Tin, ting, tin, tang rang the bells of Cantata Nº 208. The boy rubbed sleep from his eyes and covered them to block the dancing sunlight streaming through a slit. He slipped on boots, a filter, and gloves. The red sun inched across the sky and it would be half a Earth-month before nightfall. Without the chimes, he might have missed feeding time.
Small frame, calloused hands, a full head of sandy-brown hair, he looked very much like a boy, although he celebrated his 20th birthday three Earth-months ago. He lost track of the time on this planet where the sun hung in sky for roughly 37 Earth days. Xabier escaped indentured servitude in the Kleroaren army by signing on as a sheepherder on this planet. Neither the nobles nor the clergy appealed to his solitary habits and rural ambitions, so he ran as fast as he could to the spaceport outside Barcelona. Nineteen months of hibernation, passage along Femmes Soliton, and then he arrived. Xabier was left alone with a coat, a knapsack, a blanket, a staff, and some sheep to herd on the outskirts of the galaxy.
The atmosphere felt dense as he floated to the barn sitting in the center of the Slydal Plain. The sheep numbered 99 and 1 huddled in a stable fashioned from a rusting freighter. The herd had trampled bracken across the metal floor, which the sheepherder had cut earlier when the sun sat only inches from its current position. He wished for nightfall if only to see the stars of the Pyrenees Constellation.
While close to a perfect mixture, the shepherd and sheep still needed a filter to achieve a good mix of breathable air. He retrieved a bag of filters from the tack and proceeded to fit them around black noses. "Egun ona Maite." Xabier pulled the filter straps tight against the animal's neck then placed a weight belt on her haunches. "Egun ona Ander." He wished each animal a good day until the wooly faces stood in a corner anticipating the rush to the pasture.
Xabier slipped a weight belt around him, picked up a staff, and opened the gate. Bright, white light rushed into the barn and the sheep bounced back into the shadows. "Nire maitaleak. Run, my lovelies." The sheep leaped from the barn spilling out on the bright green pastureland, their front feet floating off the ground, anchored to the soil with only their hindquarter weight belts. Soon they settled down, their heads bobbing off the ground with each taste of the grass, as if they were bottom heavy drinking birds bouncing into a glass.
He took flying leaps over to a rock slab where he rested watching the sheep graze nestled between towering cliffs and rock outfalls in the high-mountain valley. Nymphs and prairie gnats bounced in his hair, he smelled lavender rose, and heard the sound of locust hum interrupted now and then by the bleating of sheep. The shepherd believed this valley felt most like the home he imagined on Earth.
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