Illustrated by Kevin Duncan

 

e knew he shouldn’t have returned to his quarters a half hour early. But clocks had done something intangible to his nerves. Clocks had run his life since infancy. He still remembered that his mother had told him hundreds of times, “hurry dear! You only have a few minutes left to get to school.”

Now, after he was grown and had three years of the Interplanetary Space Patrol under his belt, the other thing that he could recall with complete accuracy was the deck officer’s command, “up and at ‘em, Jim Tabors! You are needed in the navigation room to relieve another worker!”

Jim hurried to the navigation room to carry out his shift as he had been ordered until he was eventually relieved again. Then he went to his room to greet his wife, Polly. Women were sent into space with their husbands to overcome loneliness and fatigue. The captain also had families aboard to settle on the new world; a time consuming effort.

He opened the door to his quarters a half hour early and received a brutally severe shock. His wife, Polly, was in Captain Waithers’ arms. The captain released Polly, frowning with uncertainty.

“Why – a’ - Jim!” he stammered. “You should be on duty!”

 

“I thought I’d surprise my wife and spend some extra time with her. But what do I find? This!” he said, scowling.

“Hold your tongue!” Captain Waithers commanded sternly.

Before the captain could explain any further, Jim rushed into the room to confront the captain. He felt highly angered, blood rushing to his head.

“Don’t!” Polly screamed at him. ”It’s not what it seems! Please!”

Jim threw a quick glance at Polly, realizing once again

Planetary Stories
Until the Suns Set
Page 1
  that she was beautiful; that her charming little smile under blonde curls could only too easily capture any man’s heart. He swung his right arm violently, his whitened knuckles finding their mark on the captain’s chin. Waithers was a big soft man not used to unsuspected violence. He fell back, groaning. His head cracked against the metal wall. He slumped to the deck, laying strangely still.

Polly screamed in horror and started crying. “You killed him, Jim! You’ve killed him!”

Jim felt the anger leave him as swiftly as it had come, replaced by panic. He brushed dark hair from his flaming eyes. He knew the ship had landed from the lack of any vibrations. They had to be on the surface of Twani, the fifth planet from the sun, Epsilon Lyrae, that also had a companion star that loomed as brightly in the sky. The planet had been named Twani by the native inhabitants, meaning ‘under two suns’ in their language.

Fear drove him out of the spaceship, away from the spaceport area and the Earthly settlers of the city; fear of a trial and condemnation of death. He knew nothing about this world, having been here for only a short time. He raced blindly down a country road, and then along an animal trail that led into a jungle of weird growths. The trees were shaped like giant umbrellas covering great areas of land. Vines grew around the trees in twisted confusion. All the strange growths were green and purple.

When he stumbled to the open areas in between, two powerful suns, one to the east of the other, shown down brightly. Despite this, it wasn’t too hot for the Earthman. The animals were large, ungainly creatures that he could hide from without too much difficulty. Smaller ones ran away from him.

 

Hours later he stood atop a high hill and looked up at the suns. They had not moved; at least it did not seem they had. He did not see any signs of anyone chasing him. Was he wrong? Had mindless panic led him astray? There were no helicopters, jeeps or any vehicles to follow. Still, they might have radios or dogs. He tiredly looked ahead at the seemingly never ending trees and saw that a stream flowed through the jungle. He waded in the warm water for about twenty feet, hoping he would lose any followers. He quickly stepped out of the water. After that he made his way through the trees, having to detour twenty feet or more just to continue.

Too tired to go any further, he dropped to the ground beneath a tree, and soon fell asleep. He had no idea how long he had slept, but when he awakened, did not see pursuers. He topped a hill and saw a native village. He wondered if they would know who he was or why he was here. He doubted it. Besides he was too weary to travel anymore. He needed food, water and rest. The two suns though, had not traveled any further at all that he could tell.

It was dangerous to contact the natives as they might know why he was running . He felt that he had to take the chance and walked down the hill to confront people again. He approached the smoky little village. He felt now that even time had stopped. He saw a native on the outskirts of the village, leaning against a tree and smoking an imported Earth pipe. The man was old, white haired, and almost as tall and willowy as a vine.

“I say there, do you understand English?” Jim Tabors asked.

“Speak it some,” the native answered. He flapped his arm up and down against his sides in a Twani greeting.

Planetary Stories
Until the Suns Set
Page 2
 

Jim did the same, not wishing to ignore a custom or seem unfriendly. “My name is Jim Tabors. I have come a long way and need rest,” he said.

“I know!” the old fellow said, smiling. “Word has been passed along to all the villages in this area that you were coming. Radios bring messages to us. I am Pocol, village chief.”

There – he had been right to run! “Are you going to try to arrest me?” Jim asked suspiciously, preparing to defend himself. “I committed a murder!”

“Arrest you? But why?” Pocol cried.

“Because I am a wanted man!” Jim answered. “I killed a person!” .

“I have no reason to arrest you!” Pocol answered. “If you killed a man, you will be punished. On Twani, there is time for everything.”

Jim glanced up at the two suns. “Time does exist here, doesn’t it?”

