the Dark Light Years
a selection from CHAPTER ONE: On the ground, new blades of grass sprang up in chlorophyll coats. On the trees, tongues of green protruded from boughs and branches, wrapping them about - soon the place would look like an imbecile Earthchild's attempt to draw Christmas trees - as spring again set spur to the growing things in the southern hemisphere of Dapdrof. Not that nature was more amiable on Dapdrof than elsewhere. Even as she sent the warmer winds over the southern hemisphere, she was sousing most of the northern in an ice-bearing monsoon. Propped on G-crutches, old Aylmer Ainson stood at his door, scratching his scalp very leisurely and staring at the budding trees. Even the slenderest outmost twig shook very little, for all that a stiffish breeze blew. This leaden effect was caused by gravity; twigs, like everything else on Dapdrof. weighed three times as much as they did on Earth. Ainson was long accustomed to the phenomenon. His body had grown round-shouldered and hollow-chested accustoming him to it. His brain had grown a little round-shouldered in the process. Fortunately he was not afflicted with the craving to recapture the past that strikes down so many humans even before they reach middle age. The sight of infant green leaves woke in him only the vaguest nostalgia, roused in him only the faintest recollection that his childhood had been passed among foliage more responsive to April's zephyrs - zephyrs, moreover, a hundred light years away. He was free to stand in the doorway and enjoy man's richest luxury, a blank mind. Idly, he watched Quequo. the female utod, as she trod between her salad beds and under the ammp trees to launch her body into the bolstering mud. The ammp trees were evergreen, unlike the rest of the trees in Ainson's enclosure. Resting in the foliage on the crest of them were big four-winged white birds, which decided to take off as Ainson looked at them, fluttering up like immense butterflies and splashing their shadows across the house as they passed. But the house was already splashed with their shadows. Obeying the urge to create a work of art that visited them perhaps only once in a century, Ainson's friends had broken the white of his walls with a scatterbrained scattering of silhouetted wings and bodies, urging upwards. The lively movement of this pattern seemed to make the low-eaved house rise against gravity; but that was appearance only, for this spring found the neoplastic rooftree sagging and the supporting walls considerably buckled at the knees. This was the fortieth spring Ainson had seen flow across his patch of Dapdrof. Even the ripe stench from the mid-denstead now savoured only of home. As he breathed it in, his grorg or parasite-eater scratched his head for him; reaching up, Ainson returned the compliment and tickled the lizard-like creature's cranium. He guessed what the grorg really wanted, but at that hour, with only one of the suns up, it was too chilly to join Snok Snok Karn and Quequo Kifful with their grorgs for a wallow in the mire. "I'm cold standing out here. I am going inside to lie down," he called to Snok Snok in the utodian tongue. The young utod looked up and extended two of his limbs in a sign of understanding. That was gratifying. Even after forty years* study, Ainson found the utodian language full of conundrums. He had not been sure that he had not said. "The stream is cold and I am going inside to cook it." Catching the right whistling inflected scream was not easy: he had only one sound orifice to Snok Snok's eight. He swung his crutches and went in. "His speech is growing less distinct than it was," Quequo remarked. "We had difficulty enough teaching him to communicate. He is not an efficient mechanism, this manlegs. You may have noticed that he is moving more slowly than he did."