by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
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Note: this is the prequil to Journey Among the Don which was written earlier and can be found at my ERB site.
The class was small, as are all to give the teacher a chance to individualize the students. Here there were a dozen faces, some human, some not-so-human listening to the teacher. “… and we must remember two sayings, one by the Terran Philosophers Diogenes and Santayana who said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ and the other by the not-quite famous Terran Irish Terrorist Obrien who said ‘Try to learn from the mistakes of others, you won’t live long if you make them myself’. It is our task, as historians, to learn from the past and use this information to avoid the mistakes of the past that our future may be better. See you next session, class dismissed.”
As the students stood to leave, the instructor called out, “Student Chin, would you please remain for a moment.”
The girl, still in her teen years turned and approached with a little nervousness. She was one of those not-quite-humans in the class. Her parents were human but Demon Engineering had ensured that she, like her teacher, were different. Created to operate starships, they had prehensile tails, double opposable thumbs and a thumb on their feet, all of which influenced fashion.
The girl curtseyed to the older man, revealing and impressive cleavage as her loose blouse fell slightly open, and said, “Yes, Professor, what do you wish of me?”
He stopped erasing the board then smiled, “Have you some time this afternoon for a conference. I’d like to discuss your future career with you.” It wasn’t a request but a statement that she knew she had to obey for although both were of the same Teacher Caste, he was, after all, her senior.
“I do have another class waiting and after that I work at the Liberatory stacks but will be free by 7pm if this is acceptable for you?” She hoped her compromise would be accepted as she had no wish to anger such an important teacher.
“That’s fine. Shall we agree to 8pm this evening at my home?” again, it wasn’t a question so she readily agreed then ran off to her next class.
Later as she was going from class to work with two of her girl-friends, her boyfriend approached and offered, “Barbara! Can I see you after work tonight? I’d like to spend some alone-time with you?”
She smiled for although the boy was human and she Weir, she loved the attention he gave her. “I’d love to Kenneth, it has been a long time but I have an important conference with Professor Holtzman tonight. Perhaps when it’s over we can be together?” She smiled up at him, then licked her lips. Human men often approached Weir women simply because Weir casualness about sex ensured a healthy sex-life for the man who dated one. And although Weir were engineered for strength and she could easily break her boyfriend if he pushed too hard, every woman enjoyed the attention given by a desperately horny human boy.
He grudgenly agreed, thinking of the rewards he’d receive afterwards and he easily joined the group as they continued on. As he kissed her at the Liberatory door, she gave his ass a squeeze then caressed his cheek with her tail to signal both lust and affection then went inside. Kenneth was attractive and, for a human, athletic and Barbara knew she was beautiful. Fortunately, although Kenneth had been fertile since 14, she wouldn’t ovulate for another eight years or so thus she had no fears of ruining her career with an accidental pregnancy, unlike Marica who, being human didn’t take adequate steps and left the city in disgrace.
Work was dull, mostly filing returned books so she had time to read and wonder why she was being singled out by the Professor. She was almost terrified as her shift ended and she took her cloak from the hook and left the Liberatory. The sun had set hours ago and the crispness of the sea breeze caused her to coil her tail under her long heavy skirt. Although she was warm, occasionally a gust would sneak up her legs, bringing a gasp as it did so. Nevertheless, she loved Autumn and although dark, she happily kicked her way through the dead leaves on the walkways. There were always arguments about this. Some people insisted on raking their yards and sweeping the walks, others liked the sights and sounds of the leaves blanketing the ground as a prediction of the Winter snows. Today, hearing the leaves crunch under her feet was a comforting sound and occasionally she would kick some, remembering her younger days when her father would rake the leaves into a pile and she and her brothers would rush out to jump into them, scattering the orange and golden colors so that they would be raked again. Their father would yell at them but everyone knew that he enjoyed the sight as much as they enjoyed the deed and sometimes, he’d drop his rake and join them, laughing with his children.
That ended a couple years ago when she reached 15 and began the long Weir climb through puberty. Her human father spent some four years in that time growing to manhood, but her Weir body would take ten to complete the same journey, and until then, her sexuality was growing, forcing her to take lovers to prevent the agony of celibacy. Her father understood that his daughter needed sex regularly in the same way he understood that the stars were suns like Lucifer was but he couldn’t really UNDERSTAND his Weir children and so began to distance himself as she grew to adulthood. She kicked more leaves and wished that she could return to those simple days. She still joined in the play with her younger siblings but her father still treated her different now and she resented that.
Outside her teacher’s home she paused a moment. Conflicting thoughts rushing past until she finally walked to the door and knocked. She was about to knock again when the door opened to reveal a woman, thin and tired yet still smiling, “You must be Barbara Chin, I am Hillory Holtzman and I bid you enter in peace and happiness.”
