Judith Proctor

It was one of those long hot dusty afternoons that occur towards the end of summer. I was sitting on the rail of the corral trying to find an excuse to avoid hoeing the vegetable patch. We'd had a much greater variety of vegetables these last few years; some of the new settlers had brought the seeds of Earth plants with them. Father always likes to tell me of the old days - when he and Mother first lived here they had had nothing to live on except tinned food from the old factory. They'd had to experiment to discover which of the native plants were edible.

The first couple of years were very bad - Mother told me that she had two children after me, and lost them both. Then new people started arriving. They said there had been a great war with aliens from another galaxy; many good agricultural worlds were damaged and people were looking for new land to cultivate. Hollerith isn't a bad place to live once you've got something to plant that is worth eating. Father says the settlers named our world. It just had a number before, but I don't know what the number was.

The settlers brought livestock too. Obviously they didn't transport fully grown animals, they brought along gene stock and brood units. I can still remember seeing my first horse - the idea of a tame animal seemed really strange to me. Heidi Schultz always used to complain to her husband that a ground car would have been more convenient, but Schultz said that horses didn't need spare parts from off world, and besides, they produced their own replacements.

Anyhow, as I was saying, it was a hot day. The sort of day when a boy would far rather be lazing around than working. I liked just sitting there on the rail enjoying the view. That was when I first noticed him - the stranger that is. I spied him a long way off down the track, near to Denham's place. He was walking, carrying a pack on his back, and didn't seem to be in any hurry, just walking as though he was going some place that was far far away, and expected to take forever to get there.

A stranger of any kind was a novelty in the valley. Where had he come from? There were other settlements on Hollerith, but none close by. A ship had come down near the factory the week before. There was a rumour going around that there were plans to start up mining again. Had he come in on the ship, or walked from one of the other settlements?

I watched him as he came closer. I could make out more details now. His clothes must have been smart once upon a time. His black tunic showed signs of much wear, but there was something about it that suggested a man who cared about what he wore. His trousers were black too, tucked into leather boots. A silver studded belt encircled his waist, and that was when I realised what was unusual about him. He didn't wear a gun. Here on Hollerith, everyone wears a gun. We're a small friendly community in the valley, but there are a lot of dangerous native animals. Most of them have been shot out of the vicinity now, but it still pays to go armed.


I could tell he'd seen me watching him. His eyes seemed to be constantly checking his surroundings. He'd taken me in with one glance and decided I wasn't anything to worry about. I waited there on the rail. I'm not sure I could have moved if I wanted to. The stranger fascinated me. There was something about him, in spite of the absence of a weapon, that said he was dangerous.

Walking the last hundred meters towards me, he stopped and spoke conversationally, "I'd appreciate a drink of water."

"Sure." I jumped down hastily. "The pump's over here." Another thing the settlers had brought. Father said that he'd had to get water from the factory, or to wait for rain, until the newcomers came.

The stranger made his way over to the trough, pumped some fresh water, and then helped himself to a drink. Having satisfied his thirst, he proceeded to to wash his face and hair. Wet, the slicked back hair was a deep dark brown, almost black. Father came around the corner from where he'd been working and watched silently.

"Thank you," the stranger said to me. "I'll be on my way."

"Wait a moment," said Father.

I've never seen a man turn so fast as the stranger did then. He spun around, his eyes boring into Father's face . "You!" he gasped. I shivered in spite of the heat. There was something dark and dangerous in the air.

I stared in wonder as Father and the stranger looked at each other for a long moment, measuring each other in some strange adult way. "You know me?" Father asked.

The stranger looked at him again, then shook his wet hair. "No, you reminded me of someone I once knew. Just a passing resemblance." His manner became slightly aggressive. "What do you want anyway?"

"Why nothing," Father replied with a friendly smile. "In these parts it's considered good manners to ask a passer by in for a meal and a bed for the night. Besides, Rashel's been baking. She'd be insulted if you didn't come in and sample her cooking."

"I see." He seemed slightly amused. "And Rashel is to be placated at all costs?"

Father seemed offput by that for a moment, then he nodded in agreement. "Rashel is my life," he replied simply. Then he smiled at me and reached out to tousle my hair. "Along with Joey, of course."

I ducked and dodged out of his way onto the porch, leaving the two men looking at each other. They seemed to be sizing one another up. The stranger gave a peculiar half smile. "I'll stay for supper, but don't expect anything more."

Father held out his hand. "I'm Roj Blake."

The stranger hesitated, as though Father's hand was a live snake that might bite him, then he decided it was safe, and shook it. "Shane," he said finally. "You can call me Shane."

Continued in Star Two

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