In any case I wound up getting along famously with Rokun, and soon made myself indispensable, or so I thought. Certainly as far as maintaining his journals was concerned I managed to insert some organization into what had previously been utter chaos, and before long he asked if I'd do the same with his electronic journals as well. For this he gave me the password to his working computer account (though not, of course, to his personal records).
What I found was a chaotic jumble of files, some of which were journals, some papers in progress, some just miscellaneous data files he'd found interesting and dumped into his account. With his permission I began creating a directory structure and index to everything I found, and as my proficiency with the Deshtiran computer systems grew I also created an introductory menu system that let him quickly put his hands on the working materials he needed most.
It didn't take long before I discovered that I was getting badly out of shape. Without realizing it I'd managed to construct a life for myself here without any physical exercise at all. I made the mistake of mentioning this to Rann, and immediately regretted it.
"I know just the thing," he suggested eagerly. "Why don't I start teaching you swordsmanship?" In my mind's eye I saw Rann again weaving his net of flickering steel, and then visualized myself pitted against him as the rest of the palace staff watched in stunned horror. The picture that came to mind was not at all a pretty one: me blundering about, waving a sword around like a conductor's baton and making a total spectacle of myself, and ultimately poking out one of Rann's eyes.
"Huh-uh," I said, repressing a shudder. "I'll leave the combat with barbaric relics to you, if you don't mind."
"Ba--Barbaric relics?" he stammered.
"I'm kidding," I assured him hastily, seeing the sudden hurt in his eyes. "They're wonderful, really. But it's just not my kind of sport, okay?" For once I was immune to his pleadings and puppy eyes, and remained adamant. "I suppose I could run, or something," I pondered.
"There's a gym in the palace basement," Rann said sullenly, clearly still smarting from my cruel remark. "Maybe something there will give you an idea." Which it did, as I saw several individuals performing various sorts of gymnastics over in one corner. I'd done gymnastics since junior high, so once I learned how to use some of the less familiar equipment it became a regular part of my schedule.
Between gymnastics, studies, and assisting Rokun my life had now become extremely busy. I was grateful for my mother's newfound fascination with astronomy, particularly as Gelhinda also had an interest in it and had begun spending a considerable amount of time with her. Although Rann never complained, I finally realized to my dismay that I was basically fitting him into odd corners of my time (and not incidentally driving Bad Haley to distraction, to be perfectly honest about it).
It was about three weeks after our arrival that I came home one afternoon to find Gelhinda in our living room waiting for my mother, who was in the shower. Recently my mother had begun diligently translating a paragraph at a time of her astronomy books, and would then sit down with Gelhinda who'd patiently go over what she'd done. Today, however, they were going out to dinner instead.
I'd grown to like Gelhinda very much, and no longer thought of her only as "Senaria's mother." Several times she'd given me advice on one or another matter of social perplexity I'd blundered into, and it had always proven solid.
"Hello, Haley," she greeted me warmly. "Do you ever slow down?"
"Not lately," I admitted. "I was never this busy in high school, that's for sure. Now I have to grab a shower as soon as Mom's done and then go work for Rokun for an hour."
"She should be finished in a few minutes," she assured me. "Why don't you sit down and talk to me while you catch your breath?" It sounded casual, but somehow it felt like a subtle command, and I obediently plopped down on one of the cushions and let out an exaggerated sigh, eliciting a smile from her.
"So how are things going with Rann these days?" she asked. She still sounded casual, but I felt her eyes boring into me, and shifted uncomfortably.
"All right, I guess," I said. "But it seems like we're always too busy over one thing or another to spend much time together."
"Is that so?" There wasn't the slightest change in her voice, and yet I felt like a child caught in an obvious lie.
"No, it isn't," I confessed. "It's really me that's too busy all the time." And I told her how I'd let my days get so crowded that I was lucky sometimes to see him at all, and that half the time when I did my mind was on a million other things. "But I don't know where to cut back," I finished in frustration.
"You know, Haley, you're the first girl Rann's really shown any interest in since Senaria left. It's not as though he hasn't had any admirers, either, but he just never seemed very interested. You're very special to him."
"Haley," she added very seriously, "you're the only one who can decide your priorities, and what's most important to you. But don't just react to things." She glanced at the bathroom door, where we could still hear the sound of the water through the door, before continuing in a low voice. "Be careful when making sacrifices for the sake of others. It's one thing to sacrifice your own interests, and another thing altogether to sacrifice someone else's without their consent." I heard the water stop, and the scrape of the curtain rod. "Just give it some thought," she said with a wink. "Now, I think the shower's free, isn't it?"
