Midsummer Fest Ch. 02byvoluptuary_manque©
To those kind commentators who requested more about the early years of the colony and the later ones, here you are. Notice that the colony's name has been corrected to proper Icelandic from the original Swedish. I apologize for the delay. It has taken me a long time to figure out a way to tell this tale. I hope you like it as much as the earlier one.
Dr. Arikasdottir carried two aquavits on the rocks with lemon into the den of the rectory. Her husband, Pastor Haakon, was a figure of intense concentration as he lined up a three-cushion billiard shot. The table had been a recent show of affection from his parishioners in Öruggur Harbor and in those rare moments when he was not concerned with the spiritual and emotional care of his flock, these days he could usually be found hunched over his new pride and joy. The doctor set one glass next to her husband and then plumped her bottom onto the felt surface and cocked an eyebrow up at him, mischief in her face. Pastor looked at the glass and then at his wife. A leer spread across his features and he picked up the glass. He was just about to lift it in salute when the alarm sounded.
Assembly! Assembly! Potential crisis, repeat, potential crisis. Assembly! Assembly!
Glasses abandoned, the couple dashed for the door. Sprinting across the green to the town hall, they saw the doors of each clan house fly open and their fellow Elders come running, walking briskly or, in two cases, scootering to the Assembly. As each member of the Öruggur Harbor Board of Elders entered the building, they found their desks, keyed them to life and sat alert and tense, waiting for the worst.
From his desk as Prime Counselor, Haakon looked up at a grim-faced and anxious Speaker Ingmar Andersdottir. When the last Elder was in place, Ingmar nodded and called for a recap of what had brought them racing together. A broad screen lit up in the front of the small hall showing Ingeborg Snorrison sitting quietly at the console of the Space Elevator Control Room. He was running a series of routine checks on the Elevator itself and on the ship, now permanently in orbit above Ný Heimasíða. It had brought two thousand of them to the planet and now served as the all-purpose satellite keeping watch over it and the growing colony that was spreading, bit-by-bit, along the coastlines.
The job of Monitor required a meticulous and focused temperament, one that never bored of inspecting every detail of the Elevator and the Satellite's operations, and Ingmar got great satisfaction every time he looked at the vast board and saw a sea of green lights showing that all was well. Suddenly a tone sounded and one light turned amber. It said that the satellite was occupied. Impossible! The Star Gate had closed behind the colonists fifty years before and the car that would carry the semi-annual inspectors to it was still sitting quietly at the base. Bewildered, Ingeborg touched the light and the console screen lit up to show a face. He goggled. Looking back at him was a young woman unlike any of the citizens of Ný Heimasíða. They were uniformly light-skinned and light-eyed, predominantly blond with the occasional red head and tall. She was small, nearly elfin, with darker skin, almond shaped brown eyes, long black hair and high cheekbones. Blinking back tears, her lips trembled and she spoke.
"I—I seek a-sy-lum. Please?"
Ingmar's jaw dropped in astonishment. One hand flew to the switch at his temple and the other hit the Crisis Alarm. As soon as he understood what the girl wanted he replied, "Do—do you have any water or food with you?"
The girl shook her head, "No."
"Can you contact the Library?"
The little face squinted in concentration, "I can."
Ingmar heaved a sigh of relief. "All right. Follow its directions to the down car on the elevator. The trip will take at least a week so you will want to find a cold-sleep cubby and get in. Pull the mask down over your face and lay your arms in the cradles. You'll have to hibernate on the way down otherwise you may die of thirst. I'll call the Elders and tell them you're coming so that we will be ready when you get here."
"Of course. What else would we do, leave you to die in orbit?"
The screen went blank. Pastor Haakon spoke up, "A stranger is at our gate. As ye do it unto the least of these, my children, so you do it unto Me."
At the rear of the hall a rich alto voice rose in the Doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . ." and the entire assembly joined in four-part harmony. When the hymn was finished, Ingmar looked at her tally board. It was almost completely lit up in green with only a few still dark. "Well?" she asked, "what else was he supposed to say? We of all people should understand flight and exile." The remaining lights went green.
