Chapter 6



            The fault with early slowship concepts was simple: When you get there, the place may not be habitable. It may not even be terraformable. Maybe there won't even be a planet: And then one has to start the journey over. Even probes can let you down—arrive on the one habitable spot, or at the only habitable season. With space habitats, the equation changes. Man stops colonizing planets. He colonizes space around suns. There is a life zone and everything he will need from m-asteroids to ice around every star.


From SLOWTRAIN: THE STARS WITHIN OUR GRASP, Conquist, A., Mordaunt Scientific Press, NY. 2090.




            Howard looked at the creature on his bed, and then covered it gently with an angora-wool blanket. The… person was still breathing, anyway. It didn't seem right to call it a creature. It wore clothes and had the trappings of an intelligent being. Howard looked at it again, a troubled man. He looked at the large Bible open on the stand. He'd searched, and yet found no pleasantly direct, clear advice about what one should do with a clothed creature you found unconscious among your tomato-plants.

            There was a knocking at his door. He walked across and opened it. He was not really surprised to find not just Elder Rooson, but Brother Galsson, and Sister Thirsdaughter too. It was inevitable that the Elder would bring at least one of his senior councilors with him. It was just as inevitable, now, that the news should spread through all of New Eden like wildfire. Brother Galsson could not have left his home without telling his wife, and Goodwife Galsson was the worst gossip in the entire universe. She could hardly be expected to keep something like this quiet.

            And she could get any story chaotically wrong, too. Look at the affair with Goodwife Sanderson's twins! Somehow she'd turned that event—the greatest excitement in New Eden since the two headed calf—into “an unnatural child, a visitation of Satan.” The midwife had told her the birth was “something special,” but refused to say more and of course Goody Galsson had embroidered the snippet of information in the wrong direction entirely.

            "Peace be with you, brothers and sister." Howard greeted the Elder and the councilors with a heavy heart. He was in enough trouble without this. He was still under probation after the last incident. But what could he have done? Left it? The… being had plainly been in distress. And those had been recognizable English words. “Help,” and most importantly, “Peace.” To have ignored them would have been contrary to his faith and his nature.

            "And with you, Brother Dansson," said the old man, with a wry smile, his palm dry against Howard's sweaty hand.

            Elder Rooson wasn't the worst. Howard shuddered to think what life in New Eden might be like under an Elder like Galsson. Everything would be forbidden, on principle.

            "What strange thing have you brought upon us this time?" The Elder said, with gentle irony, indicating that he certainly hadn't forgotten the last time.

            "A… stranger, Elder. As I said in my message. I found it—him—in my tomatoes."

            Sister Thirsdaughter was amused. "Have you been experimenting on those too, young Howard? Is it a strange fruit—or a real man?"

            She was all right. She'd never married. Maybe that was why. Or maybe her practice of medicine and midwifery needed a more pragmatic approach. "No, Sister. Not a man. I undressed the being—”

            Galsson interrupted. "You undressed a woman!" he said in righteous horror.

            Inwardly, Howard restrained himself. "It's not a woman, Brother." He kept his doubts on this to himself. He'd never actually seen a naked woman, but he didn't think that it was a woman. But it wasn't a man either, not in the sense that Galsson would have interpreted it, in the sense of being human. "I had to remove its garments to staunch its blood. It asked for help. What else could I do?"

            "Let us see this… being," said the Elder, calmly, a raised hand silencing Galsson's incipient tirade.

            So Howard led them through his front room, hoping they be too distracted to notice much there—his drawings were still on the table—and into his small bedroom.

            They stood in silence looking at the occupant of Howard's bed. Even the face, all they could see above the bed-clothes, did not look human.

            Galsson was the first to react. "A demon!" he choked, backing off, his soft hands held up in a warding gesture.

            The strange being's eyes opened. The eyes had no white in them at all. They were almost violet in color and the pupil was a double crescent, like a cat's eyes. The strange pupils flared and contracted as if trying to focus.

            "Hush. It is trying to say something," said Sister Thirsdaughter.

            In the sudden silence they all heard it, clearly. "Peace." The voice was oddly metallic and artificial sounding. But there was no doubt he'd said it. Howard saw his lips move.

            "Peace be with you too, stranger," said Elder Rooson, his voice quavering slightly.

            The only reply was an indistinct muttering. The vivid purple-blue eyes closed again.

            "It's a demon, trying to entrap us," whispered Galsson, still backing fearfully towards the door.

            "What is the extent of its injuries?" asked Sister Thirsdaughter, ignoring him. She came forward to peer at the golden face with its crest-like peak of golden hair.

            "Various cuts. A bad one on the shoulder," said Howard, grateful for the calm matter-of-fact tone of the healer. "A hole that seems to be festering. There might be something in it. I also think that one arm is broken. I've splinted it as best I can. If you could have a look, Sister?"

            She nodded and stepped forward.