Jandrax 12

Chapter 3

Valikili crouched lower. Claude Delacroix was on sentry duty and, sleepy though he might be, the colonist would take great pleasure if he were to catch Val slipping past the cordon. No punishment would be exacted, of course, but considerable embarrassment – for Helene as well as himself. Delacroix and Helene had once had an understanding. On Bordeaux, before their emigration, they had talked of marriage. Helene had told Valikili of this, but their new situation had thrown all old understandings into question.

Delacroix disappeared behind the half-completed stockade wall and Valikili trotted down toward the river. There was no cover, so stealth was pointless. He had to drop below the break in the land before the sentry returned.

He did not see the figures that followed him.

Valikili was the Lydias third engineer and, though he felt allegiance to his fellow crewmembers, he was adapting rapidly. He was a short, powerful Polynesian; his face reflected his open nature and his body was a statue sculpted in muscle. He was not unaware of his beauty.

Nor were the colonist girls. He had his pick, and he had chosen Helene Dumezil.

Helene was not related to Angi or the patriarch. Two-thirds of the colonists were named Dumezil after Louis Dumezil, the founder of their religion, and there weren’t enough first names to keep track by.

Valikili reached the river and started upstream toward their meeting place. A fringe of tough vegetation grew along the water’s edge – the only vegetation that survived into the dry season. He avoided its suggestive darkness. No incident had yet justified the sentries that Jan had placed, but Valikili, more than the colonists, respected his judgment. Besides, there were the precursors; everyone was speculating as to what had happened to whoever built those ruins.

It was unlikely that this generation would find time to explore that mystery and the next generation – what would they be like, so unnaturally cut off from the rest of mankind. Valikili shuddered at the thought.

His mood was anything but playful when he reached their appointed meeting place. Helene was not there. Valikili squatted to wait, uneasily watching the shadows. He regretted arranging the tryst and regretted his mood, which might well ruin it anyway. Something about the shadows of the vegetation near the water looked odd. He tried to ignore it, but his eyes kept straying back. It looked like a crumpled, human form.

Precursor? A superstitious shiver ran up his spine, followed immediately by a more urgent fear. Helene?

He approached the shadow warily. It was – something. Closer; it was a humanoid form, sprawled face downward.

“Helene?”

It was. He dropped beside her, feeling for her carotid pulse and drew back a hand sticky with blood. “No!” He felt closely, found a lump at the base of her skull, detected a weak pulse.

Something moved in the bushes.

He crouched over her and snarled, “Come out of there!” A figure rose, human, but anonymous in the darkness. It raised a knife to catch the moonlight.

Valikili crouched lower, trying to remember the rudimentary fighting skills he had been taught so many years before. The figure advanced and Valikili circled, trying to draw him out into the light. .

Something struck him from behind, knocking him to his knees, while his first adversary swept the knife forward, cutting him from elbow to wrist. Valikili felt the spurt of blood and knew that he had only moments before losing consciousness.

*****

Two-thirds of the colonists were named Dumezil after Louis Dumezil, the founder of their religion, and there weren’t enough first names to keep track by. I still like this conceit, but it painted me into a corner. Even I had a hard time keeping track of everybody, and I can only assume that it was worse for my readers. Rule one for new writers – make sure your characters’ names are easy for your readers to remember.

By the way, over in A Writing Life the post Science Fiction in the Wild will tell you why so few of my works take place in cities.

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