As discussion began, Dr. Arikasdottir turned her board's readings to the down car and the vital signs of its single occupant. My goodness, she's tiny, barely a yard and two tall and only nine stone. But how did she get there? And she's Asian, haplotype Q1 with an 85% certainty for southern Chinese with—hmmm some Vietnamese. You couldn't get anyone more distantly related to us if you tried. Healthy, wearing a birth control implant, no infections or obvious genetic problems. Asylum? Oh, you bet, honey. I don't know or care what you're running from but your DNA has a new home here!
The discussion in the hall went on. "Ingmar, I'm fully in favor of what the young man did. There was no way this assembly would refuse her but once she's here, what then?"
Pastor Haakon rose to answer, "We go to work. We go to work hard. Consider—somehow she must have hacked her way into the Gate system. Can you believe it? And she must have done so undetected. Imagine the determination, the ingenuity! That kind of ability is unbelievably valuable." He looked down at his desk at the message his wife sent. "Besides, her DNA is far removed from ours. What her children can add to us is an incalculable treasure. Iceland was a genetic bottleneck to begin with. Then we come here with only two thousand? In the long term, that could mean serious trouble."
Another voice chimed in, "Assuming she wants to have children, that is. We women all knew our duty when we came here. Will she understand that? Does she dare? She looks so little I personally would worry about her giving birth to a half-Viking and I'll bet she will, too."
"Oh, we'll get her DNA," Dr. Arikasdottir answered. "Right now she's wearing a birth control implant. If she won't let me remove it, I will get egg cells from her, fertilize them in vitro and parcel them out to volunteer surrogates. And if I can't do that, I can clone egg cells from cheek scrapings if I have to. It won't be easy but given enough time her line will join ours."
"All in good time," rumbled the pastor, "but first we need to consider her as a human being. I'll bet my billiard table that when she hacked into the Star Gate system she had a goal in mind, somewhere she may have had family or friends or at minimum people like her. That she would have deliberately chosen Ný Heimasíða is unlikely in the extreme. So she has run away from all that she knew and ended up among complete strangers. I'm sure that anyone as determined and intelligent as she must be will adjust in time but for now I expect her to go into grieving—and probably go in hard."
The hall was silent as the members considered. What if it had been one of them? How would they react? Heads began to nod soberly around the room. Yes, first she would be treated as a human in trouble, severe trouble, and in need of compassion.
Speaker Ingmar rapped the table for order. "First she will need to be greeted. I believe that Pastor and the doctor should be there and so will I. Next she will need a—a companion, a sister. My granddaughter Keitha is one of the smallest women in the village. Additionally, she has no children to care for, yet, and can devote time to caring for this little lost soul. She married into Pastor and the doctor's son's family and that will give them an excellent excuse to stay nearby. Has anyone else a suggestion? If not, I ask for approval." The board again turned green.
Lanhua Lee settled herself into the cubby and pulled down the mask as directed. The thought crossed her mind that this would be perfect way to kill her if they were so minded but it seemed that they really did intend to take her in. Either way, she had to take the risk. Even if they did euthanize her in her sleep, she would die painlessly and that would be better than dying of thirst in orbit. Why had she not thought to bring supplies? Not that it would really matter. If they had not taken her in, she would have died sooner or later. What had gone wrong? The girl had hacked into the system with great care. She had carefully set the controls to send her where her friends had gone. And then she landed here, among these pale giants. She was sure they were giants; they looked like Vikings from her history lessons. How would she live here?
All across Ný Heimasíða the alarms went out. All unessential power routed to the Elevator. Run only essential power. Rescue eminent. Rescue Eminent. Lights went out to be replaced by oil lamps. Nonessential computer terminals went black. Water pumps in greenhouses dropped to minimum. No one asked who or what was in need of rescue nor did they care. Someone was in danger. Nothing else mattered and in the chapels hymns rose in chorus.
Eternal Father, King of birth,
Who didst create the heaven and earth,
And bid the planets and the sun
Their own appointed orbits run;
O hear us when we seek thy grace
For those who venture into space.
