As Tony walked down the spaceship ramp, he wondered, 'What have you got yourself into Tony?'
It started last year when Tony picked up the paper and opened to the Jobs vacant section, as Tony had done every day since he had left school. In bold print was this advert for a job as a PET with just a phone number, curious rather than hoping, he decided to ring the number, perhaps this was a Petro Environment Technician?
Tony dialled the number and when the phone picked up, said, 'Hello I am Tony Webster, I am calling for more information on the Pet Position advertised in the Chronicle?'
A woman's voice answered, 'I am Rowena Toledo, what would you like to know?'
'I suppose we could start by asking what job are you advertising?' Tony responded.
'As the ad indicates, a position as a pet in a remote area to be a companion for a child,' Rowena said, 'If that offends you, I apologise.' Though not sounding contrite.
'What sort of a child and how remote?' Tony followed up.
'An alien and on a distant planet,' Rowena explained then paused. As I hadn't hung up, she went on with a little more enthusiasm, 'There are education standards as well as psychological suitability. We will pay for your attendance at actors equity rates; if successful, you will receive appropriate training.'
'I am free and still curious,' Tony said thinking that sounds like a good deal also ticks off a job application for Centrelink.
Rowena then said, 'If you come to the Rumours building at 8 am tomorrow we will commence the interviews, I will pay when you complete the application form. My phone calls usually end as soon as I mention an alien.'
'Since I am available, I will see you there,' Tony accepted.
Having nothing better to do; the latest applications had fizzled without even an interview or reply message. Rowena had promised a day's pay and having looked up Actors Equity; a day's pay was a useful amount. Being such a good deal, Tony expected a big line-up; he decided to arrive early and wait to be near the head of the line. There were five ahead in the line and by the time eight AM rolled around another ten had joined the line, less than he had expected perhaps the word had passed around that this was a joke.
Attendants directed us to our seats, and once there, a lady walked to a podium and welcomed us, 'Good morning, I am Rowena Toledo I welcome you are all here, now while we hand out the registration forms, any questions?'
'Would you define pet please,' One of the later arrivals asked.
'Companion, protector and provide companionship,' Rowena provided, 'Next?'
Several other questions were asked, trying to narrow down what fun meant and what was the danger.
Rowena covered these and once over, half had stood up and left, with the promised pay and a certificate of a job application that was attached to the registration form. The eight remaining started reading; another couple decided that this wasn't for them.
Tony wasn't surprised, some of the questions were rather personal with the education and health questions were invasive, still at the end of the session and subsequent training, here Tony was at the employer's home ready to start.
Waiting at the edge of the clearing was an ordinary man with a small child.
If Tony expected an alien, as in Bug-Eyed Monster, he would have been disappointed.
'Welcome Anthony Webster; I am Gatherer of Rocks, please call me Garth,' He said, he pointed at the small boy, 'This is Junior, with whom I would like you to be friends. He will show you where you will be staying.' He sounded like my little sister with a head cold.
'Thank you. I look forward to my stay,' Tony responded, 'Hello Junior, I am Tony.'
'Hello Tony,' Junior said, 'Follow me, and I will show you your kennel.'
The last with a laugh, perhaps you would forgive Tony for not finding quite that amusing but having travelled over fifty light-years, he had to look at least. The ship would be returning after a couple of days in case he changed his mind. Tony followed Junior over to the large dome-shaped building and was shown a side door.
'This is your room and facilities. Oh, Dad just corrected me for calling it a kennel as that has the wrong implication.'
'I suppose I can live with that,' Tony said.
Tony opened the robust door and entered; the room was well lit by the windows and lamps, with several rooms indicated by doors, he put his bags down and inspected the rooms. First a comfortable lounge room with all the amenities of home, a bedroom better than his home on Earth, complete with kitchen, toilet and bathroom. All together larger and nicer than the rental accommodation where Tony lived. The generous windows provided ventilation and light and displaying panoramic views of farm and forest.
'After I put my things away, what would you like to do?' Tony asked as this might be the deal-breaker, he sounded older than he looked.
