Nightfall ~ Part 1
Oain Cummins cursed that moron who made the first mistake. He raised his eyes to the pink-tinged sky where Ianthe and Iophis, Sojourn’s two moons glared back at him balefully. The planet was supposed to be uninhabited, or so they had been told during the mission briefing. Uninhabited but habitable, distinctly Earth-like with a gravity of slightly less than his home world and with plenty of water. That last part had proven all too true. Sojourn’s humidity hovered at 75 percent, thanks to the deep warm ocean that covered most of the planet. He shuddered to think of what could have been had the opposite conditions applied…
His pale blue eyes on the valley floor illuminated in the light of those two moons. When both were in the sky, it was nearly as bright as day, although with a weird pink cast to the surroundings. There were far too many campfires in that valley. The indigenous peoples of Sojourn were more emboldened when both moons filled the sky. It had been that way since they first landed, some three years ago, by Earth’s calendar.
His memory called up the stories told by his grandmother when he was a child. A learned woman, she said she and her coworkers always expected a busy night at their medical facility when Earth’s single moon was full. How much more pronounced the effect under the gaze of Sojourn’s twin spheres.
His eyes scanned the heavens, mentally sorting through the barely visible stars searching, in vain he knew, for Earth his homeworld. She was out there somewhere, lost in the vastness of the cosmos. But she could offer no comfort tonight Oain heaved a sign and turned toward the squat structure in which his wife and infant son slept. He wondered, not for the first time, if there was any hell deep enough to punish him for the sin he had perpetrated on them.
He, like most on Earth had put entirely too much trust in Science. He smiled bitterly as he mentally corrected himself; not science but the Scientists. His small group had been completely unprepared for the presence of an intelligent indigenous species. His attention returned again to the pinpricks of flame that dotted the valley floor. They would be coming soon. It was time to wake the others, at least the ones still able to fight. Time to set their defenses. He did a mental count. Jeffreys had a bad leg but was still capable as long as mobility wasn’t a factor. Dannon was out. The wound in his side had turned septic and it was doubtful he would live to see another nightfall. Carruthers, Sanders, and Milligan and, of course, himself and his wife, Dakota, if need be. Dakota was as fierce as a mother bear when protecting her cub.
A shadow separated itself from the darker shadows surrounding the habitat and Oain was immediately alert. Then he recognized the sturdy figure of Gwy, the young chief of the local village. The chief had been the first of the locals to approach following their somewhat ignominious landing. He had been immediately drawn to the young man, amazed by his fearlessness and curiosity. Curiosity had turned to friendship and Gwy was now a frequent visitor to the Terran Outpost.
Oain nodded to this friend as Gwy stepped to his side. The chief was half a head taller than the mission leader, slender of build with dark bright bird-like eyes that missed little and a keen analytical intelligence that grasped any concept quickly. He rapidly mastered their language, not an easy task, and now seldom used his own during visits. Only Gwy’s people had been welcoming and Oain knew he had Gwy’s influence to thank for that as well as the steady trade of food and clothing between the outpost and the village. Cargo space was limited to store anything but the basics on the trip out. Of course, the resupply ship had followed them, bringing building materials, seeds and plants and a few species of livestock. But that had been nearly eighteen months ago. The plantings had not yet come to harvest and only a few of the livestock had been removed from stasis. Without the steady trade with the village, the mission would have failed months ago.
Oain feared their mission would still fail. That was mistake number two. The components necessary for completion of the jump gate had been notably absent from the resupply ship. Whether omitted by accident or on purpose the end result was the same. The jump gate could not be activated. And until it was, they had no way of returning home. They could not jump out and no-one could jump in.
The communications chip had explained everything thoroughly. The relief mission had been postponed indefinitely. Relations with the colonies on Mars had deteriorated to the critical stage and all resources had been diverted to deal with that. Once the rebellion had been quelled, the situation would be re-evaluated and perhaps efforts would be reallocated to the “Outward Bound” project. It might even be considered a priority. In the meantime, terribly sorry, old boy, but you’re on your own. But please don’t be alarmed by the cessation of communications. We have other, more important matters to deal with than your little group of mostly expendable personnel.
