Walter Raff rather enjoyed his vacation. It was only two weeks long and he was determined to get the most out of it. It was very unfortunate that he had to spend the greatest part of his life in town and leave Millie, his sister, virtually alone since Aunt Leticia wasn’t really much of a company.
Millie was an eager, active type of girl, thoroughly frustrated by her aunt’s attempts to turn her into a homebody like herself, only interested in tea and gossip. It was quite natural for a healthy girl of 19 to wish to see more of life than staying in a dreary small village allowed. Yet there was nothing Walter could do about it since he couldn’t offer her a proper home himself.
He realized only too well that a big city like Stentis had too many temptations for someone with Millie’s disposition and he didn’t have time to play her chaperone. He tried to spend as much time with his sister as possible and take her out more. Millie had been thrilled at the prospect of mountain-climbing with the brother whom she adored so mountain-climbing they went.
She looked extremely cute in her sturdy boots, black leggings and rather short denim skirt which Aunt Leticia found positively scandalous.
“What is this world coming to,” she would say with a sigh, “if a girl of your age spends time running around in the state of undress instead of sitting home and cross-stitching?”
“Well, it’s full 4 inches below the knee,” Millie had protested, “and you couldn’t expect me to wear a longer skirt now, could you? It would be dangerous in the mountains.”
“Child, you are not supposed to go into the mountains at all!” said Aunt Leticia stubbornly. “And so close to the border, too! With all these…things going on in Tarna, it’s hardly reasonable.”
“We aren’t going to cross over, thank you very much,” he had said, trying to calm his aunt. “Whatever is going on in Tarna, it stays on their side and we stay on ours.”
Tarnian politics were a constant source of irritation to his aunt, whose patriotism made her spend a considerable amount of time every day denouncing the evils of foreign occupation and praising the virtues of those who fought against it. The leaders of the autonomy didn’t do enough, in her opinion, to support the true patriots in their fight against Uranians who were synonymous with the Devil in her vocabulary. In fact, the outrageousness of the foreign power occupying the biggest part of the territory of their planet was probably the only subject the aunt and niece ever agreed upon.
Walter had sincerely tried to warn his sister about the dangers of getting involved in Tarnian politics, but was far from sure he had succeeded. Not with Aunt Leticia counteracting his influence day by day.
“Well,” he thought now, “this vacation will do her a lot of good. And luckily, there are no known rebel supporters in our village so there is little chance that Millie ever gets in touch with one.”
He then remembered the stories he had heard about Doctor Grant, but dismissed them as country gossip. Anyway, the sun was shining, melting the snow on the tops of the nearby mountains. It was spring on Tarna and the weather had been exceptionally good so far.
“Today we are going to climb the Black Crow,” he said, pointing the direction to Millie. His sister had auburn hair, just like himself, but his eyes were brown while hers were gray. She was slender and rather tall for a girl but Walter with his 1. 90m towered over her. He was 7 years older, too.
“Look, Millie,” he continued, “do you see this peak behind the Black Crow? That’s already the territory of Tarna. There is a famous pass over there, but we aren’t going that far. We will stay on the side of the autonomy. The Black Crow is a tourist attraction. It’s 1050m high and there is a hut on top of it, for those who wish to spend a night there, but I don’t think we’ll stay so late, I suggest we drive half way up and then get further on foot. In that manner we can manage it all in one day. You know your aunt will get a fit if you spend a night on a mountain top, even if it’s in your brother’s company.”
Millie giggled. “Auntie Leticia is a darling,” she said, “but so old-fashioned, isn’t she now?”
They followed his plan, driving along a serpentine road which at times went as steep as the angle of 20%, so that it was a real challenge to drive. Walter breathed a sigh of relief when they finally left the car behind in the parking place. It was still early in the morning and as he could see they were the only tourists so far.
He calculated that it would take them about two hours to climb the rest of the distance so that they could eat their lunch on top of the Black Crow. He had climbed it once before with a group of friends and the view was breath-taking.
It was about midday and both brother and sister were quite tired when they finally reached the top. The hut was still standing there and close to it, a bench where one could sit and enjoy the view. Walter sank upon it rather contentedly, but Millie, who seemed to have acquired the second breath once they reached their destination, was eager to explore.
She declared she was going inside the hut first, to inspect. Walter pointed out that there wasn’t really much to inspect, but she ran off before he could finish the sentence. She disappeared inside and a couple of seconds later he heard her scream. Walter jumped to his feet and saw his sister standing in the entrance of the hut, looking very pale.
“Walter,” she said, stammering. “The-the-there is a man in there. A dead man.”