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Slow Train to Arcturus: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Monday, August 11, 2008 20:55 EDT



    The populations of space habitats differ, as does their societal structure. Take for instance the low-tech environment of the Society of Brethren. The initial nine thousand occupants, scattered in individual holdings, farming their land ,was very different from the habitat of their neighbors, the Matriarchy of Diana. Diana, with a high degree of technical sophistication and mechanization, had some 70,000 occupants, and still had room to grow. That's the difference between urbanization with mechanization and a primitive lifestyle.


BASIC SOCIOLOGICAL ENGINEERING, Herne, G. & Weaver, A. Oxbridge VoxPress, New Britain, 2307



    The painted Jezebel who had assaulted and arrested him had a rather puzzled expression on her face. "I didn't expect to even have my bid considered." she said. "I don't know how I am going to afford this. I wish I hadn't done it, to be honest."

    She looked… well, less of a virago now, and quite troubled. That found a chink in Howard's armor which her aggression had failed to.

    "I think she did it to punish me," he said, humbly.

    His new mistress looked at him in puzzlement. "Why? She just let you off scot-free. She's been drooling all over you for the whole hearing. I thought she was going to take you right there on her desk at one stage."

    Howard blushed to roots of his hair.

    "Oh," she said, scowling. "That's it. She's punishing me, not you. You can't get it up, can you?"

    Howard's mouth fell open as he grasped what she was saying. He shook his head furiously. "No. It's just that I would not lie with a woman I was not married to. It is a sin!"

    It was her turn to gape at him. "You mean you turned Judge Garanet down? You wouldn't let her have it?"

    Howard nodded, almost dying of embarrassment. "I'm afraid that it is true. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

    His new Mistress shook her head incredulously. And then began to giggle. And then to laugh until the tears ran down her face. She had to hold onto the wall for support. "So, I am supposed to make your life a misery?"

    "I would guess that that is correct," said Howard uncomfortably.

    Lani bared her teeth in a savage grin. "She really is forcing me to be nice to you. Let's take a walk up past her office. You can put your arm around me," she said with the air of someone giving him an enormous privilege.

    "It would not be seemly," he said, folding his arms hastily.

    She turned her basilisk look on him, muscles tensing… and then shook her head at him. "Now I really do believe you turned her down. It must be a weird place, this New Eden of yours. I'll just have to remember that. Keeping my temper with you is going to be hard, but worth it, just to get up her nose. Look, it's a big privilege for a man to be allowed touch a woman in the street. You should walk a little behind me."

    "But you all take such short steps," said Howard, desperate to talk about anything else.

    "That's because you're too big," she said with her normal scowl. "Now, take my hand at least. Look, I'm not going to bite you! I just want to make the old bat turn green. She made me look like a fool in that hearing."

    Howard had to admit, with the vision of hindsight, that the judge had gone out of her way to make the young woman look foolish. He extended a nervous hand. His palm sweated as he took her hand gently in his. "The path to redemption lies in forgiveness. It is better to forgive than to seek revenge."

    She closed her eyes briefly. Took a deep breath. "Good. So we're giving old Judge Garanet a change to take the path to redemption. Isn't that kind of us? Now walk, and try not to look like you think I'm going to bite you. I won't, not yet, anyway."

    That was almost more worrying.

    They did a little promenade and then walked to her odd two-wheeled vehicle. Howard eyed it with trepidation. "What pulls it?" he asked, as she swung herself onto the saddle.

    She shrugged. "It's electrically powered. Get onto the pillion."

    "What is a pillion?" he asked.

    She looked at him, and shook her head. "You really don't know anything do you? I'll have to try to remember that. This bit." She patted a narrow pad behind her.

    It looked very small and very close. "Er. Can't I just run behind? I'm afraid my weight might break it," he added ingeniously.

    She snorted. "Don't be ridiculous. Get on."

    So he did, painfully aware of his nakedness and her closeness.

    It got worse. "Hold onto my waist," she said.



