SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 25:

 

 

            And there was also the small matter of his arm, and his physical weakness. Thank heavens Miran were evolved from a fairly small omnivorous species. There was little doubt that proto-Miran had lived principally by scavenging after the larger predators and the tall-stalk fructivores in winter. It had meant in his present predicament that alien food had only once made him feel very queasy, and did appear to be—in the short term at least, capable of sustaining life. In the long term, the matter might not resolve itself so happily. There were bound to be problems with the various fatty acids needed for nerve-repair, for starters, and amino acids…

            The question was, how long did he have? How long before a desperate Selna attempted to take the launch window alone? How long before the alien substances killed him? How long before the bone knitted without modern medicine, but just on its own? He struggled to recall the physiology he'd studied back as a new student. The human healer had said three weeks, minimum, which worked out as twenty-one of their day-night periods. He'd been meaning to time these periods and get a precise conversion to his own time-units, but hadn't got there yet. It was—to be awkward—going to be slightly longer than a Miran day. He was sure that it didn't take that long for Miran physiology to do these sort of internal repairs. Isolate, inject bone-matrix, and rest for three days was the modern norm. If he remembered it right, stilt-legged sathin—the high-stalk fructivores of the plains—often broke those thin legs. If they could survive for eight days they could walk and feed again. Of course that healed bone would still be fragile, but it gave him a vague figure. Counting the days which he had been unconscious, he'd been here for five days now. That left him with plenty of time to the launch window. But the sooner that he got back to Selna the better.

            He waited until Sister Thirsdaughter returned and then asked her opinion. "I need to go to her as soon as possible."

            "As a possible alternative to driving Brother Stephensson insane while he tries to explain the Bible to you?" said the elderly female, smiling and then remembering hastily to hide her teeth.

            "Perhaps you need to ask him to start me on this 'reading' instead," said Kretz. "Maybe with something with simpler words than in your Bible. He reads to me and I have to keep asking him what he means."

            She shook her head. "Books—other than the holy book—are vain-glory. The society of healers and midwives have three texts for teaching. The Elder keeps some printed texts in trust, on the workings of New Eden, for emergencies. He has been searching them for advice on you, by the way. He has decided that you are not a demon or an angel, but something called an alien. The book said that it was very improbable that you existed."

            "Most of our scientists had decided the same about you. Then we detected your spacecraft."

            "What is this 'spacecraft'?" asked Howard, curious as ever.

****

            As he asked that question, Howard was still bubbling with curiosity about the books. He hadn't even known they existed! Perhaps they included information on how to fix the pipes taking water to the canal on the lower section of his holding. He was sure that the odd flanged device he'd taken a secretive look at was suppose to allow water to pass—but one way only. Instead it flooded the ground in that section.

            "This is a spacecraft," said Kretz. "Or at least this is part of one, a very big one. It is a whole world to you, but it is a spacecraft, traveling across the emptiness between the stars. We came from our world to have look at it in a very much smaller craft."

            Howard blinked. Some of that was probably being lost in translation. The rest didn't mean much. Howard knew there was an outside to New Eden. Being sent there was the ultimate sanction the council of New Eden could impose. The airlocks were shown to every youngster. The one near his own home had apparently been used long ago. But the adulterer Samsson had been pardoned by a sign from God, in that the door would not open when they tried to put him out. That episode was often used as an example of the miracle of redemption.

            "New Eden is the promise that was made to our forefathers," said Sister Thirsdaughter. "If we forsook the paths of unrighteousness, we would have a world of our own, where only the Godly would be, and our sun will not shine on the unjust, and we will be safe and secure in his love, from henceforth."

            Howard had heard that before too. It was part of the creed. But what, exactly, was the sun? Well, he had animals to feed, a cow to milk and chores to do. He could ask Kretz more that evening.

            Sister Thirsdaughter got up. "You seem too well to need my attentions, Kretz. I'll pass on your request to the council. They don't really know what to do about you. Half of them wanted to throw you out of the airlock."

            "But that is where I need to go," said Kretz

            Sister Thirsdaughter smiled. "The outer darkness is where they believe you belong, so that'll make things easy for them."

            Of course, thought Howard, it wouldn't be quick and easy. The council would argue for weeks. Days if it was clear-cut. Brother Stephensson would want more time to read the Holy book to the heathen, for starters.

            He was right about the time, anyway. In the meanwhile Kretz wanted to see the sludge traps. And the wildlands. The alien found the strangest things fascinating.