Barbara curtseyed to the woman, thanking her for the invitation then entered, removing her cloak and holding it to herself as if it were a shield. “I hope I’m not off-time, Mistress Professor?” Although she was obviously exhausted, manners dictated that the Lady of the house greet all guests and this woman wouldn’t lower her status by allowing a servant to answer the door.
“Not at all,” she replied as she led the girl through the house. “Professor Holtzman is in the study and is waiting for you.” Barbara glanced into the family room as they passed, seeing the house-whore bottle feeding a small baby. Her own mother had resisted hiring one herself until the demands of three Weir children forced her into the situation. Humans had such a hard time bearing and nursing Weir babies. By the time the third was born, the mothers were near death from exhaustion and malnutrition so hiring a house-whore to clean, help care for the children and service the husband was often a necessity. This is why human wives rarely had more than three Weir children and many stopped at two.
The Mistress Professor finally entered the open doorway to a study and called out, “Dear, your student Chin is here to see you.” The professor stood, came to hold his wife and then thanking her, kissed her and asked that they not be disturbed. She closed the door as she left and the privacy brought back Barbara’s nervousness. Why privacy? This must be important! Was she being exiled from her Caste? Sent away in disgrace? She couldn’t think of anything save that one controversial paper she had written.
The professor looked at her then bade her sit. Like all Weir, he had stopped ageing at 25 and wouldn’t begin again until he was over 400 so it was impossible to guess his true age. His wife would be dead of age in another few decades and he would live on, young, without her for centuries. The thought made her sad and the professor mistook that for something else.
“Cheer up, Student Chin, I don’t bite. Please sit and relax. I’ve been looking over your last few term papers and have a couple of comments. Your writing is excellent. But you sometimes show a conclusion that isn’t warranted by your research. I don’t know if you are forgetting to list some data or if you are concluding what you want instead of what is, but that needs some work.”
“Yes, Professor,” she replied looking at the floor. This wasn’t going so good.
“Have you done much field work? Other than what’s in your records?” he asked.
“No sir. The usual local studies to gain experience and once I traveled to Astria to see the colony there but I’ve never been off-world and seen any of the other nations. Will that harm my career?”
He laughed then stood and walked to a side bar. “Can I get you a drink? You may need one.”
Panicking at the thought, she automatically said, “Merlot wine if you have some please.” What could he say that would require her half-drunk?
He opened a bottle as he retrieved some glasses with his tail and continued, “I just happen to have some Merlot from Talic. It’s a bit tart for my taste but Hillory seems to like it so I try to keep a bottle on hand.” He then approached her and handed a glass of the red wine then sat and glanced at the light through his own glass. Then he swirled the glass, inhaled some of the aroma and waited a moment. Barbara tried to follow but being only 17, she didn’t know what to look for. Pieces of cork? Bugs? Clarity or color? She tried to smell the wine but again, she was accustomed to a glass of wine to break down the fats in her dinner, not to drink for pleasure so was lost. Finally, she drained the glass in one gulp preferring the giddiness of the alcohol to the discomfort of the conversation.
“Be careful,” he said, “that will go to your head.”
“Why is he dragging this on,” she thought. “Maybe his wife chose a house-whore that isn’t good in bed and he wants me. I am attractive and he did close the door. Maybe if I undo my blouse he’ll just bed me on that couch and I can end this conversation and go home.”
“So you’ve never been off-world?” he continued.
“No sir.” She held her glass out and saw her hand was shaking. So she grabbed it with the other to no avail. He smiled, wrapped his tail around her wrist to steady them and poured another, smaller glass. “Sip, don’t gulp,” he advised.
Embarassed, she tried, wondering if he wanted her to seduce him then he said it!
“There is a Colonial Ram-Ship leaving for Terra soon. I have a berth there to study Malthusian populations in isolation and I liked your paper on the subject. Are you interested in a field-study on Terra?”
She almost dropped her glass, then recovered and gulped it down instantly. To Damn with embarrassment. A field-study! Most Historians dream of field-studies but few manage to go. And to Terra even! Her grandparents were Terrans before Colonial brought them to Gaea and changed their DNA and her parents had always dreamed of visiting the Homeworld but a poor Teacher could never afford the trip, even were it permitted. And now it was being handed to her!
“Sir,” she began, then “Professor… Yes! Of course I do!” then she thought, “Sir, why me? Surely there are many others more capable than I am and many must have field experience?”