    Riding back to her home Lani had time to wonder what sort of a mess her impulsive behavior had gotten her into this time. The one thing she was determined on was to prove that old harridan wrong. Still, there was an exotic fascination to her man. She just had to accept that he really didn't know anything.

    And then, within sight of home, they hit a bump. There was an alarming crack, a high-pitched squeal, and the scoot stopped dead.

    They didn't. The two of them landed—at some speed—in a heap in the wall-growth. Lani was totally winded by the steering bar being crunched into her midriff, not only by her own forward momentum but by the weight of Howard as well. She lay there struggling for breath, with a warm wetness trickling down from her hair, feeling shocked and stunned.

    The next part was even more shocking. Her new man got up off her, looked down at her and said, "Are you all right?"

    She had too little breath to spare to reply. So he picked her up and carried her at a run, to her own door.

    He managed to knock thunderously, and hold her—without quite dropping her. Of course there was no reply. "It's my house. You can put me down," she said. She seemed to be in the habit of saying that.

    This time he didn't drop her hard, but set her down as if she were porcelain. Fragile porcelain, at that. It didn't help. She still swayed and he caught her just before she fell. Somehow, he managed to open her door, while supporting her, and then picked her up again and carried her inside. He took her to the couch and put her down. "How do I call someone to help?"

    "I'll be fine. Really. Just let me lie back for a bit."



    "I need to stop that bleeding," he said firmly. "And then we need to get a healer to you. I was foolish and a little shocked. I shouldn't have moved you. It was just seeing all the blood… I panicked a little. Anyway, head injuries can be serious. You need to get it checked. Here. Press your hand to it, gently. Now, I need to find water, boiling and cooled, and clean cloth to staunch this cut."

    "Head wounds bleed," she said. "There's a first aid kit in the cupboard down the passage. Get it for me."

    He looked at her, and went. A little later he came back with a bowl, warm water and her first-aid kit. "I will need to wash it and see. If needs be I must carry you back to the last house we passed."

    He washed and cleaned the area around the wound, and then with care snipped away the hair with scissors from the box. "It appears superficial," he said, his relief obvious. "It should still be looked at by a healer. Shall I walk to the last house?"

    "And get yourself arrested for wandering around without a woman, stupid." Lani frowned at him, and then wishing she hadn't. It pulled at the cut.

    "Stay still," he said firmly. "I am going to put a dressing on it, but I want to clean the wound itself. I have read the instructions on this bottle and it says I should add two drops to the water before cleaning it."

    "You can read?" Men couldn't read. It wasn't permitted.

    "Can't you?" he asked, adding the disinfectant to the water. "Every child learns how to read in New Eden. It is beautiful script you have here. As neat and uniform as the oldest holy writ."

    "Of course I can read!" she said. "It's just men that can't… uh, usually."

    "You mean you have kept them from doing so," he said grimly. "We are all, men and women, made in God's image, and equal in his sight. Hold still! I need to work very carefully here."

    "You need to learn to be careful with your big mouth too," she said, "You're an intolerant bigot talking about our culture like that. It could get you into serious trouble."

    He worked in silence. For someone with big hands he was very precise.

    "I had not thought of it as being intolerant of your culture," he said quietly, as he put a dressing over the wound. "I had just seen it as right to proclaim against you. Forgive me."

    Having just gotten herself angry, Lani felt wrong-footed again. She bit her lip. Pulled herself together and tried to make amends. "You're wrong, but you can't help it, I suppose." She said it sulkily, knowing that she was behaving a bit like a very ungenerous spoiled brat, knowing that she'd made no allowance for his background. He was a man, after all, and from the weaker sex. You had to make allowances. She knew that was part of her problem with them. She kept forgetting you had to.

    He smiled. "Yes. I'm only used to my own culture, lady. Now, I am going to put a bandage around this dressing. Sister Thirsdaughter would be very rude about it, but it will serve. I still do not see that what you people do is right in the eyes of man or God, but I will try to keep my opinion to myself. To keep my mouth shut." He began winding it around her head.

