West of the Sun
Chapter 3

Public Domain

The gap in the leaves was blank, the green flame gone. Edmund Spearman gazed at the spot where the descending ship had been, unaware of his sons, unaware that his pygmy followers had been scattered by fear as swallows are scattered by a storm; unaware, Paul guessed, of the two men who had been friends and now were strangers--but these he presently saw again. His gray eyes measured Paul and Wright, the unspeaking giants, the small shaken figures of Pakriaa and Nisana and Miniaan, as if they were rocks or tree stumps and his only problem how to step around them. Addressing Wright and Arek, whose big arm was still warm around his shoulders, Paul said carefully, “It will come down on the meadow ground about twenty miles from here. They must have seen Vestoia from the air; they probably made sure there was no settlement in the open land.”

Wright whispered, “It may not even have been from Earth.”

“Oh!” Mijok’s black lips smiled. “It is, Doc. I forget our eyes are better at distance. You didn’t see the letters? Black on silver, reaching halfway up the body of the ship. J-E-N-S-E-N.”

“So?” In Wright’s face was a sudden blaze of belief.

Spearman stared. He said, “Quite an imagination. Glad it was you who made it up, and not one of the men who knew the real Jensen--a name that ought not to be taken in vain.”

“I have good eyes,” said Mijok gently. “I made up nothing.”

Spearman’s eyebrows lifted, a fury of mimic politeness. He stepped around the group as if they were not rocks but dangerous animals. He passed down the street in long strides, not looking back even for his sons. Paul stupidly watched him go, saw him reach the turning by the meat-slave stockade and break into a loping run. Stout Muson muttered, “So changed! What sickness could make such a change?”

Wright said, “It is not likely to pass. In the old days of Earth they sometimes ruled nations. Or they were put away in institutions, usually after others had been injured. Or they were fanatics of one sort and another, ridden by the devil of one idea. My profession learned a little about them--never enough. The law met them more often and learned less.” He watched Paul, perhaps needing contact with a Charin mind, since the innocence of the others gave them no frame of reference. “I dare say Ed is paranoid only on the one point, technically: all his troubles are caused by me and my--what did he say?--conspiracy. A means to help him believe that only he is right and virtuous and the universe wrong ... It is not so much a sickness, Muson, as the sum of years of mental bad habits. Vanity and dislike of one’s own kind make most of the seed, and this is the fruit.”

Elis said, “We can overtake him. Six of us giants--we can carry you, overtake him in a walk, if you think best.”

“Yes.” Wright watched the empty street and Spearman’s palace that already seemed haunted and forlorn. “I believe there’s no need for haste. Twenty miles...” The Vestoian pygmies were not returning; the street was a desolation of rubbish and loneliness with the dull smell of neglect. One of Spearman’s boys was whimpering; the other watched the place where his father had disappeared, a tension in his small face, without forgiveness. Wright said, “Who’s John and who’s David?”

The crying one muttered, “I’m John.”

David spoke as if the words had been shaken out: “He said she wouldn’t ever come back. Where is she?”

“At our island,” Paul told him. “She’s all right, David, and we’re going to take you to her. You want that, don’t you?”

“Is he going there?”

“We don’t know, David. You want to go with us, don’t you?”

“He hit her face. When she said it was his fault that they were all giving up the city. He always had the guards. Six sat around his bed every night. John and me, we tried. We made a grass picture like the priest Kona told us to do, and did things with it and burned it. It was no good.”

Arek said, “Let’s forget that for now. We’re going to the new ship and then the island. Shall I carry you? I’ve got two boys your age.”

“Who’re you? I never saw anybody like you.”

She dropped on one knee, not too close to him. “I’m like you, David. Just big and furry, that’s all.”

“Your mother, David”--said Wright, and swallowed--”your mother is living in my house now. She was our friend long before you were born, you know. She came from Earth with us ... You’re with us, aren’t you?”

The boy scuffed his bare feet in the dust. John was still crying. David slapped him savagely. “You stop yakking, y’son of a bitch.” The words could have no meaning for him, Paul thought, beyond the generalized stink of profanity. John stopped and rubbed his cheek without apparent anger, gulping and then nodding. When Arek reached, David let her pick him up, and he relaxed and buried his face in her fur...

The giants made little of the miles. Mijok had Pakriaa and Nisana in his arms and Miniaan perched on his shoulder. They had traveled often that way on the troublesome journey to Vestoia. Elis carried Wright’s trifling 140 pounds, and Muson had John, her slow voice establishing cautious friendship. Paul preferred to walk on his own feet, but before long Sears-Danik stole up behind and swept him into a living cradle. “Slow legs. Don’t mind, do you, Pop?”

“Pop, huh? No, I don’t mind, Danny. I was getting fifty-year-old cramps and too dumb to admit it.”

Dunin chuckled. “That’s Danny: knows all, sees all, says nuf’n’. I’d live with him awhile when he grows up if only he wasn’t so lazy.”

“What’s wrong with being lazy?”

“Not a thing, rockhead. Only if you’re going to explore, the way I am, you can’t be lazy, the way you are.” She twisted a branch into a leaf crown and walked backward before them, trying the crown on the boy’s head at different angles. “Ah, wonderful! Charging asonis--whuff whuff--and now you look just like the kink that chewed up my diary to make a nest.”

“Which was your fault for leaving it on a shelf and not writing in it. Explorers have to keep diaries. Doc said so--didn’t he, Paul?”

“I’m strictly neutral, to avoid bouncing.”

“So anyway, Dunin, when you trip over a root and smack your fanny, I’m going to laugh.”

She did. He did...