'Please walk with me and answer such questions that I have, keep an eye out for danger which Dad will explain later, I sleep eight hours overnight, I don't believe you should find anything too demanding,' Junior advised.
'How do I speak to Garth if I have a question?' Tony asked as Garth had disappeared almost immediately.
'You can ask me or use that phone,' Pointing at a handset sitting on a table, 'When we are in the park you should carry that if there is any trouble.'
Tony put away his things, 'How old are you?' Tony asked to open the conversation, 'To me, you look about four years old and talk older than twelve.'
'Eighteen years as you calculate time, juveniles grow to this size and remain so until we merge into adults,' Junior replied, 'The reason I need a companion is that Dad has a project that requires his full attention and can't provide an avatar to watch over me.'
Tony pondered on this as he put the last of his stuff away then inspected the pantry and fridge which were well stocked. One of the requirements stipulated was that he should sow, harvest then cook his meals as his employer preferred a supplemented vegetarian diet for him. The requirement of only eating vegetables had been one of the crunch points for the applicants who passed on the offer.
As Tony was doing that, he chatted to find out just where Junior stood with education and age being pleasantly surprised that both were of a standard comparable to his own with the social part as expected being stuck at home only speaking to your Dad.
'Would you like to see the territory? It is about two of your kilometres across in a hexagonal shape,' Junior offered.
'A nice walk would be good after being cooped up for these last months in school then on the ship coming here,' Tony accepted.
'Come this way,' Junior said as he headed out, 'I will show you my paths. Can you climb trees?' He asked almost as an afterthought.
Tony picked up a backpack loaded with several items for possible emergencies, some of which the purpose was obscure but included water and such. 'Depending on the reason, I suppose so?' He responded a little startled by the question.
'If a big bear shows up?' Junior suggested.
'State how high it can climb and I will beat that,' Tony said a little worried as to the question, 'How often would one turn up?' A little concerned about that scenario as for where he came from, the only bears were cute, cuddly and ate leaves.
'They can reach about three metres. If they do turn up it is rarely, I then call Dad, and he comes as a bigger bear and chases him off,' Junior explained.
'I do have a shield and sleep gun to discourage aggressive animals,' Tony suggested.
'As long as it doesn't hurt them it would be Okay,' Junior advised, 'We of Droma don't like hurting other entities.'
'That's nice and if such an entity wanted to hurt you?' Tony observed trying to get his head around this philosophy.
'As an adult of the same size as the aggressor, I suppose I could chuck him over the fence,' Junior explained, 'As a juvenile, I can usually outrun anything.' He then changed into an animal somewhat like a greyhound loping off and back again to demonstrate his speed before resuming his boy shape.
'That's nice and leaves me alone to climb a tree,' Tony suggested feeling a little left out with that prospect.
'I could enclose you in a suit which would make you look much larger and formidable, as well as helping you climb faster,' Junior offered.
Tony pursed his lips in thought before commenting, 'Perhaps we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Where are we off to?'
'Over to the river than around to the cow paddock where we keep my other friends during the day. After dark, they are in the house in their stalls safe from the night creatures,' Junior said.
Saying to himself, 'Garth, you and I have some catching up to do, night creatures indeed.' Still, the path we were following was nicely grassed, lined with manicured flower beds and hedges with plenty of trees that looked easy to climb, assuring Tony.
They arrived at the river which looked very inviting but perhaps checking on inhabitants would be a good idea first then approached the cow paddock where several animals which you could call cows were quietly browsing on the lush grass. Altogether a bucolic scene and pleasing to the eye, 'Pleasant, perhaps if we head back it is nearly lunchtime, and I am a bit peckish,' Tony said.
'Oh that's right mustn't forget that you need to eat, not starting to hurt are you?' Junior asked, looking worried.
'I think I can last another hour before expiring,' Laughing to convey amusement, 'If things get desperate I have some chocolate bars in my bag.'
Junior set a fast pace back to the house occasionally checking that his companion wasn't fading away, still alive Tony arrived back then made a quick salad and brewed some tea with Junior monitoring the process.
'Would you like some?' Tony asked.