Pocol laughed. “On Twani, time exists as it does everywhere. But it is different. You say you are a murderer. Very well! You will punish yourself before the day is over.”

Jim’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “When does the day end on Twani?”

“I believe I once heard that a day on Twani lasts eight-eight Earth days,” Pocol said.“We do not bother to punish criminals. In the morning hours they do bad things, but by evening they are already thinking. By nightfall they either kill themselves in remorse or they have completely reformed. I was a criminal once myself. It is not unusual. Eventually everyone does the right thing, and abide by the laws.”

“What about the nights?” Jim said.

 

Pocol was amused . “They are long too, but they are a part of the eighty eight Earth days. It is not strange to my people. But come! You must rest.”

Jim accompanied his host to one of the wooden huts. Pocol led the way inside. The interior was primitive with a few pots and blankets on the floor, a table and chairs, and a stove that cooked with wood. There was also an outdoor bathroom.

“Come!” Pocol said. “You are at home here if you care to be. I want you to meet my wife, Neeti.” Pocol pointed to a squat little woman who stood at the stove preparing a meal. Jim flapped his arms in greeting and said “hello,” but Neeti smiled and didn’t say anything. She hesitantly flapped her arms.

“She does not speak English,” Pocol explained. “Many of my people do not. You can lay down on one of the blankets and rest.”

“Thanks!” Jim answered. He dropped to a blanket in a corner, but he still wondered if Pocol might have lured him into a trap. The native police might swarm down upon him if he went to sleep, then hold him until the Earthmen came. But he didn’t care anymore. He hurriedly let himself pass into dream land.

Later he awoke and spoke to Pocol. “I must have slept the clock around.”

“Clock?” Pocol asked. “I have heard of them! But we have no use for them here.” The chief led him to the table to eat. He hungrily ate the bowl of soup.

Jim walked to the door. The suns were high in the heavens, having moved only a short distance. He turned to Pocol and said, “I’ll have to get going now. Thanks for your help. Your people do not appear to be after me, but the Earthmen will be.”

Pocol sighed. “It is foolish to run! Where would you go? Every village has

Planetary Stories
Until the Suns Set
Page 3
  heard a little about you. You would be tracked down anywhere by your people if you committed murder.”

Pocol was right.They would find him anywhere. The philosophy of the Twani natives had reached him and was affecting his judgment. There was nothing bad in it unless it proved to be wrong.

He sat down in the shade by the hut, thinking. In a way, this might be paradise. He was no longer a slave to time here. There was time to sleep, work, play, read, or do anything he desired; all in the space of one day. He smiled and relaxed like he had never done before. It was apparently many hours later before he awaked.

He heard the baying of dogs. Alarmed, he jumped to his feet. He could see a procession of people coming down the hillside. His first wild impulse was to run again. Then he remembered why he had stayed. He had taken time to think it all over, and he felt ready to take his punishment. The philosophy of the natives had taken over his thinking. He walked forward to meet them.

“Jim! Jim! Oh you darling fool!” a woman cried.

Jim’s heart leaped. His wife, Polly, was leading the procession. For the first time he realized how much he had missed her.

“I’m giving myself up,” he said almost with gladness as the group reached him. “I’m a fool to have run, Polly! I’ve had time to think it all out.”

“You idiot!” she said lightly, still laughing as if he had done nothing wrong. “It seems as if we’ve been chasing you for days.” She grabbed him by the arms and kissed him. “Captain Waithers and I hired some men to look for you,” she explained.

Captain Waithers stepped forward, as Jim gasped, “Í thought you were . . .”

“I know,” Waithers said, chuckling. “You knocked me unconscious when I

  banged my head on the wall, but you didn’t try to kill me. I’ve had time to do some thinking too. I forgive you completely! You see, I wasn’t making love to your wife as you thought. She knew the strain of doing so many shifts aboard ship was getting you down. She called me to your cabin to talk about it. She was under a strain as well because you were.”

“I grew dizzy and fainted just when you walked in,” Polly interrupted. “Captain Waithers grabbed me to keep me from falling, and you . . .”

“I know now,” Jim replied. “I was crazy thinking like I did. But the way it looked, I didn’t stop to think it over. I just lost my temper.”

Captain Waivers sighed. “Glad you didn’t kill me, Jim. I’m going to give you that time off you’ve been needing. You and Polly can have tomorrow off and spend it anywhere you want on this planet of Twani.”

Jim shook the captain’s hand. “We’ll spend it here if Polly is willing.” Polly smiled and nodded in agreement.

“Don’t forget!” Waithers said, grinning, “that I am talking about Twani, not Earth time. Tomorrow should last 88 Earth days and if you add in tonight, that’s another forty days. That means you’ll be off around four months or so before you have to go back to work. I’ll bid you leave with that thought.”

“Thank you!”Jim gasped in agreement. Polly and he watched Waithers and the others leave to return to the spaceport.

Polly said. “But what can we do all that time?”

“Don’t fight it, honey!” he answered quickly. “Why we can build us a home, start a family, and raise a garden by the end of tomorrow! It must be a rare sight when sunset finally comes. Can you imagine seeing pink and gold clouds for days just before dark?”

The End
Planetary Stories
Until the Suns Set
Page 4