    Lani sighed. "You're going make me old before my time. I suppose you can talk. To me only. When we're alone. I won't beat you, even if I should. Now just let me lie here with my eyes closed for five minutes, and then I'll contact someone to do something about the scoot."

    He nodded and took the bloody water away, and Lani closed her eyes. She now had bruises to show. And a few grazes too. And quite a headache.

    When she next opened her eyes there he was. Sitting, watching her, a worried expression on his big open face. He smiled warily when he saw her eyes open. "How are you feeling now?" he asked.

    She felt her head. "A bit sore, but I'm all right. How long was I asleep for?"

    "Perhaps half an hour."

    "Hell. I'd better do something about reporting that scoot. It's blocking the roadway. The harvesters use the road a lot." she started to sit up, wincing.

    He put up a quelling hand. "Don't worry. I went and fetched it. I carried it back here."

    "On your own?" she demanded.

    He nodded. "It wasn't that heavy."

    She raised her eyes to the ceiling. "Get this into your dumb head. You can't walk around here without a woman to escort you. It's not that I don't appreciate your doing it. It's just that you have to work within the rules here. Our rules, or you'll get both of us into trouble. I'm liable for your actions, you know."

    She sighed. "Look. I know you didn't mean any harm. But the next time you end up in front of a Judge here, it might not be one with more lust on her mind than justice. Or you might get old Garanet again. She'll throw the book at you next time. And it wouldn't just be at you, it would be at me too. You're my responsibility." She sighed again. "I wish I knew what went wrong with the scoot. There are a couple of women who've started doing repairs. They don't know much about it, but apparently they know how to charge…"

    "This." He held out a metal shaft. "This is half of the rear axle. As you can see it is badly worn along here. It fractured, with the extra weight, as you went over the bump. I'm sorry. I should have run behind."

    She sniffed and dabbed the corner of her eye, irritably. Crying like a man! "I need it for my job. I'm afraid it'll have to be fixed, no matter what they decide to charge me."

    "I think I could fix it if I can find a suitable shaft," he said diffidently. "Fixing mechanical things is permitted here?"

    "Oh, by Susan, yes. Can you imagine if it wasn't!?"

    "It isn't encouraged in New Eden," he admitted. "But I'm a fair artificer."

    She scowled. "I thought about going in that direction myself. There is money in it. But the trouble is, according to my history teacher, everything worked beautifully in Diana… for the first seventy-five years. By the time that things started breaking down, we'd lost a generation's worth of minds that were used to dealing with technical repairs. Anyway, they were used to being part of a technical society, that had robots and factories. We were cut off from those. Now we're even losing an increasing number of maintenance robots, and no-one has the sort of skill required to fix those. The matriarch set up a rota for training, but we're short on experience."

    "I will happily try and fix your vehicle. It would work better if I could talk to Brother Kretz," said Howard hopefully. "He is a very good engineer. That woman would not tell me what she'd done with him. He's alone and scared."

    He had a way of putting obligations on her. "Oh, hell. He be treated all right, Howard. We're not barbarians. Look, I'll call a few people and ask."

    "Thank you," he said, humbly. "I promised the council I would look after him. So far I have done a poor job. I will try to fix this 'scoot'. The bearings appear to still be sealed."

    Bearings? "Is that good or bad?"

    "Good," said Howard. "They failed in the corn-grinder at home. Getting it work at all after that was difficult. But I contrived."

    It sounded promising. "You've fixed things lots of things before?"

    Howard nodded guiltily. "I enjoy it," he admitted. "I like to understand things. They're easier than people."

    She had to have that scoot. Without it, she would be on desk-duties, at best. "If there is a part number on it I can order it from stores. It'll cost, but if you think you could put it in it'll be a lot cheaper than getting it fixed by someone else.”

    He looked at the piece of metal. "There is a number on it. But explain how this works, please, woman? There is a store of such parts, prepared like the granaries Joseph had made in Egypt?"

