From the air the university grounds were open, as open as you could get on a moon this size. Those zones not restricted to natural growth were densely populated so that to move outside the residential buildings you brushed people on both sides. The population laws in evidence keep the fluctuation of people to a manageable number.
Inside the university walls, though, you could see wide grounds only lightly populated, people within the walls had to abide by the restrictions of the university. Long robes were worn all the time, no matter the season, individualism reduced as much as possible so that people of widely varying cultures, could co-exist, with out violence or insult. There were packets of people sitting or laying on the grasses, or moss that covered the grounds, and from far away it looked to be as peaceful as everyone was told.
Deep within the university grounds, where the sounds of the city could no longer be heard, walked a group of girls. Their robes a light shade of blue, telling anyone who knew the signs that they were from the “Asian-African alliance of planets”. An acute observer would also recognize the chain of small dark blue beads hanging out of the right sleeve on two of the five women, even if they did not understand its significance.
Coming from the other direction was a group of males, their robes tight against their bodies, stained a deep red. The girls moved to the other side of the path, wary of the males. Red meant “Indo-Mars colonies” and their women were looked at as little more than slaves, animals and machines given higher social status than wives. It is hard to say weather they would actually walk right over the women, university rules stated they could not of course, but having them banished would not bring someone back from the dead.
Though in truth there had not been a death do to cultural differences in some years. It was always better to be careful though. The girls’ conversation faded away as a male in a blue robed approached. Without too much of a pause four of the women continued on for several feet then continued to talk in low voices.
The tallest of the girls, standing less than six feet, with a ready smile and blue eyes said, “I have heard he has proposed to her father several times, and yet she will not even get to know him.” There were some murmurs, but no one said anything. They watched from the corner of their eyes though. The male only slightly taller stood with his hands folded in front of him, the sleeves of his robe coming together to hide his hands, a string of beads hung from his sleeve as well as the girls. His head seemed bowed most of the time, though he lifted it to glance at her once and a while. The girl stood still, if she spoke she did not move while doing so. The man reached his hand out as if to lift her chin, but he dropped it and bowed and continued on his walk.
With only a slight shake, the girl rejoined her friends. Her voice was soft, eyes down cast when she spoke, “He almost touched me.”
They started walking again. No one speaking for sometime until the tallest girl spoke.
“Sara, it could be worse. I understand that Albert is the smartest of his class here. He comes from a good family. Why would you not be flattered?”
Sara looked up from the beads in her hand. Jessica was the tallest girl she had ever seen, taller than some men. She was also the most… uncivilized. Sara had to remind herself that Jessica was from the outer-rim and some planets that far from civilization were just backward. It was considered rude to speak of marriage proposals or look someone in the eye, let alone touch them, imagine being so intimate in public! At least she did not pat her on the arm, which it seemed was common in the outer-rim. Jessica had found a husband in under a year, but of course ‘’she’’ would, being so forward. Sara just had to remind herself that other people had different ways, sometimes it was easier to accept cultures so different than hers that being part of one would make her sick, than it was to accept small differences between planets of the same society.
“He IS smart… but …” she could not finish. How could she explain to her friends something she was only just realizing her self?
As if the other girl spoke her thoughts Jessica said, “You don’t love him do you?” The look on Sara’s face had to be shock and awe, but Jessica just reached over and patted he folded hands, “Don’t worry, I didn’t love my Deric when I signed the contract but love will grow in the oddest of places. Who would of thought I could love a man who did not know how to sing.”
She laughed, her voice picking up. Somehow the inappropriate words were comforting. But what did singing have to do with a husband. Before she got a chance to ask though Jessica spoke again.
“Albert will make you a fine husband I think, unless Catherine accepts him first.” The other woman with beads swinging from below her sleeve stopped walking.
The words were small and fast, “I have to go I will see you at class tomorrow.”
Jessica seemed to realize she said too much. “I am sorry.” She glanced around at the women. “If I had known he did I would not have said anything. Please, forgive me, both of you, sometimes I forget myself here. I spoke in haste I am sorry, please forgive me.”
Catherine spoke her eyes still down cast, “He has not been to see my mother as far as I know.” She glanced at Jessica then, and reached out to lay a hand gently on her folded hands, “And even if he did I would not choose him.”
When Catherine touched her hands it did not feel awkward or uncomfortable, they we as close as sisters, and had been for almost ten years. But Sara was more concerned with the feeling she had when Catherine answered. She had said Albert had not sent a proposition to her mother, and it felt like a knot released in her chest. Maybe she felt more for him than she let even herself believe.
Catherine removed her hand and shifted her weight before she spoke again. The hood of the robe covering her head and hiding her eyes, “There is nothing to forgive, he did not send a proposal so there is no offense. I just forgot something at my last class I will see you again tomorrow.” She glanced up then and Sara could see her face.
Her eyes were a bight green, odd in her society, but then rumor said she had some “American alliance” in her bloodline. Her father’s accomplishments out weighed any errors in her bloodline, even big ones like having traitor’s genes. As she walked away Sara watched for a moment worried for her friend, something was bothering her but she had not said anything and Sara wasn’t going to embarrass her by bringing it up.
