The Far Moai
by Neil Burlington
part 1 of 2
Moai: Statues of uncertain religious significance, carved on Easter Island.
The figures, thought to represent ancestors who live on in the form of skeletons, are of two types: moai kavakava (male), with a beaklike nose and goatee and occasionally an animal or human figure incised on the head; and moai paepae (female), which have a flat, relief-like quality and large eyes. They are sometimes used for fertility rites but more often for harvest celebrations, when the first picking of fruits was heaped around them as offerings.
Lt. Iton’s personal journal From Astral Fleet Intergalactic Supply Ship #55
Yes, we did.’
No one could really be blamed. It was a storm. A bad one. It jammed up the engines with particles we’d never encountered before. No one knew what to do. Communications went out.
They went out first, before the engines. No one knew what happened to us. And we crashed onto a habitable planet. At least we found that in time, though it was far from an ideal solution. The ship sank in the ocean. We swam to shore. Most of us survived. But Lieutenant Petty and Captain Cooper... drowneed.
* * *
The island was deserted when we swam ashore. It is heavily forested in some regions, and nearly bare in others. We have never seen any sign of indigenous life here beyond simple lizards, snakes and other lower life-forms.
A presently inactive volcano rests at the center of the island. We have dubbed it ‘Czernobog’ as a nod of respect to any dark spirit that may dwell within the caldera. According to our environmental specialist, the volcano does not pose a present threat. He has told us that the central mountain range the volcano inhabits and the prevailing winds are responsible for the micro-climates that create areas of arable land in some regions, and dense and lush plant life in other regions.
The welcome presence of arable land on one side of the island indicates the island is sub-temperate... apparently. This island is a place of stunning color and its plants show robust features with heavy stocks and thick leaves. The morning dew hangs on the brilliantly pink and clean-white petals of flowers that bloom at the periphery of the forest.
The shadowy depths of the forest itself feel strangely inviting and pristinely untouched. Blooming shocks of wind-stirred mushroom-shaped violet leaves profuse from the tallest trees, and the forest is dappled in greens, blues and crimsons as if in a permanent autumn.
The soft soil is rich and even spongey underfoot in some places. The emerald-scaled lizards that are about the length of my arm regard us with passive and fearless stares. They are largely harmless and without venom... presumably because they have no natural predator. When cooked over an open flame, they taste like chicken. I have a necklace with their little sharp teeth hanging from it.
One of the things salvaged from the ship was a case of notebooks for inventory... as a real back-up in the event the computer records were corrupted. The first notebook was half-full. The rest are blank.
There are sixty notebooks in the box and each is three-hundred pages long. There is also a box containing four-hundred black pens. It was floated in a pull-string ‘instant-raft’ to shore. Someone must have thought it was something valuable, like food.
If anyone ever reads these notes they can be sure that I would rather have had a box full of frozen hamburgers. But the paper and the writing help me come to grips with our unique situation.
* * *
The first year on the island was tough. It was small and there were only scarce clumps of edible vegetation, and some fruit. We all learned how to fish fairly soon. In a short while the vegetables and fruit ran down and that’s all there was left: fish. It took the ‘farmers’ working the arable land a while to get the knack of growing crops in any abundance.
We could drink the water if we treated it with gear taken from the ship: a little something left from our technology used in visiting alien worlds.
We could eat the fish and they didn’t taste too bad. It took a while to acquire a taste for them. It took a while to come to like the taste of the three to ten-foot, and fifty-finned green and yellow things everyone called ‘fish’. I never did acquire that taste but I ate them anyway.
These ‘fish’ didn’t have what you’d think of as eyes. Instead they possessed a kind of sensing-cone at the tip of their heads. That made them hard to catch, but we worked out a system with nets that kept us in good supply.
* * *
Shelters were going up.
Everyone helped to harvest the forested areas on the island in order to build homes, and we made some pretty decent places to live. Little by little it was looking like this wouldn’t be such a terrible place after all. The weather was general mild, though every now and then it would sour into cold rain and rushing winds.