Giant laser cannon beneath the up car warmed to send it climbing at maximum power and onboard the Satellite, huge solar arrays deployed to, in the same way, drive the counter-weighted down car. Normal passage either up or down was a two-week trip with a period of reduced to minimum gravity in the middle. This time the cars would race, accelerating at a gee-and-a-half and then decelerating the same way. Lanhua would be protected in cold sleep for the trip and would have no zero gravity weakness when she arrived. It would be expensive but though nary a soul had any idea of who she was; human life was precious.
Lanhua roused and blinked a few times. She was alive! And she was in a bed that looked out a window toward a view of a fjord. Sunlight dappled the wavelets and reflected off the cliffs opposite. There seemed to be a lot of people picnicking on the greensward between the clinic and the beach where row after row of wharfs stretched fingers into the water. Something made her arm sting and she looked over to see a silver-haired woman in a long white coat take an IV needle out of her arm and seal the wound.
"Ah! All awake and recovering nicely? Good. Hello," a warm voice from her other side made Lanhua turn her head. "This is Dr. Arikasdottir, Pastor Haakon Hännisdal and I am Speaker and Clan Leader Ingmar Andersdottir. However, since you will be staying with my clan for the present, you can just call me Grandmother. What's your name, dear?"
The girl looked around. She had been correct. These people were so tall! But they smiled warmly and seemed so—kind. "My—my family name is Lee and my given name is Lanhua. It means Orchid Flower and—and thank-you. I don't know how I got to . . ."
"Ný Heimasíða," Pastor answered, "It means 'new home' and our village is called Öruggur Harbor, which means 'safe harbor'."
"Ný Heimasíða? Oh, you are the religious emigrants from Iceland. I remember reading about you."
Grandmother snorted. "Religious emigrants? Is that what they're calling us? The winning side always writes history so I shouldn't be surprised but we weren't emigrants, Lanhua, we were exiled. Our people were forced out because the traditionalists considered us heretics and the progressives thought we were a threat for some reason."
Lanhua's jaw dropped slightly. "Exiled? Oh. Oh, dear. That explains so much . . ."
In revulsion from the two world wars, deliberate genocides, vicious civil conflicts and totalitarian massacres of the twentieth century, the twenty-first saw an accelerated growth of internationalism. Integrated international markets, the European Union, and increased United Nations use of sanction and peace-keeping forces all seemed to herald the day when global government and the International Bill of Rights would unify Earth under one rule of law. The amazing discoveries that led to the Star Gate and Project Lifeboat at the century's end should have been the final step to complete international cooperation.
All went well until Earth's first colonial attempt on the planet Sylvan turned into a fiasco. The tiny few who knew the true story wiped The Library of all facts. They never communicated over the Worldwide Mind or by any method but private face-to-face conversation. All the rest of the world heard was an announcement that 'by mutual agreement, Earth and Sylvan would go their separate ways' and all contact between the planets was cut.
It was probable that the governing classes believed that somehow they were 'preventing panic' and 'reassuring the population'. They were wrong. Revulsion against world bodies set in, governments fell, treaties were renounced, and the Great Powers slashed their funding to leave the UN a pathetic shell of its former hope. Project Lifeboat had managed to establish another colony of Mennonites on Simplicity but that only fulfilled half the Project's purpose. There was now a better chance that a catastrophic super volcano or a cometary impact would not exterminate humanity but Simplicity would be highly unlikely to send out colonies of its own. Unless others could be convinced to emigrate, Humankind would never fill the galaxy.
It was Iceland, of all places, that provided an answer. Snorri Tomisson had had what he thought was a revelation and a new interpretation of the Bible. Calling for matrilineal families, group marriage, simplicity and a high tech return to the land he had attracted a modest following that wanted only to walk in the Light as they saw it. Never going out of their way to be evangelize and trying to live in peace with everyone, the Tomissonians found themselves reviled as heretics by traditionalists and feared as threats by secular progressives. Hostility rose until conniving in the Allthing resulted in a law that allowed the government to apply on the Tomissonians behalf to emigrate to the stars. The country was outraged. Protests turned into riots, the military intervened to prevent mob violence and in the Allthing a no-confidence vote passed overwhelmingly. The government collapsed and none of its members ever held office again.
