Jandrax 31

Chapter 7

When the third melt came, the colonists moved to the lake. It had taken all of the patriarch’s powers of persuasion to force the move and still they were reluctant. Four barges had been built and several huge rafts of logs. The women and belongings went in the former with a portion of the men while the remainder of the men guided the rafts down and beached them near the palisade. All this was done early in the melt, and when the herds came in earnest the men had already dragged the now empty barges back upstream to hunt the year’s meat supply.

Three weeks later the hunt was completed and the meat stored away in a new permafrost cellar. Then one group of the colonists began to construct permanent dwellings within the stockade from the timber rafts, while another began the back-breaking excavation of irrigation canals for a farm. Seeds were ready at hand, lying dormant in the desiccated soil, waiting for the next melt. River water rushed in some weeks later to provide an artificial melt. With Jan’s point proved, the colonists worked in earnest digging irrigation ditches against the next melt.

The snow came, bringing a halt to the digging, and the entire colony turned to the production of shelters. Like the upper colony’s, the first shelters at the lake were crude, but one substantial building was erected, a combination city hall and worship house. In the coming years the crude shelters would be replaced with solid homes.

Three months after the melt, Jan, Henri Staal, and Nur Mohammet hiked to the upper colony with a timber-cutting crew, then took the landing boat up to the Lydia.

Captain Childe met them with tears in his eyes. He had not seen another human face for more than a year, but he refused their entreaties that he descend to the planet. They toured the ship with him, marveling at the hydroponic setup he had built to sustain his life and noted the futile efforts he still made to repair the computer.

“You see,” he said, “I have rebuilt the logic unit of the navigation section. We may not know where we are, since the memory banks were destroyed, but we can leave here now to search out a better planet or merely to explore.”

Jan could not answer the captain, not having known him well, so it was Henri Staal who convinced the man that the colonists would never leave their new home.

They stayed a week, though their mission could have been accomplished in half that time. When they left, they carried makeshift nuclear devices jury rigged from the by-products of the Lydia’s drive unit. They landed at the passes north of the lower colony and blasted them shut, cutting off the herds from the plains near the lake where the colonists would establish their farms. Then they lifted off one last time in a shallow flight that landed them near the lower colony.

That night Henri Staal radioed to the Lydia and told Captain Childe of their success.

“Henri,” Childe asked, “are you content to stay there? If you had the choice of going with me in the Lydia to explore would you do so or would you stay where you are?”

“Why, stay, of course. What is the point of exploration now. We could not relay what we found to the Federation and it will be many generations before we even explore and populate this planet.”

“Don’t you feel the need to explore for its own sake?”

“Perhaps I did once, but no more.

After they had signed off, Henri stepped out of the landing boat and looked up to where the Lydia hung in orbit. Sudden fire lanced the heavens. Staal stood transfixed, then ran back up the ramp and tried to raise the Lydia, but there was no response.

When he went outside again the heavens were empty. Lydia had gone exploring; Captain Childe had returned to his life’s work. Someday he would die and the Lydia would continue on whatever course he had set for her, endlessly seeking in the loneliness of space.

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