Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
we searched for worlds where water rained
where rivers flowed into oceans
we left so many worlds behind
where all the conditions were met
except this one
we had learned from experience
that when a world has no rainfall
living becomes a drudgery
and humans wish to be elsewhere
A cold, sharp wind blew into the cabin as Vaega left just before dawn. Agra was awake but kept her body warm under fur blankets, hoping to sleep a little while longer. Trion was up, fastening furs around his waist in the semi-darkness. Agra watched him. His forearm prickled; every hair raised against the cold.
“Are you staying in bed?”
Agra nodded, smiling contentedly. She pressed her legs against Yigars. “It’s very warm.”
Trion smiled. “Sleep more if you can.”
At that moment, Yigars woke up. He threw open the furs and jumped out, putting on his clothes.
Agra tucked herself under the blankets to keep what little heat there was, and let sleep drag her down again into its mindless realm.
She had not gone far into dreamland before the door to the cabin opened again, and Vaega urged: “Come, look in the sky!”
Agra walked out into the frigid morning air, clutching the bed furs to her body. In the sky, to the east, a long reddish streak fell slowly to the ground.
Yigars and Trion were looking at it already, and Vaega rushed to get a bag together.
“What are you doing?” Agra asked.
“Rescue pack! Medkits and herbs, straps,” Vaega answered.
Yigars turned his face to Agra. “It’s a ship emergency pod. There may be someone inside. There usually is.”
“What do you mean, usually?”
“Sometimes they arrive dead. Or they die of injuries from the crash.”
He looked east. “We should hurry.”
Trion brought two stout poles and some fabric from the deplorable clothes they had bought from the traders. “A stretcher, if needed.”
They all left, armed with bows and spears, and a few supplies.
Guided by Yigars, they trekked across the landscape, hurrying to the point of impact. It was a grueling journey with no break in sight.
Around noon, standing on a vantage point up ahead, Yigars called out: “There!”
Vaega sniffed the air. “I smell metal burn, acrid burned plastic.”
Trion adjusted the stretcher across his shoulders and pulled the pistol out. “Let’s find out who’s there.”
There was a small vale, only a clearing in the trees. In the middle squatted a ShipSystems escape pod. They could see no one as they approached.
Trion stayed back with Vaega; Yigars approached from the left, and Agra approached from the right, arrows notched.
Trion called out softly. “Careful, this pod is a model used by renegade scavengers, from the Evexan Space Factories.”
Yigars pulled the bow tighter, the arrow ready to fly. He positioned himself at the pod entrance. Agra came closer from the right side, stepping carefully among the grasses. “I’m going to open it.”
Yigars aimed the arrow squarely at the entrance. Agra pulled the hatch lever.
The seal hissed, and the hatch swung open awkwardly. The trim light pulsed red weakly, near the end of its battery life. Agra peered inside, the darkness giving way to reveal a human shape, prone and unmoving on the reclining seat. Agra searched the face but saw only pain. The nose had a bruise on the bridge and the skin around was dark and swollen. The eyes were closed shut, puffy and streaked with dried tears. Agra touched the pale hand with her own, and the skin felt warm—maybe too warm. She turned her head around. “Vaega, come, quickly.”
Yigars had relaxed the bow and slipped the arrow off. He looked warily at the stranger, noting the short blond hair cropped nearly flush with the skin, the pale, nearly white skin, and the angular, taunt face. “This stranger might be dangerous.”
Trion was inspecting the pod. He opened the back hatch and pulled all the gear out: survival blankets, food and water emergency rations, tools, a stonecutter, a mortar mixer, five medkits, some paper, a backpack, and an orange jacket with the gray dagger logo he had never seen before. Beneath that was a small personal case with grooming tools, a hair razor, some makeup, and hygienic pads.
He kept looking around and found what he really wanted: a pack of 45 caliber pistol shells.
Vaega stood, wiping her hands on a small towel from a medkit. “They’re alive, but pretty shook up. We’ll need that stretcher to take them back to camp.”
Trion and Yigars held up the stretcher while Agra and Vaega gently unstrapped the injured and lifted them on the stretcher. Then Vaega checked they were secure and breathing. “Okay, we can go.”
Agra collected all the gear and trailed behind them, catching up after a while, and they arrived back at the camp late in the afternoon.
Once, during the walk back, the person opened their eyes. Vaega, who was walking next to them, put her hand on their arm. “Rest. You will be safe soon.”
“Thank you,” they whispered, and closed their eyes again.
They set them in the bed in the new infirmary, and Vaega tended their wounds.
Later, around the campfire, they ate and discussed the day. During the night, they spent turns in the infirmary, staying with the sleeping wounded.
For three days they kept watch, cleaning, and feeding the stranger, who appeared healthy except for the heavy sleepiness.
On the fourth day before morning, Trion was on watch in the infirmary when the person woke up, and, fully aware, asked: “Where am I? What happened?”
Trion stood quietly and called out to the others, who came a moment later, wrapped in furs, eyes still sleepy. Vaega gave her patient fresh water and pemmican, which they drank and devoured.
Trion spoke quietly: “Your ship escape pod bought you to the planet Raheem, where you are now. You are in our camp.” He turned to the others one by one. “Agra, our hunter, and researcher. Yigars, hunter and animal tender, Vaega, farmer, cook, and medic.” He pointed at his chest. “I am Trion, builder.”
The stranger looked at them one at a time, noting their strange clothing, or lack thereof, puzzled and trying to understand things. Trion pointed at Agra and Vaega. “The three of us crashed here much like you did several months ago, and we built this camp.”
Agra spoke. “We were together on the research vessel Tissandische-Unnaü.” She pointed at Yigars. “He has been here many years, from childhood.”
Understanding slowly reaching their face, their eyes, the stranger smiled. “I am Ipsena, given-wife of Esiron, and we are miners of the renegade fleet.”
“Given-wife?” Trion asked, puzzled.
Ipsena gave a little laugh. “Esiron is my space spirit, my guardian through the darkness of space.”
Vaega smiled. “And you are a woman? A wife?”
Ipsena turned her pale blue eyes to Vaega. “Yes, yes, a woman, in how the imperial academy classifies people.”
Yigars leaned forward and touched her leg. “You are very strong, a big human.” He pointed at her head. “You keep your head shaved?”
Ipsena passed her left hand over her scalp. “Hair gets into the gears. All miners shave their hair.”
Vaega handed Ipsena more water. “You are safe here, among us. Please rest and regain your health. Call out if you need anything.”
Once they were back in the cabin, as they tried to go back to sleep, Agra whispered. “Now we are five.”
Next chapter: Baby Bison
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