Personal Memoir from the Journals of the Terran
It is always best to start from the beginning.
For this beginning, I must return to the first of the journals
I have been keeping for a lifetime.
[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Days 1-9]
Even today there remains some wild lore associated with the spectacular meteor showers of the Gemini System. It is the stuff of legends and the mythos of Gemini’s planets, but the phenomenon is one to be avoided at all costs. It altered my life forever. The first encounter remains the most memorable today.
After all the decades – no, make that centuries – humankind had dedicated to perfecting interstellar travel; at a time when space- and time-warps had long since passed from the realms of imagination and science fiction into the reality of science and technology, they still were incapable of devising a two-cred gadget that does not persist in fouling up the whole thing. And, inevitably, it does so at the worst possible moment.
I, for one, would say that in the midst of a meteor shower in the Gemini system was no less than the worst possible moment.
But we were lucky. The Admiral and I fought our small flyer down to a safe, if less than perfect landing, on one of Gemini's numerous Wandering Planetoids. After the dust had settled, we soon discovered we were doubly lucky, because this particular planetoid was one of the few large enough and dense enough to retain sufficient atmosphere to support recognizable vegetation.
For any of you as yet unfamiliar with the Gemini System, some explanation may be in order. Gemini's Wanderers do not, of course, actually lack orbits. The twin suns support perfectly good planets in stable orbits, not to mention fauna and flora quite familiar to the seasoned Terran spacefarer. But Gemini also boasts a whole host of smaller bodies traveling between the two suns in highly eccentric orbits. Most are short-lived, ranging in size from gravel to respectable asteroids, with every shape and size in between. Other, larger bodies approaching the size of small planets may actually have resulted from ancient collisions between asteroids. A very few of these entered an orbit which has proved surprisingly stable. In my lifetime none has actually been flung out into the galaxy or wreaked devastation on one of Gemini's three inhabited planets, although a major mission of Gemini's Galactic Service is constant monitoring of the Wanderers for advanced warning of any such hazard.
All attempts to enumerate Gemini's asteroid complex have concluded in frustration. Besides, the number is believed by many to be as eccentric as the orbits. No one knows whether the space debris captured by Castor and Pollux (what else would Terra have dubbed them?) is balanced by the numbers burned up in those spectacular, but quite dangerous, meteor showers. Yes, there is some wild lore associated with the consequences of Gemini's meteor showers _ even some intriguing mythology and the predictable legends. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In addition to Gemini’s inhabited planets, certain of the Wanderers have endured in orbits sufficiently stable to allow time for life to evolve. Gemini officialdom tends to get its collective back up in face of enquiries regarding the origins of planetoid life. Some may be natural, but space scuttlebutt is that much of it was seeded in experiments abandoned long ago, before records were kept. Actually, the Admiral and I didn't much care whether it had been seeded or evolved naturally. Green is green and very welcome to castaways.
We dutifully checked the atmosphere before breaching the airlock. The air outside was only slightly lacking in oxygen. If neither the Admiral (who is more familiar with such a turn of events than this Terran will ever be) nor I overtaxed ourselves, we found we could breathe without difficulty. As it turned out, once we made camp and settled in for a long wait, we were even able to maintain a respectable fire throughout those long nights.
Who would have dreamed I would pass all those nights warming myself before a campfire, of all things? It was a good thing Diyala, like the rest of Chimur’s nations, is partial to the ancient ways of Terra, artfully blending them into their own unique society. At first, I had no idea what the Admiral was about, but I dutifully joined him in gathering dried branches, which had broken off the scrubby trees. It was he who had the skill needed to persuade it to burn with a real flame. Sometimes our ancestral past seems so inviting – but only from the vast expanse of history or over brief intervals. The reality is far from pleasant when you have lived all your life with the modern conveniences we all take for granted.
To be honest, I must admit our luck was multiplied several times over. If we were old Terran kahs, the Admiral and I would certainly have used up all nine of our lives as a result of that faulty self-energizing switch. Our luck held all the way to the Diyalan's mastery of standard Terran. My early grasp of the Chimurian dialects left much to be desired. Thank the Stars the Admiral is a scholar as well as highly placed in Diyala's secret
I am giving nothing away. The whole Confederation knows the Admiral now. At the time, though, we were both forbidden to admit our true calling. As it was, if the Admiral was not something of a latter-day Renaissance Man, we might both have succumbed to chronic boredom.
We quickly recovered from the shock of the unexpected forced landing. After determining that neither of us was seriously injured and that our emergency supplies had also survived intact, it was just a matter of settling in to await the rescue party. We might wait as long as several months, but they would come for us. The emergency supplies, of course, were designed to maintain us for years. Stars forbid!
