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Chapter 16: Out of the Nest

Midnight black Night here. Since I was little I knew I'd be black like Tiger, and four years ago I finally got Simba to give me the hormones. I'm doing well in my lessons: I'm mostly through pre-algebra, and the writing analyzer thinks I've finally learned to do a decent paragraph. But with the new money system I'm feeling a little dissatisfied with myself, which isn't otterly, because I don't have any special job I can trade. I like working with my hands, and I often take shifts with Willie and Vulcan assembling factory modules or other projects, because I enjoy that, but Vulcan has the manufacturing area locked up tight. I don't mind plants, or biotech, or computers, but I doubt I'd want to do any of those for the rest of my life. I'm treating it as a hunting problem: I'll just have to keep trying to find the magic activity.

Once the new bug tank started producing plastic Valeria, who had a big role in building it, turned to a project we all looked forward to: she made six pack frames, with some help from me. The two big ones fit the adults, the middle ones fit lion kittens and otters, and the little ones fit jaguars and 'uomi, except Valeria finds that the middle frame works better for her: a big, strapping girl, Wilma calls her. On the frames are mounted plastic boxes, polyimide in terephthalate, to put the payload in, which for now is plastic bags filled with water. When we fall the boxes are pretty sturdy but the water bags sometimes pop.

This morning after stretching and strength exercises we have the first turn with the packs. ``We'' means Willie, Jacinth (using an adult pack), Valeria and me with the medium packs, and Orion and Wolf, using the small packs that fit jaguars. My pack has fifteen kilos total mass, on 37 kilos of otter, and my legs really feel the strain. As does my belly where the belt goes over my hips: I'm not potbellied but the other species' hips extend forward a little more whereas the belt compresses my abdominal muscles. Of course I could lift the full pack onto my shoulders from the beginning and walk with it, unlike Wolf who's not as muscular as you'd expect for a jaguar, but blood flow to my legs limited how far I could walk: fifty meters max, the first day. I learned my lesson, and emptied some of the water to bring the mass down to eight kilos, and with that I could walk the shorter loop trail by taking several unotterly rests and with sore legs afterward. But Novanima muscles grow steadily and now we're all up to the mass we'll carry on trips, though I really doubt any of us can walk all day yet. That will come, that will come. I do ankle stretches to strengthen the ligaments as well as the side muscles on my legs, to limit damage in the inevitable falls.

Willie: Is everyone ready to go? Which trail do you people want?

Orion: Across the river!

Willie: OK with everyone? Then let's move out. It's not a race, Orion; the idea is to finish, not to beat someone in the first hundred meters. Look, there must still be some water in the regolith: the feather grass is growing a lot more in the bottom of the drainage ditch.

Jacinth: What's the next plant coming out? Feather grass is nice but I'd like some variety.

Willie: I'd like wildflowers, but those need insect pollinators and the insects need an oxygen atmosphere. The next one is going to be climbing fig, modified for wind pollination and dispersal, and of course with Chang metabolism and water extraction. It will root in the soil near a rock and then climb all over. We already have Artemisia growing in dome four-A and when we're able to climb out of Echoriath we'll plant that on the plate surfaces. The wind rolls the dry bushes many kilometers and the seeds drop off. OK, everyone, low gear: we're starting to go up the overflow stream bed.

Wolf: The regolith is off, down to the bare rocks. It would have taken us weeks to shovel this out. Oops, that rock turned over on me.

Willie: Is your ankle OK?

Wolf: No problem; I kept my spirit steady and I was able to stand on a different rock before I lost my balance.

Willie: My legs are long enough that the rocks act like a staircase. I pick rocks to step on that are a comfortable distance apart.

Valeria: I saw a picture of a concrete form for stairs in the file you showed me, but that would come out really regular, not like these rocks. Aah, don't get loose on me, bastard! That one didn't turn over but it was thinking about it. For us, stairs don't seem useful, but what did you do with them on Earth?

Willie: (Gasp) Any building with multiple stories or a basement needed stairs for you to get up or down. Some buildings have over a hundred levels, but they would have elevators. But the stairs are needed for when the elevators are broken.

Orion: What, is it like a dome on top of a dome? How do they do that?

Willie: (Pant, pant) In a big building you have a skeleton of steel (gasp) and floors, usually concrete reinforced with steel, held up by the skeleton. Cross beams make triangles to keep the skeleton from being knocked down in earthquakes.

Orion: And then the whole thing is wrapped in plastic to keep the oxygen in. Is that how they do it?

Willie: (Gasp) There's a skin to keep the wind from blowing through, but on Earth the outside air is breathable. Kids, I need to rest here before we go down into the main riverbed.

Me: Willie, are you OK?

Willie: I'm not having a heart attack! (Pant.) I just tried to match you kids going up.

I get one hand on his left chest and the other under his arm (yuck, wet with smelly secretions). His heart is running faster than mine even though he's almost twice as big as me. Not good.

Me: What do you feel? Please, Willie, tell me.

Willie: Pain. In my legs and windpipe, not in my heart. No pain radiating down my arm where you've so tenderly put your hand. I'm not going to die on you and you have to carry my corpse back to Gondolin. There comes a time in any parent's life when his children can do more than he can. I expected that to happen to me with Wolf and Wooly, but it ended up happening with you. Come on, finish your exercise. Don't let the old fossil hold you back.

Me: Willie, we won't leave you. You're sure you're OK? Rest as long as you need, and then we'll go on, a little slower.

Willie: I'm ready again. Come on, and watch the rocks going down into the streambed. Then when we're going up again I'll show you the same symptoms on a little jaguar. One word from me and Orion will try to run the whole course.

Me: OK, come on, but slow. Watch it, Orion; walk! I saw that rock slide that you stepped on; be careful!

Orion: Willie, it was that one. Maybe you shouldn't step on it.

Me: Yike! Aa-aa! Damn it! So what did I break this time?

Willie: Night, tell me about your ankles. Now it's my turn to ask if you're OK.

Me: My ankles are just fine. I'm sure I bruised the bottom of my left foot but, see, it's scraped a little but not cut through. The major bruise is on my butt. I couldn't roll properly because the rocks were in the way.

Willie: I've got your shoulder; try to stand up. Your pack looks OK and nothing's leaking. You gave me a scare there; you hit pretty hard.

Me: You don't have to rub it in. I was just concerned about you back there. Come on, let's get going.

Wolf: It's creepy not being able to see the domes, like we're all alone. That's going to bother me on the hikes but I'm going to be brave.

Jacinth: Orion, run with me up to the curve! We need to push ourselves. Careful on the rocks but go quick!

Me: I'm being prudent on this one. With Willie.