    "Yeah… well there is a store of them," she said, amused. "I've never heard of the Joseph and Egypt part. And call me Lani, not woman." She thought a bit. "Look, I should be able to access the onscreen manual… Just don't ever tell anyone I let you look at it. I'm not supposed to let a man learn to read, but you already know how to read. You've read all sorts of things in this New Eden place I suppose."

    He shook his head. "Only the Holy Book. The Elder has some others, and the healers have some too. But I have never even heard of a book called 'Onscreen Manual'."

    "Book… like a thing made of paper and printed on? Like court papers?"

    Howard nodded. "Yes. Written, with ink, and bound."

    Lani shook her head. "I've seen one in the museum. An original Susan Sontag! Anyway, let me show you the screen. Most things can be accessed by vox, but reading is a lot faster. I'm lucky, in a way, being out here. The Matriarch ordered all the town computers still in working order to be put into the computer room, and you get access by time allocation. But out here… Well, no one wants to live out of town, so there are some perks for a lousy social life."



    She got up and took the arm he offered. The offer was done in such a way that she was pretty sure it was because he regarded her as walking wounded. He certainly had no idea about the duties a man owed to his mistress! Teaching him was going to be quite a lot of fun, although right now her head and ribs were still sore, which rather limited the appeal of sex. She stole a look at his profile. Okay, so some women might regard the first addition to her harem as a freak, but there was some odd primitive appeal to his body. She leaned on the arm. It was solidly muscled.

    "Right—here is my work cubicle. Normally men should keep out of this area, except to clean it." She sat down gingerly. Winced. It was from the graze on her side, but he reached the wrong conclusion.

    He blushed. "I didn't mean to drop you so hard." He bit his lip. "That is a lie. What I mean is, I am sorry I dropped you so hard. It was unchristian of me. I didn't think about how much I would hurt you."

    "I'd just kicked you in the belly and in the balls," she said. "And I did mean to hurt you."

    He shrugged. "I should have turned the other cheek."

    She swatted him. Playfully, across the behind. "Right. Consider the other cheek hit."

    He backed off, looking very fearful.

    "Oh, for goodness sake! I didn't hurt you."

    "No." He bit his lip. "But it is not right that you should touch me, flesh on flesh, exposing me to the temptations of the flesh. I… the Society of Brethren do not believe a man should have… uh, knowledge of a woman unless they are man and wife."

    He was turning her down? It wasn't exactly something he had any choice about! The court, acting as his mother, had accepted her bid. It was a woman's right! She'd noticed that he wasn't entirely disinterested. That did add a certain… piquancy to it all. She was used to young men physically desiring her. She'd bitterly come to accept that they regarded her as fine for a bit of experience, just not old enough, or wealthy and powerful enough, to really tempt them or their mothers into signing a bond.

    She decided on a direct approach. "Don't you find me attractive?" she asked.

    He blushed to the roots of his hair. "It's not the same thing," he mumbled, and looked terribly embarrassed. "It's not right, and nothing will ever change my mind."

    "Really?" said Lani, feeling something of a challenge here. "We'll just have to see."

    She gave him her best smile. This was something entirely new. It gave her a rather perverted little frisson of excitement. This sort of chase… was different. Diana the huntress would approve. She doubted if the rest of the society of the Matriarchal Republic would, but they didn't have to know what she was doing inside the walls of her own home.

    "Anyway," she pointed to the screen, activated it with the other hand. "We don't still have books. We have this. There are several hundred thousand texts available. Let's see if I can find a manual for the scoot." She flicked to search. "Ah. Here."

    "The letters are so clear! They're… wonderful!" Looking up at him she realized that she might have serious trouble seducing him from these bizarre ideas of his… as long as he could have something to read. His face was rapt, and he was plainly entranced by the dull technical text. He looked like a child with the most wonderful toy.

    Rather cute, really. She didn't bother to ask if he wanted vox. He, like her, obviously read faster than the machine could say the words.

    "There is more?" he asked hopefully.

    "Millions of pages. Oh, you mean of this document? Just hit this button to scroll down."

    He did, almost devouring the words with hungry eyes.