The rare Gemini planetoids may be fascinating to astronomers and other scientist-explorers, but the landscape is pretty much the same throughout and best described as bleak. If you have ever seen the holograms, you know what I mean. It is indescribable, but it is hardly a Terran's choice of vacation spot. Fortunately, we had had time to calculate our Planetoid's orbit before running out of time to choose our landfall.
The Admiral and I collected our belongings and set off on foot for some low-lying hills we had spotted on the way down. We trudged the barren landscape for no more than a few hours before we found what we wanted. We were fortunate indeed to locate a shallow cave surrounded by ruined trees, which the Admiral would soon be using as fodder for the nightly fires I quickly came to anticipate.
We wasted little time setting up our camp site. Then we started our standard chronometers to measure the passage of time from arrival to rescue and set out to explore our surroundings. Nightfall found us back at our camp more than ready for dinner. I was glad Pol was between us and Castor. The Admiral didn't object to perpetual daylight, but I have never been able to overcome a decided preference for an obvious diurnal cycle. We found potable water nearby, which we agreed was delicious. This additional lucky break meant that our provisions would be pleasing to the palate rather than mere sustenance. We could reconstitute the servings and then hold them over the fire for added flavor.
After that first dinner, I settled back to view the distorted constellations while the Admiral lit up the object I now know as his habitual tobacco pipe and simply relaxed. He must have noted my incredulous expression, because he quickly assured me it was a common method of relaxation among Chimurians and some Arenes. Though it had for some unknown reason vanished on Terra, the custom had once been quite popular there as well. His eyes showed a twinkle of suppressed mirth as he assured me that the smoking of a pipe on Terra had once carried political and even mystical connotations among certain of the ancient humankind races of my home world. I kept my doubt to myself. Chimurians are avid students of ancient Terran ways. I am not.
Given our chosen professions it was all very restful – at least for the first evening. As the time wore on, the restful would all too soon deteriorate to tedium as bleak as the landscape. Like all our colleagues, both of us were too highstrung, either by nature or as the result of our training, to tolerate such extraordinary tranquility for long. Unfortunately, our exceptional luck had not gone the final step.
My entertainment tapes and discs had been damaged beyond my small talent for repairs. They had, in fact, melted almost completely. The Admiral was just as disappointed when he found his hopelessly old-fashioned printed manuscripts burned beyond recognition.
Or perhaps our losses were yet another stroke of good fortune. For, had it not been for those losses we each privately considered the most tragic consequence of our plight, I would have no cause to engage in the present reminiscences. Just as I never would have believed I would someday relax before a campfire, who on Terra would ever have believed anyone would again be writing for the purpose of sheer entertainment?
Consider: Did you ever think you would one day enjoy the experience of holding and reading a bound volume, a facsimile of the printed works our ancestors handled? What a thrill to relive today what must once have been an ordinary experience on Terra. We have Gemini – and a bold publisher attuned to history – to thank.
It all started on the fifth night (planetoid). We had spent the day in such little exploration as was possible and had started cataloguing the components of the ecosystem. I figured that task would take no more than a month if we worked as inefficiently as we could. There was no animal life to speak of and the botanical types were depressingly uniform. We had no tools for discovering the planetoid's microorganisms, so I was moodily staring at the stars while the Admiral puffed thoughtfully at the inevitable pipe.
The silence between us was oppressive. We could not discuss our missions, and any number of harmless topics had long since been exhausted. We had traded carefully edited life stories and the slight histories of our own worlds with which we were conversant. Neither of us retained much memory of those stifling years at the mercy of our respective school systems and later mentors. I have since come to suspect, however, that the Admiral pretended less recollection than he had, in deference to my unfeigned boredom with scholarly matters.
It was I who started the whole thing.
I suppose the topic was as inevitable as the Admiral’s pipe. In a manner of speaking we were shipwrecked and marooned in a land foreign to us both. Our situation brought to mind the Terran legends of others who long ago had in a sense shared our plight.
This was my avocation and remains so today. Feral man and other alienated individuals have always fascinated me. Perhaps it is because I have always felt myself distanced from modern society. No doubt that mild aloofness led to my choice of professions. In any event, I have made a serious study of the feral condition and permutations of it. I must have droned on for hours, but the Admiral appeared to be most interested.
The earliest individuals who came to mind were the Terrans Romlu and Rem, who for some forgotten reason were raised from infancy by one of the lower carnivores. To the best of my recollection, these feral children were later quite at home with humankind. To be sure, according to the legend, they proceeded from that humble beginning to found a whole civilization. The next I could remember was Mogli, of whom mere fragments remain. His origins and fate among humankind are completely lost.
I recalled more of his contemporary, Tatz'n, who had been raised among some one of the higher primates, although he was reputed to be a lost son of Terran nobility. I remembered enough of Tatz'n to fill two full evenings of conversation. Some of it was quite vivid in my mind, because I had read facsimiles of the original manuscripts in defiance of the harsh rule of my mentors. Most of them professed to be appalled at my taste in literature. But they were appeased by my facility with translation.