She walked as she always did slightly hunched over as if to hide her height, even though she was the smallest and most petite of the group. She hunched over to hide her chest, which was bigger than most other girl’s, more evidence of stray genes. Perhaps she was having difficulty picking a husband without her father there to guide her. She could only imagine how hard it would be to have chosen Albert, if her farther had not been there for advice. She smiled as she realized that it was the first time she really admitted to herself that she had chosen Albert. Maybe it would not have been so bad to have him touch her in public.
She jumped when Jessica spoke her name, did she speak out loud. She felt her face get hot, she must be very red.
When she realized that Jessica was just asking for forgiveness again she quickly gave it, relieved that she had not spoken her thoughts out loud. As they began walking again she said, “I wonder if Albert can sing?”
Jessica started laughing hard and the other two simply glanced at her with confused looks. Perhaps it was not the outer-rims that muddled the woman’s brains; perhaps it was getting married. If so she would have to watch her words in the coming months. She would speak to her father tonight, and let him know her decision. And then she could tell Catherine and Albert tomorrow, surly what ever was bothering Catherine she would be happy for her friend.
Catherine walked away from her friends quickly but slowed her place with in a few steps. Her mind was troubled, she knew she was different growing up, she had always known. But she had hoped that when she came to his moon with her mother, she could start things over, be a normal person. She had met Sara the first day moving in and they had become fast friends, but there were some things that were to hard to tell even her closest friend, and she could only talk to her father when he was in dock in a secure port.
Her mother was a strong woman but kept to society’s standards as hard as her father diverged from them. For her younger years she had had a panther as a friend. The giant cat was her father’s but he was gone so long that she thought of it as hers. Only as she grew did she come to understand that all of her people, including her mother, thought owning an animal was barbaric, and disgusting. But her mother also believed that the father had the say as far as the home was concerned.
She never complained more than sniffing or a second glance when she ran around there home as a child in cloths that let he sun warm her arms and legs.
The only real argument she could ever remember her mother and father having was about her education, when she went to the university on the second planet of there system she opened her bag to find nothing she had packed. All the clothes were “proper” showing only hands feet and face. And when she came home for her father’s birthday she found that her cat was shipped of to a colony where it would be set free in the jungles.
She had cried then letting the shame was over her. Her father had held her and they talked long into the night. But that was nothing like what she had to face now. How could she tell her friend that even though the list of “seeking women”, those looking for a husband, she was first on the list considered the most desirable, her blood line and father’s position guaranteed that even had her scores been average. But they were not she had the highest scores of all the females in her society.
Her mother, acting in her father’s place while he was away, should have been flooded by submissions, every male in the system or neighboring systems should have been sending a proposal, or approaching her. In truth she had been looking forward to searching though all the applicants for a man who was as smart as she and had a strong blood line. As it was she had received only two proposals. She knew she was different and her breast size was not the only thing. Her eyes where green, and though she did not actively look for them, she had not seen green eyes on any of the societies at the university. She passed a woman and a man in gray robes holding hands. They looked happy, she suddenly was scared she would not find a husband, if she did not her father would have to find her one, and she did not think she could live with that shame. On their own accord her eyes began to water. She told herself she would not feel sorry for her self, she would not cry, especially in public where everyone would know her shame.
A wall hit her; she hit the ground hard. She lifted her head trying to shake her view back into focus. She sat up, and reached for her hood it had fallen off her head. She could barley make out the men standing over her. They wore deep red robes. She scrambled for her hood and tried to push herself away at the same time, her hands trying to be in both places at once simply clung together at her waist.
The three men were not looking at her, but one spoke, “I am sorry that you walked into us, are you hurt?” no doubt even talking to a woman was strange for them. She could not find words to make them go away, she was in public letting these strangers see her cry and her hair. Her hair! She scrambled to replace the hood; her hair was light, like that of others in her society, but hers curled, where everyone else’s was straight. How could she let them see her like this?
When she finally got the hood back into place she was breathing hard hopping that they had just walked on, that no one had seen. Suddenly she became aware of yellow robes confronting the reds. Pilots? What were pilots doing here, she tried to listen.
“… we did not. She was crying when she walked into us.”
“I don’t care if you don’t start walking now I will move you.”
She glanced up then, Pilots where notorious for being barbaric, little more than animals, worse off then the red robes. She saw a man standing in a yellow robe a shorter man with shoulders as big as she had ever seen, his head was shaved bald, his face held the eyes of an animal, like a hunting panther did.
To her surprise the red robes moved away and he watched them move away. Then he turned his gaze to her. He had powerful eyes. She felt as if he could see right though her. He reached out, to help her up no doubt but she moved back as quickly as she could.
Suddenly she realized it was just her and the yellow robed man, she could feel herself begin to panic. Her hands clutched the fabric of her robe harder. Her eyes darted around for help, she became away of some shapes picking them selves up, they had been squatting not ten feet way. They wore yellow as well?