    At length he shook himself. "It is strange to read something that isn't holy writ. The letters are so regular! How do they do this?"

    "I've never really thought about it. There'll be a book on it somewhere. Or I can ask someone at the university for you. My mother didn't have the money to send me, but I know a few people."

    He sighed. "It is very wonderful. I have seen so much today that my mind is almost numb with wonder. But this… this is one of the most wonderful. I don't understand all the words, but it is like a door opening. Thank you."

    It was so obviously heartfelt that she could hardly refuse to show him how to use the dictionary by highlighting the word. She was, she admitted to herself, totally unprepared for his delight at that. It was rather sweet, really.

    They found the numbered part together and ordered it. It was surprisingly cheap.

    Eventually, she looked at her wall-clock. "So late already. We'd better eat." She jerked a thumb at the kitchen. Howard looked blank. Lani started to get angry and then… checked. "Can you cook?" she asked warily. "I suppose that's something else you might not have learned to do."

    Howard beamed, straightening up from leaning over the chair, and almost bumping his head on her ceiling. "I'm a good cook," he said. "Well, that's what Sister Thirsdaughter said. I can't cook anything like as well as my mother could, of course. But for a man, I can cook well." He looked faintly embarrassed. "It comes of being a bachelor still at nine-and-twenty. Most men marry much younger—often straight from living with their parents, and have never touch a skillet."

    Lani looked at him suspiciously. "Your mother cooked?"

    Howard nodded, his blue eyes innocent. "Didn't yours?"

    "I'm damn sure she never touched the inside of a kitchen. Next thing you'd be suggesting that she washed plates or changed diapers." She caught the look on Howard's face. "I suppose your mother did?"

    Howard nodded. "My father did help. He cooked on Sundays, and took his turn in the chores list with the dish-washing. But many people in New Eden consider cooking and house-keeping to be women's work. I did it because I lived alone, of course. But I would have expected my wife to do the bulk of it if I married."

    Lani pushed open the kitchen door. "Things are very much the same here. Except that it is you who are expected to do the cooking. And, as a woman living alone, I've been looking forward to it. I can burn nearly anything. I suppose I should show you where things are."

    She was a little embarrassed by the state of the kitchen. But then she hadn't expected to be bringing home a man when she started her day. "It's a bit primitive," she said, gruffly. "But we can improve it one day when I have a bit more money."



    Howard was unprepared for the kitchen she propelled him into. He didn't really mind the cooking part, that she seemed to expect him to do. It was abnormal, but then, so was their society. And he wasn't planning to spend very long here. Just long enough to find Kretz and get out of this piece of Gomorrah. It could have been worse, he supposed. It could have been Sodom.

    But how was he expected to cook without a methane-burner? What were these glass-fronted cupboards with dials? And where were the essentials of a good kitchen: the sides of bacon, the hams, the strings of onions and bunches of garlic? He didn't even see a single crock or any preserves, let alone wicker baskets full of fresh produce hung where they would catch the cool tunnel-breeze. Perhaps there was a pantry? The only thing he felt familiar with was the sink.

    She was obviously watching his face. "We could get food from a take-out, but we're too far from town for anyone to deliver, and the scoot still needs fixing," she said, her voice defensive. "I've got a fair number of instant meal-for-ones in the freezer, but I haven't got around to doing much food-shopping lately."

    "I don't understand all these things," he said humbly. He seemed to spend a lot of time being humbled. "In New Eden almost everyone grows their own food and barter with their neighbors. I have never bought any food."

    It was her turn to gape at him. "Grow your own? Do you each have your own harvesters and plant-tender robots then?"

    "I'm not sure what this 'robot' you mention is. If it is a machine, we have no machines. God gave us hands to work with. I plant, tend and harvest my crops. I tend, feed, milk and slaughter my animals."

    Her mouth hung open. "Really? With your own hands? Doesn't it take a lot of time?"

    "Yes. But we have no machines. It is good honest work."