'No thank you, I don't eat,' Junior replied, 'Fascinating to watch, though. The cows eat grass; they merely walk over to the verge and graze.'
'Technically my species are omnivores meaning that we eat vegetables, fruits and what we can catch in the way of animals. Now being civilised we cook those first,' Tony explained then added when Junior looked horrified, 'I have already been briefed not to do anything like the latter. Those minerals I need that are not in vegetables are in cans and supplements.'
'Good to hear, after we can view the other side of the farm where crops are grown to feed the other animals we protect,' Junior said.
'Sounds good, we may have a little excitement this time,' Tony suggested not too seriously.
'Great since Dad built the place and cows are not great conversationalists. I am busting to tell someone when I see something interesting,' Junior said.
Tony finished the meal then cleaned up, and then they walked in the opposite direction towards the hills. 'Dad has a mine back here where he quarries iron ore to trade with the others,' Junior said.
Again the curved path was well set up lined with hedges and occasional climbing tree; Junior occasionally opened a gate, stepping through the gate made progress a little straighter.
'This seems to be set up like a maze?' Tony guessed.
'Oh yes, if a bear wanders in, gates and corridors can be rearranged to guide it back out of our territory with sprays to disable his scent ability,' Junior explained, 'It also serves as a labyrinth to promote meditation and to make the park seem much bigger.'
Approaching the hillside, a hole in the face would be a mine. This one was pristine and totally unlike any that I had seen, but it certainly fits in with the area. 'Excellent, a lot of work has gone into restoration. Is that a shed? I can barely see it.'
'Yes, that is where Dad is building his project. He would rather that we stay away from it,' Junior advised.
'If I need to know, I will ask him. How much more to see and what sort of information do you need to learn from me? I gather that I am here for at most ten years unless if you run off earlier to form an adult meld,' Tony asked, 'For myself, one of the other jobs I need to do is build a vegetable garden to supply my needs. Because there are domestic animals, I will need to build a fence to safeguard it.'
'How big would that need to be?' Junior asked enthusiastically, 'I can help, and there is a tractor.'
'I have had some training. I will start small, and once I work out what crops I need, I can expand. For one person it shouldn't cover more than that garden bed over there,' Tony said, 'The grain crops I have seen can be milled to provide flour for bread, biscuits and breakfast cereal.'
'There is one such area close to your rooms, which has been set aside for that purpose. All it would need is a fence to keep out the herbivores, and we encourage birds to control the insects,' Junior said.
'Should be Okay, take me there and show me the tractor and implements I can use; then I will work out a programme with the supplied seeds and construction materials,' Tony said.
'There is another compartment around the curve,' Junior said, as he was looking forward to this sort of play.
Tony then went around to where Junior indicated, and there was a double door. When opened, displayed were a small tractor and other implements with labelled containers on shelves against the walls. Tony surveyed the contents and determined that there seemed to be enough to keep him busy and fed for the balance of his tenure. Included was the fence posts and chain mesh that he would need to assemble the fence.
'Looks suitable, you are happy for gardening as entertainment?' Tony asked.
'Yes Dad has been showing me, but now he is busy, I suppose if you run out of tasks he would appreciate us doing some maintenance,' Junior affirmed, 'We need gardens for the scenery and the atmosphere as well as food for the local wildlife.'
Selecting a notebook with the dimensions tabulated, a tape measure and a spray-can to mark, Tony set out the boundary of the first plot with a generous allowance for expansion. As Tony went with Junior ably handling one end of the tape, Tony used the spray marking the post holes. The fencing diagram called for a 30-centimetre trench with three-metre-high posts with the bottom mesh buried and the top enclosed with netting. Tony had thought 'just what am I keeping out?' With a latch-able gate at one end set in a sturdy frame to allow access to work with the tractor.
After marking the dimensions, Tony was looking at up to a week or so of work. One of the requirements was that he needed to be at least conversant with agriculture and prepared to undertake steady work. Mind you that was one reason he had come to the city. Using a spike, Tony poked a couple of test holes and found that the topsoil was thick, this was excellent, as finding a rock right where you want to dig a hole is not helpful.