Wolf: And me.

Valeria doesn't waste breath on socialization; she takes off with Jacinth and Orion. But they exhaust themselves and we plod through their group as they stand panting.

Willie: That's what happened to me, not heart trouble. I may be 66 years old, that's 115 Thor years, but there's a lot of bounce left in this old human.

Me: 115! How old are Tiger and Simba?

Willie: The same; we grew up together. Actually I'm about a Thor year older than Simba, and Tiger is one month older than him, and Wilma is three months younger than me. Doesn't it feel a lot better to climb this fast, rather than rushing?

Wolf: A lot better. But if we have to walk really far, for hours and hours, that will be hard. Will we have to climb a lot? I guess so; from here there's nowhere to go but up.

Willie: That's right, nowhere but up. But really, you've started out in good shape because of all the running and rough games you play, and carrying the pack doesn't add that much beyond what you're used to. I want to put the water electrolysers in two packs and have them carried and used for maybe two weeks in morning practice and in hour hikes where you could walk back on one oxygen bottle, and then we'll start the day hikes. I want to make sure my design won't break in rough use and in falls. My feet are holding up OK, I think, and everyone's strength is just about enough. Even you, Wolf; remember how hard it was for you at the beginning?

Wolf: I sure do. I'm small to begin with, and I guess I got the attitude that I wasn't very strong, so I skimped on the strength exercises rather than doing what I should, improving my weak point. I try to do the exercises with Orion but he's so much better than me and he's too impatient; he just discourages me. Night, what do you think would help me improve?

Me: Valeria is very strong; what happens when you do exercises with her?

Wolf: She's so much stronger than me and, you know, she's not the talking-to kind of person. Petra does the exercises but I think she doesn't enjoy them and that would reinforce how I feel.

Me: Vulcan, is your helmet speaker on the group channel? Are you listening to this?

Valeria: Yes, I heard. We're catching up to you. Wolf, do your exercises beside me in the morning. I don't want to be slowed down, but certainly you can watch what I do and imitate and ask questions if you need to. I don't talk much but sure, I'm happy to help. And I do enjoy being strong and getting strong. Vulcan needs strength to pound on the red-hot iron. Also Petra does enjoy the exercises, but I think you're remembering when she got in a competition with me and was cussing because she couldn't win. Join the 'uomi and it'll be good for you, and good for Orion too because I can beat him. Watch out, I'm catching you!

She playfully slashes us on the back, with fingers not claws, and we jump.

Me: Yike, I almost lost my footing! You can never forget where your feet go on these trails.

Orion: You can not beat me!

Me: Willie, are the trails going to be this difficult further from Gondolin?

Willie: Probably worse. We've been walking on these for a long time, and the rain exposed new rocks and destabilized old ones, but we've had almost two months to pack them down again. Soon we'll be putting our feet on ground that no life form has ever trod. Excited?

Orion: I am, I am!

Me: Maybe I'm too concerned with prudence, but my major concern is twisted or broken ankles. Yes, it's exciting to finally be moving into new territory, but I'm inclined to be careful. I'll act like an otter when I'm familiar with the place.

Wolf: I want to get ready. If I can walk on those new trails and not have to stop all the time, I can say I'm really a jaguar.

Valeria: Making things, making this world, is my goal, and getting my claws into new territory is really exciting. I'm not shy to be 'uomi and to use my claws.

Jacinth: Exciting, right on! I can be prudent too, but what I wish I could do is to run like the wind where nobody has ever run before! Willie, is it true, on Earth the ground is usually flat and you can run without worrying about rocks shifting underfoot?

Willie: Yes, there are large areas where you could just run in any direction for days, if it weren't for crop plants that shouldn't be stepped on, and much of the rest is covered by a net of good trails. One time all the lions went out and ran for eight hours straight, 1.6e5 meters. And the male group got it in their heads after returning to go right back out and do it again! But they got lost in the dark; infrared isn't that useful for following trails because the resolution is poor. We were very worried about them, but they survived.

Valeria: On overnight hikes we certainly will have to do some of the walking at night. It would be nice if our sleep cycle matched the light on Thor, wouldn't it? Maybe for hiking we could temporarily go on a 36 hour sleep cycle. Willie, could you handle that? And what do you think about walking at night? Should we bring a lamp, a sulfur ball?

Willie: Lots of very practical questions. No, a human would get sick on a 36 hour cycle. I think a Novanima is a little more resilient in that area, though you couldn't do it for long. The lions managed to pull their little stunt at the worst possible time: cloud cover and no moon, so it was pitch black. Here we usually have Wotan to light up our world, and we don't even need the lamps for a lot of jobs like digging tunnels. I think the night won't slow us down much except during eclipses. But it's a good point: we should do our trail practice right after we run in the morning, whether we have light or not, so we get used to doing this at night.

Orion: That would be scary. Is it true that you can't see Wotan on the other side of Thor? Then the night would be really dark.

Wolf: I won't be scared. I run perfectly well in the night and I'm sure walking with the pack won't be harder either. Wotan gives plenty of light.

Willie: On the far side Wotan isn't visible, but the stars give a little light. Humans can see, not clearly, and Novanima can see better under starlight. Aah, we're down, and it looks like Simba wants us to come around to dome one. Come on, run! I can do it when the ground is level.

Willie is crazy, pushing himself and us like that, but it seemed to bother him a lot to run out of breath up on the slope, and to bother him more that I thought he was having a heart attack. Well, losing him would lose a lot of lessons for us in how to build our new world. Anyway, I keep silent and save my breath for the running. Even Wolf keeps up, on level ground, but everyone is gasping when we get to where Simba is waiting.

Simba: So we're into heavy duty aerobic exercise. Come on inside and while you're cooling off you can look at what I have: the new dry worms.

Willie: That's great, Simba! Aah, it's good to put down the pack and get my helmet off. Night was going on that the old fossil was going to give himself a heart attack. The microscope image on your machine, right?

Simba: Let me just move the dish; the worm squirmed off. There, see his head? OK, we got him just at the right time; he's going after a piece of organic matter, the brown bit in the lump of regolith. See the tentacle, he has it between the crystal grains and it swells... there, he broke them off. Now he tosses both of them aside and picks the next crack. And with that grain removed he can chew on the organic. Neat, eh?

Willie: That's impressive!

Me: Does that mean we won't have to break up the soil with the pickaxe any more? The worms will do it for us?

Simba: That it does. We have a whole planet full of regolith that's been rained on, and I don't want us chopping it all up with pickaxes.

Valeria: But if it's free of organics, won't the dry worms ignore it? I would.

