SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 17:
A third alien appeared. This one was also small but had a facial mane, like the large male. Perhaps the males had multiple mates. That was an odd idea, but not beyond the limits of biological possibility. "You could have knocked," said the large one.
"I go where the work of the Lord takes me," said the newcomer. "I must watch over this spawn of Satan, this thing from cities of the plain."
"It's a pity your piety doesn't take you to your crops more often. They look as if the devil has been at them," said the big one. It was hard to judge aliens, but the two seemed to dislike each other.
"How dare you?" demanded the newcomer.
The small wrinkled alien held up her hands. "Peace. If you two wish to make a loud noise go out and do it in your corridors. The patient needs rest."
They looked at her and were still. A powerful and influential female this! Well, it could also be that they could see that when the loose skin filled out she was going to be larger than either of them.
The patient needs rest, thought Howard, might well be true, but the patient had slept virtually uninterrupted for three days now. Howard was very underslept himself, from trying to do his chores and share in the nursing of the patient. He understood that the council had placed them in quarantine. He understood why, too. But it was a busy time on the farm-corridors right now and there was the section where the sub-irrigation had failed. He had to carry a powerful number of buckets for that, and, after all the trouble he was in about it, he didn't dare to use his four bucket yoke, although then he could have got the job done much, much faster. He had to work at night, to avoid others on his walk through to the water.
Having Sister Thirsdaughter virtually living in his home didn't make things any easier, either. There was nowhere he could really even hide the drawings without her possibly finding them. At the moment they were rolled up under his underwear. It was very frustrating. Still, she'd saved him from getting into an open fight with Galsson—something that would have had them both up before the discipline committee. That was something he didn't need, as they were still mired in debating his bucket-yoke.
"The council has deputized me to keep an eye on this…" said Galsson quietly, after standing fulminating for a while. He pointed at the stranger with a shaking forefinger. "And him. It is my opinion that it is his un-Godly meddling with the drip irrigators that has brought this visitation upon us!"
"It is possible," said Sister Thirsdaughter. "But we do not know whether this visitation is a demon, an angel or merely a test of our faith. And you might say that Brother Dansson has had his just reward for what he has done to the drip-irrigators in his crops."
"But they're good crops!" protested Howard.
"Exactly," said the healer.
"We will test its faith," said Galsson, grimly. "And God moves in mysterious and not always direct ways, Sister."
"And chooses his instruments as he wills, according to his purposes," said the Sister tranquilly. "You may test his faith, Russ Galsson. But not now. He's been insensate for three days. Howard. Sit with him. Brother Galsson will escort me to meet with my fellow councilors, and we can discuss how best to proceed."
So Howard found himself left to sit with the stranger-creature. It didn't seem to be in any danger of slipping back into a coma-sleep just yet. Its eyes were wide open, and it had a wary look about it. Mind you, that could just be its way of looking happy for all he knew.
He tried smiling at it. It shrank back against the pillows; plainly, no matter what kind of creature it was, afraid. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said hastily. "It is all right. I promise."
The wariness was still there in posture. "Promise? Means?"
"I give my word."
The strange creature shook its head in a curious round bobbing motion. "Means?"
"I swear." He stepped over to the Bible on its stand. Put his hand on it. "On the Bible."
The occupant of his bed looked no less puzzled. "Means? Bible?"
"The holy book! It means what I say is true."
"True. You do not wish to hurt?" It was still plainly doubtful.
Howard decided to try logic. "I have given you help. I have given you my night-shirt, my bed, and I bandaged you up. Why would I do that if I wanted to hurt you?"
Howard pointed to the injured arm. "Like that."
The occupant of Howard's bed looked at his splinted arm. Nodded slowly. "It is the teeth," it said.
Without thinking, Howard pulled back his lips and felt them with his tongue. He was surprised to see the Stranger-creature shrink back again. "I'm sorry," he said hastily. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm not going to eat you."
The creature sat silent for a time, as if absorbing this. "Peace," said Howard, trying all he could think of. "Peace."
It seemed to find that comforting. "Peace," it said. "Teeth to Miran mean to fight."
It was clear enough when you put it like that. "You Miran?"
The creature nodded again. "You name?"
"Howard. Howard Dansson," supplied Howard, careful not to show his teeth when he smiled.
The creature looked uncomprehendingly at the hand Howard had extended. "Drink?"
So Howard fetched it water, and helped it to sit enough to drink, cautiously.
"Who hurt you?" asked Howard, when it had finished and rested against the pillows again.
Miran looked at him for a long time. "Howard," he said finally. "Howard with stripy face. Howard tried to kill me. Kills my distod. Miran come in peace. Howard kill."
Distod? “Howard with a stripy face”? Howard blinked at the creature as he puzzled over these terms.
Miran looked suddenly afraid again. "Howard with a stripy face close?"
Howard shook his head, more in puzzlement than anything else.
Miran closed his eyes, making little mewling noises, almost as if it were crying, but there were no tears. Gradually the sound stopped and the breathing slowed. It appeared to have slipped back into either sleep or a coma. Howard wished he could leave, as he had a myriad chores to do and tasks to attend to, today. But he'd been told to stay and watch the being.
So he did. It as a long, solitary vigil, until Sister Thirsdaughter came back.
"How is the patient?" she asked, smiling at him, but with a little frown of worry between her eyes.
"If you smile at him, don't show your teeth," said Howard. "He's scared of teeth. And I think he believes that all men are called 'Howard'. He says Howard with a stripy face hurt him and killed his 'disdod', whatever they are."
Sister Thirsdaughter shook her head ruefully. "All we need is him saying that to the council. As if your act of charity hadn't landed you in enough trouble. They're sending five members here. I hope Kretz wakes soon."
"That's his name."
"Oh." said Howard, disconcerted. "He told me it was Miran."
Sister Thirsdaughter cocked her head at him. "In the same conversation that you told him all humans are called Howard?"
"Uh, yes," he admitted, getting the drift. "You mean they're called Miran?"
"And his name is Kretz. Yes."
Obviously the sound of his name, or Howard's stifled laughter, was enough to wake the sleeper. His violet-blue eyes snapped open. "Greeting, Howard," he said respectfully to Sister Thirsdaughter on seeing her. She covered her eyes with her hand, and, after the briefest pause, he did likewise. "I think the council may almost deserve this," she said, her voice shaking a little. "Our greeting is 'Peace be with you', Brother Kretz. This is Howard. Or rather Brother Howard. I am Sister Thirsdaughter. We are human. You are one Miran, right?"