When I ventured out of my room I didn't see any sign of her, although I heard periodic scuffing sounds, mixed with an occasional grunt, from somewhere out back. After splashing my face with cold water, I put on my clothes and set out in search of the noises.
The sight that met my eyes as I opened the back door was fascinating. I found Senaria in what looked like a homemade training area along one side of the extensive yard, working her way through a strenuous program of exercises that seemed to involve every muscle group ever discovered, and apparently enjoying it immensely. I'd done gymnastics since junior high school (never caring for so-called team sports), but certainly nothing this vigorous. Her agenda seemed to emphasize agility as much as endurance, including jumping on and off various platforms, sometimes doing a complete back flip in the process, and invariably landing squarely on her feet.
"Bravo," I exclaimed, applauding enthusiastically, when she finally reached a hiatus of sorts and stood panting with hands on knees and head down as she regained her breath. She looked up in surprise and gave me a friendly smile, one which lit up her face quite remarkably and made her seem almost a different person than the rather dour young woman I'd first met yesterday.
"Good morning," she managed after a few more gasps. "I don't suppose you do sword training, do you?"
I shook my head in surprise. "Sorry," I said. "Rann's tried to talk me into it a few times but, well, to be honest I was always too embarrassed to."
"What do you care what other people think?" she said scornfully, the cherished bon mot startling me coming from this Qozernan Amazon. I'd gotten so used to switching between Deshtiran and English by now that it took a moment for the fact to also register that she'd said it in English.
"Richard Feynman," she added helpfully, watching my expression with amusement.
"Arline Feynman, actually,"* I corrected her, still amazed. "Where'd you hear it?"
"I read his autobiographies a few years ago," she said, as though that explained everything. Between our conversation last night and now this, I was finally beginning to realize that she was not at all what she seemed at first glance.
"So how about it?" she continued. I must have looked pretty blank. "I was asking you about sword training," she reminded me. "Want to learn some? Great way to keep in shape." There was something so encouraging about the way she said it, and not at all mocking, that I felt my resistance leaking away like the charge on a capacitor. "All right," I conceded. "But don't expect too much."
She disappeared into the house and returned a minute later with two practice blades, virtually identical to those I'd seen Rann and Kiri using. No sharper overall than a letter opener, and with a smoothly rounded point, the main danger they posed was indeed that of poking out an eye by mistake. But they could inflict some pretty impressive bruises, as I'd seen on Rann more than once.
Senaria showed me one of the basic moves, had me copy it, and we took it from there. Although I felt awkward at first, the blade itself seemed to guide me along, being perfectly balanced and very easy to wield in spite of its size. I quickly found myself having a great deal of fun.
"Don't you have anyone to train with?" I asked during a pause for breath. "It must be hard to keep in practice just doing your exercises."
"I have a few friends from the EMRN that train with me on our mutual days off, and another one that comes in from Deshtiris now and then," she said. "But it's fun to train someone from scratch, especially when they're having as good a time as you are." She was right, too, I realized, and renewed my assault with what I hoped might be something like a samurai yell. It did incapacitate her, although it was with laughter, not fear.
I soon lost track of the time, and so it came as a shock when we stopped for a moment and a chorus of cheers erupted from behind us. I spun around to see that my five tripmates had returned from Lernesdi and were watching us with fascination. I turned to Senaria accusingly, feeling myself turning pink.
"All right, how long did you know they were there?" I demanded.
"For the past ten minutes," she said gleefully. "But if I'd told you, you would have missed those last ten minutes of training, right?"
"How did you talk her into this, Sen?" Rann protested. "I couldn't get her to even touch a sword. She told me they were 'barbaric relics.' "
Kiri turned to Will. "I thought you had the only 'barbaric relic' here," she gibed.
"That's not what you called it last night," he shot back with a leer.
"Children, please," Gelhinda broke in. My mother just stood there, taking it all in with a silly smile.
"Senaria, you've bewitched my mate," Rann insisted.
"Serves you right for neglecting her education," she jeered back. "To the victor belong the spoils!" she cried, unexpectedly scooping me up with one arm and throwing me over her shoulder as though I weighed nothing (I don't), where I dangled flailing and kicking uselessly. Then she ran like a deer into the house, dumping me unceremoniously onto the couch. I should have been outraged, but there was something about seeing her like this, so unlike the day before and so utterly without inhibitions, that I couldn't help but giggle.
I saw a shadow pass over her face. "Please don't mention what happened yesterday," she said to me in an undertone as we heard the others pouring through the back door.
"Sure," I agreed, startled at the sudden change. Then everyone else came thundering in and her grin returned as if nothing had happened.
We finally managed to get ourselves packed up for the trip back, waving a farewell to Senaria through the thick crystal as we lifted off. I thought she looked a bit forlorn standing there, shrinking into invisibility as we rose into the air and left the planet behind.
I noticed that my mother still looked a little out of it; not unhappy or anything, just kind of spacey. I wondered if all the sightseeing had been too much for her. It was after we'd gone to hyperspeed, and the ship had been left to run itself for a while, that she asked me to stay behind in the Futaba after the others headed back into the living quarters.
"Hal," she said hesitantly, "can I talk to you for a few minutes?" Surprised, I agreed, hoping nothing was seriously wrong.
"I've felt closer than ever to you over the past few months," she said. "I feel that you're as much a friend now as my daughter. I really don't think of you as a child any more."
"Thanks, Mom," I said, self-inflating at the thought. "You know how much your trust means to me."
"You haven't kept secrets from me," she went on. "I've really appreciated that. I don't want to keep secrets from you, either." And then she told me what had happened at Lernesdi. I was astonished, to say the least, and it took a few minutes for it to all settle down in my mind into some kind of sense.
"You're upset, aren't you?" she said anxiously, and I hastily shook my head.
"No, I'm not," I said firmly, and I meant it. "I'm really happy for you. I just wasn't expecting this. I hope it'll work out." She looked relieved. "Things are different here, aren't they?" I observed wryly. She smiled radiantly at me.
"Yes, they really are. Thanks, Hal." As we walked back along the Futaba to the living quarters, I noticed she again had the jade comb in her hair. Maybe that stuff really does work, I marveled.
* The legendary physicist's first wife; for a long time he misspelled her name as "Arlene." - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|