I felt sorry for Rokun that afternoon, as my mind was busy chewing over Gelhinda's observations for most of the allotted hour. Fortunately I don't think he realized just how distracted I was; I can spout scientific jargon in my sleep if I have to and it probably wasn't until later that he realized just how incoherent I'd been. The second my time was up I headed back to our suite and lay in wait for my mother, my mind now made up. To my relief she was alone when she returned.
"Mom, can I talk to you?" I said hesitantly. She looked surprised; it wasn't that I never had long talks with her, but I didn't usually ask permission first.
"What is it, Hal?" she asked.
"I'm going to stay with Rann tonight," I blurted out. To her credit, she hid her surprise quite well, only raising an eyebrow (something she'd perfected from her Trekkie days, before her New Age thing hit). "And how does Rann feel about that?" she asked evenly.
"He doesn't know yet," I said. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, quickly suppressed as she cleared her throat. "I see." She patted the cushion alongside her, and I obediently sat down.
"Now Hal, I know you're not here to ask my permission. You're seventeen and can make your own decisions. I've always trusted your judgment, and you've never let me down. Well, almost never." I winced; it wasn't the first time she'd alluded to the infamous incident of the magnesium brick and the blowtorch, though she rarely actually brought it up. "And you certainly don't need any birds and bees lectures; you know more about biology than I do by a long shot."
"You do really love him, don't you?" she continued. I nodded vigorously. "And he loves you back. No, don't nod like that again, you'll shake your poor brains loose. I know he does. So how clear are your feelings about this?"
"They're a complete muddled mess," I admitted.
"Then you're on the right track," she said approvingly. "Just one question," she added as I started to stand up. "What are you going to do for birth control?"
Oopsie. "I hadn't really thought about it," I confessed. She sighed. "Children are so impractical these days. They're advertising condoms on buses back on Earth, and when our kids' hormones start flowing they still forget all about it. Well, it's a good thing your mother's on the ball. I got the scoop from Gelhi last week, and let me tell you it's a real corker."
"Mother?" I gulped in astonishment.
She explained that on both Deshtiris and Qozernon all males are inoculated before the onset of puberty with a genetically engineered virus that renders them sterile for an indefinite time. The virus permanently resides in the body, doing no damage except for rendering the host's genetic material nonviable. This strategy is more or less a necessity, considering the longevity of the inhabitants and the corresponding need for a very low birth rate, and has been in use for centuries.
When a couple does decide they want to have a child, and their names come up on a waiting list (population control is really strict here), the male is given an antibody that destroys the virus. Within a few weeks he's once again capable of fathering children, and remains so. If resumption of birth control is needed, the couple can either resort to conventional means or the male can once again be inoculated with the otherwise harmless virus.
"So," she finished, "don't worry about it. But if you need someone to help you sort out your feelings, you know I'm always here for you, Hal."
That's my mother. Just when I think I have a real bombshell for her, I find that she's already ten laps ahead of me. I left feeling distinctly chagrined.
As for Rann, he survived. I, on the other hand, walked into my next morning's lesson with Brinkman bearing a remarkable resemblance to a full-fledged zombie. He finally sent me home in exasperation, telling me to get some sleep.
It wasn't long before I was spending three or four nights a week at Rann's quarters, often only coming home in time for breakfast. It was when I returned unusually early one night that I belatedly realized there were other consequences to my actions.
I was just about to open the door when I faintly heard the sound of my mother's flute softly threading through an intricate, haunting melody. I quietly opened the door to find her sitting on the couch playing. Seeing me she turned away quickly, but not quickly enough for me to miss the tears on her cheeks.
She insisted that nothing was wrong, it was just the music, but I finally managed to worm the truth out of her. Although she'd never said a word about it, she'd found her days becoming terribly lonely. Not speaking much Deshtiran yet, she was limited in what social contacts she could manage, and while Gelhinda had been very kind to her and spent considerable time with her, taking her sightseeing and introducing her to people, her own duties left her unavailable much of the time.
"I'm really sorry," I said, suddenly ashamed of myself. "I've been neglecting you horribly. All I've been thinking of is myself ever since we got here."
"That's harsh, Hal," she protested. "You have Rann, and you have your studies. It's not your job to be my babysitter. I'll be fine. I just need to get out a little more, that's all." Nonetheless, after that I made a point to spend more time with her during the day, and for a while I brought her along whenever I could when Rann and I went sightseeing. To his credit he made no complaint; in fact I do think he really enjoyed her company as well. As it turned out, the situation eventually resolved itself in any case, though not quite in the way I expected.
Besides, we now had our nights together. (Ahem.)
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|