Jandrax 15

Chapter 4

Two (see below, 1) local months after the Lydia was stranded, the snows began to melt. At first only the surface melted during the day, refreezing at night. For a time, footing was treacherous. Then there came a time when the water did not completely refreeze, merely skimmed over. Finally the palisade was surrounded by a vast ocean of snowmelt, extending to the horizon and breaking like an inland sea against the foothills. The river swelled until it filled its kilometer-wide bed with a violent rush of ice-clogged, mud-brown water.

Even while the land was still covered, the first vegetation appeared; leaves and flowers sprang up on every withered bush and fresh shoots thrust out, growing at an unbelievable rate. When the water receded to mud, the gluegrass burst the bounds of earth, soft, stubby spikes of mucilaginous growth that clung to and fouled the legs of those who ventured out.

Then came the leers and the first wave of krats. Angi Dumezil watched the huge flightless birds from the palisade as they slogged about, buoyed up by their webbed feet. The hunters were only a hundred kilometers north of the settlement now, which eased the strain on the failing skimmer. In the palisade, preparations were being made to greet the main herd when it came. The mammalian herbivores would not arrive until the mud had dried enough to support their hooves.

Off to the north a small, deep lake in the shape of a perfect square marked the permafrost cellar dug earlier by the men. Now water filled, it would be filled with meat in the coming weeks and sealed with a covering of soil.

In the courtyard below, Jan was conducting classes in archery. The bows were of fiberglass formed from native sand by the lifeboat’s power pile. The arrows were tipped with the first native iron to have been smelted. Angi watched the men fire a volley, pride of community mingled with pride in her man. Jan had not asked her to marry him, but she expected the invitation any day – perhaps after the herds had passed and a measure of leisure had returned.

She returned to the task at hand, pouring boiling water through layers of ash to obtain the materials from which to make lye soap.(see below, 2) She was a pioneer and the daughter of pioneers; hard work was nothing new to her. Still, she had never been in a situation before where such a sense of urgency infused every act. It had welded them, crew and colonists alike, into a tightly knit community with the common purpose of survival. There was little bickering and an almost unnatural peace, due in part to the heritage of Benedictine Monism shared by all but the crew.

People no longer spoke of the fact that they were marooned. Angi, innocent of the complexities of spaceflight, found it strange that the uninjured ship orbiting Harmony – as they were corning to call the planet was useless without the flight computer. And no one talked about the fact that they had been stranded by a deliberate act. Everyone knew that one of their number was responsible for their exile, but no one had the courage to speculate as to whom.

She looked up as Adrian Dumezil and Alexandre Chambard arrived from the outside with a fresh barrel of water. They had it slung from two poles. Working together they transferred its contents to the stationary barrel above her kettle. 

*****

  1.   This seems a short time for all that has happened. I didn’t make a physical calendar while writing Jandrax, so I can’t refer back to see why I said two months. Certainly it is too soon for iron smelting, as mentioned a few paragraphs later. 
  2. If I were writing this today, I would set her a different task. Lye soap fits the circumstances she is in, but it is unlikely to have been in her skill-set on the planet from which she originated.
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