Divided Planet

 

 

 

Part Four- Seeing is not Necessarily Believing

 

 

Mmringorr peered curiously at the human standing resolutely before him.  “Why would you want to go out into possible danger?”  

“Look, you told me yourself that the last offensive seemed to be over.  There had been no incursions for the past two days.  We have been here for two weeks.  We need to get back to our ship and get it ready for launch.  It is time for us to leave.  We aren’t a part of your war, Mmringorr,” Don said, his frustration barely held in check.  

“ ‘Seemed’ to be over, Major West, seemed to be.  Sometimes the Rylorr wait several revolutions, regrouping, coming up with new strategy, waiting to see what we will do.  It is not safe out there.”

“When will it be safe out there?” Don asked pointedly. 

“Perhaps a quarter of a sun revolution.”

Don did some quick figuring.  “Three months?  You’ve got to be kidding!  We have to stay here for three months?”  

“Maybe a bit less, Major.  We are only trying to keep you safe.  You need to think of the rest of your group.  There are the children.”

Sighing, Don was thinking, and could only hope that Mmringorr was telling him the truth.  There had been no indication in the past two weeks to show malice or any ulterior motives.   But he was also thinking of John, and he was thinking of his need to give his friend the proper burial he deserved.  “Yes, I see your point and I appreciate your concern, Mmringorr.”  

The pilot was still thinking when the sleep cycle came.  He had watched the preparatory maneuvers of the Grringol soldiers and knew where they came and went in their sorties against the Rylorr.  Quietly he slipped on his clothes and grabbed his parka and gloves.  In the quiet of the ‘night’ he slipped down the narrow passageways and pressed himself to the walls of the larger thoroughfares.  Occasionally he hid in shadows while home guard watchmen passed by.    

Finally, Don reached the training and equipment cavern that he knew opened to the outside.  Quickly, he padded to the Chariot and pulled out the beacon indicator that he had left under his seat.  Turning it on, he saw with satisfaction that the signal was still strong.   He pulled out a long length of heavy-duty rope, a pick, a flashlight and a small hand-held portable winch.  All of these items were stuffed into a backpack, which he slipped over his shoulders.  As he tightened the straps, he walked toward a group of smallish machines; somewhat resembling the four wheeled all terrain vehicles he had driven occasionally back on Earth when he was a boy.  Disengaging what he presumed to be the Ugorrim equivalent of a clutch, Don pushed one of the vehicles through a doorway that opened into a natural cavern.   

He heard the murmuring of Grringol soldiers ahead of him and wondered how he was going to get past them.  Slowly Don pushed the ATV up the slope closer to the entrance of the cave, keeping his eyes and ears focused on the guards.  He pulled back into a shadow when they turned and walked toward him.   The vehicle was too large to hide and Don could only pray that they didn’t take it with them.   

“Only one cup, Gregrrin, then I must go back on duty.”   Don saw one of the soldiers look at the vehicle, pause, and then shrug and walk after his companion.  With a sigh, the pilot waited until the two Grringol soldiers walked into the hanger and then he quickly pushed the vehicle into the night.  Don continued pushing until he felt he was far enough from the entrance of the cave to not be heard.  He pulled out the tiny flashlight and shined it on the vehicle briefly, finding the starter switch.  Quickly he pushed the switch and grinned when the engine engaged with a soft growl.  Replacing the flashlight, he pulled out the beacon and turned it on again.  The direction finder pointed unerringly toward the rising moon.  Satisfied, Don mounted the machine and slowly set off across the plain, watching in the dim light for hazards that might end his clandestine journey before he reached his destination.   

For several hours, Don carefully negotiated holes, rocks and tiny creeks, but he knew that he was still traveling faster than they had during the awful day after John’s fall into the crevasse.  There was almost no wind and the air held the promise of a decently temperate day.  Finally, as the moon began to touch the horizon behind his back, he began seeing the other beacon flashing its location.  Soon Don was at the site of their encampment and as he peered over the edge of the precipice, he saw only a little more damage than what had occurred when they left.  Finding two rocks to block the wheels, the pilot pulled out the winch, rope and flashlight.  Tying the rope to the main axle of the machine, he ran it through the winch mechanism and then tied the other end around his waist.   