The manuscripts were printed in quaint, archaic Inglis, then barely comprehensible, even among scholars and mentors. The nations of Chimur have since aided in modernizing similar writings for today's less industrious scholars. To the complete surprise of my principal mentor I thoroughly enjoyed the studies despite the academic demands. Until then, I had never been a serious scholar of ancient literature. I owe more than can ever be repaid to Tatz’n and his kin.
Tatz'n, I recalled to the Admiral, had preferred to remain among his beasts even though he was quite capable of life among humankind. I related to that preference, but I chose not to inflict the full force of my fascination on the Admiral.
The next few evenings were devoted to the more recent Erjon Star supposedly of Terra and Venus, Spock of Terra and Vulcan and Kal-El of Krypton. Instead of being a child of both Terran fauna and humankind, each of these individuals was born of the humankind race of one planet, but found himself forced to find a place among the humankind of another. Like the men of the earlier legends, each found himself torn between two
Spock I had always sensed to be a sad figure, never completely able to cope with his dual nature. Kal-El is the most recent. Like Spock, he is a melancholy figure, although he was well loved on Terra where he endured the long exile imposed by his extraordinary life span. Like all the others, his story is shrouded in the mystery of distant time. While a student I had had access to the tapes of the fragmentary extant writings, but they were already in poor condition when the tapes were prepared. The originals were beyond preservation. Of all these mythological and legendary figures, Kal-El, I assured the Admiral, was the most likely to have been real, despite the exaggerated fiction surrounding his life story.
The next evening the Admiral was uncommonly pensive. I had exhausted my mental file of legendary outcasts and casually asked if there were similar legends among the peoples of Gemini. He did not answer, so I rested my head against the rocks behind me to watch the stars and enjoy the warmth of his fire until a new topic of conversation was introduced by one or the other of us.
After a long time he said, “There is such a one.” Something in the tone of his voice jolted me into instantaneous attention.
“Have you ever heard of Jer'ok-ta?”
For the remainder of that memorable evening the Admiral held me spellbound. Where I had stumbled over the basic tales of some legends of Terra, he smoothly recalled in extraordinary detail the life of one. He began in Standard Terran, his slight accent giving his narration a certain cadence almost like that of heroic poetry. As he lost himself in the legend the Admiral gradually reverted to the archaic form of Chimurian manuscripts. We were both so lost in the telling that we hardly noticed the fire dying into white ambers. Somewhat chagrined he slowed and halted his narration only when the stars had faded in the pale light of dawn. Without speaking we rose to go about our morning routine.
As soon as I could find the time I returned to the flyer. It took some searching, but eventually I scrounged everything I was looking for. After several days and more hissed curses than I had previously uttered in half a lifetime, I was able to put the thing together. Or so I thought.
That night I told the Admiral what I had in mind. After only a moment's hesitation -- and an enigmatic stare I chose to ignore -- the Chimurian nodded his assent. And so I began to record the legend of Jer'ok-ta, Lord of Two Worlds. From those discs I have since transliterated portions of it from the Chimurian and rendered them into the archaic Inglis they most closely resemble, for a major part of the charm cast by the tales of Jer’ok is found in the quaint Chimurian style, even though much of the language has been rendered obscure by the passage of time.
The following narrative transmission is from the tapes I made on that planetoid so long ago, directly from the Admiral's voice.
THE SUN WAS hidden behind a threatening bank of black clouds. The unseasonable wind whined about the historic mass of stone that was the Charwick Manor at Battersea. Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick, returned from his audience with the high king in a silence unwonted even for the normally taciturn Tuathan. It was as if the mood of the sullen day had taken possession of the young nobleman.
[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 10: Begin transmission]
Narrative Transmission 1
Leede's recent bride, Sabratha, sensed at once her lord’s unease, but she held her tongue until the hovering servants were dismissed. But with no more than a distracted kiss for his lady-wife, Lord Charwick left the manor house without so much as a single word.
In the gracious stables he impatiently saddled his favourite mount himself and clattered morosely through the courtyard to disappear into the depths of the forest beyond. The stallion, too, was sensitive to his master's unease and fretted nervously at the bit, dancing sideways until the man allowed him to take up a brisk canter that a lesser horseman equally distracted would have lost to a flat-out gallop.
With the departure of Lord Charwick, the great stone manor house turned cold and lonely. Lady Charwick, the former Sabratha Hyland, herself of the Tuathan nobility and gently reared, was unused to such treatment, especially from her beloved Leede. Their's was in truth an arranged marriage, but one which promised to be rich in love. Sabratha watched her husband ride out and resigned herself to await his return in the cheerful library. It was winter and the dark Chimurian night would bring with it a chill, so the new bride started a fire in the huge fireplace. Satisfied with her handiwork, she curled up in a comfortable chair to dream of the friendly future that beckoned, a slight smile touching her lips. Before long, daydream slipped into troubled slumber.