The first man was talking to her but she barely heard. There was six, no seven more, one male and six females. It was said that the pilots were only slightly above animals, but that their females were animals. She could see that now. The way they walked, hoods back, long dark hair flowing out, and the sway in their hips.
It was also said that the most desirable women in the galaxy were the pilot’s women.
She looked back at the first man, who was speaking again, “Are you hurt do you need a medic? I will send for one.”
A medic! Then she would have to explain to her mother why she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going, she would have to explain her fear: that her father would have to beg to get her a husband. That she was so undesirable that he would have to beg.
“No, I don’t need a medic.” She said a little more quickly that she intended. By this time the other yellows had created a semi circle around her. The women were all standing slightly back, eyes switching from her to the second man. The second man was of darker complexion that the first man his shoulders not as larger, but his head was shaved the same.
She stood up as fast as she dared her head was still spinning. She tried to smooth her robe and stood with her eyes downcast.
“They said you were crying when you ran into them, are you injured from something else, have no fear we will not hurt you.”
Before she could speak one of the women took a step forward. She reached out and took hold of her beads. “Perhaps she is not hurt, only crying over her fate. This means you are to marry. Correct?”
She could not speak somehow they knew, animals or not they knew. She could only nod her head. Of course they knew, they had eyes, they saw her hair, her eyes her breast, perhaps the shape of her face. Even they were not attracted to her and it was said that pilots’ women would have sex with any male as well as each other.
“Barbarians! How could they do that?”
She looked up. Who could they mean? Who were barbarians? This time she felt the second man’s eyes on her, he opened his mouth to speak but held his tongue when one of the women spoke.
“You can come with us. We will not make you marry someone you don’t know you do not even have to marry if you don’t wish.” The girl was looking at her. They thought she was the barbarian? They thought she had to marry someone she didn’t know? That she would not want to be married? What were they saying?
“I will walk her home,” the second man said to the first, who simply shrugged. He moved off and the women followed, all but one she paused, Looking from one to the other.
The second man sighed, “Linda I will not name him as mine, my brother will, and he loves you.” She blinked at him as if he had slapped her, then stared at Sara so hard she feared she would be attacked. Linda, the one who had questioned her, simply shrugged.
“I will go with him, but I can’t love him while you close, perhaps not ever.” With that Linda tuned and ran the short distance to walk with the other women.
“I will see you home safely.” He said as he took two steps back.
They walked in silence for a long time, only when they reached the university exit to the city did the man speak.
“You are not staying on university grounds?”
And they walked on in silence. When he paused outside of the university gates to remove his robe she averted her eyes. He was wearing clothes underneath to tight to be decent and showing way to much skin. He paused for her to remover hers, walking though the city garbed in university robes was a good way to get odd looks or rude comments. She did not remove hers though she had on proper cloth underneath. She did not think she could get the robe off with him watching.
She started walking again, and he followed. For a moment she was content to stay silent but as people began to look at her oddly she felt the weight of the robe. She talked to keep her mind off the people watching her.
“Why did she think I would not want a husband?”
“She believes that your women only marry to produce children and have no sexual desire for your men. She cannot desire your men so she cannot see how anyone else could. But she is also new to the university. She has yet to learn that just because you look at something one way others can see the same thing differently.”
It was a good answer though she colored at talk of sexual desire, a very good answer for an animal. Perhaps she had things to reconsider as well.
At the entrance to the building where she lived he bowed turned and left. A very odd people, so hasty and with no manners, and if rumors were to be believed, they had no sense of privacy.
The building like any other in civilized space was densely populated, the first floor consisting of pool, greenhouses and office space. The other floors holding four families apiece, each home having one corner of the building. As she walked up the stairs she wondered how people on uncivilized planets ever dealt with living. The rain, heat or cold, their homes were in danger from weather etc. The pilots were from such planets, requited and trained to fly the solo scout fighters for the defense force. Their short statures cut down on mass and oxygen requirements; also the mental stress was better dealt with in an aggressive lifestyle. Their life spans were short, either due to death in service or health issues. Most of the pilots’ societies don’t screen their offspring for defective genes, so diseases or defects that appear only in history books are a way of life on those worlds.
With her foot poised above the next step she suddenly stopped. Why was she thinking of this? Why consider his background his history? Could she actually be attracted to him? She shook her head, but she smiled when she did it. The smile broadened just on the thought of what her mother would say.
As she opened the door to her home though all thoughts of men were swept from her head. The smell of her mothers cooking drifted to her and she could hear a faint noise in the background. But she stood still one foot inside the door one outside, not able to move. Her eyes locked onto an uniformed man standing slowly from the chair by the table.
Like others in her society he was thin, unlike others he was a short man. His hair touched with gray was shaved close to his head. His uniform was all straight lines, his white gloves, clean. His eyes were a dull gray, but now they looked light blue. He smiled and she felt the weight of the world slide off her shoulders.
“Dad.” That was all she could say before she took four steps to him and buried her face into his chest. She cried then. When she wiped away her tears she was sitting, which she didn’t remember doing. Her father was sitting next to her his arm around her saying nothing.