We came up out of the shelters into the afternoon sun after six days of listening to scratching at the thick hullmetal storm doors. This was year twelve, maybe thirteen. It runs together sometimes, in memory. It was the peak swarm year; look it up.
Somebody pointed, said, "Look." The dish — the original main dish, the dish that had been the ship's backup communications dish — was torn to ribbons, thin metal stripped from bent frame. I had expected that: they'd almost gotten to it the year before, and we'd known from rainfall that this time there would be more of them. Anyway, I was too busy staring at the gouges in the outside surface of the storm door to look at the dish.
Later we would get the backup working, the portable dish, and got a hold of the ship. They said that, for nearly a day, the colony site was completely obscured by the swarm, and poor little allergic Mirabella Cheung says hello. Later we would build a new dish, with an impenetrable steel cage around it. But that was later.
People milled around, kicked at the dry husks left over when the swarm molts, cried. I remember feeling defeated. I remember wondering if it'd be worse next year. I remember thinking we'd be just about done rebuilding when it was time for it all to be destroyed again.
Willard Merchant was the Mayor then. He'd been the only Mayor since there was a Mayor. This is twelve years in? People were already calling him 'Governor' by this time. He'd come out just behind me. He was looking around, smiling. I thought it was incongruous, smiling. I know a lot of people were thinking the same thing.
Somebody said, "Mayor, the town's destroyed."
Merchant shook his head. "No, no it's not."
Everyone was gathered around, wanting guidance. I know a lot of people were taken aback. Millie told me she thought he'd thrown a gasket, lost his mind in the stress. I said, "Mayor, look around you. The dish is busted up, most of the buildings have lost a wall or a roof or both, and I don't even want to think about the aqueduct."
Merchant shook his head again. He didn't raise his voice to be heard. In fact I don't ever remember the Governor raising his voice ever, for any reason. He assumed you'd make the effort to hear him. "Look around yourself, Coley. That's not the town. The dish, the buildings, the aqueduct, that's not the town." He gestured at the people assembled. "This is the town. We're the town. That swarm never laid a claw on us. This is our planet now."
I remember looking at the ground, at Merchant's feet. When he moved off, talking to people, surveying damage, I quietly drove a post into the ground where he'd been standing. I thought, someday there'll be a statue of the Governor on this spot. That was twenty years ago.
It's not a bad likeness.