    "Well," said Lani, obviously trying to take something positive out of this, "I guess they can't break down then. I suppose I'll have to show you how to work all this stuff." She sighed. "I'm not really very good at men's work, you know."

    She opened a chest full of coldness, and took out two square packs. Took a look at Howard and took out a third. "You're going to be expensive to feed."

    "I'm sorry," he said. He supposed that he would be, compared to the tiny little men he'd seen.

    "Don't be so damned humble!" she snapped. "You make me feel guilty, always apologizing like that."

    "I'm sorry," he said again, before he realized what he was doing, and felt foolish. "It's a habit. I am always in trouble back… among my people."

    She laughed. "Probably for picking up women and breaking things."

    Howard was acutely uncomfortable. "No. I've never even touched a woman before, well, except my own mother and my aunt, and Sister Thirsdaughter. I mostly got into trouble for fixing things. For taking apart mechanical devices too. And for going to places I wasn't supposed to."

    "Who is this 'Sister Thirsdaughter'?" she asked, head tilted.

    "The healer and midwife for our community. We are blessed indeed to have such a wonderful woman with us," he explained.

    "Pretty, is she?" asked Lani.

    Howard blinked, suddenly getting the drift of the woman's questions. "She brought me into this world. And my father and mother before me," he said.

    She had the grace to look a little embarrassed. "Oh. Well, look you put these into the micro. Here. You set it on three minutes thaw and one reheat for each. Have you got that? To think I'd be teaching cooking!"

    It wasn't much like any kind of cooking Howard had encountered. He had it fixed in his memory, but he also had no idea what it meant. And he wished that the kitchen was a bigger room and that she wouldn't lean on him like that. He wished that he could get a bit further away from the temptations of her body. He had found himself reciting psalms to keep his thoughts from straying. There weren't enough psalms. And by the look on her face, she'd noticed.

    The light went off in the square glass-fronted box she'd put the icy blocks into.

    She opened the door of the device, and took them out. Slightly fragrant steam curled up from them. She put the now obviously hot blocks onto plates she took down from a cupboard. At last—something familiar, although these were not made of wood.

    "I normally just eat out of the container, she said guiltily. "It saves on washing up. But I suppose we'll get used to using plates now."

    The knives and forks were just knives and forks. The food, revealed once the cover was pulled back, was like nothing Howard had ever seen. It had been cut to fit the shape of the container. Square meat. Square-ended vegetables.

    It wasn't like anything he'd ever tasted, either.

    He prodded the square of meat. "What sort of animal does this come from?" he asked, trying hard not to sound critical.

    "It's vat-protein beef."

    "Ah." Howard desperately struggled for something polite to say about it. "It's… very tender. They don't run about much, these beasts."

    "It's not really an animal. It's a cell-culture. We don't actually have any animals in the Matriarchy, although I've read about them and seen pictures." She looked a little wary. "You actually have them running around? And then you kill them?"

    Howard nodded. "It is the normal thing, yes. Of course we keep cows for milk, butter and cheese too, and chickens for eggs and meat."

    She shuddered. "It sounds barbaric."

    Howard, fresh from his new meeting with technology, felt a bit embarrassed. "It… tastes good. There is a certain satisfaction to it too, raising and providing your own food. Of course it isn't as quick as this."

    "Well, you can buy unprocessed stuff. It's very cheap. I have no idea what to do with it, though. I'll get you some and you can try."

    Howard wasn't planning to stay here that long. But, although it was not quite honest, he had a feeling that he'd better not tell her that. At least the food filled the gaping hole in his belly.

    She yawned. "Leave the dishes for the morning," she said. "Let's go to bed. You'd probably like to wash first. I would."

    It was the kind of invitation that part of Howard thought would be worth a fall from grace. And he wasn't thinking of the opportunity to wash.

    "Can I draw and heat the water?" he said. A cold bath would help him anyway. "Where do find the buckets?" Maybe here they would not frown on his bucket-yoke.

    She looked at him very oddly. He held his head up high. Some were born to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. There was no shame in that. "I still have working faucets, Howard. And hot water," she said, leading him into another room, overfull of bath.

