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Pattern of Infinity - Part IV - THE AURON COMEDY

By J. Kel
Page 2 of 18

Clinician Franton had waited for this moment since first arriving on Kaarn nearly a decade before -- that long? -- the streak across the sky that would mean an end to their exile. She had been alerted to the orbiting craft by the robot sensors hours before and both she and Pater were now watching its orbit: she, from her make shift control room in the "infirmary"; he from his house on the spit. It was the first time they had spoken to one another in months.

As she expected, he had insisted there be no response to the calls from the orbiting craft. She had concurred, but reluctantly. Of course, it was best to be cautious, though how one could hide a settlement this size from orbiting surveillance was beyond her. And she could sympathize with, but not share, Pater's suspicions of humanity. As Aurons they wanted peace, and that had never been a gift from their human brothers. But even in that there was disagreement. To her peace meant the avoidance of conflict. To Pater, it meant the destruction of all opposition.

Did she fear him? Perhaps more than she wanted to admit, though it was a fear difficult to define or isolate. Most of the time, she was far too busy to dwell on it. One thought of fear as being bred by the unknown, yet she had had ample opportunity to watch her fellow exile over the years, to know him quite well. She was worried about him. Not only his shocking change in appearance over the years (it seemed he was still losing weight), but also his isolation from her and the children.

And she had been yielding authority to him. The struggle had been wearing at her, like a silent relentless flow of water cascading over a rock. She had fought back, but finally her strength was succumbing, her will eroding. She told herself it was for the children. The children were always her primary concern. Pater's distance from them was for the better.

But in the midst of this possibly wonderful news, they had to stand together. If only she could shake her worries . . .

Wait until she told the children!

On the monitor there was a brief, intense flash. The instrument readings showed the craft that had been orbiting overhead was coming in. It had been barely visible at this range; when the sunlight reflected off it, it was no more than a speck in space. She showed Pater the image, but he indicated no interest. It had apparently been enough of a burden to him to endure her excitement over the end of their long exile. This event, she realized sadly, was serving only to drive them further apart.

It had not been that way at first. They had stood together in the early days, during special occasions like the children's mass birthday celebrations. But then abruptly he quit attending them. It seemed everything he did of late was abrupt. He had been quite a help in the early days, like the fine job he had done in programming the "Herbert"s, and she was grateful for it. But when he built the house, the "shell house" as she called it, the distance between them became almost unbridgeable.

As neutral as possible, she said, "The sensors confirm it is quite small, though it may be coming from a larger ship we cannot detect -- that seems unlikely . . ." her voice trailed off.

"Whatever it is, it is unwelcome," he said forcefully, as if that were the only fact of importance. His face glowered at her, his eyes angry. "Inform whoever is aboard that they must leave at once. The children must not know of this."

She was shocked. "Pater, that is hardly possible! Be reasonable. These people may need help. Suppose there are injuries or illness? I will not deny them care."

She studied the monitor, enlarging the object as much as possible as it descended. She tried not to look at him. "If it is a lifecraft, they may not be able to leave here in any event." And if it is Federation . . .

He interrupted, "It is a lifecraft," he said flatly. He had been a traffic controller, so he knew. "And that fact makes no difference. Isolate them like the contagion they are." Then he suddenly looked weary, as if some point of hers would not leave him in peace. "I grant if they need help we will have to do something, but I wish you would acknowledge the danger."

"I acknowledge the possibility, but nothing else until there is evidence." She would not back down.

"By then it will certainly be too late."

She knew there was no point in arguing. Pater had his own version of reality, and like his fortress of a house, it was impermeable to whatever ocean of reason surrounded it. She wondered fleetingly if these others would be able to reach him, but knew the answer at once. He hated them not for what they might do, but for what they were.

She would say nothing more. Let him struggle with himself. She would not contribute to it.

"It is truly extraordinary," he said, almost musing and the tone of the remark startled her. It was like glimpsing a stranger resembling a man long thought dead. He seldom offered anything in the way of an observation; had not done so for years, not since his "revelation".

"What do you mean 'extraordinary'?" she asked cautiously.

"The odds of course. It must be trillions to one that a ship would become disabled just in our vicinity. One would have to think that there was a plan to it, yet surely the Federation could find a more direct means of announcing its presence."

Which was her point exactly. Whoever was descending towards the settlement was almost certainly not of the Federation. So who could it be?

And for a moment she hoped it would be something truly miraculous. She remembered the brave people of the Liberator, Cally most of all. Were any still alive? She wanted desperately to know, but Pater had shut off all communications from the outside . . . after the awful business on some far off planet called "Gauda Prime".

(The whole Galaxy had carried on about it, but he could not accept it.

He simply closed the communication center that day and refused to discuss the matter again. She objected strongly, though she felt his grief, if that is what it was. In the end she acquiesced.)

That was the true beginning of our estrangement, not the house.

Hope! It was like moving a massive weight from one's body when over the years limbs had grown weak and limp. She was exhausted and straining, but not even Pater would be permitted to take away the joy of this event. She was ready. Let them come.

"They will want to see you, and the children," she said firmly. "And they will have questions about . . . how we accomplished what we did. What shall I tell them?"

"Nothing. Put them off. I will program the Herberts to prevent them from entering the settlement. The rest I leave to you." He stared at her. "You know the dangers. Keep them away from me. Keep them ignorant."

Then he said, just before breaking the connection, "For all our sakes."


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