Friday, January 1, 2010

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part VII

For past parts of the story, go here.

I got another letter from Liam, saying he's now got a job as assistant propulsion engineer on a liner from Mars to Saturn. He's not sure, he says, how long he'll stay on the liner, but it sure it'll be a year at least, because no mater how much the liner people enjoy supplying the Hermit of Iapetus, no power on Earth, Saturn, or Sol will move them to change their travel routes in order to detour to my icy home. It's elven months, thirteen days from his writing that a liner will come near enough to Iapetus to make a drop of this magnitude possible.

Anxiety. I have felt twinges of it since I arrived here. The day my suit developed a rupture. The three weeks I lay in a refuge with an odd sickness I was sure would kill me. During the avalanche that occurred when I drilled into that soft deposit while looking for silicon. But anxiety is a hermit's friend, constantly there, nagging, urging one to take extra care, providing the wearing nourishment of andrenalin in order to make survival possible, not probable.

Admunsen, too, experienced anxiety. They left their crampons at the Butcher's Shop, sure they would not need them beyond that point, not knowing of course of the glaciers and ice fields to cross between them and the pole.

They ate their own dogs. Starting out, they planned on eating their own dogs. It was supernally logical. They could carry only so much food for so long on the sledges pulled by the dogs. Some of the food stores they hauled far inland, far towards the pole, and then offloaded it, leaving it in caches for the return journey. But always with them, their rolling stock, their dogs. At the Butcher's Shop, they killed twenty-four of the beasts, six to a man, as planned. The first shot came as Admunsen stood in the tent, stirring pemmican over their primus stove. "I am not a nervous man," he wrote, "but I must admit that I have a start. Shot now followed upon shot -- they had an uncanny sound over the great plain. A trusty servant lost his life each time.

They fed the entrails to the other dogs, who, hesitant at first, devoured what was offered.

"It had been arranged," he wrote, "that we should stop here two days to rest and eat dog. There was more than one among us who at first would not hear of taking any part in this feast; but as time went by, and appetites became sharper, this view underwent a change, until, during the last few days before reaching the Butcher Shop, we all thought and talked of nothing but dog cutlets, dog steaks, and the like. But on this first evening we put a restraint on ourselves; we thought we could not fall upon our four-footed friends and devour them before they had had time to grow cold."

Anxiety over the inevitable quickly passes, I decided long ago. If not, I would have been dead of anxiety years ago. When one leaves even the thinly-populated realms of Mars for the frontier of Saturn, one has to expect that, among the rocks and crevices and craters death lies waiting, not caring tuppence if we die in a suit on an open plain or in an avalanche or by a suit rupture just outside a refuge. To worry over such contingencies is foolishness. Not that I was uncautious; far from it. Like Admunsen, I made preparations beforehand what should be done to forestall death and prolong life, even if it came at the cost of a servant. Or twenty-four.

Stashed around Iapetus, far from the shelters, lay boxes of supplies, oxygen bottles, shelters, spare batteries for the dogs -- really four-wheeled service vehicles purloined from the low-gravity hangars of Phobos -- but I called them my dogs, for they served me well and also uncannily carried many parts that could be used to quickly repair a suit or a communications beacon or another essential bit of survival gear if the need arose. I, of course, was sparing with what I would cannibalize, but I knew, inevitably, that the last of the dogs would rumble to a stop and never go again, because it was impossible to secure the necessary spare and bulky parts to repair them. Suit cloth and bits of aluminummongery I could have dropped from a liner, but wheels, gearboxes and such, were too weighty for the light Saturn liners to carry, and the manufacturers on Mimas and Titan too stingy with their finished products to lend them out to a scraggly outcast on a yin-yang moon, even if the scraggler could pay.

Was I nervous about Liam coming? Yes. I would not be a hermit otherwise. It is our lot and our duty to dread the coming of another to enter the solitude, not of our surroundings, but of our minds. The surroundings help. Never believe a man who says he enjoys driving for the sake of getting to a destination to enjoy the fruits of the voyage. A man drives to empty his mind as the vehicle passes through tractless wastes or the heart of a city.

And never believe a hermit who says he is not nervous.

I sing with Carly Simon:

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasin' after some finer day

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

And I tell you how easy it feels to be with you
And how right your arms feel around me
But I, I rehearsed those lines just late last night
When I was thinkin' about how right tonight might be

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet and I don't know nature's ways
So I'll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days

(These are the good old days)
And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are.....the good old days) 

Nervously, I await Liam's arrival. And I have prepared further, just as Admunsen did.

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