In the far distance if you peered in the bright orange sunlight you could see enormous fins that were maybe thirty to forty feet tall, cutting though the surface of the ocean. Many large things were swimming out there: monstrously large things. No one could tell you what they might be. There was no information about how these creatures might regard a boat full of humans, if it was ever to set out to sea in search of a larger island or continent.
* * *
We settled in. We figured out how to make things work: food, and clothing, and permanent shelter and social life, that kind of thing. We made do and we weren’t actually miserable. There was still some technology, all that had been sensibly grabbed and stored in packs before the ship went down.
There were women, as nearly half of our crew was female. Women officers and soldiers have over the years proven to be an exceptionally well-organized part of military supply operations. They don’t do a lot of heavy lifting, but we have machines for that. They’re also very good for morale on long trips.
Many relationships were already in place before we crashed, and new ones formed quickly between the survivors, following the crash. We figured out how to make some wine from the grapes on vines. The weather remained pleasant for the most part. The fishing was good.
For a thirty-five year old lieutenant in the business of military supply transport, I was actually fairly happy here. The stress was pretty much gone from my life. I wasn’t married, but on the island I had two girlfriends and they didn’t fight each other over me or fight about anything that was really important. We all got used to the idea that this was home.
It was like that, in this small place. At first we were accepting of the idea that we would have to rely on one another; and the crystal-blue ocean was beautiful.
We collectively began to think about staying, permanently. We could. We’d figured out how to live with the island and with each other, although one side of the island was better suited to growing food.
Raw material for building — trees and medium-sized stones — were more plentiful on the other side. It was a disparity, yet there was nothing forcing us out, off the island. And those great monsters of the sea, visible from far away reminded us of how good we actually had it in our little nest.
There were no beacons to signal to the fleet, unfortunately. They’d gone down with the ship. When the ship was plummeting down there’d really only been time to grab whatever was close at hand, and no one had reached a beacon in that time. Petty and Captain Cooper had tried at the last minute, but that didn’t work out. Captain Cooper died valiantly trying to preserve our last connection to the fleet. We held ceremony for him as soon as we could.
* * *
We lived this way for years. Those who had settled the side of the island with arable land soon became proficient farmers. It was a natural progression that happened gradually. Those who settled the other side of the island did so because it was the only remaining land left. The placement of settlements and homes on the island was determined by the officers, though concessions were made to anyone who really wanted to live in a particular place.
But once the decisions had been made and houses started going up, things felt... finalized. It felt as if the die had been cast, and because of the physical separation by the central mountain range we immediately felt that the crew was split into two separate communities.
The difference in lifestyles was soon apparent, as well. The farmers worked their land with diligence and were rewarded with some constancy and predictability.
Those on the other side of the island — the side I was on — primarily took to fishing. They were inclined to do this because it was the best way to shore-up meat supplies while the farmers tilled the soil and grew native plants that proved surprisingly palatable.
Those on the ‘fishing’ side of the island became more confident and skilled in their ventures out into the water to find good little spots to trail lines, but the most dependable fishing was done passively with nets near the shore... at first.
The split of cultures was difficult to see in the beginning. Hind-sight is clear enough, but when one half of a group becomes rooted in a place, while the other is pressed to find more inventive and adventurous ways to earn their keep, people change. When the first children were born, the differences between the two communities, especially in how the children were educated and what they were taught, became more pronounced.
I was one of the fishermen on the side of the island without arable land, and when I would travel out with the other fishermen in our little carved boat I found a camaraderie that I did not experience when I would visit with the farmers living on the other side of the island.
The mere fact of not being able to see their settlements due to the obscuring forest and the mountain ridge slowly created a psychological separation between our communities that we did not fully overcome when we met in person. Our daily routines were quite different and in time we found we had little in common to discuss pertaining to our working lives.
As for the little boats we fishermen built to travel out into the waters in search of fish, we did not travel too far because of those creatures of great magnitude, the monsters of the sea. I believe we never created a larger vessel, even when fish-stocks were poor, because it would have meant a reversal of our belief that we could find all we needed to sustain us in and around the island, without having to hazard those mighty and, yes, intimidating creatures of the outer sea.
Copyright © 2006 by Neil Burlington