He woke in the early dawn, the perimeter lights still blazing but the sky behind them a bright salmon instead of black. Sticking up between his true arms was a little head with her nose buried in his arm pit. Her arms were curled in front of her with her hands crossed and palms on her shoulders. Her legs were tucked up to and his second set of arms crossed so that they went behind her tucking her in close.
“Umm, somebody left me a little snack in the night,” he rumbled in her ear and thrust a wet nose into the sensitive skin behind it.
“Ahhh, ahh, cold nose!!!” she protested, twisting to get away. That just got her another nose attack right between the shoulder blades. She kept turning until she went full circle looking him in the face and then her expression changed as she remembered last night and what happened.
“Oh Unc’,” she wailed and cried and cried until she finally gave herself the hiccups.
“What are we going to do?” she asked when she ran down.
“What people always do,” he explained softly, gently grooming her hair behind her ears. “We feel sad but get on with all the things we have to do to live. It’s harder for awhile. We never entirely forget, but it does get easier not to be sad after some time.”
“We weren’t done,” she protested.
“I know.” he agreed, understanding exactly what she meant.
* * *
From the air everything for kilometers around looked like it had in the days before the attack. The huge eyes on the creatures gave him hope they didn’t hunt in the daylight. He circled around and landed with the tent off the car’s back quarter where Lee couldn’t see. There were no big scavengers yet, just a few rat analogs that scurried away as soon as he opened the door.
Jack and Myrtle went in specimen bags as well as the monster whose neck he’d broken. He’d have saved one of each sex, but he didn’t see any obvious gender signs. The air car had external chill lockers for such cargo so Lee was spared riding with body bags in the cabin.
That task taken care of he allowed Lee out to salvage anything important to her while he watched. She found her computer, the metal detector she’d been using, a couple spare magazines for her pistol that was down to six rounds, and her jacket. He recovered his sample case, the weapons, and his friend’s personal computers.
He recovered some ration packs, but most of the equipment like the lights he just abandoned as irrelevant and not worth the risk of exposing himself to injury recovering them with no backup adults to get them off planet. He’d never need them again, and the capitol they represented, so dear when they were bought, was nothing against the claim they had now. The bulk of their supplies were still in the air car anyway. This was just one of several camps they’d have made on this continent before returning to the shuttle. That plan was done.
“I didn’t get to tell mom, look what I found down by the stream Unc’.” She pulled a couple beautiful gold nuggets out of her jacket pocket and showed him. They were big ones, the largest easily a hundred grams.
“I’m glad you showed me that before we left,” Gordon told her. He made sure his computer was streaming to the expedition log and spoke.
“Note to our log – Claim number one for Lee Anderson, the valley of our third camp on Providence, claim marker 37-14-1239, with all adjoining peaks and a hundred kilometers beyond the drainage divide defined by those peaks. In particular all mineral rights, timber rights, as well as surface rights and riparian rights clear to the ocean to which the river drains. A patent to Lee Anderson and her heirs in perpetuity whether residents or not.”
“I’ve never had a claim of my own before,” Lee said with big eyes.
“High time you did then. Not that we found all that much before worth claiming, but your folks mentioned it for this world. You know you’ll hold all the claims your mom and dad had, as well as two of the three general shares for the whole discovery?”
“I’m rich then aren’t I?” she asked. It seemed a novel idea.
“So am I honey. We’re both so stinking rich it’s hard to understand. This is a world a ship with a crew of fifty or sixty would be delighted to find for a corporation and still count themselves rich off just their bonuses. If you think of anything else you want to claim before we leave speak up. Your folks and I claimed pretty close to the limits for individuals, but this valley is only about a quarter of what you could claim. That’s just something nice to have. The real money is in the finder’s percentage, and we only split it three ways,” He caught himself and frowned. “Two now,” he corrected softly.
Lee looked at the vast vista, the bowl of the valley filling their vision bounded by snow capped mountains on both sides. It stretched away from them growing wider so far away that the bordering mountains marched over the horizon on their way to the distant sea. Gordon didn’t say anything, letting her come to grips with having such a vast possession.
“Can I make a rule about how my land is used?” she finally said.
“Sure, that’s why I was so specific in making the claim for you.”
“Okay, I’d like to make it a rule nobody can ever build a house or anything for ten kilometers around where our camp was. They can put up a plaque or a statue or something to show where mom and dad died, but that’s it. It should be like a park and nobody can sell it off.”
“It’s on the log Lee. It’s like law now.”
After they were in the air and headed back to the shuttle Lee asked him, “Do you think those dinos could swim?”
“I really doubt it. Their tail is too thin and round, the feet have no webbing. Their tiny forelegs are probably not sufficient to keep the head above water, and they are very dense bone and muscle. Maybe if they were smart enough to hold on to a piece of wood like a life jacket, but I have my doubts they are that intelligent.”
“Then I’d like to claim a nice island somewhere. Far enough from the continents there shouldn’t be any of those lizards there.”
“We’ll look on our survey and pick a couple out. If those critters give settlers much trouble a couple nice islands might be choice real estate. But my guess is after ten or twenty years they will be asking if they should set a preserve aside to keep them from going extinct. That’s what happens with predators big enough to threaten man or his livestock.”
