Authors: Gian Bordin
Yuen-mong was born after her parents, both famous scientists, got stranded on Aros under suspicious circumstances, while attempting to collect mineral samples from its ring. When she was twelve, savage descendants of a failed colonization attempt three hundred years earlier killed her parents. She survived the planet’s many deadly perils with the help of her highly developed empathic skills that allow her to sense the emotional state of people and animals. She always dreamed that one day she will return to her parent’s home world, Andromatis, and reclaim her heritage. When Atun, a mineral exploration scientist, also crash-lands on the planet, she seizes the opportunity to realize that dream, but first she has to overcome his prejudices for her primitive, cave-dwelling lifestyle.
Implementing her father’s theory that the rapidly oscillating magnetic field of Aros cripples all electronics, they convert his damaged space lander to mechanical control. In spite of Atun’s fear that flying such a contraption is the surest way to kill oneself, they manage to reach the space craft her parents had parked in orbit around Aros more than twenty years earlier. It is only the first step towards embarking on a mission of discovering the who sent her parents to ‘the planet of no return’ and why, and of seeking revenge for her parents’ death. Will her Aros survival skills be of any use on Andromatis?
Copyright © Gian Bordin 2010
Yuen-mong was pleased that Atun stayed out on the wide ledge in front
of her cave, taking in the view. She could feel his enjoyment. It promised
something for them to share. Every time she stepped out onto this
balcony, it filled her with pleasure and contentment.
How old is he?
wondered. Having only her parents and herself as a basis for comparison,
she could only guess. He was definitely younger than her father when he
had been killed at the age of 41, and his mental emanations were also less
stable, suggesting a degree of immaturity. She also thought he was older
than she, but by how much?
Had she done right, taking him to her cave? …
You had to,
herself. He was so inexperienced and clumsy, he would have perished
before the night was over. But would a mate like this really be of much
use to her? Would it not just be an additional burden, possibly even
I can teach him.
And he might even be able to help her
realize her father’s idea, if his craft was not badly damaged.
That morning had begun like most days. At dawn she was on top of
the promontory above her cave, watching the silhouettes of the two night
hunters slowly shrink to tiny dots against the golden ring in the dawn sky.
As the birds flew out to sea to their offshore rookery, their haunting calls
grew fainter. She lost them when they dipped into the twilight below.
Her gaze returned to the ring—a half-circle that dominated the
southern skies of Aros, her home world. She fully relaxed into a lotus
position, welcoming the gentle breeze brushing her skin like a soft
Any moment now.
She closed her eyes and raised the flute to her
mouth, listening in her mind for the light tingle that heralded the
awakening of the dawn bird that nested on the huge broadleaf hugging
the rock face below the cave. A flutter touched her. Counting silently
‘one, two, three’
she sounded a high F sharp at the same time as the
bird’s challenging warble of A minor – C drifted up to her. The bird’s
trilling grew more insistent, as if calling for the dissonance to be
resolved. When Yuen-mong slid to a high G the bird shifted to low G –
B. Then both paused. The bird again trilled its initial chord, a bit more
tentatively, answered by Yuen-mong’s F sharp. They repeated this game
once more, when she matched the bird’s call in harmony with a high G.
In response, the bird jubilantly launched into its morning melody, while
she improvised around it. This was her morning song—a ritual she
observed religiously every dawn, weather permitting.
A few other dawn birds picked up the melody, like delayed echoes,
creating new harmonies and dissonances. Her mother had told her that it
sounded like the carol of church bells on Old Earth when it was still
home to humanity more than four hundred standard years past.
She put down her flute and got up, letting her gaze stray over the majestic halo in the sky. Somewhere up there at its outer edge an empty ship
was hurtling around Aros ever since before her birth, waiting in vain for
its two occupants to return.
Dead almost seven years already.
her eyes, calling up the loving, serious face of her father, the gentle smile
of her mother, who had named her Yuen-mong—Mandarin for ‘complete
the dream’ or ‘make the dream come true’—the hope that some day she
might take her daughter back to her home world. Then Yuen-mong
flowed into a slow dance of t’ai chi, meditating on those images.
When the first rays of the sun caressed her nude body, she stopped,
and carefully scanned the horizon all around. No clouds anywhere. The
foliage of the ubiquitous broadleaf and silverleaf trees danced rhythmically in the sea breeze. She closed her eyes and listened to the ever-present quivers emanating from everywhere. Just the usual background
noise. It heralded a pleasant, warm day. She picked up her flute and
climbed down to her dwelling below, a domed cave, about four meters
wide and over fifteen long, with a dozen small niches, which she used to
store things, and three alcoves, spacious enough for sleeping.
While preparing her breakfast, she softly hummed the song of the
dawn bird. ‘Muesli’ was what her mother had named the Spartan meal of
the fermented pulp of timoru, a sausage-like fruit, highly poisonous when
fresh. Leaching the squashed fruit several days in a lime solution and
then fermenting its pulp removed the poison and made a nourishing, but
rather bland food, which she used as a basis for most meals. For breakfast
she made it more palatable by mixing in nuts and the dried sweetberries
that grew on the flat tops of her rock.