    He found the idea that hot water could come out of a tap fascinating, and a little threatening too. What was a man to do if machines did all the work? Still, the bath was convenient and a welcome thing after the sort of day he'd had. The bubbles were… odd, but fragrant. Howard felt he ought to disapprove of them because of their frivolity, but then he wasn't too sure that they were frivolous. Maybe they served some purpose that he knew nothing about. He got that feeling about half the things in this world.

    He climbed into the warm fragrant water, sat back and relaxed, closing his eyes, let the troubles and complexities of this new world ebb away.

    "Move up," she said. "You occupy a wholly indecent amount of a bath, you know."

    Howard sat up hastily, as she stepped into the bath. He tried to get out, slipped and nearly submerged. Fortunately, it was quite a large bath without that much water in it.

    She laughed, and, while sitting down into the water, pushed him back with a hand on his shoulder. "Don't be sillier than you have to be," she said calmly.

    "It's not… decent. Not right," he spluttered reverting to trying to avert his eyes.

    "I don't have a problem with it, and it's my world. Nobody wears clothes here. Now relax. You still need to wash. And I want you to do my back. And open your eyes. It's not as if you hadn't seen me already."

    "You are making it very hard for me," he pleaded. "I had never even seen a naked woman until today."

    She smiled at him in a very alarming way. It reminded him of a cat, stalking a chick when the hen wasn't watching. "I intend to make things very hard for you. You'll just have get used to it."

    "I feel I have seen too many naked women today," he said, gloomily.

    "That wasn't quite what I meant. Anyway. I need my back washed."

    "Yes, Mistress."

    "I told you to call me Lani. It's a privilege, you know."

    "The mistress's privilege and slave's view of the same thing are not alike."

    "You're not a slave."

    "You paid for me. That's slavery."

    "Actually, the money is held in trust for your care if I throw you out, and also to pay for your children's maintenance. I pay it in installments every month."

    "It still feels like slavery," said Howard, taking the loofah.



    Lani looked at him sleeping. On the floor on a rug, the big lunk. He'd point blank balked at sharing the bed. This was proving to be quite a challenge. Not something she'd ever experienced before. But he was so innocent and helplessly naive that she felt rather maternal about him. She'd have to stop him getting locked up and gelded with his crazy ideas and behavior, though. And, she thought, practically, he might actually be quite useful at some things. She wasn't one of those immoral cows that made money out of their men, making them work while claiming the income and sitting on their broad behinds, but… he did say that he liked fixing things. At least he could save her money, to make up for feeding him.

    A laughable bid put in as a sour joke with the others in the station, saying that if she got him, she'd teach him how to behave, had backfired in her face. Maybe, she thought, as she looked at him breathing slowly and rhythmically, his big chest rising and falling easily, for once she'd done the right thing, out of malice.

    It was going to be rather nice, finding out. She was still smiling when sleep took her.



    Her waking was not peaceful.

    A crash… and then "There he is! Kill him!"

    The sound of breaking things, and yells. The sound of flesh being struck. Lani lunged out of her bedroom and plunged into her small lounge. Right at her door, Howard was down, being viciously attacked by three of her fellow officers.

    Lani used her velocity to kick one over him, and a straight arm to knock the turning one so hard into the wall, that the picture above her fell down. The corner of it hit her head and picture-glass sprayed.

    Lani stood over her fallen man, hands at the ready. "What in hell are you playing at?" she demanded of the sole standing officer.

    "L..Lani?" the nightstick tip dropped along with her jaw.

    "Who the hell did you think it was, Madeline? The matriarch? This is my house, damn it! You know that. Why are you beating him up? What the hell is going on here?"

    Captain Madeline Rodgers looked in horror at the smashed door, the broken chair, the picture, and her colleague, looking very ready to kill someone, standing over the man she'd just hit. "We… we have been hunting for you. You're m…missing."

    Howard groaned and tried to sit up. Slumped again.