At the muffled rumble of distant thunder, Sabratha returned to reality with a start. It was too early for the spring storms. Sabratha was unable to shake off the sense of unease which had come over her as she slept. She shivered though it was quite warm by the fire. Drawn by the warmth, Sabratha rose to add another log or two, before standing back to watch the fire take on new life. As she watched, the flames found new surfaces from which to reach upward, at first tentatively and then with a brightened crackling.
But it could no nothing to lift Sabratha's dark mood. Not even the prospect of the child she bore lightened the inexplicable sense of threat that was a coldness in her heart. From time to time the sound of thunder persisted, as if to lend emphasis to a vague premonition lurking at the fringes of Sabratha's unwonted moodiness. With an intrusion which startled her, the clock began to strike. The hour was late, and her Leede had not yet returned. Increasingly troubled, Sabratha called for her mount. Then she went up to the bedchambre where she donned riding attire while her mare was being saddled and brought around.
Sabratha found Leede on the cliffs overlooking the fierce ocean which to this day give Battersea its name. She halted her mare but did not yet dismount. For a long time the young bride watched the tall stranger who so quickly had become her whole life. He was resting his long frame against one of the huge boulders scattered along the length of the rugged coastline of Tuatha. Though the cold glitter of stars of Chimurian winter sparkled overhead, his attention was focused entirely on the object he held in his hands. Sabratha felt the breath of fear renewed. It was a dagger her husband held.
So engrossed in his deep contemplation was Leede that he was not aware of Sabratha's approach until she was at his side. She touched his arm.
“What so troubles you, my lord?” she queried in the quiet tone he already cherished. For a moment neither spoke. Then he returned the dagger to its sheath at his side and took his bride into his arms. Already there was a solace that each gave the other in such an embrace. Leede found himself invoking the Stars on their behalf and for the child yet to be.
When the moment had passed, he whispered a response to Sabratha's query, “I have been granted a mission.”
Sabratha looked at him in surprise. He was looking up to the stars, not into her gold-green eyes.
“But that is grand, Leede,” she ventured in puzzlement.
Southerly was very young for this first step toward initiation into the elite nobility from among whom the next Tuathan king would someday be selected. Here was seemingly the greatest honour, yet to Sabratha it was as though her husband had been denounced for all the enthusiasm he demonstrated.
“What is it that troubles you?” she repeated.
The answer was long in coming as the young couple savoured their closeness.
The memory of this night would remain with each of them over the troubled times ahead. Leede would remember the scent of the sea he had loved since childhood, Sabratha the sound of distant thunder and faint scent of rain.
“I am being sent to Ashtar.” Leede was cautious to say it without emotion, but Sabratha needed to hear none.
She caught her breath and clung closer. Leede stroked her hair, replacing a strand blown across her face in a sudden gust of wind off the surf below.
Despite his reassuring touch, Sabratha’s heart turned cold with fear. The tropical planet of Ashtar! The very name evoked a primitive sense of terror even in the security of Leede’s strong arms. Sabratha was unable to suppress a shudder. Like every child of Chimur she had once taken delight in the tales of horror set on mysterious Ashtar. But now the horror would turn to reality.
Leede smiled grimly as he drew her so close their bodies seemed to be molded into one. How easily this marriage had led them into intimate gestures which bore a caring that went beyond passion.
“Indeed. I nearly reacted as you have, dearest one, but the mission is a mark of the highest honour.”
Leede did not add that he perceived the hand of his brother in the choice of Ashtar. And the intentions of that one would have little to do with the honour. Shaking off the threat he perceived, Leede went on to reassure Sabratha.
“If I succeed I certainly will be named to the Hua. But I would not leave you so soon. Nor would I leave you to bear the future Lord Charwick in my absence.”
She had to smile at the thought. Husbands, even noble ones, were notoriously of little use at such a time. He tilted her chin up so she could see the grin that reflected her own. His eyes were inviting. Out of the caring touch of their bodies passion arose. For a while treachery, Ashtar, and all the fear that name engendered were forgotten by the man and woman who clung together high over the roaring sea. This moment, too, Leede and Sabratha would carry in their hearts to their
ON THE MORROW when Lady Sabratha joined Sir Leede in the library, she smiled shyly at him, a blush bringing colour to her cheeks. They had led their horses back to the manor grounds, reluctant to let the closeness slip away. Still holding hands, they entered the manor house from the stable yard. In the doorway they lingered over one last kiss, warm with the afterglow of their loving.
