit trees. Someday we'll have real trees to try this on. I hope Oso is OK. Pinch: getting through the water isn't my job; learning about fruit trees is.
Do I hear a sound from outside? A roar? Amid the splatting of the rain and the occasional complaints of the wind it's hard to tell what it might have been. But shortly after that I'm done with my agriculture lesson. I go down and check on the two 'uomi; they're hungry and so am I. So I go up into dome one to make us all a simple lunch, or breakfast, or whatever meal you call it. The adults have spices, but where? Ah, here's the drawer. I think I'll make the Chang seed mush with coriander. Now which flavor of Chang seeds do I want? How about maize. Hey, is that... Yes it is! Two auburn blots on the southern rim surrounded by our varicolored crew.
Me: Petra, Valeria! The people are coming back! Pick someone to stay down there and shovel water, and the other one help me make food for them. And post on the session, no, start the food here cooking and I'll post from my machine. I have the food all set out.
Petra gets to do the food. I hurry to dome two, faster than I could before, and notify the other group, which the 'uomi couldn't do because the names of their mates are all over the session. I ask Simba to send someone out to intercept our crew and show them where the outside shower is. Now, back to the kitchen. With my machine. I get busy helping Petra to boil water in the adults' microwave oven and to stir in the preflattened seeds. The coriander tickles my nose as sodden but no longer muddy kittens start popping out of the airlock, letting in more ammonia.
Xena: That was awesome! I wish we could do it again!
Ken: My back is sore! My arms hurt! My everywhere aches! I just want to sit.
Selen: My feet are the worst, but everyone worked together really well.
Willie: What a night! I've got to warm up. Do you mind if I use the fur dryer first? And then I'm going to warm my insides with whatever Iris is cooking. Iris, you did a good job getting the troops pointing in the right direction.
Wilma: Come on, let's share that dryer. Great job, Iris!
Me: Vulcan, come on up for a moment and hear this. What happened out there? I heard a noise about twenty minutes ago.
Wilma: Just like Selen and Ken reported, dirt had slid into the valley that was supposed to carry rainwater from the slope around our saucer. The way the rocks were, we could only get at the base of the pile, so we undermined it and caused landslides. Every time the regolith slid we'd run away, and we had Mica up on top of the rocks to tell us how close we were getting. Finally the water slopped over the top and it just eroded through the dirt in a few seconds. We climbed for our lives; it's a good thing for Selen that he's a better climber than runner.
Selen: The water actually got my tail wet. It rose as fast as I could climb. I've never been so scared! Fortunately I was on rock and there was no problem of sliding back down. But I cut the web of my foot on a sharp place; I had to just ignore it and keep climbing.
Wilma: You didn't tell me! Let me see. Oh, that needs cleaning, and staples.
Me: If he's made it this far, and if it's clotted for twenty minutes, maybe everyone should eat a warm snack, then deal with Selen's cut. So, has the water stopped spilling into our area?
Wilma: Yes, we were able to march right where the river had been. Simba said their group also was successful, and only minor injuries.
Me: Yes, they finished about an hour ago. Dome two is a little damp around the edges but we're going to be OK. Petra, thanks for helping to cook the food. Petra and Valeria were steady and effective down in the tunnel, keeping water out of the vault. It's not as glamorous a job as you people had but it's equally as important. Petra, could you take the last shift of water scraping, and then, Rose and Xena, when you've eaten and dried off could you please relieve them? They've been in a scary place with no company for four hours.
Xena: Sure; the underground won't stop me!
Tiger: And I think, Iris, that you deserve some relief too. Excellent job; I'm proud of you!
Me: Tiger! Simba! Just the people I wanted to see. Simba, Selen cut his foot and Wilma is going to deal with it. And where I got hit my skin is stuck to my ribs and I think that's not right; it hurts when my skin pulls on the wound. Can you take a look at it?
Simba: Adhesions, I'm sure. That's simple but painful to fix. You don't have to be awake for it. Have you been doing button two to keep awake?
Simba: Let's have you go over to your mat in dome two and knock yourself out. I'll do the job and just leave you asleep. Someone will move your skin every fifteen minutes. Keep doing that when you wake for the rest of the day and you should be fine.
Me: Thanks, Simba. Tiger, am I off duty now?
Tiger: Yes, Iris, and I was very impressed with the job you did, particularly here when the two teams were out digging. When you wake I'd like you to do a writing assignment to fix the lesson in your mind: tell me what you did, your motivations, and where you think you could have done better.
Me: (Giggle) I knew you'd ask that. I have an outline; would you like to see it, or wait for the finished report?
Tiger: I'll read both.
Me: OK, there, the outline is posted. It was a hard lesson but I learned a lot. Thank you for trusting me. Come on, Simba, I'm about to drop.
This time I really have a lot to dream about. Once when someone slides my skin to keep the adhesion from reforming it gets into my dreams and echoes. But my sleep is interrupted by Selen's excited voice.
Selen: Iris, Iris, wake up! You've got to see this before it goes away! Put your helmet on and come outside!
Me: Umf, I'm awake now. What?
Selen: Put your helmet on quick and see it!
Amazing, I can get my tanks and helmet on now that the adhesion is broken, as long as I'm very careful to not bump my ribs. OK, let's see this marvel. It's bright sunlight outside. I exit the airlock. Everyone is looking west; it looks like snow is piled up on the steep slope on that side of Echoriath, and in the white stuff is the most amazing band of colors! Tiger comes close so she can be heard despite the broken helmet speaker.
Tiger: It's your namesign: Iris, the rainbow.
Me: It's beautiful! What's the white stuff, snow? No, it's moving!
Tiger: It's clouds. Water emulsion, like what dripped rain on us. It's still raining over there but the wind is blowing it westward away from us. When the light hits the rain at just the right angle it makes a rainbow.
Me: Selen! Thanks for coming to get me. Wow, this really makes my day.