Slowly he eased himself down over the edge, slowly paying out the rope, checking and rechecking his footing.  At first the going was easy.  The incline was sloping near the top, but then it soon steepened until it was almost vertical.   As Don slowly let himself down, he kept an eye on the depth indicator strapped to his wrist.  Finally at fifty meters, he stopped and rested on a ledge.  Above him the clouds were showing the beginnings of day.   He would have to hurry, as the Grringol would surely have missed him by now.   John had said that he fell about seventy meters.  If he was in the right spot, there should be a ledge or the bottom just below him.  Don lay on his stomach and leaned over the dark abyss.  Turning on the flashlight, he let its small but powerful beam take in the rock walls below him.  Surprisingly the bottom of the slope was only another thirty meters below.  John had fallen almost the entire distance of this crevasse.   

He shined his light on a large ledge just below him and to his left.  There seemed to be stains that were unnatural.  Blood!  He had found the spot, but where was John’s body?  Quickly, he eased himself down to the ledge and examined the ground.  There was no doubt; even the recent snows couldn’t hide the discolorations.  He shined the light around the bottom of the slope, assuming that John somehow must have fallen over the edge and to the bottom.  But there was nothing, no stains, and no body.  He looked back up at the sky that continued to lighten and pondered the possibilities.  Don could come to only one conclusion… there were animals on this planet big enough to carry away a body.   

Not quite satisfied, Don lowered himself to the bottom of the crevasse and walked each way.  There was no further indication that John had been here, but the evidence was still unmistakable on the ledge above him.  “John, I’m sorry,” he murmured, bitterly disappointed that even in this he could not do anything.   

Climbing back up to the bloodstained ledge, Don reached inside his parka and pulled out a small image.  It was a picture with a flower stuck in the corner, a picture of a small kitten, lovingly drawn with bright crayons.  The flower had once been a vibrant little rose bud, but had long since dried.   It was from Judy, to whom he had passed along his desires to return to this place.   She had drawn it when she was five, during her kindergarten year.  For some reason she had always kept it with her, even during this time when they had only planned on being gone from the Jupiter II for a short time.  She had said that for several years her parents had proudly kept it on the side of the refrigerator. 

Don sat on a boulder for a short time, contemplating, wishing he could turn back time.  If he had only awakened earlier, heard Will and Smith leave the tent, been quicker than John.  If only….  An eddying of wind caused a mournful moaning that matched his mood.   He finally stood up, and grasping the line, pushed the button that remotely engaged the winch, and climbed the slope.  At the top, he wound the rope back up, disengaged the useless winch and placed them all into the pack once more.  Turning the vehicle around, Don began the journey back to the Grringol city.  Owing to the daylight conditions, he was able to make fast time and within only a few hours saw a small group of Grringol approaching him from the caverns. 

He stopped and waited.  Mmringorr was in the lead and pulled up close to his vehicle.  “Why did you disregard my desires?” the Grringol asked.  His voice was harsher than usual, almost a growl and it was easy to tell that he was angry.   

“You said at one time that you were not sure of our customs of ‘separation.’   One of the customs that we have is to properly lay our dead to rest.  We weren’t able to do that, Mmringorr.  I wanted my friend and commander to have the honor of a decent internment,” Don explained.   

The Grringol’s features softened.  “Oh.  I am sorry, my friend.  I didn’t know.   It was dangerous for you to go into Rylorr territory, but I understand why you did it.   Is the separation complete now?” Mmringorr asked.  

“As complete as it can ever be.”  Don didn’t tell feel it was necessary to tell the ursoid that there was no body.   At least he had been able to pay his proper respects.   Silently the small group returned to the caverns.  When Judy’s eyes questioned him at the lunch table, he just nodded.  

