Cran Palto | Books | Raheem




Chapter 38

The farmer stayed up all night watching over his ripening crops. His family’s fortune stood silent on green stalks under the pale light of an obscured crescent moon. He trusted neither beast nor neighbor and stayed vigilant until morning, when he fell asleep on dewy grass.

—Dhampat Thukar Bhatti, The Farmer and Other Stories.

Trion spent his days in the workroom, building furniture, preparing fasteners and joint plates for the walkways.

When the rain stopped, he immediately started building, with Yigars and Ipsena, a large common room and stone walkway between the sleeping cabin, the kitchen, the stone storage room, the infirmary, the jail, and the stone hallway Ipsena had dug in the rock. Trion also built two double beds and set them up for Vaega and himself, and for Ipsena and Yigars. He dismantled the old beds and stored them in a recess in the tunnel along the wall.

Ipsena began digging into stone at a perpendicular from the axis of the tunnel. She planned to dig out several rooms; this one would be the first.

Daroo and Vaega took care of the garden; Ipsena and Yigars tended the animals, and Agra completed the design of a six-crew craft, which they could build if they found another engine, fuel, oxygen tanks, and a working navigation computer.

In the evening, they opted to eat dinner in the new common room, sitting around the long table. Vaega was cooking in the kitchen. Trion set the plates and utensils on the table, and Agra brought food and fresh water. Daroo had brewed some herbal tea he was now cooling, which they would drink after dinner while seated on the two sofas and the two leather chairs Trion had made. The room still smelled of freshly cut pine, and Ipsena spread furs on the floor between the sofas and chairs, to make the room cozy.

At the table, they waited for Vaega and Agra to sit, then began eating together.

The food was meager yet varied. They ate slowly, each bite a delicacy hard won against nature.

Dinner was over too soon. Trion took the dishes to the washbasin and scrubbed them clean, using the plant-based soap Vaega had made.

“Tea?” Daroo asked, holding a tray with six cups and a jar.

“With pleasure,” Agra replied.

“I’ll take a cup,” Vaega said.

“Us too.” Ipsena tapped Yigars’ thigh.

“Leave some for me,” Trion called out as he stacked dry plates in a narrow cabinet against the far wall.

Daroo passed from one to the other, pouring tea in a cup on the tray, then handing it to them.

“Here,” Daroo said softly.

“Thank you.” Agra took the cup he was handing to her. She admired his graceful motion, the ease with which he balanced the tray on one hand while pouring the tea with the other.

He then handed a cup of tea to Ipsena, who was sitting on the far sofa next to Yigars. Her bare feet dug in the furs on the floor. She held out both hands, one palm up to receive the bottom of the cup, the other curved around the rim.

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

Daroo moved to Yigars and poured him a cup.

Yigars took the cup with a smile.

Daroo then poured a cup for Trion, who was coming by.

Ipsena was staring into the cup. A few bits of tea leaves, or maybe bark, rested at the bottom of the pale-yellow liquid. “You’re all so kind to me. I don’t deserve this.”

Daroo handed the cup to Trion while responding to her. “Ipsena, we’re all together here now. We choose what we do with each day, each moment, each motion of the hand, each word we say.”

Ipsena sipped her tea. “It’s delicious.”

“Thank you.”

When they were all sitting, tea in hand, Daroo glanced at each of them. “Does anyone what to hear a story?”

Agra smiled. She needed this. “Please, nothing with wolves.”

Ipsena chuckled. “I agree. No wolves.”

Daroo smiled. “No wolves. I promise.”

He sipped a little of his tea and looked at the wall above their heads, his eyes far away. “It was many years ago. Before Raheem. I was a student at the Oopadhyay Institute on Assam Graha. We were six in our group, much like this group. We were friends, fellow students.

“One day, our professor brought a guest speaker—a woman she knew. Her name was Manisha Mahadevan. She told us her story. Her ship had crashed here, on Raheem, after a fire in the engine room caused by gravity compression. She told us only three of the crew made it out, how their pods landed near a village, and how they were taken prisoner. In the village there was an old man, an engineer, who had assembled a complete ship, with enough fuel to get off planet, but they were waiting for a pilot.

“Manisha had learned to fly, but only on computer-assisted systems. They spent a year looking for parts and eventually built a flight computer.”

Daroo paused and sipped some tea.

“What happened after that?” Agra asked. “I assume they took off?”

“Yes, they reached orbit. They sent out a distress beacon and a mining ship came and rescued them.”

“For free? Miners do nothing for free.”

“You’re right. They traded several hundred kilos of precious gems. The miners dropped them, all forty of them, at Moragatta Station.”

“Are you telling us this story to make us feel better?” Vaega asked.

“It’s working,” Ipsena said.

Daroo looked into his cup then continued: “Manisha told us that at the station they went through medical quarantine, interviews, rehabilitation, and were provided with relocation support and training. After a while, some of them expressed the desire to come back to Raheem.”

Agra was staring at Daroo.

“Come back?” Vaega’s question filled the room. “Why would anyone want to come back?”

Daroo resumed. “They didn’t. They went to another planet as colonists and became farmers. Except Manisha Mahadevan. She returned to pilot duty. She helped me get my ship assignment after I received my diploma.”

Ipsena asked: “How long ago was that? When did you crash here?”

Daroo drank the last of his tea. “Thirty-five Imperial years, or twenty-six Raheem years.”

“Thirty-five years!” Vaega exclaimed. She remained still, but her hands were trembling. “Thirty-five years…” She sounded dejected.

Trion placed his hand on her thigh. She covered it with hers and squeezed it.

Agra held her cup in her hand. She could not think of anything to say that didn’t sound trite or shallow. False hope was worse than no hope.

“We’ll build a ship. Agra and I will work together. We’ll find the parts. We’ll build it and leave.”

Agra saw the effect Trion’s words had on the others.

“That’s right. We’ll build a ship,” she echoed.

The silence between them felt heavy, full of hope and doubts.

Daroo set his cup down on the tray. “Manisha told me this about Raheem. She said: ‘The planet cannot be rushed. It moves at its own pace. Whether you learn patience is up to you.’ This has been my experience, too.”

Later, in the cabin, they could not sleep. After some time, after kisses and whispered good-nights, Vaega asked: “Ipsena, please sing for us? For me?”

Ipsena sang to Esiron again, a different song this time, full of sadness and longing. The last verse, before she trailed off to sleep, permeated the otherwise silent cabin.

“Lord of light, painter of many colors, hear my song in the night. Others have left me behind, alone in a universe so cold. Yet I know you can sense me as much as I can sense you, my comforter always.”

Next chapter: Wild Man

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