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Slow Train to Arcturus: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Saturday, September 6, 2008 08:44 EDT



    "History proves that misfits in a stable static society often prove to be leaders and desirable citizens in a pioneer one. Of course this is not universally true."


From: Elementary Societal Psychodynamics. 2089. James R. Grey (ed). New Harvard Library (Pub.)



    Lani found that entry to the second airlock bordered on the tragic. She'd spent her life not knowing what she wanted to do. Not in the short-term sense but in the 'what do you want to do with your life' sense. She felt that she'd just found it. It was if she'd been caged all her life—without knowing it—and had suddenly had been allowed to get out. To think that she'd been mildly worried about the unfamiliar environment. Now, the walls seemed to close in around her.

    Not so, by the looks of it, for Amber Geriant. You could hear her breathing in faint gasps through the suit radios. The woman's face was as pale as a sheet, her facepaint stark against it. And she was clawing ineffectual at her helmet already. She had it off the moment the repressurisation light came on. She leaned against the wall and slid down it to sit, still panting.

    "That was the worst thing I have ever, ever, ever experienced. Never again. Never, ever again," she said. "I thought I was going to die. And then I thought I might not, and that was far worse. It's so good to be inside."

    "I can't wait to go outside again," blurted Lani, despite meaning to keep quiet. "This just seems to be so small now."

    Howard beamed. "I must admit that once I got used to it, it had something of the same effect on me. It did frighten me at first, though."

    "Well, your species were plainly quite used to working in space, once," said Howard's alien, Kretz, folding back his hood-like helmet. "And now we need to prepare ourselves for crossing this habitat. I hope it is not dangerous. Can you instruct me, properly, in the use of this weapon?"

    Amber made a face. "I think Lani had better do that for all of us—before we go out. I was under the mistaken impression that just having a gun was enough. Was I ever wrong!"

    "Sure," said Lani. "I'll give lessons just as soon as I'm out of this suit. How do your people wear clothes all of the time, Howard? They itch. It's the one bad thing about space. So confining!"

    Amber was looking at a screen display on one of the cases. "I have some bad news for you, Lani. The air temperature in here is a good three degrees cooler than it is at home. I think we can reasonably conclude that the people of this habitat wear some clothes."

    "Clothes?" Lani looked at the suit she had half off. "You mean I have to wear this thing? How do you… have a pee?"

    Amber laughed. "I looted the museum and brought several sets of clothes along. I assumed that we might have to try and pass as locals. They're in the other bag."

    "Can you help me out of this thing?" said a plaintive voice they'd all forgotten about, the small gap-toothed Male Liberation Movement captain. He was still struggling with his helmet.

    Howard helped him to snap the catches. "What are we going to do with him?" asked Lani. She felt that popping him outside the airlock—without the helmet—was an attractive idea. Unfortunately, she was pretty sure that Howard wouldn't like it.

    "We will help you to find a safe place. After that you are free to go," said Howard, confirming her suspicions. This was one little Perp who had succeeded in evading the Diana Law. It suddenly struck her that they all had. Well, not many criminals would flee justice this far. Not many would have the skill and the knowledge, even if they weren't afflicted by the open spaces. There was a lot of open space out there. Enough, if you had air, to live a life of your own, in your own way. It was an attractive thought.

    Amber had opened the space-bag and was now busy laying out cloth items from it. "There was a limited choice. A lot of the fabric had not survived, even in museum conditions. I brought along a set of overall from the protein Vats… but they are bright orange."

    "Brown and green are the best colors, if we are going to have avoid attack," said Kretz.

    The idea of putting on clothing that wasn't absolutely necessary to cope with the vacuum of space in front of other people was distinctly discomforting. It was bad enough being perverted in private. "Can we perhaps see on your computer, how many people there are around here? We can then avoid them and avoid the clothing."

    Amber shook her head. "I don't know if I'll be able to access their network. I hadn't thought of that. I suppose I can search for frequencies. There must be a way."

    Howard was inspecting the clothing. First with eagerness, and then with horror. "These are all women's clothes!"

    Amber looked from her screen and nodded. "Yes. I didn't anticipate needing men's clothes. They're from the female repression display in the closed access section of the museum. I planned this and got the clothes before we knew about your coming with us. I hope—as you come from a clothed society—you can tell us what some of them are. Some appear more lace than covering."

    Howard blushed fiercely. "They are woman's underclothes. Uh. I think. I have never seen anything like them."

    "And that's your story, and you're sticking to it," said Lani, picking up a red lacy item. It could fit around your breasts, she supposed, although it must have been designed for a woman with enormous breasts. "One thing about wearing your skin: it doesn't come in different sizes."

    She held up a long sort of black sack-like thing, dropped it with distaste, and then picked up a semi-transparent metallic-sheen strip of material. At least it was a pretty color. "How do people put these things on, Howard? Is this what you wear in New Eden?"