He smiled again then explained. “The Barony is too large. We cover four dozen star systems and don’t have the population to settle half those worlds. We need people from Terra to settle on the frontier or the Shitai will eventually manage to settle one of the frontier worlds before we do, and if that happens….” He trailed off and need say nothing more. She had seen the vids of the Shitai invasions and knew that only the Lanai’s fanatical drive to win had stopped them and driven them back. If the Barony could put colonists on each frontier world, the Shitai would have no legal excuse to colonize them and we could keep the Empire away. But the only place to get that number of people was Terra. So the Ram-Ships were sent there to collect people who could be planted on the frontier worlds and thus justify the claim of the Barony to those worlds.
“Yes sir,” she said. “I understand that we need people and why, but why Historians on the ship and why me? That’s what I don’t understand.”
“It’s not my decision. Ram-Ships are almost five kilometers long and can carry thousands of people. So there is plenty of room for as many Historians as need be. And with the new expansion, we need to know more about Terra, it’s ways and people. Interviewing colonists from Terra isn’t enough, we need to see humans in their own environment, the bad as well as the good. Our grandparents were humans from Terra but they were selected because they had qualities the Barony needed. Our grandparents weren’t the average human, they were special and as Terra begins their space exploration, we need to know more about them before we meet them in a possible war.
“So the Liberatory has decided that we should take advantage of such a large ship that visits Terra regularly and send as many Historians as we can to study Terra. Thus, anyone with more than a few field trips to Terra is asked to go again. And to ensure that we get as much exposure as possible, we with experience take you younger ones along to give us a new insight and to give you experience. Of the dozen I was offered, you were the best. Interested?”
This was what Historians dreamed about, what Historians nightmared about! If all went well, her career was ensured. But if she messed up, not only would her career be gone, but she’d drag Professor Holtzman down with her. Not only would she be outcast, but so would he. There was nothing to do but to make her decision.
“Sir, I want to go, I really do. But I need to ask my parents for permission as I won’t be adult for another year. And a year out, months on site then another year back? What will my mother do without me to help with my brothers? My boyfriend, will he wait for me? Isn’t Terra dangerous? My father will worry so. I want to go, really I do. I’ve dreamed of this all my life. Not only a field trip but to Terra!” She babbled on even as the door opened and Hillory entered.
“My dear,” she counseled as she placed her arm around Barbara’s shoulders. “Go home and think about it. I know it’s scary and although Barney acts so calm, his first field-trip he was so terrified he didn’t sleep for weeks, or so his mother tells me.” She led the girl to the door, adjusted her cloak and hood then sent her on her way into the darkness.
When Hillory returned to the study, she found her husband finishing the glass of wine. After all these years and three children he still looked the handsome young man she fell in love with so many years ago. Now she was rapidly ageing and in a few years would look like her mother but he’d not change. He saw her, held his hand to her and called to her. In his eyes, she was still the wonderful person he married. A part of his mind knew he’d outlive her but he loved her so much he buried the other part.
She came to him and he pulled her to his lap. He undid her hair then began to stroke it as she said to him, “She seems like a nice girl. I like her better than that boy from last night. He wasn’t scared enough and he should be. A little fear will make her more careful.”
“Yes, my love,” he responded with only half a mind. She was exhausted from bearing three Weir children and it showed. They hadn’t been physically intimate in weeks because of her exhaustion and he visited the house-whore only when the pressure built up, but always he wanted Hillory. “Did you really talk to my mother about my first trip?”
“Of course I did. And she even gave me your baby vids, especially the ones in your bath. You were so cute..” and she kissed him, desire fighting with exhaustion, hoping that desire would win. Then she stopped and took his face in her hands, feeling his pointed ears under her fingers, his eye-slits opening in the dark and said, “Please be careful out there. Our time is so brief I can’t bear to loose any of it. Your children need you and I need you.” Then she kissed him again.
Barbara ran to Kenneth’s home and climbed into his bedroom through the window. His parents knew she visited but human ways insisted that they pretend she didn’t. And so she respected their desires while fulfilling her own. She wanted to talk to Kenneth about the trip but he was insistent and she knew that he’d ignore anything she said until he was satisfied. “Well,” she decided, “my news can wait a few minutes,” and she relaxed and gave in, enjoying the experience as brief as it was. After, when they lay there, he holding her and she caressing his cheek with her tail, she knew he’d take a while to recover and the next time would be for her so she took advantage of the resting and started to talk.
“I have a chance to go to Terra! My first field trip. This can make my career! Will you wait for me?”
He stopped playing with her nipple just then. “Leave? For the Homeworld? Why?”
Sighing, she sat up and tried to replace his hand on her breast, he was so easy to distract sometimes, but he pulled away. “It’s my job! I’m a Historian as you are a Merchant. If your Caste asked you to go to Terra to open trade, you’d go wouldn’t you? That would give your Clan wealth and power. Well the same applies for me. THIS is what I was raised to do.”