* * *
Gordon set course for Derfhome without consulting Lee. If her parents had been alive they would have set out straight for Earth automatically. They needed to file claims for their planet, and Derf had no such registry, only Earth. It wasn’t critical to hurry, because they left a claim satellite in orbit. That and their records gave them five years to make their claims.
Claim jumping was not something he feared. It had been firmly eliminated a long time ago. The huge exploration companies saw to that because they didn’t want to expend half their energies and treasure fighting over keeping what they found. Their huge find would rattle people, but not enough to bring the system down. There had been two big finds by independents before with no problem. Indeed the big exploration companies found occasional news of such a find produced a flood of quality applicants.
Lee had been studying all morning. Gordon was pleased she’d taken up the routine of her lessons without his prompting. For a few of the things her mom and dad had tutored she was on her own for now. He could neither spar with her nor teach guitar. Otherwise the ships library had all the lesson materials anyone could wish.
Gordon had always been one of her tutors too. It had been the natural thing to ask his help when he was the closest adult. Besides Derf Gordon had taught her German and was currently learning Japanese with her using an interactive program on the computer. He was also an accomplished artist in water colors and colored pencil and shared that with her. Sometimes now though the lesson was interrupted when something made Lee think of her mom or dad and she needed to be held not tutored.
Gordon waited to talk to her until after they were in a shipboard routine and he felt sure Lee was stable emotionally. She was still mourning, he was too, but she was sleeping Okay, and she was not in denial. She didn’t avoid speaking of her mom and dad or pretend they were still alive. The crying was tapering off after a couple weeks. After lunch he took the opportunity.
“Lee, there’s something we need to talk about.”
“Every time Mom said that to me it was something bad.”
“It’s serious. But it doesn’t have to be bad. I need to know what you want to do now with the choices we can give you. You know we’re both going to be rich. That makes things easier, because we can both afford to do almost anything we want. We have to decide what you want to do and where you want to live for the next seven years until you are an adult. You aren’t used to living with other people, but you are going to have to learn how to get along with crowds of folks who aren’t family. It might not be as easy as you think.”
“Anywhere you want to live is fine with me,” Lee agreed with an indifferent shrug. “You’d know better than me where it’s nice. We could go around and look at different places. All I know is the High Hopes, and I’ve only seen a regular house on video. I’ve lived in a hotel for a couple weeks between trips. I know most people have a permanent place they stay like in the videos.” Gordon said nothing and let her rattle on.
Lee stopped and looked funny at Gordon. “Or are you saying you don’t want me to live with you anymore?” Her voice caught on a ragged edge, and she looked scared worse than when she’d come out of the sleeping bag.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. In fact that’s the first thing I want to offer and get out of the way. I’d like to adopt you as your guardian if you’re willing.
“Well of course,” she got up and came around the table pushing his true arms open to step in. “Hold me Uncle Gordon. You shouldn’t scare me like that. You’re the only family I’ve got and I never had any other idea but that I’d be with you. Nobody else knows me, and I love you.”
“And I love you too,” he said, gently scratching with four inch claws right between her shoulder blades where she liked, “but other people might have a hard time with us being a family. I can almost guarantee you no other little human girl is living with Derf as family, much less adopted.”
“Oh, come on. With all the billions of people, and all the way things can happen? Dad always said if something can happen it will eventually.”
“Eventually,” he allowed. “And somebody has to be first. You have no idea how rare it is for a child to grow up on a space ship. In fact your mom and dad always were nervous those times between trips when we lived in a hotel. They were always worried some busybody would object that was no way to raise a child and ask the court to take you away so you’d have a normal life. Somehow, I think they may have an even harder time with the idea of me being your surrogate daddy. A lot of people will see me as your parent’s business partner and no familial relation at all.”
“Well, I’ll tell them different. It would be just wrong to pull us apart.”
“Thank you. You may have to tell them. I want to stop at Derfhome first before we go to Earth. I set course already before talking to you so we have to stop there now no matter what we do. If you will be my daughter I intend to adopt you there on Derfhome first, and that makes it harder for anyone to argue at Earth. So you have a couple weeks to get used to the idea and talk about it. If you have any conditions, well, Derf law is a lot more flexible than Earth law. Derf can form just about any contract they wish and it’s nobody else’s business.”
“How can you ask conditions to be family?”
“Humans do it all the time when they marry. They write up a prenuptial agreement that says how and where they will live or how much of a household budget one will have if they don’t have their own money. It may be a second or third marriage and one partner wants his wealth set aside for their own children separate from any heirs the other has. That might be a good idea for you. If you are my daughter I’d be your heir if something happened to you. If you leave the money to somebody else it would remove any thought I was adopting you for your money. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of my own.”
Lee made a face to show what she thought of that.
“We might agree to spend a certain amount of time on Earth or another human world so you get used to dealing with other humans.”
“There are humans on Derfhome, right?”
“Yes, but it’s not a human society. Dealing with a society is a lot different than dealing with individuals. You have laws and bureaucracy, and customs that are more rigid that either, truth be known. You’ll see.”