SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 14:
"That's not possible," said Galsson, as usual, finding his wind first. "No one in New Eden would do such a thing."
Howard had to agree with him, for the first time ever.
Sister Thirsdaughter looked at both of them, silently. Then she said, "If that is the case, then he must have come from elsewhere. Outside."
If she'd said that all of Howard's neighbors were murderers and that Goody Galsson danced naked and sacrificed cats to the devil she could scarcely have had quite as stunning an effect.
Outside. Beyond New Eden. The first Eden had had evil, idolaters and unbelievers surrounding it. By the writings evil came right into the midst of the brethren, there. But nothing came to New Eden. Nothing ever had before anyway. Not in living memory.
"We have a tradition of keeping ourselves to ourselves," said Galsson stiffly. "It must go back to its kind."
Howard looked at the pale golden-skinned creature on his bed. To his eye it seemed to be developing goose bumps. So he covered it. "We also have a tradition of sanctuary," he said, quietly but with a firmness that surprised even himself. "If the outside is a place of evil, and they tried to kill him, perhaps he has repented, and tried to flee the world of sin."
"Perhaps he was too evil even for them," muttered Galsson.
"We also have a tradition of leaving God to judge," said Sister Thirsdaughter, "and of charity, and of healing the sick, and helping the weak. I," she said pointedly, "will not just pass by on the other side of the road."
"I think we must put it out of the airlock, and return it to it's own kind," said Galsson. "I will speak to the council and say so. We have had no contact with the evils outside of New Eden, and we should not start now."
"First, however let us heal it and allow it to speak for itself," said Sister Thirsdaughter firmly. "Is it not true, Brother Galsson, that there are things that evil cannot endure? Such as the name of the Lord?"
He blinked. That had, obviously, given him serious pause. "I shall go and confer with my fellow councilors on this. Perhaps we can banish evil by spiritual means."
Howard was very relieved to see the back of the man.
"Pass me the lint, Howard," was all Sister Thirsdaughter said. But her tone indicated that she too was pleased.
They worked on in relative silence, with barely a whimper of pain from their strange patient, as the healer adjusted and re-bandaged the splint on the broken arm. Eventually they were finished. The elderly woman turned to her large helper and said, "Now, if I do not get a cup of your tea, I will fall over."
Howard tucked the blankets in around the patient's neck. "There are very strict injunctions against fallen women,” he said solemnly, “so I'd better make you some."
The healer laughed. "You've a good sense humor anyway, young man. It's an asset for someone who seems to spend his life in trouble. Come. We can leave him for a few minutes. He seems to be quiet. Whether it is sleep or unconsciousness, one cannot know."
They went through into the small kitchen. "Plenty of food for a bachelor," she said, looking at the strings of dried tomatoes and peppers. "And a clean and well-set up kitchen. I'd think you'd be a catch for any young woman looking for a wife, Brother Dansson."
"I thought it would work better like this," he said, hasty to explain the odd layout, rather than discuss his marital status. "I always needed water when I was cooking and I got tired of fetching it. And I grow fine crops. There is always excess."
"On a holding that was thought to be largely unusable," said Sister Thirsdaughter, quietly. "You were expected to end up laboring for your keep."
"It was just a water problem, which I fixed," said Howard awkwardly, as he finished filling the kettle. "If I'd had to carry buckets, one at a time… then, yes, it would not be viable.
She twinkled at him "You've got the council in an uproar even without finding this strange being on your land. Did you know that despite the censure, a number of them want you fix the water sprayers on their land?"
Howard looked gloomily at the next room. "The nay-sayers will claim this stranger is a punishment from God."
He bit his lip. "I still don't know what he is myself. Is he a demon or an angel?"
"He may be neither," said Sister Thirsdaughter. "In fact, Howard, I am not entirely sure he is a he."
Howard nearly dropped the mug he was holding. "But… but he…uh, it has… um…" he said, turning puce.
She nodded. "And also has a second orifice, and no external testicles. For all that it looks generally like a male, it may not be. Whatever it is, it isn't human. Unless the Lord made demons of baser flesh, and easily subject to wounding, I would say that the correct answer was neither angel nor devil, but quite frail, withal. I think it may die, Howard. We must say prayers for its soul."
"If it has a soul," said Howard. Such theology was beyond him. But was it not written that God had made man in his image?
"That is up to God to decide," she said, tranquilly. "We must just do our best. Now, make us that tea."