Jandrax 5

It had been a close thing for D’Angelo – a two-shot weapon simply was not adequate for an untamed world.

Jason wiped blood from his face. It had been that close. Express pistols were a specialty tool issued only to Scouts. By twisting a dial with his off hand, Jan could tailor projectile size and velocity to the target at hand. If the dial was not touched the maximum charge was sufficient to stop a terrestrial elephant three times over. Jan had not dialed.

Jason searched for an appropriate response to the situation, but could only say, lamely, “Thanks.”

Jan smiled, but his eyes never left the perimeter of the clearing. “When I was scouting on Lando, I nearly got myself killed a couple of times, and – you know what? You never get used to it.

“However, you do learn not to let it throw you off. Put it out of your mind and get back to watching so that I can help get this carcass back to base.”

Stung, Jason turned his attention back to duty. They slung the field-dressed herby on a pole and returned to camp, passing through the tangle field that so far had kept the native carnivora at a reasonable distance.

The landing craft was in orbit, having carried up a load of meat to feed the colonists on the Lydia. In the early years of star travel each ship had been a self-contained ecosystem, but with the advent of the Synapse and nearly instantaneous interstellar travel, ships turned to processed food and mechanical recirculation of air and water. Three weeks in orbit had completely exhausted the Lydia’s food stores.

Jan Andrax dropped onto a camp stool made from the stems of a tough, fast-growing bush and began scraping from his boots the mucilaginous substance exuded by the local ground cover. Jason relinquished his rifle and another pair of colonists left to hunt. Hunting was a full-time occupation for those who had to supply meat to the many overhead.

Jan stopped scraping long enough to assure himself that they were not going to be overheard, then asked, “Any word on the computer?” Jason shook his head. Jan swept the area about him with a searching look before returning to his boots. Jason realized that he probably was not even aware of that mannerism. Jan was a Scout, trained for just such an environment; Jason was the ship’s astrogator. He had never felt more out of place or useless.

“They’ll never fix the computer,” Andrax continued. “You know that, don’t you?” Jason nodded. Both of them had seen the computer bay after the explosion. The Synapse jump had lasted over four seconds; the longest previous jump, under carefully controlled conditions, had been of less than a second’s duration and it had driven a ship clear outside the galactic lens. Instantaneous travel had its complications. “Jase, how long before Captain Childe comes to his senses and announces to the colonists that this is to be their new home – and ours?”

“It’s awfully hard for him to accept.”

“Humph. It’s hard for me to accept. This is one hell of a final landfall, but facts are facts.” more tomorrow

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