Best laid plans
“That’s a lot of Illiya and Aarden, a lot more than ten of each,” said Taylor as she watched scores of Illiya and Aarden unload the lander by an Asook grove, directed by Sax and Samook. They had disassembled the lab and brought it here, along with the few undamaged pieces of furniture that the invaders had left behind in the village. Samook still wore the wreath of white flowers that Taylor had threaded together with a woven cord made from long grass.
Char had gone off to help with the unloading, leaving Taylor to watch from the edge of the clearing. “So this will be their new village, somewhere close to this Asook grove.”
“Yes, and they always live close to water. And it takes a lot of people to run a space port,” Aeden whispered invisibly in her ear.
“What do you mean?” she whispered back.
“What did you think would happen when you asked them to help restore my forests using the lander? They will need a lot of support for this hundred-year-plus enterprise – starting with the people collecting food for those running the lander. And there will be repairs and maintenance needed soon enough. The space suits won’t last forever, and they will need spare parts and repairs as well. I will have to begin teaching them how to handle all of that, carefully of course, not to be too obvious about it. There will need to be initial scavenging efforts to find spare suit parts and other things from the scraps of the fallen landers and reapers, and recover them from the dead invaders scattered all over the planet. Communication devices, whatever they can scavenge, all sorts of parts. More of them will need wrist communicators as they search further afield, so they will have to scavenge what they can from the bodies and suits themselves. That will begin very soon, a messy but necessary affair. In your benevolent request to help restore my forests, you have now started the development of a whole new way of living and working. This is the foundation for what will be a great, bustling city in a few decades. And when they finish restoring the last block of recovered forest, they will move on to the next thing, looking up to the stars where they have spent their lives, touching the edge of space. They will hunger for more. They won’t go back to the way they were, eating the food I provide, close at hand, no effort required, and being happy with just that.”
Taylor noted the strain in Aeden’s voice. “What are you saying?”
“I am saying that your inspiring words will have significant, long-term consequences. I could easily have dumped the stolen materials into my oceans, or redirected them into the sun, either would have been acceptable. Yes, thousands of animals would have died. But now you have started the wheels of progress spinning – in a big way, though they have no concept of what is ahead for them at this point. So, congratulations! You have just created the first employment on my surface. The first jobs. This is the first multi-species village, probably of many, Illiya and Aarden living side by side, and two of them are already mated! I now have no hope of ever restoring the cull, there will only be growth from now on, with its many associated problems. The lander will be based here, serviced from here, so we might as well call it what it is. The first space port. The lander does go to space.”
“I didn’t create the first jobs. What about the Aarden culling the Illiya?”
“That was more sport and instinct, with a little direction. It’s not technically a job. More of a calling.”
“Splitting hairs. You designated a target number of Illiya to cull using dreams, then set them to work. But you’re saying this is my fault too.”
“Well, yes, and quite clearly and directly so, and I will even go so far as to say I tried to warn you several times. But it could also turn out very well, in which case your grand vision will be remembered long after my surface has been restored, the scars healed – visually at least – and your bones finally turn to dust thousands of years from now. You will be remembered, Taylor Alice Neeran. They will probably erect statues in your honour, when their development reaches that point. Unless it goes badly, which it just as likely will. Forty-eight point six percent, actually.”
“Oh, crap,” she sighed. “How can I keep from doing that? Making a spectacle of myself and causing more problems?”
“You could stop talking, swear a vow of silence, something. I wanted to discuss the development of this planet with you first, as we had agreed, but you jumped the gun. Although apparently you’re the boss, as you said quite clearly, so you can do whatever you like. But I don’t have to be happy about it.”
“I was just trying to help you. And this wasn’t meant to start some big development!”
“The next time you get an idea to fix something, can you please double check with me before involving others? You may be in charge, but I would still like to be able to provide you some advice from my four hundred and fifty million years of direct experience, and my access to the vast libraries of detailed observations of the many iterations of the species in the experimental zone, not to mention four billion years of Xathen history…”
“Okay, okay,” sighed Taylor. “I get it. Think before I speak.”
“And check with me first. You’re twenty Earth years old and impulsive.”