By the time the layout was complete, it was time for dinner. The pair adjourned to the rooms. First Tony washed, then prepared food, all of which Junior found amusing.
Relaxing after the meal, while washing the dishes, Tony asked, 'Is your name also Garth so that there is no confusion?'
'All male juveniles are called something similar until they meld at which time a new name is selected to indicate what you intended to do,' Junior explained, 'Girls are usually called Blossom or Bud."
'My Parents named me Anthony after my Great Grandfather. I prefer Tony as a shorter version,' Tony said, 'As we go through different phases of our life we also acquire nicknames. Names such as Spider are referring to the first part of my family name Web, and since I am such an evil-looking person occasionally Killa.'
'You don't look evil,' Junior ascertained after examining me.
'My culture tends to use the opposite meaning for nicknames; these same people reckoned I couldn't kill a fly,' Tony explained.
'One of my ambitions is to go into space. It is great to learn all these strange notions,' Junior remarked then looking a little morose, 'But I have to be the principle of the merged adult and have a spacecraft for that to happen. A space vessel is a scarce combination and yet another reason for calling all juveniles Junior or Blossom as it is the principle juvenile who decides the name.'
'Stranger things do happen, less than a year ago I was just out of school looking for a job, and I didn't even consider this as a possibility,' Tony said.
'Time will tell I have heard said, however, if I receive the call I instinctively run towards it. If luck has it, I am the second or twenty-first to arrive; my personality becomes submerged with whoever was first. My training and memory will still exist to help the new principle. If I am the twenty-second or later, this would mean I would probably expire before I could return here,' Junior narrated as a matter of fact, 'Juveniles have limited energy reserves away from their parent, the greater the distance, the less likely is survival. With up to sixty competitors within hearing and only twenty-one spots vacant. If I miss out, I have about a 5% chance of return or a 1% chance of finding another meld which is short of that number and is rare indeed.'
'Still, an optimist has occasionally good outcomes. A pessimist is defeated even before he starts,' Tony said, trying to cheer up the mood, and then to change the subject asked, 'What do you think Garth's project is?'
'No idea, he has been working on it for a few years and lately seems caught up in it,' Junior said, 'I think it may have something to do with me but rather than get my hopes up he hasn't told me.'
'It seems the sun is setting, do you return inside to sleep?' Tony inquired.
'I have a door to the centre; I will see you in the morning,' Junior advised.
'Goodnight; I suppose I should lock up. I must find out more about these night creatures,' Tony said, drawing the shades over the windows and throwing the several bolts on the door.
The sun was shining through the small gaps in the curtains as Tony struggled awake to find Junior waiting patiently at the end of the bed.
'Good morning,' Tony said, 'You are bright and early?'
'I have been out for ages,' Junior said airily, 'Come on I want to start the farm.'
'No rush it will take weeks before anything happens,' Tony groaned still a little stiff from yesterday.
Trying to be fully awake as the last day had been longer than expected although he had followed a regimen of daily exercise before and on the ship, 'It is best if I build-up to the task I don't want to injure myself by overdoing it too soon.'
'It doesn't affect me,' Junior said now curious.
'It does us frail ephemerals as we build muscle to cope with different tasks,' Tony explained, '"Not harmful but steadily increasing effort means no discomfort, or, at least minimal.'
'Learning is fun,' Junior smiled, 'Have your morning meal, and we will make a start.'
Tony went through the daily routine and left his rooms, making his way to the barn and starting the tractor. Backing it out with a post hole digger attached then drove it over to the marked area and commenced the job of hole digging, as a wise man said a journey begins with the first step or in this case, the first hole. A little dramatic with a pile of dirt spoiling an otherwise pristine lawn, the term concerning eggs and omelettes comes to mind; as this was the first attempt after completing his training, Tony was pleasantly surprised that it went according to plan and the first post fitted perfectly. He would carry out the last job of cementing in all the posts as one job.
The hole-boring went on, filling the morning with regular breaks to judge quality and progress, by lunchtime he needed a break as well as something to eat so shut the tractor down and adjourned to his rooms to recuperate, all of which Junior found entertaining. As it was now becoming a little warm, Tony decided to rest, suggesting a quiet walk in the park to collect his thoughts amongst the shade of trees. Once the overhead netting was up the shade provided would allow some relief from the sun.