He hadn’t revealed the contents of this private communication to his wife or the others, of course, but he was certain they suspected. His wife, Dakota, was supposed to have returned with the relief mission and delivered their son back on Earth. Fortunately, the midwife from Gwy’s village was more than capable. And the fact that she was unfamiliar with the human species had the added benefit of preventing her from noticing any subtle deviations of his child from the norm. Fortunately, the differences were not as evident as he feared they might be. Even Dakota hadn’t noticed. Or, if she did, she remained silent. A trained genetist, she had been opposed to the very idea of genetic manipulation when Oain had first proposed infusing their fetus with Nanites. But Oain had injected them anyway. Shortly after the birth he had run the tests and the genetic manipulations were already in progress if one knew where to look. He hoped they would never need to call on the second phase of the Nanites’ programming. Still, he found knowing they had the option a comfort. If never activated the secondary protocol would just remain dormant.
They stood for a while, these two men from very different worlds, staring at the signs of unrest in the valley below them.
“The natives are restless tonight.” Gwy’s deadpan delivery held a touch of irony and Oain wondered if it had been wise to let him watch the old videos.
“They will attack soon. Both moons are high.”
“I’m afraid you are right. They feel the gods approve. The fools.” The younger man’ s scorn lent a sharp edge to the soft words.
“Are any of your people among them?”
“No!” Gwy regarded Oain calmly. “No, we are of the Aloi. My people are not fools. Those are primarily Nagansi. They quake at their own shadows. Because your presence forces them to face their own –cowardice–they hate you for it. They believe when you are gone, they can convince themselves they are great warriors!”
“None of your people fear us?”
“Why should they? My people are great warriors. We have no need to prove it. We have always offered an open hand to travelers.”
“But none who have traveled so far.” Oain wondered if he sounded as tired as he felt. He was mission leader. The others had placed their trust in his capability.
“No,” Gwy’s dark eyes glittered in the moonlight. “None who have traveled so far. I cannot pretend to understand this ‘mission’ of yours, my friend. But I am a chief of my people as you are a chief of yours, and I understand that. I have listened to you speak of your home and your love for it and I know you would not lead your people so far from it without good cause. Do you know why we pride ourselves in offering an open hand to all who seek it?”
Oain wondered again at the perceptions of this younger, and supposedly more ‘primitive’ leader.
“No. I have to admit that I don’t believe my own people would be so welcoming to strangers who say they come from another world. I have no doubt they would react just as the Nagansi have.” He gestured toward to panorama below them, “It is natural to fear what you don’t understand.”
“But it is also foolish to judge before you try to understand. My motives are not entirely selfish, my friend. I have learned a great deal and this alone will help me be a better chief. Your people have given us much. The seeds you provided do well in our gardens and help to feed my people. The medicines you willingly gave stemmed the sleeping sickness in our village. The wells you helped dig mean my people do not have to travel far for water. I could have urged my people to do as these fools do, but then I would have lost all these benefits. A wise man does not reject knowledge.”
Gwy gestured toward the valley. “They are coming.”
Oain glanced toward the habitat. “I must ready my people. Gwy, you must not be here when they come. This is not your fight and you should be with your people, in case the Nagansi turn against you. Go,”
Gwy clasped Oain’s hand in both of his. “Good luck my friend. I will return soon, but you are right, my first duty is to my village. I will return after sunrise.”
“I hope to see you then.”
He watched the young chief blend into the darkness and said a silent prayer for his safety. It couldn’t set well with those in the valley that Gwy’s people were so friendly with the newcomers. As he turned to raise the alarm he wondered if they would meet again in the morning. The charges on their weapons were almost gone. Once that happened they would lose any advantage and as outnumbered as they were…
“Dakota! Hide Bryce. and do what you can for Dannon. Carruthers, Sanders, you take the right side. Milligan, you and Jefferey’s take the left. Make every shot count. We don’t have that many charges left.” He paused for a moment. “We have to make it through tonight. Both moons won’t be high for another 113 days. That will give us some breathing room.” Silently, he added a fervent I hope.