 

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As she had each night for the past several weeks, Penny had thought about her dad, scenes from the past the last things that she saw before sleep overtook her.  This time she reminisced about a day when they had gone to the beach while they were still in California.  She remembered that they took a picnic basket and ate sandwiches as they waited for the tide to roll in.  Will stayed close to Mom since he was only three at the time, but she and Judy and Dad had gone out when the waves began creeping toward the rocks.   

“Watch for the bubbles,” he said. 

“Why, Daddy?” she asked.  “What’s making the bubbles?”  

“Those are the crabs hiding under the sand.  If you are quick enough, you might be able to catch one,” he told her. 

She and Judy watched and waited, and when they saw the tiny bubbles popping through the waves, they took their sticks and dug furiously.  Once she had seen a claw disappear as she dug, but that had been as close as she had come to catching one.  Daddy had had better luck, though, and carefully opening his hand had shown her the tiny creature.  It was lying on its back, its claws waving ineffectually in the air, the tiny bubbles still gathering on its stomach, eventually hiding it from her view.   

“Daddy, I can’t see it anymore!” she cried out.

“That’s the general idea, sweetheart,” he said.  “It’s trying to hide from us.”  

“Oh.”  She remembered watching, fascinated.  Later they found long, ropey lengths of kelp and popped the round, ball-like growths on it.  Sometimes the seawater squirted her in the face, which made her laugh.  Judy and Dad each took an end and turned it for her to jump rope, but she fell more times than she succeeded in jumping.   She remembered that on the Jupiter she still had a shell she had found that day.  Daddy had said it was hard to find shells that pretty on the beach anymore.  It was pearly pink on the inside, had delicate white projections on the outside and was only as long as her little finger.   As she began to drift off to sleep, Penny wished she had it with her now.   

Then she saw a room that looked something like the rooms in the Grringol city, cave-like with rounded ceilings and stone floors.  The view seemed to drift toward her, gently allowing her to see what was going on.  Soft lights shone from the ceiling.  Various racks of weapons lined the walls.  There were several mats on the floor.   She saw a man and a white Grringol fighting.  The man had his back to her, but she could tell he was tall, even though the Grringol was a little taller.  No, it wasn’t a Grringol; it was a Rylorr!  The Rylorr were white, the enemies of the Grringol.   As it moved, the resemblance to a polar bear was uncanny, just as the Grringol reminded her of grizzly bears.   

She watched fascinated as the bear-like humanoid alternately lunged forward and jumped out of the man’s way.   Both were holding long staves, much like the one Will liked to practice with in Hmrin’s private little gymnasium.   The man’s movements were familiar, as though she had seen someone like him before.  He was half turned toward her and she could see that he was bearded and mustached, although it wasn’t a long or completely full beard.   His hair was dark and wavy and his eyes were a familiar shade of green-brown.  They were like her eyes… they were her dad’s eyes.   Dad!  “DADDY!” 

She jerked awake, bolting upright, and looked around the dimly lit room.  She was alone, but the images that she saw in the ‘dream’ were so real, so vividly clear.  They were much clearer than she had ever seen in a dream before.  She lay back down, willing her mind to bring that vision back to her.   Mom had told her that Daddy had suffered terrible injuries, and she had heard it in his voice as he talked to him just before he had died, but in her dream, he looked so healthy and alive. 

Confused, she wondered if maybe it was something that had happened before and she was just remembering.  No, that was a Rylorr he was sparring with.   He was in the Rylorr city.  But why was she seeing this?  Were the present and her desires so close that she was dreaming about something that she wished could happen?  Tears pushed past her closed eyelids and streaked down her cheeks, staining her pillow.  Penny heard Judy’s soft footfalls as her older sister entered the room and quietly lay down on the bed near her, but she chose not to say anything. 

Finally she fell asleep, but there were no dreams.

 

end part four

 

 

Chapter Five
Chapter One
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