Simba: That's because you're smart. I've programmed them to exercise their tentacles some of the time even without a goal. Natural selection will squelch that behavior, but they still have to break up regolith to get metals. Freshly broken surfaces are the most nutritious, and that's programmed into them.

Orion: How many tentacles does it have? I'll bet there are seven, because that's the number in the epsilon Eridani system.

Simba: Can you count them?

Orion: No, they wiggle too much and they're transparent so you can't tell which part goes with which.

Simba: Good judgment. Yes, there are seven, because I decided there should be. Because seven is the number here. Should I have given you seven fingers?

Orion: No; there wouldn't be enough space on my hands and feet so they'd break too easily.

Simba: Good. I like to hear you thinking, rather than just charging into a situation.

Orion: Awww...

Jacinth: I'm learning prudence; I don't just charge!

Simba: Yes, you are. What's Orion doing?

Jacinth: Well... learning prudence too, and you have to remind him to keep doing it.

Simba: Right; good.

Wolf: How big is the worm for real? Can we see it?

Simba: Look in the dish. You might be able to spot it, where the light is shining. It's very small.

Wolf: If it's small, how does it handle big things like leaves and lichen bits? Or is this one just a baby; will they grow later?

Simba: They have alternation of generations like we do. This one is like a sperm or egg, but it can do things, have a life, not just swim in someone's vagina. The diploid generation are similar in size to the old worms, but they have tentacles too and can move rock chips if they're not stuck too tight. See, I get two ecological niches filled and two important jobs done for the labor of building one organism.

Me: We have to learn to be efficient like that. When we start hiking, will there be enough worms that we can plant them with the feather grass and Manzanita? It is Manzanita that goes down here, isn't it?

Simba: Yes, Night, it's Manzanita, and climbing fig if I have some ready. Artemisia needs lots of flat area, up above. The worms reproduce fast and I expect we'll have enough to put some with every planting.

Jacinth: OK, good for the worms. The practice hike made me hungry. Let's have worms for lunch! Spaghetti worms, with tomato sauce. Simba, do you want to eat with us? Willie too. This would be in dome four.

Simba: Yes, thank you. And if you're in the mood for creative cookery, you could be thinking about what we're going to eat on the trail. Unlike on Earth, we won't be able to make a fire to cook over. OK, I've covered up the worm's dish. Jacinth, could we invite Tiger and Wilma too? I think we're all hungry for lunch.

A month later most of us, the uninjured ones, have been out on day hikes with one of the adults; I went with Wilma. It was a lot of fun, as well as a big challenge for my legs. We walked almost ten kilometers southeast, upstream along the dry bed of Sirion, scoured by the runoff from our one rainstorm. While tilty rock was regularly underfoot we got over it with no injuries except when Wilma's foot slipped off a rock and a sharp crystal slashed the thinner skin on the side. Nothing major. Then we turned east about five kilometers up a crack that water had enlarged. The way was pretty steep, though not as bad as the cross-river trail above Gondolin. We got up almost a thousand meters and we came out on, well, you couldn't call it a plain, but it was flatter than anything we'd been through up to then, and more than a kilometer across.

We plodded across to the far side and flopped down for a sorely needed rest. We took off our helmets and changed into the microtents. Back at Gondolin they seemed more convenient for eating, and I found that to be equally true in the field. We ate a leisurely lunch of special cookies that Jacinth invented, low in sugar and high in soybean oil, washed down with tart strawberry juice. Refueled and re-helmeted, we got busy planting, fifteen sites across the plateau. Vulcan made two folding shovels after a design Willie gave her which he attributes to Count Casimir Pulaski from the American Revolution, which we've finished studying. At each site we dug two small holes and mixed a quarter kilo of potting soil into the dirt for the dry worms to eat. Feather grass went in one hole and a Manzanita seedling went in the other, and each hole got ten dry worms. On top we sprinkled soil lichen, a permanent food source for the dry worms.

It took us about three hours to plant our way back to the side canyon, but it took a lot less time and energy to go down it, so we were nearly back on schedule by the time we got down to Sirion. Of course, on this type one day the eclipse started then and we got to walk back by starlight, stepping very carefully. When we returned to Gondolin the other people had just finished dinner. The day hike was very tiring and the abrasive regolith wore about halfway through Wilma's feet; it took a very noticeable millimeter off mine. We accomplished a lot and the adventure gave me confidence that I could handle the labor of a multi-day hike.

Today is a type three day: it's bright sun now but sunset will be at lunchtime, when we'll probably most need the light. Simba is here with his pack on his back, and he's carrying two steaming bowls of Chang seed mush. I wonder what flavor.

Simba: Good morning, Night! Did you finish stretching yet? Skip the strength exercises for today; you'll get more than enough strengthening on the trail. Let's eat our breakfast.

Me: Maize mush, I like that! I wish we could have hot food out there. A microwave oven would be much too heavy to carry, but actually we should be able to build a cooker kind of like the cookie oven. It's just a box with a few turns of wire in it and an AATS chip to bring in the current.

Simba: That's an idea. But a big part of going on a hike like this is to do it on our own resources. Sure we use a pack frame of titanium; we don't stuff all the supplies into our pockets, which would be the most authentic, but also wouldn't be too practical. On Earth the native people could travel arbitrarily far. Each day they would catch little animals and possibly find wild fruit or grain plants, and that would be enough fuel for the next day. That's not possible here, but we want to get as close as possible to the life of a wild animal, and an oven seems a little like cheating. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't build one, but think about the ``back to nature'' issue too.

Me: I don't feel like a wild otter; I feel like a person.

Simba: But all life forms, even us, are designed to function as part of a natural ecology. It normalizes the spirit to actually do it occasionally. I know it helps keep me straight on my foundation.

Me: Even artificial life?

Simba: I may be artificial but I'm a patchwork of natural components. So are you.

Me: OK, when we're hiking I'll try to recognize if I feel wild.

Simba: Good. My fuel's all inside me; let's wash our bowls and brush our fangs.

When that's done we take the trays of plant seedlings and worms out of our packs and give them a drink. While excess water is draining we go over our checklist. Our packs are all ready, filled yesterday with food, water, potting soil, plant seedlings, electrolysis machines, air tanks and equipment. Including our computers, which a wild otter wouldn't have. On the computer Simba and I review the map: our route leads downriver on the opposite side, the continental block, for about twenty kilometers, and then upward over a gigantic landslide. We have two primary objectives: to put plants on the continental area beyond the top of the landslide and to investigate the top of a dome of rock which the landslide has partially uncovered. Domes like that often have interesting minerals at the top, says Wilma. If our path is blocked we'll put the plants as high as we can go, assuming there are suitable sites.