    "We thought we were rescuing you," said Lieutenant Rubia, from where she sat against the wall amongst the glass-shards. Lani was already on her knees, checking for a pulse, making sure his airway was open.

    "Where did you get that idiotic idea?" she snapped. "Get me my first aid kit from the cupboard in the hall, Madeline, instead of standing there like an idiot."

    "Your scoot was reported wrecked, by one of the harvester crews," explained the Captain. "She said there was lots of blood on the scene—and you didn't call in. Major Nalzac assumed… Well, we've been searching the upper levels for you. We thought he might have carried you off to the runaways in the dead sections. Then early this morning we got a report in that someone had seen a large unaccompanied male near here. We stalked the place and heard a male speak, so we hit the place hard and fast. He's big and we didn't take any chances. I'm sorry."

    "The scoot broke down. Axle broke. I cut my head in the accident and Howard carried me home. He's big but he's just a baby, and the gentlest thing alive, damn you, Madeline." Lani realized that she was crying, but right now she didn't care. "We'd better get him to hospital. And if he dies I'll kill all three of you."

    Howard sat up. Saw her and saw Madeline—still with her night-stick. He staggered to his feet, and Lani found herself pushed back by a ham-like hand. "Get out the back, lass," he said, muzzily. "I'll hold them off."

    "Don't be an idiot, Howard," said Lani pulling him towards the chair. "Sit down before you fall down."

    "They're attacking you…"

    "It was a mistake. Now sit down before I attack you. And I'm a lot more dangerous than these clowns." It sounded tough, but her chin wobbled slightly as she said it, looking at her lunkhead. He was big, but barely able to stand right now. She pulled him down into a chair.

    "He just threatened us," said Madeline, with an edge in her voice.

    Maybe calling her a clown had not been so bright. Captain Rodgers had a high opinion of herself. "He's concussed," said Lani. "He tried to protect me, and he can't even protect himself. Now will you fetch the first aid-kit and call an ambulance?"

    "No," said Rodgers. "You can do it yourself. And I'm going to charge him with threatening to assault officers. Come on, girls. Let's get out of here."

    The other two had picked themselves up, and followed their Captain out of the kicked-in door. Looking at their backs, Lani knew that she would have a problem there. The three of them had broken a whole lot of procedural rules. The only way out was to claim hot pursuit…

    Howard might or might not need medical help, but unless she did something pretty sharply he'd need legal help. She picked up the communicator and called the station. Get it in fast, before they did. "Captain LaGarda here. I need to report a breaking and entry and an assault on the person of my man."

    "Lani, there is a search out on you!" said the desk officer.

    "I'm home," Lani said. "I had a scoot accident last night, but I'm fine otherwise. You can't say the same about my man. I have just had my home broken into and my man attacked. I'll need an ambulance."

    "Requested. Any idea by whom?" asked the Desk-Officer.

    "I can provide positive ID on the three, yes. Looks like a bit of blood on the glass they broke and I have one nightstick. I'm afraid this is going to be an ICD affair, Sarah. It was Captain Rodgers, Lieutenant Rubia and CO Lewis. Howard was just making my morning coffee when they broke in and attacked him."

    There was a silence from the other end of the communicator. Then the desk-officer asked: "Where are they now?"

    "They left when I told them they were under arrest," said Lani, lying smoothly. "I was trying to do emergency first aid on their victim so I couldn't stop them."

    It was contestable. But it was a long way better than leaving Howard accused—as he no doubt would be—of fleeing arrest and running into her home. The problem was that there were three of them, and one of her. Howard, as a minor in the eyes of the court, could not provide the same quality of testimony. In the meantime she'd better check on him. And spill a mug of coffee on the floor. She put the communicator down and looked at him.

    Howard smiled weakly up at her. "I didn't know what do, Lani. I was in the kitchen trying make breakfast."

    "Hush." Then she thought. "Who did you speak to? They say they heard you speak?" another witness would resolve the matter.

    "Myself. God. I was praying for guidance."

    Religion. She'd read about it. If anyone had been listening, they weren't going to let her into the witness stand to testify.

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