Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
Denormalization was key to space discovery. In the early days, so many subjects were taboo that researchers had to hide themselves from the majority or they would have been torn apart. To be normal meant to go along with the crowd, and the crowd never wanted to leap into the unknown. To be normal was to be safe, and precious little is safe about space.
At dawn Vaega returned to the infirmary with more food and fresh water from the creek. Ipsena was resting but not sleeping. Vaega checked the small bandage on her nose and inspected the swelling of her eyes. “Everything is healing well. You are feeling okay?”
“I still can’t believe what happened.”
Vaega patted Ipsena’s forearm. “Crash-landing on a strange planet and being surrounded by new people is a lot.”
As she spoke the words, Vaega knew this was not it. She searched Ipsena’s eyes. The pale blue iris stared back at her own, and the lids quivered.
“Was it on the ship?”
Ipsena closed her eyes, and a tear fell from each one. Vaega reached out and wiped them with the fingers of her left hand.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to say now. There is time for that later.” Vaega straightened up. “You feel up to taking a walk?”
Ipsena wiped the rest of her tears with her right sleeve and sat on the bed. She pushed away the fur blanket and swung her legs out, then stood on the side of the bed opposite Vaega.
“I guess I’m up for a walk.” She straightened her outfit, pulled her pants up around her waist, and looked for her boots.
“All your gear’s over there,” Vaega said, pointing at the far end of the room.
Ipsena walked over, taking long, slow strides. As she put on her boots, she looked at Vaega’s feet. “No shoes?”
“No. They wore out, and we have no replacement.”
Ipsena’s gaze climbed up from her feet. “Same thing happened to your uniform?”
Vaega stood still under the stare. “That’s right, no way to make good clothes.”
Ipsena stood up after lacing her boots.
“Ready?” Vaega asked.
They walked out into the camp, Vaega leading the way, showing her the buildings, the garden. No one else was in sight.
“Where did they go?” Ipsena asked.
“We’re always busy. Trion is probably building something, and Agra and Yigars go out hunting and foraging. They’ll be back before nightfall.
“Is everything made of wood?”
“Yes. Trion built all the buildings.”
Ipsena saw the butte at the back of the camp. “Can we go there?”
Vaega nodded, and they walked over. Ipsena kneeled, inspected the ground and the slope. “There’s good stone under there. I could extract it and make stone furniture and blocks for walls.”
Vaega smiled at Ipsena. “That would be awesome.”
At that moment, Trion and Yigars came in through the front gate and walked to them.
“Ipsena, right? I didn’t forget your name?” Yigars asked with a smile, extending his hand.
Ipsena took it and shook it. “You remembered it.”
Yigars broke into a big smile, gazing at Ipsena in the sunlight.
“You have strange ways,” Ipsena said. “If you like me, just say it.”
Yigars smiled even more broadly and giggled. “I’ll tell you that if I want to tell you that. We have news.” Yigars tapped Trion on the stomach with the back of his hand. “Tell them.”
Trion straightened a bit. “A baby bison was just born.”
“A what?” Ipsena asked.
“Bison. Baby bison. Come see!” Yigars took Ipsena by the hand and led her toward the gate.
Following behind, Trion and Vaega watched Yigars show Ipsena to the pen outside camp.
“She said she could extract stone and make blocks for building furniture and walls,” Vaega said.
Trion pondered this, making mental calculations while holding his chin in his left hand.
“What are you thinking?”
Trion answered without looking at Vaega, eyes looking into the distance instead. “We could build a stone perimeter wall, and better shelters. And real fireplaces.”
Vaega didn’t speak further. She, too, was thinking of what else this would mean for their little camp.
“I must make her a bed in the cabin. I’ll go do that now.”
Trion sped off to his work shed, leaving Vaega alone to follow Yigars and Ipsena to see the baby bison.
Later that day, Ipsena took out her stonecutter and after clearing the thin layer of dirt, began cutting into the granite beneath. By late afternoon, she had amassed a stack of rocks.
She asked Trion about a stonework bench, so he made one for her, just outside the stone dig. Then she began processing the stone chunks into blocks that could be stacked. The tools she had from the escape pod, along with her skills, meant she worked fast and efficiently. As everyone was settling down for dinner around the campfire, she and Trion set two stone benches down by the fire for them to sit on. Trion put fur pillows on them.
“This is nice,” Agra said, her hand feeling the smooth surface.
In the distance, from beyond the fence, a bison bellowed. Yigars tilted his head to listen, but no other sound came. “All’s well.”
Vaega served grilled meats and potatoes, and some of the rice, with a strawberry on each plate. Ipsena looked at the plate Vaega handed to her.
“I forgot to ask. Do you have any requirements? Are you vegetarian?”
Ipsena shook her head, looking at Vaega. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s more than fine. Thank you.”
They ate in silence, enjoying the food.
At the end, Trion collected the plates and dropped them in a bucket of water to rinse them off.
Agra added wood to the fire, and it roared and crackled, sending embers into the sky that turned to ash before drifting down again like snowflakes.
They sat for a while, not speaking. Ipsena looked at each of them examining and admiring them. They seemed so resilient, so adapted to this life.
When she looked at Yigars, she remembered he had been here the longest, even though he seemed the youngest. He had an amiable smile. She could find no guile in his eyes and thought this adorable. How different from the mining crew.
She thought about talking about what happened on the ship, but at that moment. Vaega and Trion stood up at the same time. “I’ll sleep now,” Trion said. He turned to Ipsena. “I made a bed for you in our cabin.”
Agra went in with water for the washbasin. Vaega motioned to Ipsena. “I’ll show you the latrines.”
A few minutes later, Ipsena was in her new bed. She did not know what would happen, and for a moment she wondered whether she was safe. Then she noticed they were all asleep, their breathing slow and shallow. The furs were surprisingly warm, so she pulled her clothes off and dropped them on the floor on the side of the bed. The furs were soft; the sudden sense of luxury made her smile in the darkness.
Ipsena felt safe and happy for the first time in her life.
Next chapter: The Chess Board
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