Finally it's time to leave. I hug Titania, Ken and Iris, who have just started breakfast, and Simba hugs Tiger, Willie and Wilma. Then: helmets on, and out the airlock. I switch the speaker to channel three, which is permanently assigned to hikers.

Simba: We'll have to go upstream of the snow pile to cross the river; the flow is still too strong through the swimming pool. But it looks like most of the dirt has been flushed out. Unfortunately a rock hit the wall and we'll have to repair it.

Me: It's neat that we can just tell the butterfly chips to drop snow wherever we want. Do you know if a meteor got the wall, or if it was a big rock carried down by the flood?

Simba: We can't get near until the flow subsides, meaning until the snow all melts. Then maybe we can tell. I'll bet you're looking forward to fixing up the swimming tent.

Me: Right, but I know the agricultural dome covers are more important. Suppose we otters got together and posted a job to make plastic sheet for the tent, and we offered a really high price for it. It would be logical for Quin and the bug company to give us the plastic rather than making dome covers out of it. I think that would be bad.

Simba: You seem to specialize in finding areas where the money system works poorly. In a sudden event, or when some emergency requires most or all of production to be diverted, the government has to use non-monetary means to make the right thing happen. We really started our money system at a pretty poor time, didn't we?

Me: I guess so. Sirion runs close to the boulder here. Should we wade in the water or climb over?

Simba: Climb. See that rock that you'd step on? See how the current flows around it: I'm sure there's a dropoff behind it that we couldn't get through safely.

By midmorning we've left Sirion's stream and pools far behind.

Me: Will Sirion ever get this far northwest? There's a lot of water in it, but we've walked through a lot of depressions it would have to fill, plus it has to soak the regolith underneath. Of course it will get here eventually, but how long? Will I ever see it?

Simba: You'd be surprised how fast it gets here. We've brought in three billion kilos of snow, 3e9 kilos so far. We probably need about a thousand times more to start filling in the bottom of the trench. Now that Willie has the ``A'' factories building ``B'' factories completely automated, the water import rate is going to go up a lot. If we go on for about twenty years, and if your kittens help like you're doing, we think we'll have enough water down here to flood out Gondolin. That's not counting technological improvements in the factories, which are likely.

Me: Well, that's nice... Careful, there's loose rock here. It's nice to have the water coming in, but not so nice to have our home flooded. How high should we move then? To the top of the plate surface?

Simba: That's the next step.

Me: And how long until that gets flooded?

Simba: It's hard to predict so far ahead, but fifteen to twenty years after that the trenches should be full. Of course the plate surfaces aren't flat, and a site on one of the ridges should be low enough to have decent air pressure and high enough to stay dry for two hundred years. Of course there would be a lot of people then: millions. They wouldn't fit in just one site.

Me: Two hundred years! It's so long. I wish we could just, you know, project a water ray and it would all come flooding down, just the right amount. Ouch, there was a sharp piece that I didn't see.

Simba: Is your foot OK? Stop and let me look at it. I see the cut mark but it didn't go through. You're OK. I wish Thor rotated to match our activity rhythm, but it doesn't.

Me: Couldn't you have changed our timing to match?

Simba: Not really. First, we adults have to live with you too. Second, the timing mechanism is delicate and I was afraid I'd screw it up if I messed with it. Getting back to what you were talking about, if we ever get the ``A'' factories to build themselves, which was the original plan, we can have this place whipped together and ready to go in seven years. Seven! Complete atmosphere, full oceans, in seven years.

Me: So why don't we?

Simba: Willie would love to have your help on that. It's a big advance already, building ``B'' factories, but ``A'' factories are even more complicated. I expect none of us adults will live to see that day; you kittens will have to do it.

Me: That's scary. Let me think about that a while, OK?

Yes, it is scary, and it keeps me shut up for fifteen or twenty minutes. Otters aren't inward oriented like Ken might be, and soon enough I have questions for Simba about the rocks and the shape of the land. But all my geology lessons assume flowing water, even in Earth's deserts. Thor is totally dry and totally alien in its landforms.

Me: We've really hiked a long way! And the sun is getting low. Could this be our landslide?

Simba: Yes, Night, this is it. What do you think, should we climb up this side or go around the toe and up the other side like we planned?

Me: Actually, look at the shape: the top is pretty straight. Let's go around the toe and keep an eye on how bad it is to climb. Here it's too steep but if it weren't so steep it would be fairly easy going. As soon as the slope decreases we'll go onto the landslide. We'll drop into the edge valley on the north side and pick up our planned route.

Simba: Why change the plan?

Me: We wanted to go around to get to that valley; there was no point to struggle over. But now that we can look at the pile, I'm afraid that the other side will be as steep as it is here. As soon as we can go up, we should go up.

Simba: I think I agree with you. But there's something that maybe you've forgotten: lunch. Aren't you hungry?

Me: Yes, but I have discipline. We said we'd eat when we started up the landslide, and we will.

Simba: Good kitten. I tend to pay more attention to the time, and sunset is it, but I'll go along with you if you want to go by progress milestones. In any case, I'm going to have a cookie and some water. Want one?

Around by the toe of the landslide we climb up two hundred meters to a big flat block of rock that we can see. Aah, it's a relief to shed the heavy pack, transferring one air bottle to a shoulder sling, and, aah, sit down. Jacinth specializes in cooking good food and she has some chunky cakes for us: different flavors of Chang seeds broken into crunchy bits and glued together with molasses. It sounds gross but she made mild molasses and added interesting spices, different ones for each seed flavor, and she dusted the cakes with flour so the molasses doesn't stick to my fingers. It's good to eat, it's easy to pack, and it's dense. I've calculated that six cakes should refuel me from the morning's heavy work; Simba needs nine. Plain water hits the spot too. The trench floor is pretty hot now that there's a thick blanket of atmosphere, particularly since the sun has been shining on us as we worked.

And we're on our way again. I'm glad we went up the middle of the landslide because the north side drops off in a scary slope. I hope we can get into the valley as we planned. We'll find out in about half an hour.

Me: Simba, you were saying we'd have to finish the ``A'' factories ourselves. Do you mind maybe an upsetting question?

Simba: Let me guess: just how long will we adults be with you. Is that it?

Me: Right. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.

Simba: It's my job to talk about it. We're all about 115 Thor years old, that's 66 Earth years. I plan this in Earth years so I'll give both figures. Humans in good health, like Willie and Wilma, can expect to live for an average of 85 years, that's 148 Thor years, or 33 years more. You'll be a mature young adult with all your kittens when they check out. Of course death is a random thing: it's not like you run fine until the warranty expires and then you fall apart. Either of them could die earlier or could last a hundred years. Earth years. I think they'd enjoy an old age among the Novanima kittens. Now one point is, a human's body does pick up irreversible damage. You've probably noticed that neither of them go out on these multi-day hikes. Their feet can't stand it and I have my doubts that they can handle the packs for three or four days continuously, which they could have done when younger.

