VII, 13, Early Afternoon
I parked the rover in the garage, signed in, and carried my guest back to my quarters. I pondered if I should take her to a doctor, or at least to my superiors. My conclusion was not to; our local physician was away and my superiors would probably not have cared. When I came to my quarters, I set my guest down on the bed, removing her mask as well as mine. I figured I should return the mask to the rover as well as deposit the crystal, however, I feared leaving her alone. She was still unconcious and breathing quietly; the lizards had probably drugged her with those abhorred darts of theirs. Reluctantly, I finally left my quarters and went back to the garage.
Once there, I returned the mask to its usual place under the seat and then made my way toward the depository. I placed the crystal on the scale and watched readout numbers climb as the computer calculated the crystal's monetary value. It was a rather large crystal as was my final payment. I inserted my card, thus depositing the money into my account. Of all the crystal hunters, it seemed as though I was the most successful. This was partially due to the fact that I was the only one willing to fight the lizards. If I were to return to earth with what I had, I could retire. But, as I said, I have no real desire to return to earth.
When I returned to my quarters, I found the woman sitting huddled on the bed, awake and quite frightened.
She calmed a little when she saw me yet still backed away when I came near. I have to admit, in spite of her timidity, that I was actually quite frightened of her. She glared at me with those incomprehensibly pink eyes through strands of white hair. I continued to move nearer to her until I could extend my hand to her. I reasoned that anyone could understand this gesture as one of peace and sincerity. My reasoning served me well as she looked from my hand to me and then back to my hand, at which point she finally took it. I led her from the bed to a table right across from it. She sat down, I sat across from her and attempted to coax her to say something. After about five or ten minutes I gave up and went to the cabinet above the bed; I was hungry and I guessed she might want something to eat as well. Of course, I did not know if she would like the food tablet's bland taste; I know I do not. The food tablets are the most wretched excuse for food I have ever known, but they are all we get. I took out two tablets, swallowed one and handed the other to the woman. She looked at the tablet, turning it over in her hands. I resumed my seat across from her.
"Thank you," she finally whispered. I was shocked and amazed, to say the least.
"What?" I asked, making sure I heard her right. She reiterated her thanks and swallowed the food tablet herself, wincing slightly at the taste. I did not blame her. "What is your name?" I probed. She did not seem to understand, so I put my hand on my chest and said my name, "Ar-thur Cad-mus." Fortunately, she seemed to understand; she put her hand on her chest and said, what I imagine, was her name. Her name was apparently a rather melodious arrangment of whistles that spanned a length of about ten seconds.
She noticed my stupified look and returned it. I attempted to explain that I could not repeat her curious name and asked if I could call her something else. She did not understand. I reached across the table and put my hand on her chest.
"Grace," I said slowly. It took her a while get what I was doing, and when she did understand, she put her hand to her chest, repeated the whistles, then said 'Grace.' She reached over the table, put her hand on my chest, and said my name. I did the same and we both laughed. We understood each other.
I recieved a knock on my door followed by a painfully cheery inquiry, "Arty?" It was Callie; I recognized that sickly playful voice she uses that always makes me want to throw up each time I hear it. Grace looked worried, but I assured her that Callie was a friend. I got up and went to the door. I undid the electronic bolt and slid the door aside.
"Hi, Arty!" Again the voice. In addition to Callie having tendencies to possess an annoying personality, she is also incredibly nosey and intrusive. She looked past my shoulder and saw Grace. She seemed shocked at her albinism, but that cheerily rude disposition soon took over and manifested itself with the question, "Who's the lab rat?"
"She's not a lab rat!"
"I came over here to ask where you were this morning"-she gave me an all too exaggerated wink-"but now I see why. Where'd you find her?"
"Were you born sick and inconsiderate, or did it take years of practice?!" Having a word like 'inconsiderate' attached to her personality was the proverbial dagger to the heart to Callie. The hateful Callie dissipated and the good Callie resumed. A likeable Callie. A Callie I could actually stand to have around.
"Sorry, Arty," she began. She looked over my shoulder at Grace and said, "Sorry I called you a lab rat." Grace waved shyly, not understanding Callie's joke. She returned her attention to me, "So, where were you this morning?"
"I was across the ravine looking for crystals, fighting lizards, and"-I nodded to Grace-"saving her."
"From the lizards?" She looked disbelieving, "I didn't know the lizards took hostages."
"Neither did I, but there she was." I looked past her into the corridor, "Come on in; keep standing out there and we'll have half the camp lining up." I moved away from the door and let Callie go past me. She took my chair at the table and leaned toward Grace.
"Hi. Callie Muir," she extended her hand. Slowly, Grace took it and introduced herself. Callie inquired, "Grace...?" in hopes of finding out her last name. I explained that Grace was simply the name I gave her because I could not repeat her real name. Callie did not believe me, so I asked Grace to repeat the series of whistles she had related to me. I chuckled at Callie's look. She then suddenly became very fascinated with Grace's uniform. "What is this?" she asked rubbing her finger along Grace's arm.
"As far as I can tell, it's lizard skin, though I've never seen brown skin before; they're usually green." I explained.
"And what's with these markings?" She continued, half to me and half to Grace. I admitted my inability to decipher them. Callie then asked, "Where's she from?" I had not thought to try and coax this information out of Grace, and I thanked Callie for bringing it up. I went to a shelf above my bed and removed a large map of the surrounding venusian terrain, as cartographed by Matsugawa in the early expeditions to the planet. I laid it out on the table and pointed out various locations to Grace. She seemed to recognize certain major landmarks such as the ravine and the plateau.
"This is where we are now," I pointed to the camp and, with my other hand, indicated the room. I moved my finger along the map across the ravine to where I had found her, "This is where you were." I took my hand away from the map. Grace oriented herself by first pointing to the camp and then to the location across the ravine, and then she moved her finger away from that point and toward the plateau. She continued to move her finger along the plateau's edge until her finger went off the map. She clutched her fist, put her hands in her lap, and slumped back in the chair. She looked somewhat saddened, as though frustrated that Matsugawa had overlooked her home in his surveying. Callie and I looked to each other.
"I guess she's homesick," Callie ventured. I nodded in agreement.