But, once in their chambres, Leede had left Sabratha in her sitting room, where she remained in restless contemplation through what was left of the night. Leede spent his own sleepless night in his study where he perused certain Charwick records. Before long his concentration lapsed into recollections of his childhood with his brother.
When at last Leede went down to breakfast Sabratha was asleep in her chair. She looked so peaceful he took care not to disturb her.
In fact, Sabratha Southerly had made a decision before sleep had at last claimed her shortly before Leede had quietly returned from the study. She felt his presence, and the room seemed cold and empty when he left after pausing by her side. The sensations served to strengthen Sabratha's resolve. Nevertheless, she found need to brace herself to face her husband this morning in the library. Leede could be fierce when events demanded great fortitude, but her Hyland blood was every bit a match for the Southerly courage and steely strength.
When she entered the room, she noticed that Leede was again holding the strange dagger of the previous night. The man barely noticed his lady-wife’s presence, but for a sense of comfort that had not been in the room before Sabratha entered it. She searched his troubled countenance as Leede studied the exquisite weapon. Then, following his gaze, she saw that the blade was of the finest forged crystal. There was no mistaking its deadly utility, and yet it was not without a certain cold beauty. The hilt bore the Charwick crest inlaid of gold intricately worked into the hard stuff that Sabratha knew would mold under the pressure of the hand of its possessor until the grip became a perfect mating of living sinew and inanimate death. Woe unto the foeman who faced a Tuathan so armed!
Sir Leede looked up to regard Lady Sabratha steadily.
“It is a most appropriate gift from my brother, don't you think? Even as his gift serves me it will also remind me that there is one who is better served should I never return from Ashtar. Of course, it were better had you not conceived an heir to Charwick quite so soon upon our marriage.”
Sabratha did not speak immediately, but her slim hand covered his darker one as she smiled her encouragement.
“You have no cause to fear your brother, Leede; he is blood of your blood and bears you no ill-will. When has Charwick ever turned against Charwick? Surely his gift was honourably given.”
“You are right, dearest one.” Leede managed to conceal his hesitation by placing the dagger carefully on his desk. “And I anticipate this quest with only one misgiving,” he mused before lapsing into moody silence.
“Tell me of the quest, my lord,” Sabratha urged him quietly. Her easy calm served to restore his own.
Leede explained the royal mission in some detail and was pleasantly surprised by his bride's unfeigned interest. She asked many questions that quickly revealed her own knowledge of Ashtar and of the creatures, even the folk, pro-hominids, who dwelled there. The day passed quickly as the couple pored over maps and volumes that filled the Charwick library.
Lady Charwick had a light luncheon brought to them, but they took their evening meal in the formal dining room. The topic remained the same. Neither took the slightest note of what they were eating. And at Sabratha's urging they took their after-dinner mentha back into the library. Leede poured a generous portion of seri into a goblet and sipped it thoughtfully.
He was loath to contemplate the long separation from this woman, who was proving herself a worthy companion as well as a wife so near to perfection he could not have chosen better himself. There was also the matter of his brother. Would Sabratha be safe in his absence? Perhaps the high king would accept her at court. But how was he to move her from Battersea without revealing his suspicions? In the end it was Sabratha who answered Leede’s unspoken question of the previous night.
“You must not leave us, Leede.”
Initial disappointment swiftly gave way to a fragile sense of hope as her implication dawned. He stared at her in new wonder.
“You must take us with you,” she urged with the resolve she had established only this morning. “The future Lord Charwick will not be without his father.”
Before Leede could interrupt with a protest, however feeble, she went on.
“We would not be alone, my husband; we will be among Chimurians – you have said so yourself. No doubt there will be a physician among them.” She gestured toward the disordered array of open volumes scattered about them. “The historians indicate that there are colonies which are quite advanced. Some of them are Tuathan and quite close at hand.”
Southerly sipped at the seri as he considered. He had not dared to demand so great a sacrifice of his lady-wife, but it was she who was asking to attend him on the hazardous voyage. That Sabratha was sincere he could not doubt. Leede was learning it was not his bride's way to dissemble.
Leede regarded his slim young wife as he considered what the future might hold. Sabratha Hyland had always been sheltered, but she had an inner strength which he was confident would blossom under the primitive conditions of Ashtar. Their child would know the loving care of both devoted parents. They could easily provide the rudiments of early education. He – or she, Leede hastily reminded himself – would be far better prepared for becoming a responsible and honoured member of the nobility following a childhood spent on the Primaeval Planet under the tutelage of both mother and father. And so the fateful decision was made.
Neither Sir Leede nor Lady Sabratha was ever again to set foot on Chimur. The fate of the unborn heir to Charwick was sealed. Leede’s brother would usurp the title.
IT ALL HAPPENED so quickly there was no time to set the emergency transmitter. Later it proved to be so badly damaged as to be well beyond restoration. Nor was there the slightest doubt; Lord Charwick’s flyer had been sabotaged. Leede had known his brother better than any other. Even the high king had rejected the notion of Charwick treachery. Now the Chimurian leader had been proven tragically wrong.
