sheep milled around as I prepped the feed augers and started the drive engine that delivered the grain to the long row of troughs. They crowded forward in a surging mass of fluffiness, and I think they would’ve loved to have just unhinged their jaws and let the concentrate mix pour into their bellies. Fortunately, a computer which read the chips in their ear tags regulated the amount of feed they were allotted, and shortly they were munching away as fast as they could while I stepped outside to watch the eclipse’s progress.
In a few minutes I was enveloped in a weird, ruddy darkness, as the light from our sun was bent around Thera Prime’s inhospitable atmosphere. The planet hovering above me looked like an angry bruise in a sky powdered with stars. A more poetic soul might have compared it to a garnet brooch on a black velvet tunic spangled with glitter. All I know is that I seemed to be the only living thing taking the slightest notice of it. And it was starting to get chilly.
So I climbed up into my shepherd wagon and went about preparing my meal. While the kettle was heating, I opened a pouch of dog food and squeezed it into Captain’s bowl, then set it outside for him. He looked at me as if wanting to ask to come in, but we both knew that his duty was to stay on guard, even though there was nothing to guard against. I suppose a sheep might get into some kind of trouble, and need my help getting out of it, but other than that, there wasn’t much guard duty for Cap to perform.
After a bit, the kettle boiled, and I made my freeze-dried soup and a cup of tea. The native water had a slightly odd taste, kind of metallic, and so the colony filtered it, but I could still taste it. It took several days before the sheep would even touch the stuff, when we’d first arrived, but their thirst finally overcame whatever objections they might have had. We really should have worried that the sheep preferred reprocessed shipboard water to the stuff from the wells on Thera, but the science guys assured us that the chemical analyses said the water was perfectly safe to drink, and that we’d get used to it after a while.
I just hoped the next supply barge would have a lot of sugar, salt, and flavorings in store.
I settled down on the bench that doubled as my sleeping platform and clicked up a book on Grassland Management on my tablet. It was written for Earth but it might just help me to figure out why we were having problems growing the stuff up here; maybe I could find some aspect that the guys in the white coats had overlooked, after all.
As soon as it was light again, I lost no time in packing up camp for the move to Section Twelve. I turned the sheep out, and told Captain where to take them, and then set to breaking down the fences and equipment, which was all designed to fold into each other and be hitched in train to the tractor, which itself was quite an impressive piece of engineering. It came equipped with all the implements I’d need to maintain my camp, from a front-end loader to an auger that could dig a well, and its digester engine ran on anything I could shovel into it.
Once everything was packed and the trolleys were hooked up, I set the GPS on the tractor and popped some appropriate music into the on-board stereo. Yeah, being a shepherd wasn’t so bad. In Scotland we’d had to walk behind the flock when we moved them, the way shepherds had done for millennia. This wasn’t much faster, but it had more style.
The flock had at least a two-hour head start on me, and since the tractor with its train couldn’t move very fast, so I got to do some sight-seeing. Not that there was all that much to look at, but after two years cooped up in what was essentially a windowless office building, even the miles of desolation had a strange beauty. Thera Prime was still visible in the sky, but now it had a weird translucency, like the ghost of a planet—I never really noticed the effect with our own Earthly moon, but here, where the planet was so much larger than the moon had been, you really couldn’t miss it.
I gazed out at the undulating landscape and thought about how we would change it, clothing its gray stone with green grass and trees. It was exciting to be in at the creation of a world, and, even though I wasn’t particularly religious, I couldn’t help but think about how Genesis had got it right—you know, how you need reliable cycles of darkness and light, and water, and soil, and plants and animals to make a place fit to live in. And now we humans were taking a stab at world-building.
We just had to get this project off the ground, otherwise we’d have to cull the flock down to a level that could be sustained. This would mean killing off all the sheep that were even slightly "unfit," including the older ones that had been born on Earth.
To Be Continued...
Copyright 2012, Kathryn Garrison Kellogg