Me: It's true; Wilma was more tired than I was after our day hike, and there were some thin spots on her feet. I think it would be prudent if they would make some shoes.

Simba: So do I, but it's a pride thing, and also the sole materials we've tried so far weren't satisfactory. The best would be lion skin, but when people shed the hormones ruin the skin, so it will peel off us.

Me: Right. Um, well, what about lions?

Simba: So far, no lions have died of old age. In the newsfeed we're reading today about lions 71 Earth years old, so we'll have five years warning, ignoring the random effects, but so far everyone's acting like an old teenager. If I didn't have my genetic engineering work to do, I could be out here hiking every day; my soles and my muscles have no trouble handling it. Speaking of which, how are your legs holding up?

Me: It's easier than on the day hike, even though we have more stuff in our packs. I guess the hike built my muscles, plus the exercises Titania and I worked out. And otters are strong anyway because of our short legs, as long as you don't ask us to go fast.

Simba: I'm glad to hear it. So the conclusion is, Tiger and I will die eventually, but it's very hard for us to promise to be out of here by a specific date.

Me: I didn't mean it that way! I want you for ever and ever!

Simba: Sorry, I was joking around with you, and maybe it wasn't a very nice joke. How about a hug?

Yes, we do manage to find a safe way into the side valley. As we traverse down its wall we see that our original route leads up an alarming pile of unstable talus, which I'm glad we didn't try to climb up. Continuing further up the valley, we find that the way is steep and there are continual small rockslides where we tread. We need to concentrate to keep our footing, and even my sturdy legs and feet ache from one step forward, half a step sliding. My foot webs, though tough, are designed for water, not dry rock chips. We're far from the top but finally we reach a narrow area of lesser slope.

Simba: OK, Night, I'm not going to say I couldn't keep climbing, but a short rest would feel really good right now. What do you think?

Me: Aah, my feet thank you. I'm just going to sit with the pack on so I don't have to hold it up; there's nothing to lean it against here. Have one of my cookies.

Simba: Thanks, and here's the water bottle.

Me: Do you think we have to limit how much we drink?

Simba: We mustn't waste it, but we should keep our mass up, not lose mass through evaporation. It's better to keep in good condition at the beginning and go thirsty later, than to be thirsty for the whole hike. Also we can drink water from the deliquescence engine in the electrolyser, though I've tasted it and I'll certainly empty the bottles before sampling that stuff. Also, don't overdo it recycling your urine; pee out a bladderful twice a day. In an emergency you can cut back to once a day but that's hard on the kidneys; too much crap backflows into the bloodstream.

Me: Maybe I'd better get up and do that now. My bladder was getting kind of itchy. Aah, it feels good to get that stuff out. Well, have we rested enough? Which way should we go from here?

Simba: Our plan was to go to the right, more directly toward the batholith we're targeting, but the slope doesn't look inviting over there. Go up the side wall a few meters; maybe you can see on the left branch. It looks no worse than what we've been climbing and it goes up quite a way.

Me: I'm short; I have trouble to see over the rocks in front. But what I can see looks climbable. Let's go.

Climbable is a charitable description, but we get up the landslide scar. As we ascend the rock pieces get bigger, but not much more stable. The route bends to the south a little; we couldn't have seen up here from where we stopped. Finally we debouch in another small area of lesser slope backed up to a vertical wall of raw rock, hundreds of meters high. It's surrounded by monoliths tumbled from above.

Me: Is this the end of the line? Jeez, do we have to go all the way back down and go up the original path?

Simba: Maybe, but let's look around a little first. I think, actually, that this is our batholith where it split in half. We've been climbing the pieces of the other half. Subduction undermined it and eventually this side tilted over and slid into the trench.

Me: Do you think we could squeeze our packs between those two boulders? We mustn't get stuck.

Simba: Well, let's try it, very carefully. No problem getting in, said the spider to the fly. And there's a way up the back. Careful about banging your helmet on the overhang. Watch the rockfall; sorry about that. Did you get hit?

Me: No, I just stepped over the big one as it went past. I'll follow a little farther back. This slope looks climbable, barely.

Indeed it is climbable, barely. We push our way out of the field of gigantic boulders and onto a slope of merely large ones. The pile falls off to the right and we feel it's prudent to stay on the half-crest against the cliff. Here's a crack in the rock. If we didn't have the packs I might consider wedging myself in it and pushing upward with my legs... No, I wouldn't. Otters may be fun-loving, but we're also prudent; we don't need the thrill of danger, having lots of other amusements.

Simba: Thinking about going up that chimney? I wouldn't try it, Night. If we go only a hundred meters higher, then we'll be able to see into the next valley, whether we can go further. Cookies at the top.

I can climb two hundred meters in fifteen minutes easily, under normal conditions, but the stones are large and not stacked for my convenience. In some cases I have the choice of going a long way around or of lifting myself by my arms, since my legs aren't long enough to get up some of the steps Simba can handle. He wouldn't lift me, nor do I ask, but he's patient and accepts my choices, to risk myself and my pack to the strength of my arms, or to slow us down by a detour when the needed hand or footholds aren't even there. Like all the kittens I play around with gymnastics and I can easily do a chinup and then raise myself to sit on the bar or to topple forward in a flip, but now I know why Tiger has had us doing that move slowly without jumping or momentum: so we'll have the arm strength to climb out of Echoriath.

At last we're atop the landslide, the highest point of the material that collapsed. Wotan's dim light illuminates the land all around. We're up so high! To the northeast the floor of our trench is so far down -- but the plate surface is still so far above us on the other side of the trench. The trench extends unseeably far to the left and right, where the lamps of Gondolin are too insignificant to discern. Closer, to the northwest, our goal, a hanging valley, is at the same altitude as we are but on the other side of a non-hanging valley -- the one we were supposed to have marched up.

Simba: Awesome, isn't it? Let's have a snack and some water and rest our legs. But first, could you work the binoculars out of my pack?

Me: Here they are. Aah, it's good to sit down, and the water really hits the spot. Our practice trails are so tame. Climbing here is the real thing: quadruple work at least.

Simba: How are you doing? How does the prudent otter judge her ability to handle what's ahead?

Me: The prudent otter's muscles are willing. Really, it's tiring but if we go slow and take breaks like this I can handle it, and I want to handle it. But what worries me is, can we get over there safely? And if it takes a long time, we'll eat all our food before getting home. Is it safe for us to burn fat?