It was an hour before they overtook Spearman, who glanced back without expression, without halting his powerful strides, his tanned body gleaming with sweat and effort. Dunin sobered; she caught Paul’s eyes. She said, “May I carry you, Spearman? Then we can all reach the ship at the same time.”

Spearman gave no sign of hearing her. He drew up at the side of the trail, staring at the ground, arms folded. David’s face was hidden again at Arek’s breast; John seemed to be asleep. Dunin said, “Please? Why should we leave you behind?”

Remote and desolate, Spearman watched the ground. Dunin moved on, reluctantly, no more laughter in her. “What is he thinking?”

Wright said, “At this moment he’s probably thinking it’s brutally unfair that we should go on ahead of him.”

“But I asked--”

“You did. What’s more he hasn’t anything against you. All the same, that’s about what he’ll be thinking. Don’t try too hard to understand it, Dunin--I’m not sure it’s worth it. Let’s think about the ship. Paul, is it possible, what he said about charlesite?”

“I reckon so, Doc. The flame certainly did change to green. I think I remember, long ago, hearing some engineers discuss the possibility of stepping up charlesite enough so it could be used in braking a big ship for descent, instead of keeping the atomics on all the way down. It would char everything over a wide area, but at least it wouldn’t make radioactive desert...”

“I can’t feel it,” Wright mumbled. “Mirage...”

It was no mirage. The ship Jensen stood high above blackened ground half a mile away; even here at the edge of forest there was a lingering smell, anciently familiar. Paul felt himself grinning stupidly. “Plain carbon tet or something like it. Must have shot it out to kill any grass fires. No mirage.”

Towering silver-white above a hundred-foot tripod, it flaunted the letters of a great name, and David Spearman rubbed his eyes at it, leaning against Arek’s knee, accepting the protective touch of her hand. Arek said, “What--Oh Paul, what will they be like?”

Wright shook his head, plainly feeling it now--the thought, the memories, the pleasure, and something far from pleasure. Paul answered, “They will--look like us, Arek.”

Pakriaa pointed up. “There! That we remember. Oh, the beautiful--”

“A boat out already?” Paul searched and found the silver flight.

Wright chattered: “Have we anything, anything white? No--you and I out in the open, Paul--rest of you keep back. They need to recognize what we are--” He was shaking, and Paul embraced his shoulders to steady him as they moved into the open ground. Wright giggled hysterically. “Damn white flag myself--my whiskers--”

The boat swooped, swelling from a dot to keen familiar lines; it circled above them twice and came to earth in a perfect landing a hundred feet away. A blank pallor in the pilot’s window would be a human face; there would be a human brain shocked into new wonder. It was still necessary for Paul to help his teacher through the grass, for Wright was swaying and stumbling. Paul reminded him: “They’ll be sealed up, afraid of the air.”

“Ah, yes. I say they needn’t be--we have good air on Lucifer...”

Paul was aware of his own struggle for sanity, for clarity in the beginning of this impossible joy which was not pure joy. He heard himself shout at the top of his strong lungs: “‘Ahoy the Jensen!’ No, they won’t hear it. Yes--they did, they did.”

The door slid open for a meeting of two worlds. A square little bald man, a tall gray-haired woman who fussed at her ears, troubled by the change in atmospheric pressure. Faded overalls, the human look, incredulous stares changing to belief. The bald man gulped and stumbled; he grinned and held out his hand. “Dr. Christopher Wright, I presume?”

Wright could neither speak nor let go the hand. The woman said, “You must be--well, who could forget the photographs?--you’re Paul Mason.”

“Yes, We never--for years we haven’t even thought--” “Mark Slade,” said the bald man, “Captain Slade. This is Dr. Nora Stern ... Sir, I--you are well? You look well--”

“We are well,” said Wright.

“I’m afraid to ask--the others? Dr. Oliphant? Captain Jensen? The--the little girls? And there was a young engineer--Edmund Spearman...”

Paul managed to say, “Both little girls are mothers. Dr. Oliphant and Captain Jensen died--Jensen on the ship, in the last acceleration. Spearman is--will be here before long, I think. You may find him somewhat changed--” Wright said, “We must let Ed speak for himself, Paul.” In spite of the shock, the newness, Dr. Stern was sensitive to nuances. She said too loudly, “Beautiful country.” She pressed both hands to her ears and took them away and spoke in a normal voice: “There... ! Oh, what strange steep hills... !”

“N-not like any rock of Earth,” Paul stammered. “Defies erosion.” _And I am speaking with the pride of a home lover... _ “The open ground is a little dangerous--flying carnivores. Come and meet our friends.”

Captain Slade had already seen the giants and pygmies at the edge of the woods; his small monkey face was ablaze with friendly curiosity and the startled amusement that will wake at anything new, but he said, “In just a moment. Let me take this in. If I can ... We’ve done it, Nora.” He filled his lungs deeply, blinking at a few tears of pleasure. “A world like ours--a new world. Oh, Nora, it’ll be a long time before we can believe this, you and I ... High oxygen, we noticed--feels like it. Sir, your ship--”

“Lost,” said Wright, tranquilly now, no longer shaking from head to foot. “Out of control in descent, fell in a lake”--he motioned over his shoulder--”a few miles over there. We call it Lake Argo. Too deep even to think of salvage. One of the lifeboats cracked up; we used the other for about a year. Our friends, Captain--you’ll like our friends--”

Slade murmured, “Speculation on parallel evolution seems to have been sound--here anyway. Humanoid, I see. Two species?”

“Human,” said Wright. “Their English, by the way, is better than mine. They are close to us, Captain--very dear to us.”

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