They had covered the body with a sleeping bag. Jan threw it back and grimaced. Jason was badly crushed and his clothing was matted with blood. There was no need to look closer, but habit made Jan do so. He found tiny bits of moss embedded in the wounds near the base of Jason’s skull, but nowhere else. Suspicion was mirrored in his expression, and he tried to suppress it. The colonists had levered the bole off Jason but had not moved him. The bole was bare of moss.
The old, down limbs scattered about on top of the snow were not. Happenstance? Or had Jason been clubbed into unconsciousness and left in the path of the tree?
“How the hell did this happen?”
Dumezil answered, “He was gathering down wood and apparently didn’t hear the warning.” Chambard and Dubois looked uneasy, but nodded their agreement.
“Who cut the tree?”
“I did,” Dumezil said.
Angi left her family to join Jan. Even now he kept vigil, never trusting the land around him. The line of mourners circled beneath the low hillock where he watched. Angi stopped beside him and laid her hand gently on his arm. “He was the first,” Jan said, “but he won’t be the last.”
There were two bundles and two graves. Tom Dennison’s body had been coated with polyfoam and irradiated to preserve it after the explosion in the computer bay. Caught up in the press of immediate needs, the colonists had not taken time to begin a cemetery until now.
A white, amorphous, anonymous bolus of plastic lay beside one grave; a hide-wrapped bundle lay beside the other. Both killed by the same mad act – and every other death this planet will witness attributable to the one who stranded us here. Jan grimaced and started down the hill.
Marcel Dumezil, the leader of the Monists, read the service. Jan doubted that Dennison would have appreciated it. He was a Pentecostal Baptist from NorAm, the only one aboard the Lydia who had actually been born on Earth.
As for Jason, he had been a Pertoskan Monist. He had argued into the night with Alex Chambard the day before he died, disputing the points of doctrine which separated his sect from the Benedictine Monism embraced by the colonists.
Dumezil closed his Monomythos and stepped back.
Alex and Lucien lowered Jason into the earth; Nur and Valikili lowered Tom Dennison. Then Valikili took a shovel and gently broke away a portion of the polyfoam. “Once the man is gone,” he said, “it is wrong to preserve the body.”
Jan nodded, all the time knowing that the permafrost would preserve both bodies better than any work of man.
They shoveled in the cold, dry earth. Jan watched the colonists as the graves were filled, wondering who had thrown the bomb, and why. It had to be on everyone’s mind.
Tears flowed freely as Henri Staal saw his watchmate under. He had mostly recovered from his burns, though he would always bear scars. Jan touched his shoulder as they left the cemetery to say, “I’m sorry.”
Staal looked around at the bleak horizon and shuddered. “Why, Jan? Why would anyone do this?”
There was no answer he could give.
I suppose every beginning writer chooses names that make him cringe later in his career. Clearly Benedictine is one of these. There is no hidden connection to the Order of St. Benedict. It was just a dumb mistake.