“Thanks for that reminder, oh ancient intelligence who knows so much more than I ever will.”
“I am merely making the observation that your speech will end up wrecking more of my surface over time than the invaders ever did. There will be forestry to support building houses – cut, not grown, it will happen, just wait and see. Oh, and mining for minerals they will need, there is only so much salvage possible from the reapers and the landers. And they will need fire for smelting, smithing, more trees cut and good-bye clear skies. They will start mining, and they will dig deep because they won’t find that much very easily – I’ve already used most of it for other things – and then… then they will find the first of the many destroyers hidden away under my surface… it could end very, very badly, as in the reset of this world if they don’t respond to commands, or this could be the beginning of the golden era of space exploration for both Illiya and Aarden. The variables on that are still unclear. I’d wipe all of them out right now to prevent that from happening, but you won’t let me.”
Taylor put her hand over her eyes. “I’m sorry, Aeden. I didn’t think.”
“We covered that part. But the options analysis for this was extremely complicated, I needed to work it out for at least the next hundred thousand years, and that takes some time, even for me. And I must remind you that I was recently damaged, so it took longer than normal. I was still working through the analysis when you did your splendid breakfast speech, and I just finished a few minutes ago. So there you go, it could be good, or really, really bad. We’ll just have to wait and see. Give it fifty thousand years or so to be sure.”
“So you’re mad at me.”
“If I had any dormant volcanoes, they would be lighting up right now. But they went out of fashion. I opted for long-term stability instead, no excitement, every day pretty much the same. Most stable of the barrier worlds, for eighty thousand years running, and proud of my record. And then you came along.”
“Henry,” sighed Taylor.
“What about him?”
Taylor turned and walked a little further away into the trees. Talking to herself was beginning to attract some attention. “He said something about contact with new peoples, that even the fact that you meet with them can change them, and it doesn’t always turn out well for the local population.”
“Well, he had that right. I think even he would be impressed by the level of impact that one single human female has had when left to her own devices on the surface of an unsuspecting planet. And half of that was before you even knew what you were! A level Three, immature, untrained, unaware – I cringe to think what real damage you could do with your level of authority. And even this – all of this was from just talking! No commands, no use of your direct authority. You scream, Illiya die. You talk to a few people, and all of us are nearly destroyed. You don’t talk to me like you’re supposed to, and okay – you didn’t know – but you delayed my reaction to dispose of the invaders, which could have been done much more discretely, I must point out. And all of this from just words and a few animal sounds! Some days I think it would have been better if Kral had just killed you before I knew who you were. If I had had any idea of the enormous potential destructive power of one single human female, well… perhaps just the potential for significant change, which I calculate to be extremely disruptive, to say the least, but large-scale destruction is one of the likely outcomes of all of this… If I had known, even had an inkling, and if Earth was in my assigned sector, I might have had to arrange a small accident and purge your home world myself.”
Tears flowed freely down her face. “So you’re really, really mad.”
“That’s putting it mildly. You think that man Trent on your mother’s ship doesn’t like change initiated outside of his control? You have no idea. If I was not required to protect you and follow your commands to the letter, you would be swarming with killer squirrels right now, eating you one tiny living bite at a time.”
“And it’s my fault. Again.”
“You said it. And I can’t do anything about it, except express my opinion. But you have just destroyed – yes, destroyed – any hope of a controlled societal evolution of the species on my surface. Not even dreams can stop this, because you’ve given them a vision to help me. And who can fight that? Who can fight LOVE?”
Taylor wiped her eyes with her hands, then Smudge gently licked the salt off of her fingers. She nudged Taylor’s leg, concerned. Taylor scratched her behind the ears. “I’ll be fine, Smudge.”
“Glad you will be,” grumbled Aeden. “And look at you, fresh out of the trees and you can figure out just how mad I am without even being able to see me. How evolved of you. What a mess.”
Aeden fell silent and Taylor stood there, waiting for him to speak again. After a few minutes, she sighed and returned to the edge of the clearing where they had finished unloading the lander. She wiped her eyes as she watched the unsuspecting Illiya and Aarden take the first steps of transformation towards a whole new world, and their ultimate reach for the stars. And all because of Love.