She sat on the balcony, slowly chewing the coarse mash, squeezing
out every bit of flavor from the sweetberries before swallowing, the way
her mother had taught her. While the top above gave an uninterrupted
view in all directions, the balcony faced the sunset side and in the
morning offered cool shade. She enjoyed looking over the sea, the ever-changing pattern of waves and colors, the golden ring high in the sky like
a halo. The slight curvature of its vast horizon was clearly visible. Her
father had calculated Aros’ diameter at a mere 8,064 kilometers, small
compared to most inhabited worlds.
What will this new day bring?
She posed herself this question every
morning, knowing full well that each day followed a similar routine of
ensuring her survival by gathering food, fuel, and other things to make
life more comfortable, but that the moment she left the sanctity of her
rock, her very safety depended on constant vigilance and split-second
Suddenly, a terrible shriek of fear assaulted her, coming from some
being up in the sky. Unprepared, her mind had been completely open, and
it hit her like a thunderbolt. She dropped her bowl and curled up into a
ball, trying to shield herself. It lasted and lasted, but slowly she gained
control over her senses, managing to separate her own feelings from
those of the other being whose cry of distress resonated in her mind. Its
strength and persistence ruled out any birds, even the murderous craw,
nor did the fear of death emanating from the savages, the descendants of
a failed colonization attempt who had reverted to a stone-age culture,
affect her like this. It triggered a vague memory of a similar episode in
early childhood. Had they not stumbled a few days later across a small
crater reeking of an unknown stench and containing twisted and burned-out pieces of metal which her father had explained were the remains of
a spacecraft that had crashed?
As then, the assault ended as suddenly as it had started. Only a flutter
remained, throbbing almost imperceptibly. That was different from her
previous experience, where the mind had been silenced completely. Did
the unlucky soul survive, only to perish with certainty the coming night?
She instantly changed her mind about gathering timoru close to her cave,
but instead decided to go exploring south from where the flutter seemed
A short time later, after having washed herself under the fine splashes
of water, which like a shower trickled down from ceiling cracks at the
farthest recess in the cave and seeped into cracks in the floor, she dressed
in skin-hugging pants and a loose, sleeveless vest from the soft but tough
wing skin of a giant craw, she had dyed with the dark brown of the
broadleaf bark. Last, she hung a little leather pouch around her neck,
dropping it under her top. Her mother had called it an amulet when she
had made it for her. At that time it had contained only a gold nugget,
shaped in the form of a full-bellied woman. Now the skin of her mother’s
preserved thumb tip was inside too. She had made her promise that if she
should die, she would preserve it and add it to her amulet, that it might
one day be useful to her. She wondered whether the image of removing
the skin, blurred by tears, would ever fade, whether that last look at her
mother when she said goodbye, leaving her body to the night scavengers,
would remain with her for the rest of her life.
After putting on her soft boots, she stood at the edge of the cave
balcony, letting her long black hair dry in the breeze before gathering it
into a pony tail with her sling, while listening in her mind to any
emanations of life that were not part of the normal background noise. She
only sensed the weak flutter from the south. No signs of unwelcome or
dangerous intruders, no querulous disturbance of savages. Over her
shoulders, she slung her bow and arrows, a carry pack also made of craw
skin which contained emergency items and her folded-up craw decoy,
and then lowered herself by a rope through the canopy of the broadleaf.
The rope dangled from the overhang of her cave to the ground some
twenty yards below. She had to jump the last two yards, landing on the
soft, humid ground. The end of the rope remained hidden in the foliage.
Another quick mental scan that reassured her and she set out at an easy
run, staying just within the trees along the sandy beach that swept south
in a wide curve. In the low gravity of Aros, she could keep up this pace
for hours without tiring. She preferred running to walking, because she
was then not bothered by the slight limp caused by a childhood accident.
Gliding noiselessly over the soft ground which was swept clean by the
night scavengers, she kept scanning the background for any signs of life
that did not blend into the background noise. The weak flutter was still
there. Twice she felt the distinct touch of a craw. It was no threat to her
as long as she remained under the canopy. That was another reason why
she did not run on the beach itself, although she soon would have to cross
the open estuary of the Goldnugget River, a sizable water at the southern
end of the beach and the craw’s hunting ground. Maybe the predator was
after one of the big waders whose constant emanations of fear blended
into the background noise. That would keep it occupied.
When she reached the edge of the forest, she spotted the wader zigzagging through the swamp, while the craw came swooping down in hot
pursuit. Just when she thought the wader would be swept up in flight by
the huge predator, it managed to sidestep its open claws, and the scream
of frustration filled the air as the giant barely managed to balance itself
where it had come down hard.
Taking advantage of the bird’s temporary immobility, Yuen-mong
darted across the open space, carefully keeping to firm ground and
jumping over patches of swamp. The wader too had sought safety under
the trees at the other side of the estuary. This was her chance to get a
juicy roast for her evening meal unless the bird sought refuge too close
to the camp of the savages.