BROTHERS OF EARTH C. J. Cherryh
C. J. Cherryh
Endymion died soundlessly, a man-made star that glowed and quickly winked out of existence.
Kurt Morgan watched her until there was no more left to see, eyes fixed to the aft scanners of the capsule. When it was over, he cut to forward view and set his mind on survival.
There had been eighty men and women on Endymion, seventy-nine of them now reduced to dust and vapor with the ship, indistinguishable from its remains. Two minutes to sunward was another cloud that had been the enemy, another hundred individuals, the elements that had been life from a score of worlds borne still on collision course, destroyer and destroyed.
No report of the encounter would go back to Central. There was no means to carry it. The Hanan planet of origin, Aeolus, was no more than a cinder now, light-years distant; and Endymion in pursuing the Hanan enemy had given no reference data to Command. They had jumped on their own, encountered, won and perished at once; their survival capsule had no starflight capability.
A nameless star and six uncharted worlds lay under the capsule’s scan. The second was the most likely to support life.
It grew larger in his scanners over the course of seven days, a blue world wreathed in swirling cloud and patched with the brown of land. It had a large, solitary moon. In all particulars it read as an Earth-class planet, one the Alliance would have sacrificed a hundred ships to win-which they had already won if they could have known it.
The feared Hanan retaliation did not materialize. There were no ships to threaten him. The world filled the scanners now. Kurt vacillated between euphoric hope and hopeless fear-hope because he had planned to die and it looked as if he might not; and fear, because it suddenly dawned on him that he was truly alone. The idea of a possible enemy had kept him company until now. But Endymion had run off the edge of the charts before she perished. If the Hanan were not here, then there were no other human beings this far from Sol Center.
That was loneliness.
The wedge-shaped capsule came in hard, overheated and
struggling for life, plates shrieking as they parted their joinings. Pressure exploded against Kurt’s senses, gray and red and dark.
He hung sideways, the straps preventing him from slipping into the storage bay. He spent some little time working free, feverish with anxiety. When he had done so he opened the hatch, reckless of tests: he had no other options.
Breathable. For a time after he had exited the ship he simply stood and looked about him, from horizon to horizon of rolling wooded hills. Never in all his planetfalls had he seen the like of it, pure and unspoiled and, but for the stench of burning, scented with abundant life.
He stood there laughing into the sun with the tears running down his face, and shut his eyes and let the clean wind dry his face and the coolness of the air relieve the stifling warmth that clung to him.
The land began to descend perceptibly after the forests: a long hill, a rocky bow of land, a brief expanse of beach on an unlimited expanse of sea. The sun was low in the sky before he had found a way down from the high rocks to that sandy shore.
And there he dropped his gear on the dry sand and gazed out entranced, over a sea bluer than he had ever seen and greener than the hills, colors divided according to the depth.
Isles lay against the horizon. The sand was white and littered with the refuse of the sea, bits of wood and weed, and shells of delicate pinks and yellows, in spiked and volute shapes.
Delighted as a child, he bent and dipped his hands into the water that lapped at his boots, tasted the salt of it and spat a little, for he had known what a sea ought to be, but he had never touched one or smelled the salt wind and the wrack on the beach. He picked up a stick of driftwood and hurled it far out, watched it carried back to him. Something within him settled into place, finding all the home-tales of his star-wandering folk true and real, even if it was in such a place as this, that man had never touched.
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