“But what about us? How long will you be gone? What will you … ‘do’ without me? I don’t want you with anyone else! I want you to stay here, marry me! I know your parents won’t like you dropping Caste like that but I’ll make you happy! I promise!”
She looked at him knowing that he was babbling and didn’t mean what he said. Marriage? And her only 17? She couldn’t marry until she was fertile at 25 though humans often married this young. She always knew that this relationship was doomed. He’d age and she wouldn’t and tonight, seeing Mistress Holtzman, younger than her husband but ageing faster made it real. She also knew that her parents would age and die faster than she and suddenly she knew that was true. Maybe a few years on a Ram-Ship would bridge the gap or maybe it would create a chasm? But she had to go.
“Kenneth, it has nothing to do with Caste and never did you say you loved me. We both knew this would end. Maybe this trip is the Goddess telling you to find a nice human girl you can grow old with. I have to go.” She kissed him then and considered leaving but he smelled so good so she kissed and stroked him to readiness and this time, it was wonderful. Maybe goodbye sex was supposed to be like this?
The next day she ran down to breakfast to tell her human parents the good news. “Mother, father, Professor Holtzman offered me a berth on the Ramship to study Terra. This can make my career if I do well. But I need your permission first. Please let me go!”
Her father stopped working on his lecture to stare at her. “Barbara, Earth is far away. You’ll be gone more than two years, half that in deep-sleep, the other half training colonists and who knows what field study you’ll have to do while there. Some of those are dangerous. Your grandmother was rescued from a concentration camp during their Second World War. Your grandparents left Earth to find a safe home for us and now you want to go back? Why?”
“Daddy,” she said, “It’s my career. Didn’t you ever do field-work? Remember how you told me you went to Kentaurus to study the rebuilding after the Kris Wars? You said they were still finding traps after the mass suicide so wasn’t that dangerous? This can make me famous! I can choose my own school if I do this well.”
“Honey,” her mother stepped in. She was Healer Caste so never had to worry about a job and never understood the difference between a good school and a country center. “Barbara isn’t a baby anymore. We forget that Weir mature slowly but they are smarter and stronger than we are at any age. This is important to her and we should support her. Of all the worlds in the Galaxy theHuman Race spread to, we still understand the Homeworld so little. All I know are some stories from mom and dad and a few documentaries. And Barbara has a chance to see Earth first-hand. Besides, if she turns this down, how long will she have to wait for another important trip?”
“We’ll discuss this tonight in private!” her father grumbled and returned to his writing.
She wrapped her arms around her father and said, “Thank you daddy! I love you! I have to get to work, I’m tutoring some kids today and can’t be late. Thank you momma, I’ll see you tonight.” And she rushed out knowing that her father’s attitude was agreement without admitting he agreed.
Her husband lay his pen down and looked at his wife. “We’ll be dead in a few decades of age while she will be young for centuries. Can’t she wait until we are gone before she leaves us?”
“Dear, She’s not the little girl you want her to be. She was never like me growing up and her brothers were never like you. She was engineered to fly starships and instead she teaches children and files books. This is what she was created to do. She’s always stared at the stars, they call to her. We have to let her go.”
“I know.” He responded. “I also know her brothers will leave too. At least we gave her a good Caste upbringing so she is educated.”
His wife continued, “and besides, they send Lanai on the Ramships. At the slightest trouble, she can signal for help and you know it took only one Lanai to rescue my mother and those other hundred Jews from that camp. If Ashyeria can destroy a couple dozen SS-troops fully armed and prepared for war, then having a Ramship full of them absolutely guarantees her safety. And you know they give the field Historians personal shields, you wore one yourself so how can she be hurt? She’ll be safe and with a decent relativity curve, she might even return yesterday.”
“Yesterday, then there’ll be two of them?” he joked, “I can’t even handle one daughter and I dread her brothers growing up. Ok, I’ll sign the paper. Can’t a father worry about his little girl sometimes?”
“Yes dear, but she’s not that little anymore. She’ll be legal next year.” Her mother said.
“Then I guess we need to arainge an 18th year gift for her to open on the way back.”
Barbara ran to her professor’s study at morning break and gave him the good news, “When do we leave?”
He handed her a book on the Greystoke explorations of old Africa and said, “next week. Pack for the trip back, this will tell you what we know about the area we are visiting and how to dress.”
“Pal-ul-Don? I’ve never heard of the place. Is it important?” she queried.
“That, child, is what we are to discover. I’ll see you next Venusday at the spaceport at 9 am. I expect a good job from you, don’t dissapoint me.” It was another command so she curtseyed low again and after promising to make him proud of her, she ran off to prepare for her future.