The first shift took their positions in pairs. Arthur Bradford was paired with Zeke Jefferson.
“What sort of work did you do in Torthúil?” Arthur asked the younger man.
“I was a weaver. Baskets and stuff.” Zeke grabbed a hunk of grass, bending it back and forth to test it. “If the grass is like this stuff where we end up, I should be able to work with it. And you? What did you do?”
“I was a teacher. Before that I was in building construction.”
Zeke looked at the older man more closely. “Um, can I ask you something personal?”
“Well, I’m not good at ages. Were you born … here?”
Arthur heard the same question each year from his students. “Yes. My parents were born on the space station. They were kids when they landed here. I’m way too young to have been born there.”
Zeke was fascinated, and alert. He also wanted to avoid any questions about his relationship with Amy — since her husband was supposed to be here, not her lover. “Your grandparents … were they …?”
“No, they weren’t in the mutiny party. They were simply trapped along with everyone else. That’s all my parents would tell me. They wouldn’t tell me why the mutiny party refused to return to Earth when they were supposed to, or why they didn’t just stay in space. I did hear once, though, that the space station people were primarily scientists and so they didn’t have the experience to overthrow Wilson’s group.” Arthur sighed. He did wonder sometimes what it would be like to grow up on Earth. His grandparents didn’t talk about it much when he was a child, and they died when he was very young.
Suddenly Debit and Credit were standing, their fur equally erect. All of the guards noticed right away, and held their weapons pointing outward, although they couldn’t see anything. It was the time between the moons, and so the only light aside from the stars came from their fires. Unfortunately, all the fires did was make them easy to spot. They made it harder to see at a distance.
Arthur looked at the dogs and faced the direction they faced – which happened to be toward the mountains. He moved sideways away from the fire, as Zeke watched to protect him. Eventually he was in an position to see pairs of glowing eyes. He counted three pairs. These could be native animals, or descendants of some experimental hybrid, or … no real way to know. He returned to his position with Zeke.
“There’s some sort of animals out there. Three, I’m guessing, but of course there’d be a lot more somewhere.”
Zeke shivered. “What do you suggest we do?”
“Well, if we just sit here, it may make us look like supper. I think if there are guards circling our perimeter, we’ll be safer. We can take turns. One of each pair can go to the next fire pot. Like this. I’ll go over to that spot. When I get there, one of them will move on. When someone gets here, eventually, you move on to the next spot. Got it?”
“I think so. But won’t that make me alone for a long time?”
“Hmm. Well maybe if those guys on the other side see what’s happening, they’ll catch on. Then you won’t be alone for long.”
The movement of the patrolling colonists kept the animals away for the night. In the morning everyone ate, and the camp was packed. Harris Cambridge led his group onward, toward the mountains, but mindful of the fact that there were animals of some sort ahead.
“We should be heading away from the animals! We don’t know what they are, or how dangerous they are.” Fr. Casey was much more used to being a leader than a follower.
Harris sighed. “Right. In our case, that’d be like walking around the long way to avoid a grocery store. If there are animals ahead that think we’re edible, then they’re edible to us as well! Our food won’t last forever.” He tried not to look at the priest. How did he manage to end up with one whose idea of roughing it was to open his ice box himself? But colonists weren’t screened as rigorously as they were in the beginning. Really, as long as you weren’t a direct descendant of Thadden Wilson or his mutinous group, you were accepted for the trip. Too bad.
The group of two hundred trudged along a second day – their first full day – without incident. It was a remarkably boring day, without change of scenery or activity. On the plus side, the weather was nice, and it was easy enough to avoid being with people you found distasteful.
The following morning, Sr. Matthias was the first to notice it. “What’s that? Ahead of us?” she asked of no one in particular. Sleepy eyes turned toward the mountains where she was pointing.
“Trees, silly.” January looked at the nun, who was perhaps her age. She just didn’t understand the whole nun thing. This one couldn’t be all that bright if she didn’t know trees when she saw them! Maybe that explained … well….
“I know they’re trees! But why are there so many of them? And why are they so close together?” More people started to look. That really was an awful lot of trees, not just the occasional tree here or there.
Arthur Bradford broke the silence. “I’ll bet I know where those mystery animals live.”