Jandrax 9

Unbroken by vegetation, a land of gently rolling hills stretched to the horizon. To the east, ramparts of hills rose, similarly naked, and in the distance one could see the massed green and white above the melt line where trees grew through the perpetual snow. Near at hand the ground was tortured and broken with the fossil prints of last melt’s herd.

Angi Dumezil negotiated the ramp gingerly, bowed under the weight of her share of the supplies. Papa Marcel, leader of the colonists, and her brother Anton stayed near her; the others were strangers. Jan Andrax directed their egress and hurried them beyond the flash perimeter. When they were sheltered below a nearby hillock, he signaled to the landing craft and it leaped skyward, then rolled into the gentle arc that would carry it northward to the green belt to take on meat for the colonists remaining overhead.

Angi shaded her eyes against the cool sunlight until she could no longer see the departing speck.

Andrax had called them into a circle. He squatted negligently, scratching a map into the ground. “We are here, two kilometers above the camp. The river Lydia runs here, though it is little more than a stream this time of year. We’ve hardly begun with shelters. There is no wood nearby; until the melt comes and we can float it down from the hills, we are experimenting with rammed earth and adobe.”

Angi looked around, drawing. her jacket tighter about her. Now that the landing craft had gone, there was no work of man and no bit of vegetation to break the endless monotony of the rolling land. The whole of her vision was encompassed by gray-brown soil and red-brown rocks. (see below) She closed her eyes tightly against a feeling of vertigo and missed the rest of the instructions Andrax was giving.

They shouldered their burdens and walked to the base. Whenever they topped a rise, hundreds of square kilometers lay stretched out before them, but all so uniform that the eye refused to acknowledge the scale. No haze muted the distance.

Andrax did not move to aid the colonists with their burdens, but paced up one side of the column and down the other with his express pistol ready at hand. What creature could possibly inhabit that wilderness, Angi could not imagine.

By the time they reached camp, Angi was suffering from thirst. Though the day was cool, the air seemed utterly devoid of moisture and sucked away her body fluids with every breath. Rows of adobe bricks lay at the water’s edge, all split and crumbled in the cold, dry air.

A single building stood, a long, low dormitory framed with driftwood from the river and coated with dried mud. There was a fire built of the dung cakes that lay so abundantly on all the hills.

After they had eaten and drunk, Andrax set them to work. It was a kindness; once her hands were busy, Angi’s unease abated somewhat. She worked with a girl of her own age, Helene, unpacking and cataloging the crates they had brought. Jan drifted by from time to time, once stopping to ask, “Feeling better?”

“What do you mean?” Angi replied, turning away to mask her irritation.

“Don’t be evasive. I’m not much of a psychologist, but I’m the best we have. It’s part of my training. Tell me what you felt hiking in. Vertigo?”

She nodded.

“What do you know about sensory deprivation?”

“Enough to recognize my own problem,” she snapped.

*****

Oops. I goofed, and it took me forty years to catch it. All Angi would see is snow. This description is of what she would see a few months later after the melt has come and gone. When I wrote the first draft, the melt cycle wasn’t yet clear to me, and in all my revisions I missed this error. Oh, well! more tomorrow

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