"People died in the civil unrest," Pastor concluded sadly, "So however much we resented the government's high-handedness, we decided that under the circumstances it was better for everyone if we left. The Project was wonderful in the help they gave so we could succeed and it is hard to deny that we have succeeded. Fifty years ago there were only two thousand of us. Now there are thirty thousand in a hundred towns and villages with more being built all the time. But it's a big planet Lanhua and it has plenty of room for you. We don't know who or what you fled but believe that you are welcome here."
Tears had formed in Lanhua's eyes as the story unfolded. Some of it she knew some she suspected but much was new to her. "Pastor," she responded with a quavering voice, "after that it got worse."
Governments around the world watched the events unfolding in Iceland with great interest. Unpleasant people 'volunteering' to go away? How convenient! Over the ensuing fifty years any group of dissident citizens that was organized enough to pose a real threat to those in power was likely to find itself with a new planet to work out its ideas on. Each time there would be a public celebration with speeches and great fanfare but suspicion grew among the common folk. None of the new 'volunteers' ever told their family and friends that they intended to go. None of the new colonists were among those giving speeches. By the time the third colony after Ný Heimasíða was founded most of the planet was convinced that either colonization was a lie or that the new worlds were being turned into political penal colonies. Political dissent faded.
"I was never involved in politics at all," Lanhua continued, "but most of my friends were. I never thought they were saying nor doing anything that threatened the Party but I went away for a month's conference in São Paulo and when I came back, everyone was gone! I asked around and their families were evasive. That's when I figured that they had been sent to the stars. I have hardly any family, any more. My friends were everything to me so I decided to follow them. If they really were on a new planet, I would help. If they were all dead—but I had to hope. So I set to hacking the Gate. It isn't easy but I managed to smuggle myself to the Jump Satellite, hack into the controls and sneak into the Gate. I was sure I had it set for the most recent target but when I got to your satellite I knew something was wrong. Everything looked—dated. And then this screen lit up and I saw this young man—so I asked for asylum. I didn't know what else to do . . ."
"'God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform' Pastor Haakon murmured. "I can't believe that all those other colonies are excuses for mass murder. I have to hope, for humanity's soul, that you arrived here for some other reason. But be assured, my dear, that however you managed to come, you are welcome."
Through all this, Dr. Arikasdottir had been silently checking out her patient's vital signs, sensory readouts and general demeanor. Now she spoke, "Lanhua, see if you can sit up. That looks good. Now turn sideways and let your feet hang. Good. Now take my arm and see if you can stand. Excellent! Slip on these shoes and let's all go out and meet the colony."
Gently supported, Lanhua walked out into what looked like a permanent picnic area full of people of all ages. Tots in diapers toddled around among smaller children in nothing but tanned skin and larger children whose nudity seemed to be a matter of personal choice. They kicked soccer balls, roughhoused around and sat in little groups chatting while adults prepared food. Bearded men turned spits or worked grills. Bare-breasted women nursed children who all seemed the same age. It was an idyllic scene.
As they walked a pair of pony-tailed cherubs dashed out. Enthusiastically, they hugged Pastor, the doctor, grandmother Ingmar and, in a democratic display of affection, Lanhua. The small woman was nonplussed but gratified, especially when it happened several times.
"They're so cute! And so happy. Don't you have any cranky babies here?"
"Oh, you bet we do. But one of the advantages of extended families is that there is always someone else to go to. Fathers are relieved of the stern daddy role because discipline is the domain of uncles and all children are the children of everyone in the pod."
"Marriage group, Lanhua. That's one of the things we had such disagreements about back on Earth."
"A marriage group? How does that work?"
"Oh, often a young couple will get married and then one of their friends will join and then another. Or a young person will ask to join an established pod. The pod may even invite a young single. In any case the usual group is five or six. Seven is very uncommon and the only time eight tried it, they split into to separate pods. Ah, here we are."
A naked three-year-old threw himself into Pastor's arms and was passed among the three elders giggling and getting kissed by each in turn. A little girl, perhaps a year younger, walked up to Lanhua with eyes like saucers. She pointed at the girl's waist length hair.