Jandrax 13

Valikili felt the spurt of blood and knew that he had only moments before losing consciousness. He ducked his head, jamming his sliced arm into his stomach to stop the bleeding. A club caught his shoulder and drove him down, rolling him over. The knife drove into his back, aimed for his kidney but deflected by his movement. He rolled forward and the knife thrust in again, tearing the muscles of his back and glancing off a rib.

He plunged into the vegetation, struck the river and fell forward. The stream was small, but swift. It carried him southward, bouncing him against rocks and mudbars. Blackness swept in and receded. He caught at the bottom with scrabbling fingers and reached the bank, then rolled in the mud trying to stop the wounds in his back. He felt consciousness slipping again and rolled over on his face, forcing his open forearm into the mud and pressing it under the weight of his body.

***

Marcel LaBarge found him, but Valikili remembered nothing until the pain of movement awakened him. By that time a dozen men had gathered around and Dr. Marcuse was bandaging his arm with practiced efficiency. “There,” he said, seeing Val’s eyes open “that should hold you together long enough to get you back to camp. What did you tangle with – a longneck?”

“Forget it, Doc.” It was Jan and his eyes bore fire. “Don’t pretend ignorance. You know damned well those are knife slashes.”

Valikili reached up with his free hand and Jan took it. “Helene?”

“She staggered into camp with a concussion. Nothing very serious, but it set off our search for you.”

Valikili relaxed into unconsciousness. Marcuse looked sideways at Jan and said, “Don’t make a big thing out of this. You have to expect violence when the sex ratio is this disturbed.”

“Just a jealous boyfriend. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes.”

“Stick to your stitches, Doc. You don’t have the faintest damned idea what’s going on.”

***

The snow came nearly every night, layer upon thin layer, moisture squeezed from the upper atmosphere by the cold.

The palisade was nearly completed and there were some makeshift brush and mud shelters inside. Everyone was constantly cold. They had collected only enough furs for blankets, though soon they would have enough to start making clothing. The coveralls that were standard for shipboard wear were scant protection here, and Dr. Marcuse had two cases of pneumonia as well as the slowly recovering Valikili housed in his makeshift infirmary in the hold of the landing craft.

Nur Mohammet closed the hide curtain behind him and crossed to the central fire. He shook out the blanket he had wrapped about him and laid it near the hearth, then dropped onto it. Marcel Damle stirred the dung-cake fire and asked, “How is he?”

“Better. He was actually in good spirits today.”

“That’s a switch,” Risley said.

Nur grinned. It always took Tenn by surprise when Nur’s solemn face opened up. “His girl came to see him.”

“Helene?” Tenn asked.

“She took her sweet time,” Jan added. “Why?”

“She told Valikili that she was scared to go to him before.”

“Bull breeze.”

“No, Tenn,” Jan said, “I believe her. She really was scared.”

Henri looked up from his work; his scars showed pale in the firelight as he asked, “Was she raped?”

Jan shrugged, “Marcuse knows, but he’s not talking. With only six or eight decent looking women in a colony full of young bucks, you figure it out.”

Staal cursed and his hands shook. Marcel touched his knee and spoke softly, “Henri, marry Marie. Don’t wait until someone else takes her away from you. Also, once you are living with her, you can protect her.”

Nur turned to Jan. “You don’t think rape was the motive, do you?”

Jan shook his head. “I think it was an excuse, an afterthought, and a diversion. I think they were out to kill Val.”

“Because he is one of the crew?”

“No. Because he isn’t a Monist.” more tomorrow

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