Simba: Yes, we adults are real familiar with starvation and we know how much we can push it. Also we brought a small reserve of food. The limiting factor is water, and with careful scheduling we can live off the electrolysers in an emergency. What you should be thinking of is, where do we go from here? Take the binoculars. What's your judgment on our route? Take your time looking.

I'm glad we didn't follow the original plan, because the slopes out of the side valley look impossible. We'd have to send the whole talus slope cascading down, not that we could actually do that, before we could climb out, assuming we could then manage to get up the headwall. Similarly, a descent from here would be a desperate trick atop a barely controlled rockfall. Controlled, we hope. However, Simba was paying close attention to the head of the valley. And the rock is split in narrow steps. If they can be pieced together, up and down but always across, and if none is tilted to dump us five hundred meters to our death, in theory we could get around to the destination. I outline the plan to Simba.

Me: But it would be incredibly scary. I'm not sure it's prudent. I'd want to go across those steps on four legs. Can the packs, the electrolysers stand being tilted like that for hours? And what about the plants? A lot of the steps are covered with rocks; I'd want to shove the rocks off rather than step on them. That will take time. Another thing: suppose we have to backtrack? We can't walk backward four-legged; can we turn around? I'm feeling a prudence issue here: let's lay out the issues. We can't plant anything here; there's hardly any regolith, just big rock fragments. If we have to give up we can plant the grass and Manzanita somewhere on the trench floor and it won't be a total bust, but we'll both feel bad that we didn't get to either the primary or secondary goals. Now, is it worth it to risk our lives for those goals? I don't think so. Nothing really bad happens if we're excluded from that little valley over there. What do you think about that?

Simba: You're a joy, little otter! I had someone else in a rather similar situation somewhere over there on the other side of the trench, and I spent fifteen minutes to drag that last conclusion out of... It was someone you meet; see if you can guess who it was.

Me: Who's been out? Iris' ribs are still hurting. Jacinth, Ken, Lucent, probably someone I don't meet, and me. Of those three, I'd say it has to be Jacinth.

Simba: I understand why you pin it on her, but Lucent was the one I had trouble with. She saw it as not fulfilling an assignment and she couldn't bear that. Now she knows that's a fault in her personality. You do assignments for a reason, to get some benefit, and if you come up on a three hundred meter fall like we did over there, you damn well think about whether the benefit is worth your life. I'm glad you have that attitude. So what do you recommend we do now?

Me: It would really gall me to just go back down. Let's see if we can get over to where the steps start and see how bad it really is. I might have misjudged.

Simba: Did you learn that latter bit from Iris' experience? Or was it part of you from before?

Me: Kind of both, I think. I'm sorry Iris got his tail chomped, but it really made all of us kittens think about tracing alternatives. And also getting other people to help who can do a job better. Just a sec while I get stood up. Simba, are Iris' ribs ever going to get better? Is he crippled?

Simba: It's really annoying for everyone that he's taking so long to heal, particularly for him. The meteor exploded a section out of one rib and took a big chunk out of two neighbors and turned the muscles around there into mush. Plus the damage to his lung from the explosion. It just takes time for all that to grow back, particularly the missing piece of the central rib. Like I said, Iris will be as good as new six months after the accident. Don't worry about permanent damage.

It takes about ten minutes to plod through the shifting rock pieces to where the first step extends from burial.

Me: It's well over a meter wide! We could do four legs on that safely, even stand but I think that's not prudent. Let's make a rule: when it gets down to so wide, about eighty centimeters, we'll give up. Is that too narrow for you? And I want to take the time to push the rocks off.

Simba: And if we get to a discontinuity, an upjump that we can't manage, we won't manage it. OK, let's do it. Who at point?

Me: I think I should be. I think I do four legs better than you.

And I bend double, hands and feet on the ground just like Lutra lutra, the Terran river otter. With my hand I sweep two large chunks of rock over the edge and I walk out on the narrow shelf.

Simba: How's that working? Swing your hips and shoulders; see if the pack is stable. Is it too much load on your arms?

Me: It's about evenly divided. I'm sure my muscles can handle it, and if I have trouble I can lay down flat to rest, before going on. Or back. You're sure the electrolyser isn't going to leak on my neck or anything like that?

Simba: Willie assures me it will operate just fine laying on its side. But when we have to change levels you'll need to stand up. Try it now when it's just a one-meter fall.

Me: I don't like this; I don't like to stand on such a narrow place. But I can let my courage carry me through it. I'll move on ahead, on four feet. Maybe you'd better try it out. Can your knees take it?

Simba: No; I'm not even going to try four legs. But somehow I feel more stable than you, maybe from climbing trees all the time on Terra. As long as the steps stay this wide I can handle them on two legs. Courage and prudence!

Some places the steps are even two meters wide, and some places they aren't. The most nervewracking parts are when we have to climb up or down a splintered and irregular chute to a shelf at a different level. Backing down a sixty degree slope takes every bit of courage I have, and I'm very aware that we climbed up a long one at seventy degrees. It would be really nice if there were another way down, but I can't plan on that. Oh oh, here's a problem: the rock from above the shelf didn't break cleanly and is still there, blocking our way.

Me: Simba, suppose we use our shovels to wedge this sheet off?

Simba: I think that's not a good idea, Night. See the shelf below us? There's a fracture zone about twenty meters ahead, can you stick your head over the edge just a little bit? We can go back about fifty meters, get down, and then climb back up to this shelf, and I can see it's clear from there.

Me: If we dump the rock off we don't have to do all that.

Simba: It's heavy. Suppose we get about half of it off and then aren't able to finish. The falling pieces could easily smash the shelf below us too. I think it's prudent to go back.

Me: I suppose you're right. Maybe I'm a little impatient because I think I'm getting ready for dinner.

Simba: I know I'm ready for dinner. How about a snack?

Me: I'm not hungry enough to stand up and take the cookies from your pack, and I don't think it's prudent for you to sit down where I can reach and then stand up again, unless your legs really need the rest.

Simba: I suppose you're right. OK, about face. This will only slow us down about ten minutes.

The plan works out, though adding a scary steep descent and a corresponding ascent on the other side that I'll have to cope with on the way back. And we come up only a hundred meters from our goal onto a straight shelf. And wonders never cease: we can simply step from it onto the side of the mountain of stone, tilted only about 35 degrees. Aah, I can stand up again.

Simba: You look relieved. How was the four leg walking? As far as I know this was the first really serious test of it and I'd like to know how my design held up.

