Gordo lolled on the edge of the great lake, dangling his feet in its pristine waters. He closed his eyes and breathed in the unpolluted air. Slowly, his jangling nerves calmed. It’s not like he’d thought it would be easy to sneak past the soldiers guarding the perimeter of the colony. He just didn’t expect them to chase him like they had. What was the point of moving to a colony flung way out in space—out of the solar system, even—if he had to stay cooped up in the camp? He’d read all the books he could get his hands on and he’d taken courses on making fires and growing crops. He wanted to put that to use, not stay in the soldier-safe campsite, trapped like an animal in a zoo with the natural wonders of a strange world looking on in miffed silence.
He came to explore, and explore he would. The others could listen to the soldiers’ warnings if they wanted to. Gordo would find out for himself.
He picked up a rock and threw it into the clear waters of the lake, watching the water splash up, still watching as the rock sank down to the depths. It settled on the bottom, creating a small cloud of sediment. His toes tingled with relief as the sharp cold of the water cut away the pain from the blisters his new hiking boots made. Adventures, it seemed, were tough on his toes.
If he pressed, Gordo could make a few more miles before the sun set. But he leaned back on the mossy ground and let himself rest. He yawned as he watched large, fluffy clouds with glowing pink underbellies pass overhead. The soldiers said it could take months for newcomers to adjust to the shortened days of their new world. But Gordo was adaptable. The short days and quick nights wouldn’t bother him. He pulled his chilled toes out of the water and pumped up his mattress. Then he curled into his body-snugger and let himself drift to sleep with the rushing night, confident he’d wake refreshed and ready to explore the wilds of the planet’s one vast continent.
The fast spinning planet filled his mind with dreams of wind gusting out of the waters, lifting his consciousness high into the air to hover over his body. Otherworldly women stood over his sleeping form, screaming warnings he couldn’t understand. He woke, sluggish and heavy, but he packed away his things and began his march into the unknown. Three hours later he was ready for another rest. He wandered around, hoping for a water source. Finally, he saw a shimmer of clear, sparkling water ahead.
He picked up his pace, burst through the clinging vines, and saw that same lake of clear water he’d camped at the night before. He saw the print of his mattress, forcing the spongy moss out of shape. He saw the same indentation where he’d thought to sit for a moment, and had stayed the whole afternoon. He must have gotten turned around. He’d followed the compass as best he could, but he must have doubled-back on himself somehow.
Gordo shrugged off the setback and settled along the shore of the lake to take his lunch, lazing his tired toes in the water once again. He blinked, and night stretched across the horizon, rushing towards him. Again he dreamed himself out of his body, with strange women hovering over him. One of them whispered to him. He could barely make out the words: “You failed to heed the warning.” Again he woke feeling sluggish and heavy, the warning forgotten.
Gordo set off, determined to make up for lost time. He forged ahead, blazing his trail, forcing himself to keep walking throughout the six-hour day. When the sun started to dip, he looked for a proper campsite. Though he’d marched in a straight line, climbing over boulders and slicing through brambles instead of trying to go around, he still ended up at the same clear lake with the same indentations. Again he planted his burning toes in the cold water and rolled up for the night. This night, as his consciousness rose over his body, as he watched himself sleep, he tried to speak to the women crowding around him.
“Who are you?”
“We are the Keepers of the Lake.” Their voices were like high whistles in the gusting winds.
“What do you want with me?”
“You were warned,” they moaned.
“Why do I keep returning here?”
“You have not left,” they said, their tones melancholy, deep like thunder.
“I leave each day and each day I come back!”
One spoke apart from the others. “You are one with the Lake as are all who come here.”
“Your people were warned,” they sang in unison. “Your kind cannot pass through the Clear Waters. You were warned.”
Gordo’s body fidgeted in sleep as moss crept over him, nourishing him and nourished by him in turn. The sun sped by, turning night to day, then day to night. Off in the distance, the soldiers herded the settlers back to the refueled landing pods. Another home had been found for the settlers to colonize. One soldier looked back, trying to think if they left anyone behind, but he couldn’t remember them.