    His eyes seemed to bulge. "No! We wear good homespun, in the natural colors of our animals or the plants that it that comes from. It is vanity to wear such a thing. And that's not so much intended to cover your nakedness as to… to flaunt it."

    She could wear something like this without feeling so perverted, she thought. "So how do you wear it?" She held it up to her breasts.

    "It's… it’s a skirt. It's not really decent."

    "I'm not wearing that black sack," said Lani. "So does it go around the waist?"

    "Uh, yes."

    It was quite obvious, when you knew what to look for. There was a little belt with a tiny label attached, which read: microskirt, circa 2030. She stepped into it and fastened it. "How does that look?"

    "You need underwear. And a blouse. It's really not decent," repeated Howard, as red as a beetroot salad.

    It was fun watching the effect semi-clothing herself had on him. And with another woman around, especially one at the top of the social hierarchy, she needed to make sure that his attention was well and truly fixed on her. "Underwear? Oh, that lacy thing." Presumably to be worn under the skirt. Then why so lacy? "What's the point of underwear? You can't see it."

    Howard swallowed. "In that skirt, you can."



    Howard realized that he'd gotten used to coping with nudity. It had not occurred to him that anyone could be even more alluring in clothing. It wasn't fair. And what could he wear? Women's clothes? He wasn't sure if nudity wasn't almost better! None of them would fit him anyway.

    "I can't raise it!"

    The woman with her screen looked as if she might just burst into tears. "Scan says there is no connection available. I've always had a connection. How am I going to cope without one? Holy Susan! I feel… dressed."



    The black sack—labeled Hijab, circa 2010—was at least made of honest sturdy cloth, Howard had to admit. Of course, he wouldn't have fitted into it in a million years. But, by wrapping it around his waist, it made quite a respectable skirt, just over knee-length. A man in a skirt was ludicrous, but did beat nudity, and at least it was in a decent color. He was less fortunate in what was available for a top. The only item that would remotely fit was glowingly pink, had tassels, and wouldn't close in front. Still, it was better than the only item left for the little wild man—he must find out his name. That tutu-thing was ludicrous. He would have preferred to stay in a pressure suit to wearing that. Lani hadn't thought it practical, though, and he had to agree with her, even if it did have trousers.

    He sat, contriving carrying straps for the bags. Some of the things, like the unwanted clothes, they would abandon here. But the food for Kretz, and the tools, had to be taken along. The others—except for Howard himself and the little fellow with the gap-tooth—were getting a lesson in how to use fire-arms. On principal, Howard had refused. And the women had refused to let the little man participate. He was keen, though, and sat staring at the drill Lani was putting them through. On impulse Howard touched him on the shoulder. "What's your name?"

    The little gap-toothed man blinked. "John," he answered warily. "John Bhangella."



    John Bhangella looked at the big fellow. There seemed no sign of malice there. He was as weird as they came, even if he hadn't been the size of three normal men. Imagine turning down the chance to learn how to use gun! Still, the big guy had stopped that cop-bitch from killing him… a couple of times. He said things and she listened to him. Weird. Weirder than that other guy who looked like a mixture between something from a bad dream and a cross between a man and a woman. He definitely had an extra hole and no balls. But also had quite a piece.

    Bhangella smiled tentatively at the big guy. John hadn't survived being a womanless man, and then worked his way up to being one of the Men's Liberation Army captains by not knowing when to kiss a few butts. "So it's just us two men," he said.

    "Yes. We will have a hard time protecting these ladies. I am sorry we dragged you into this. It was not my intention."

    Yeah, thought John, Protect them? It was your girlfriend's intention to blow my balls off though. But what he said was: "These things happen."

    "I believe that it is all part of God's plan," said the big man, tying knots dexterously. "I did not wish to go out of New Eden with Brother Kretz, but if I had not gone, well, my world would have been much smaller. I would not have seen the glory of the heavens and seen how infinite His majesty is."

    That didn't mean much to Johnny Bhangella. The best he managed was, "Uh. Yes."

    "I cannot promise anything, but this habitat might be a sweeter place, where men and women live in harmony under God, as equals like in my own," said Howard hopefully.

    The words made sense, but the substance of them didn't. But if the big guy wanted it like that, he'd agree. John nodded. He'd heard some talk of other worlds from some of the runaways who'd learned to read. He'd never felt a need for reading himself. He was already quite clever enough. He noticed that the big guy seemed hooked up on clothes. He used some of his words back at him. "Hopefully they will have the decency to wear clothing."

    He knew he'd struck well when Howard beamed at him. "At least we men understand the need for clothing."

    John nodded. His old mistress had made him dress up sometimes. It was a pity that she hadn't had Howard to beat for her pleasure instead. "Oh, yes," he agreed.

    A few minutes later they opened the inner-airlock door, and stepped out into a new world.

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