Me: Yes, it's a big relief to stand again. I don't practice four legs a lot except in games, and I felt the strain in my shoulders, my hips and my back. But I felt confident that I wouldn't fall. Definitely I'll go on four legs on the way back. But dinner is what I'm really interested in now! Down in the bottom of this valley is the flattest we've seen since the trench floor. Is that a good place to camp?

Simba: Actually I'm attracted to the boulder there on the other side. We'll have to dig out a pad but I think it's worth it. I worry about rocks rolling down the center of the valley or dropping off the top of the batholith on us. Come on.

Me: You were designed just like us otters, weren't you, Simba? How do you feel about that, about not being natural, about being what you are because someone decided it?

Simba: Heavy philosophy, eh? At your age I was too busy with lessons and learning social skills to think much about it, and the teen age brings its own excitement. Sure, I was familiar with the issue, and I discussed various points with my creators such as how and why they had constructed my feet and hands differently from humans, but, well, that's the way I am. How do you feel?

Me: I'm glad you made me to be an otter! Not to criticize other species, but otters have such a nice combination of strength and flexibility, and we're the easiest of all the Novanima to get along with, not snappish like the lions sometimes are, or moody like Valeria and Petra, or aggressive like the jaguars. Truculent might be a better word; if Xena or Orion get angry with someone it takes every bit of charm I have, and Titania helping, to straighten them out. I'm happy with myself. Well, actually there's a problem that maybe I should ask for some help on. Can we dig what we have to, and eat dinner, and I can tell you about it?

Simba: Sure. Aah, it feels good to get my pack off. Just stand it against the rock and get your shovel. Mind the hose; yours is caught on something; OK, I got it loose. I wish I could take off the tank too, but that's impossible. See here, we'll make a flat space next to the boulder. Fill in from around the sides into this space below the boulder, but leave it tilted a little inward. We don't want to have a nightmare and roll downhill.

We unroll our mats, change into the tent helmets, and have a well-deserved dinner of seed cakes washed down with delicious water. I'm not being sarcastic; when you're dried out and bone-tired, nothing hits the spot like plain water.

Me: Wow, that was really a tough hike. Does everyone get one this hard?

Simba: Well, the going was a lot rougher than I expected. Every hike had some nasty surprise, but from lunch to now has been continuously bad or worse. How did your foot webs hold up? Any cuts?

Me: The rock chips were uncomfortable between my toes but I don't think I got cut. No, look, there are scrapes all over the webbing but none are cut through. I can feel my foot pads are thinner than when we started. I hope they last.

Simba: You'll get more overnight. I've never had a problem with my pads during hikes. The opal reinforcement really helps; Wilma or Willie would have been all bloody halfway up the big landslide. Now if I tried to run for eight hours I'm sure I'd wear my pads out. I told you how we did that once on Terra, but it was on snow, which is a lot less abrasive. You said you had a problem you wanted to talk about.

Me: Right. I'd like to have a special skill, but I don't know what to choose. Something working with my hands, I hope. What I'd really like is to do what Vulcan does, making and building and assembling. I like to work with her and Willie.

Simba: What keeps you from making manufacturing your specialty?

Me: It's Vulcan's already. I'd feel bad; she'd feel I was taking it away from her. I want to stay her friend.

Simba: One idea would be to work with her. That would be otterly.

Me: Maybe I'm not a perfect otter, but I want something that's mine. I enjoy working with her on her projects, but I'd like her to enjoy working with me on my project too, if it's something she wants to do. See, I don't want to always be doing what someone else says.

Simba: I'd say you're a balanced otter, Night. Well, first, you can compete, nicely, and still stay friends. When there are enough people it's going to be important to have several people doing each job, so different ideas can be tried. If only one person does it, progress is slow and hard. I'm looking forward to competition from Quin in bioengineering; I need that stimulation.

Me: You're an adult. Maybe it's harder because I'm still a kitten.

Simba: Maybe. But my second idea is to manufacture in a different niche that's not directly competitive. And I have one idea for you: rotating machinery. When we left Earth we never dreamed that we were going to have to build everything for a world. Willie has done an incredible job improvising manufacturing techniques that we can handle, like electrolytic milling, but what we'd give for a decent lathe! Valeria has her hands full with welding and forging and stuff. Make us some ball bearings and you'll be the toast of Gondor.

Me: Well... I'd have to learn a lot, wouldn't I? As much as Vulcan but in a different area.

Simba: Right. She's invested a lot of effort learning how to do it, and she contributes a lot to the colony, and that's recognized in the money system. There's another reason I want ball bearings: I don't trust the storage for our computers. If we lost our power, some disaster in the power nexus, all our data would be gone. The only disc drives we have are in the starship, and they filled up long ago. Only the most important data fits on them; not even your genotypes made it. All the rest is on RAM chips. Big ones, standard butterfly size, but if the power goes out so does the data.

Me: The backup chips are grouped and there are duplicate copies in several groups. Isn't that enough?

Simba: I'd feel a whole lot safer if it didn't have to be. Think about putting your ball bearings in some disc drives and a CD burner, OK?

Me: Sure, Simba. Thanks a lot. I was thinking and thinking about jobs I could do, but I never thought of ball bearings.

Simba: You ready for bed? Let's plug our air hoses into the pack manifolds and get some rest. I sure need it.

Me: OK. Maybe you know: when is the Chinese ship going to get here? Tiger mentioned it yesterday but I didn't have a chance to talk to anyone about it.

Simba: Could you hold my tank, please, while I switch the hose? Thanks, got it. Now let me help you; can you take care of your hose? Yes, it's connected. OK, on your question: we're pretty sure it was just a test flight. The message said the announced crew members had been seen on the ground, not with the ship. We did the same thing, sending it out for a test on automatic control. You pretty much have to make a sequence of flights like that, to get confidence that it will work on the big jump. If they make progress similar to ours they might be ready to launch in about three years. Thor years. That puts the ship here in about 12.5 years.

Me: I thought you said it took 28 years.

Simba: Well, if you go by the common reference frame they've already finished two thirds of the journey. It's easier for us to keep things straight if we say, the newsfeed says they did their test flight, so they did the test flight now rather than 19.5 years ago. For Terran events we go by newsfeed dates; we don't try to remember real simultaneity.

Me: That's really confusing. I wonder what it will be like when they get here. Four new people. We're used to Willie and Wilma, but... We're not used to anybody new. It's scary. What's it going to be like, meeting new people?