But the Stars remained with the young couple. A malfunction in the traitor’s laserfuse had delayed the explosion until Leede and Sabratha had entered the upper reaches of Ashtar's atmosphere. In the interplanetary Gemini space Lord Charwick and his lady-wife would surely have died and their unborn child with them.
With the tremendous force of the explosion Lord Charwick was thrown through the open slider and the full length of the flyer. His ship was instantly crippled. The man crashed into the bulkhead but felt nothing. He had been stricken unconscious by the blast itself. Without a sound Leede slid bonelessly to the deck where he lay utterly still.
Lady Charwick was more fortunate. She was protected from the full force of the explosion by the bulkhead separating the small bridge from the rest of the craft. Still, the woman fell heavily against a panel and saved herself from falling only by clutching desperately at the smooth counter of the tiny enclosure that served as a primitive galley. Before Sabratha fully realised what was happening, their flyer dipped with a sickening lurch. Instantly, the heart-stopping whine of an uncontrolled dive assailed her senses.
“Leede?” she called quietly, “Leede, what is it?”
But her only answer was the piercing scream which pitched higher and higher as the flyer gained momentum in its rush toward the waiting jungles of Ashtar.
Without pausing to discover the cause of her lord’s frightening silence Sabratha cautiously made her way forward to the controls. The speed of their descent threatened to precipitate her back into the bulkheads with a force that would certainly crush her precious burden even should she somehow survive the impact herself. Wildly she eyed the control console. Miraculously, it was undamaged. The woman cooly reasoned that it might at least serve to slow their rate of descent.
Sabratha gasped for breath as she fought rising panic and fought for needed calm. Ever so slowly she inched forward step by cautious step. Bravely she ignored the strain on her arms and shoulders. As she strove to save their lives the Tuathan woman thanked a kindly Providence for preventing her from actually seeing the planet surface rushing up to destroy the fragile craft and her living cargo.
At last the desperate woman was able to stretch her hand forward, and her fingers brushed the precious control. Bracing herself awkwardly against the devastated panel where she knew Leede had only moments earlier been seated, Sabratha stretched her fingers and grasped the control. She was not entirely certain of its function, but her own good sense told her she had chosen correctly. Tentatively she pulled the recessed lever. It did not budge.
Still fighting panic and the unmerciful forces of the ship as it careered wildly though its free fall, Sabratha forced herself to take the time to examine the panel with care. It appeared to be completely unblocked. The crucial control remained undamaged by any of the debris of cerametalloy left twisted and useless by the explosion. She confirmed the function of the control she had selected and pulled at it again with greater force this time, but the crazy pattern of the fall thwarted her every effort. Sabratha clenched her teeth against the welling panic.
With increasing desperation, with every atom of her strength, the slender woman tugged at the stubborn lever. It had never been intended for such rough treatment, and she feared it might snap before engaging. Even as she struggled, the wailing force buffeting the craft altered and the woman's position with it. With that Sabratha's dogged persistence was rewarded. At first all but imperceptibly, the lever commenced to yield, and then it slipped smoothly into position.
Instantly, the flyer responded. The whine that had risen to a nerve-shattering scream faded and was silenced. Lady Sabratha bit back a sob of relief. Only then did she turn to search for her husband, confident in the knowledge that their flyer would now enter a gradual spiraling glide down to the surface. The autogravtectors would prevent touch-down anywhere but a solid surface. Thereupon the emergency sensors would soften the uncontrolled landing. In any event, there was nothing
left for the courageous woman but to find Leede.
Now that their fall was steadied, Sabratha made her way aft with greater control than had marked her passage forward. Her heart nevertheless was beating so heavily she felt weak and sick. Nothing more than a slight hesitation in her step betrayed her malaise. But when at last she saw Leede's lifeless form crumpled at the base of the farthest aft bulkhead, not even Sabratha's iron nerves could take any more. She slipped to the carpeted deck in a deep swoon.
LEEDE SOUTHERLY STIRRED and moaned softly. Reluctantly his eyes opened. At first he had no memory of what had transpired. The unearthly silence told him nothing of the situation. The Tuathan found himself completely disoriented. He vaguely remembered a dream -- or had it been a nightmare? With that disturbing thought it all came back to him in a rush. There had been an explosion!
Leede sat up abruptly and groaned aloud when every nerve protested this precipitous action. He obediently remained still and took stock. No bones were broken. To be sure, he was stiff and sore but essentially uninjured. As his senses became more alert, Leede became aware of the lack of motion in the eerily silent flyer. There was no whisper of vibration. But surely they could not have crashed. Nothing could have survived the impact of the dive he barely remembered entering before the black universe had obliterated all.