It had been a pleasant walk until Junior became quiet and then advised, 'I warn you that a bear is approaching our position; please select a tree and start climbing.'
Without drama, Tony walked briskly to the closest tree grabbed the lowest branch and hauled himself up then repeating the technique until he had put another couple between me and the suggested height. After making himself comfortable on the selected branch, a snort drew Tony's attention to the base where there was now a large, toothed head staring with hungry eyes. While there were some differences, Tony thought that perhaps he should put off examination for another time. Deciding that he had better secure himself, grabbing the rope from his small pack attached a couple of safety anchors to the pack harness in case this one was enterprising enough to try shaking, just in time as the tree shook with blows. Remembering that he was supposed to protect Junior, Tony looked around to see him perched higher with a grin on his face.
'Beat you up,' Junior bragged.
'My motto is to take your time, and you don't slip. Has Garth thought about making the grass a little less noise dampening?' Tony asked as the bear had been silent until he hit the base of the tree.
'Where's the challenge in that?' Junior asked, adding, 'I have contacted Dad, and he will here shortly.'
'That's nice. While we wait I can try my sleep gun,' Tony suggested as he extracted it and pointed it at the bear, pulling the trigger the bear just dozed off before rousing if a bit less angry. And that was half power; I won’t be able to depend on that in the open if they can run fast like Earth bears. As this was the silent version, the sound effect wasn't there to scare him off; make a note to Ms Toledo.
'You may notice that it doesn't hurt them or even make them annoyed,' Tony commented to Junior. This sound aroused the bear, and he went back to shaking which was irritating, he selected maximum level then shot the bear again, this time it collapsed, sleeping for a minute. However, this nearly flattened the battery.
Then a larger bear arrived on the run; Tony was a little worried until the first bear looked then ambled off. Then the new one spoke with Garth's voice, 'I will just send Bruin on his way, stay up there a little longer,' Garth said as he followed off after the bear looking fierce. While Tony was waiting for the all-clear, he unhooked the ropes ready to repack them; ‘Perhaps that was relaxing enough, and once down, I had better resume my garden enclosure.’
After a while, 'Okay Dad has sent him into the next area after warning his neighbour,' Junior reported, 'You may climb down now.' This from the ground as he had jumped down and nonchalantly leant against the trunk of my tree.
Tony scrambled down as elegantly as possible, ensuring that he landed without hurting myself. 'If we are Okay, I will go back to work, it is more restful than tree climbing,' Tony said, heading back towards the house.
After another hour, Tony had completed the holes for the posts. Next was setting the support poles which took another hour using a lifting attachment on the tractor, then using that attachment steadied each pole vertically placed a bag of concrete mix in the hole. Then finally wetting it from a tank on the tractor to anchor it.
By the end of the day, the posts were set in position and then to allow time for the concrete to set Tony turned his attention to ploughing several garden beds removing the grass as he went.
Over the next couple of days, Tony dug the trench and because the holes for the posts had been made first the part adjacent to these had to be completed using hand tools; this task kept him busy. By now, his muscles were starting to become adapted to the exercise. Each of the mesh sections was slipped into position and secured to the poles hence the care in marking. Once dropped in the trench the gap was back-filled and cleaned up. The final panel was the door assembly with the lower part of the frame and the hinges ready to accept the gates. The enclosure had two purposes one was to keep out browsers and the other to keep in the exotic plants from contaminating the park, little danger of the latter as these were domesticated crops which had to be nurtured to stay alive.
Still, with all journeys, it ends with the last step, which was to prepare the seedlings for transplanting from in a shade house inside the enclosure. These had to be introduced in stages so that when one crop had finished its season, the next was ready to come to harvest as there was limited storage for the excess. The kitchen included preserving equipment to build up stock for winter, which was mild at this latitude.
Following his brief, Tony had planted a variety of food plants, and once the seedlings were planted out, this phase of work was complete except for daily maintenance such as watering etcetera.