Simba: If they're willing to be friendly, we should just be nice to them. Not get all over them in the first meeting; let them get used to us a little, and us used to them, and get closer gradually. New people can be a lot of fun, and I'm sorry that stimulation is pretty much denied to you kittens. But I have another worry: the Chinese have made some official announcements about the mission. By the way, it's a crew of two. Claude and his group can't figure out what's going on, and we're having trouble too. We couldn't have handled the mission with under four people, and we couldn't carry enough supplies for over four, so we believe for any reasonable mission there have to be exactly four crew. So it has to be an unreasonable mission. One line from the official announcement was, ``The glorious people's cadre will transform the wild hinterlands of space into a workers' paradise.''

Me: That sounds like a joke! What do they mean, ``workers' paradise''?

Simba: It's one of those phrases that's supposed to make the masses feel good, if not examined too closely. But I'm not too sure we should take it as a joke. There's a distinct possibility that they're sending out a ship with no other mission than to colonize Njord.

Me: That doesn't sound like a joke, it is a joke! What do they think they're going to do about the radioactivity? Are they bringing butterfly chips to get water for Njord?

Simba: They don't even know about the heptapi, much less what the heptapi did to themselves. I think someone there is thinking of Njord as a steamy jungle, so a people's cadre tough enough to handle the awful crab critters or whatever monster could found a breeding population of humans there.

Me: They're in for a surprise: no plants, no heptapi, and no place to get away from the radiation. You know, you know, I had something in an ecology lesson. If the population gets too small you have a bunch of bad effects. Could two people make a colony? The kittens would all have to be assembled like we were; begotten kittens would be too closely related to reproduce. This ship had better be carrying a lot of biotech equipment and a good chip maker. And manufacturing equipment. And ball bearings. And lots of stuff. They're in for a surprise and a lot of hard work.

Simba: No question about that, Night, whatever their mission really is. Tomorrow we'll climb up this valley, and around in back is supposed to be a way to the top that isn't too steep. We'll scout good places to put the plants, and we'll try to find light element ores up on top. There's a mineral, tourmaline, that makes really pretty crystals.

Me: I like crystals. Iris has his jacinth crystal; it glitters so brightly! Isn't he going to be surprised when it's time for him to meet his mates: Jacinth.

Simba: I'll tell him the story of how he got the crystal. But I'm not telling you now so it doesn't spread around as a rumor and make trouble for keeping the lions separated.

Me: Something having to do with Jacinth, right? I'll keep my mouth shut. But do we really have to stay so strictly separate from our mates? It's not otterly, for one thing.

Simba: We aren't completely sure, but if we're not strict enough we can't fix it later. It's safer to stay strictly away from your mates while you're young.

Me: OK. Let's see if I can find Sol. There, there's Arcturus, and the Scorpion, and half way between them, the Serpent's two eyes, and the northern one is Sol. Right?

Simba: Right. What else can you find?

Me: Lyra is a cute grouping. I think it looks like an otter kitten. You know, Simba, the red in the sky is almost gone. If Wotan ate the comet's tail, why did it stay around so long?

Simba: Actually most of it wasn't really tail material. When the comet hit, a lot of stuff was splashed right into orbit around Thor. The part that didn't make it into orbit came down on the surface, like on top of us. Wotan's gravity is strong and it could warp the orbits so it could grab the highest particles, but almost all of the comet sooner or later came back down on Thor. The higher the particles were, the longer it took for gas drag to knock them down.

Me: Little rocks?

Simba: Yes, and that's why we put the starship and the factories into orbit around Wotan before the impact. But most of the comet is water and methane and so on. The red glow is atomic oxygen. Solar ultraviolet breaks up the water, and the hydrogen isn't gravitationally bound. Oxygen is, and we get it back.

Me: Oxygen in the atmosphere?

Simba: Well, not much. It reacts immediately with the ammonia and methane. A little bit of our problem gases burn up.

Me: Good. We should do it more.

Simba: Do what more? More comet impacts?

Me: Well, maybe that's not a good idea. But the water doesn't have to come from comets, does it? If we dropped snowballs into orbit rather than on the ground, they'd eventually evaporate and the same thing would happen, the red glow and then the oxygen would burn up the methane and ammonia. We'd be making more progress toward an atmosphere we can breathe. The plants are nice but it takes them so long to spread and to make enough oxygen.

Simba: Snowballs in orbit! Little otter, I think you thought of something really good. Every eighteen kilos of water, there's two kilos of hydrogen into Wotan, out of our atmosphere. The problem isn't to get oxygen in, it's to get hydrogen out. Snowballs in orbit! The ultraviolet flux is less than at Sol, but the orbiting cloud is so much bigger than just the planet. If you don't mind, Night, I'm going to work this out on my machine. Let's see: three methane, two ammonia and how many oxygen yields three carbon dioxide, one nitrogen and nine water. Fifteen oxygen. So sixty percent of the orbiting snowball ends up as water on the surface and forty percent is used for carbon dioxide. Have you noticed that the air pressure has gone down measurably since the comet impact? The regolith just soaks up the carbon dioxide, and it's good use of snowballs to turn them into carbon dioxide. You thought of this, Night, and you should have a chance to work on the planning. You want to?

Me: Sure! Just a sec while I get out my computer. OK, I'm on session. Now how should we start? Goals, issues and action, of course. The goal is to make an oxygen atmosphere, and you say the real subgoal is to lose hydrogen...

It's exciting to make a big contribution to colony progress, and we spend about an hour together estimating the rate at which oxygen will be produced. We make a start at working out the orbital height where we get the best balance between catching ultraviolet light and losing oxygen atoms to Wotan. But it's been a long day for me, both for my muscles and for my brain. I'm sure my dreams will alternate between cliffs and ball bearings.

Me: You know, Simba, I'd like to just lay here for a few minutes and look at the stars, if that's OK for you. I'm feeling a little sleepy.

Simba: A kitten sleepy? I've never heard that before! Let's check our oxygen pressure one last time.

Me: My electrolyser is doing fine, but what about the reserve tank?

Simba: I used about a third of mine, when we took our packs off to eat and to rest. Hook it up to the pack manifold and it will fill as we sleep. Well, good night; see you at sunrise.

Me: Is it really true that on Terra you always wake at sunrise? That must be really convenient, not having to remember how the days shift and what you can do on which day and when the eclipses are. I've pretty much given up trying to match my activities to the sun. If I want to swim and it's dark, I get a partner and swim. It's too much trouble to wait for the light.

Simba: That's probably a good attitude; I'm finding I'm doing that more, too. You can dig by Wotan's light, but it's really easier by daylight, I've found. We adults and you kittens are designed for a Terran day length, and that's naturally going to make timing complicated on Thor. We're making this our home, but we're really transplanted Terrans.

Me: Replanted Terrans. Well, good night, Simba. I'm sure I'll dream about those rock shelves. I hope I don't have a nightmare and try to walk four legs on one.

Simba: Me too. Good night, Night.

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