At that grim realisation Leede felt his courage seeping away. The awful silence of the flyer was all too suggestive. What of his beloved Sabratha? Why was she not at his side?
Sweeping the pain of motion aside, Southerly surged to his feet, swayed with unwonted lightheadedness, and raced forward as soon as his head cleared. In his rush forward the man barely avoided stumbling over his wife’s still form.
Leede dropped to one knee and gently gathered Sabratha to his heart. Even as he lifted his lady-wife, he was relieved to observe she was unmarked. He felt for her pulse and was rewarded with its steady, unhurried beat. As Leede lifted his wife in his arms he glanced at a monitor and saw immediately that it was Sabratha who had preserved both their lives.
With a tender smile he kissed her cold lips before carrying her to the Spartan alcove that served as bedchambre. He made her comfortable and then turned his attention to their continued survival. Their little flyer was intended only for ship-to-surface passages or other brief cruises, never more than a few days' duration. While unmistakably luxurious for its time, the Charwick craft had none of the survival devices of the more advanced models we take for granted today. Indeed, Sir Leede was contemplating what the future might hold as he went to the controls to clear the forward vistaports.
The Tuathan stared in disbelief. Even under the desperate circumstances he faced, Ashtar provided a panorama of such breathtaking beauty that he found himself strangely stirred.
The ship had come to rest at the very edge of the tropical rain-forest. On one side there was nothing but the tangled wall of luxuriant foliage. On the other the Tuathan could see beyond the verdant expanse of grassland to an azure sea. It was a day of quiet calm. Leede could almost hear the hiss of the tranquil surf, almost scent the salt tang of the water.
A herd of familiar herbivores grazed peacefully in the lush grass. Beyond them, before the invading front of the forest, Leede thought he caught a glimpse of a brook tumbling along its rock-strewn pathway to the sea.
“All the comforts of home,” the Tuathan mused wryly to himself. But the hope which flickered faded quickly in his breast as a band of folk, perhaps even the very band of hunterfolk he was commissioned to study, blundered out of the forest. The graceful antelope burst into action and bounded off into the forest almost before Leede's human senses became aware of the presence of the dangerous interlopers.
The folk ignored the frightened creatures as they made their way to their goal with single-minded purpose. They drank thirstily at the brook while the leader and two or three young males in turn maintained an alert watch. One of these stared with obvious curiosity at the crippled flyer, but the band melted into the forbidding forest without approaching. Leede stared after them for a long time before reversing the polarity to shut out the sight. Then he squared his shoulders and strode purposefully to the small portal. After the briefest of hesitation he resolutely opened it and stepped out onto the surface of Ashtar for the first time.
Once again the Tuathan was deeply moved by the extraordinary beauty of his surroundings. He inhaled deeply of the unfamiliar scents, a heady blend of rich soil, tropical foliage and a myriad of exotic blossoms. Leede would have set out in a preliminary reconnaissance but halted at the slight sound at his back. Some long-slumbering instinct sprang to instant life. His fingers touched the hilt of the crystal knife and he whirled, a snarl half-formed on his handsome lips.
Had the sound in fact been that of one of the multitude of enemies Sir Leede was soon to face well nigh daily, he might have been a dead man. No civilised humankind can hope to match jungle craft with those born of Ashtar and nurtured on constant opportunity – or peril – according to kind, be it predator or prey. Leede’s hand relaxed and the snarl was transformed into a sheepish grin.
“You startled me, dearest one. Come, join me in exploring our new home.” But he stopped at the sight of Sabratha’s frightened eyes.
She saw none of the beauty that held her husband enthralled. Instead, Lady Charwick’s golden green eyes reflected the very real horror that would be a constant companion of their future on Ashtar.
LEEDE SOUTHERLY, LORD Charwick, thrived in this remote Ashtarian paradise. For his sake his lady-wife concealed her fear and staunchly played out her new role as mate to the newest dweller of the jungle. Sabratha was not without romantic imagination. Were her time not so near, she too might have found the life circumstances had forced upon them something of a timeless fantasy brought to life. Leede took to the jungle as though he had been born to it. Had he truly been a son of Ashtar rather than of Chimur, he might actually have lived to see his mission fulfilled – and his unborn son grow to manhood.
In a matter of only a few weeks Leede had fashioned a secure shelter about the flyer’s portal, complete with windows of interlocking branches and a sturdy door that could actually be barred. The shelter allowed entry to the sea breezes and thus was far more comfortable than the flyer. Yet, should the need arise he and Sabratha could retreat into the craft to enjoy complete protection from marauding beasts.
Their provisions were limited, but Leede was a skilled hunter of even the more unfamiliar Ashtarian game. They never saw more bands of folk, nor did there appear to be any humankind tribe in the vicinity. Sabratha cautiously investigated their immediate surroundings to find fruits, vegetables and a few savoury herbs, a gourmet’s complement to their simple but hearty fare. As days became weeks and then turned into months, she began to dream of the small garden she would tend, should Chimur fail to find them before another year passed. Leede, on his part, resolved to determine what might be salvaged of his mission as soon as their child was born and Sabratha had recovered her strength.
WHEN LADY SABRATHA’S time came Sir Leede was a surprisingly calm and competent midwife. When at last he gently handed her the precious man-child, the living manifestation of their love, Sabratha dreamily smiled at the thought of her lord’s many hidden talents. She barely heard his proud assurance.
“We shall name him Leede as you requested, my lady-wife. He is a fine, healthy Charwick and will no doubt have the added strength of his mother's people.” But Sabratha had already drifted into exhausted sleep.
THE MONTHS PASSED by without drawing much notice from the marooned Tuathans. Leede and Sabratha measured the passage of time on Ashtar by Lee’s progress. What was duly recorded on the tapes was lovingly supplemented in Leede's handwritten journal of his sabotaged mission.
Lee was in truth a strong and healthy infant who promised to be as tall and well formed as his proud parents. Sabratha’s keen eye observed much of his father in his son. Leede was perpetually puzzled by her insistence that someday Lee would be so much like him that the hologram of one might be mistaken for that of the other. How could she be so certain? The Tuathan frequently found himself studying his son with an intensity that caused the child to regard him with an eerily adult steadiness.
There was little evidence of the Hyland features to be seen in Lee, but as his father had predicted, the superbly athletic Southerly physique would some day be fully complemented by the Hyland capacity for endurance. And few children have been endowed with so splendid a legacy of personal honour coupled with strength of will. Without this unique blending of the noble blood of two ancient Tuathan houses the young heir to the venerable Charwick title and lands would surely have succumbed to death or, worse, descended irretrievably into the depths of hopeless savagery before ever realising his birthright.
AFTER MORE THAN a year of oddly blissful acceptance of Ashtar as the only future of his little family, Leede Southerly suddenly found himself alone with his son. It was a tragedy that descended without the slightest warning. Sabratha was
stricken by a tropical fever.
One moment she was merrily engaged in a spirited romp with the two men in her life; the next she complained of feeling dizzy and ill. When the malaise did not pass, she unsteadily returned to their snug shelter, Leede carrying Lee in her wake. The distraught young husband did all he knew how, but the virulent virus ran its violent course without yielding in the slightest to his ministrations. With second dawn came death for Sabratha Hyland Southerly of Charwick. It was a second dawn that was to spell the doom of more than one Charwick.
Leede Southerly was devastated by his appalling loss. Mechanically, he dug a shallow grave between the ship and the edge of the forest. With a visage set in a grim mask of unbearable grief he lovingly lowered his lady-wife to her final resting place. Now, and in the emptiness of the days to follow, the bereft nobleman strove to avoid casting at the feet of his brother the gauntlet of accusation. When at last his simple ceremony of lonely farewell was concluded, Sir Leede returned to his son who, somehow sensing the tragedy of the circumstances, had kept his silence throughout the ordeal.
Now the pangs of hunger grew in the orphaned child and he whimpered for the mother who would never again be there to sustain him. Leede lifted his small son in his arms, but he could provide no more than a false sense of security. Lee fell silent, but his golden green eyes seemed to search his father's face for some clue to the sudden deprivation. Somehow Leede lulled the infant to sleep.
It required all of Southerly’s courage to resist the urgent compulsion to surrender to his grief and wander off into the jungle where his spirit might soon be released to join that of Sabratha. But he had a duty not merely to self but to another who deserved the opportunity to live out whatever life Fate might deign to vouchsafe. Tiny as he was, Lee inspired his father to renewed courage by his own show of quiet fortitude.
Southerly gazed at the little one as he slept. One fist was pressed against his mouth as if to stave off hunger – or any murmur of complaint. Suddenly, the child seemed so like his mother in this stoic endurance of hardship that the elder Leede caught his breath. Gently, so as to avoid disturbing the peaceful slumber, Southerly drew up the shabby blanket against a chill perhaps only he felt. But, when Lee awoke and reached out with the tiny fist to touch the man's hand, it was as though Sabratha herself was calling upon him. With sudden resolution, Southerly went to the cabinet which contained his weapons.
His eye fell first upon the crystal knife that had been the final, ironic gift of his brother. This Leede tucked into his belt. He then selected the more practical firearm, widened its beam array to the weakest stun setting and strode out of the shelter and into the jungle. Somehow he would find nourishment for his son.
At first there was not the slightest sound from within the shelter. But as the absence of the Tuathan drew ever more prolonged, the desolate cries of an infant issued forth from the oppressive silence.
[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 10: Transmission terminated]
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