Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 2

~~*~~

Oe’r Hill and Dale

~~*~~

Zio hadn’t been sitting alone for long when she turned her head to see her friend Raisi walking over to sit with her. Raisi was a native here, though that didn’t mean much on a refugee planet. She had light skin and blonde hair, and her eyes were almost unsettlingly pitch black. Just a year older than Zio, she walked confidently, seeming not to misplace a single step. She’s like that with everything she does, Zio thought, not without some jealousy.

“Zom, Zio. You look like you haven’t slept all night.”

Zom, such a silly way to say hello and goodbye. Zio refused to use it, though every other damned person on this planet did.

“Hey, Raisi. You look like you slept well all night, washed up, and had entirely too good of a time being awake today.”

Raisi ignored the biting tone in Zio’s comment.

“Oh, I’ve hardly washed up. No chance to really get my hands dirty, working with machines and computers all the time.”

“Uh-huh.”

Raisi laughed and sat right next to her. She grabbed Zio’s hand that had been resting on her knee, which she almost shrank away from but then relaxed hand and let it rest. Raisi’s optimism had a way of cutting through Zio’s frequent bad moods. She and Raisi had been friends since the beginning, when she had first come to this planet and been introduced into this Altaric Unit without anything but what had been given to her by the nomarchy. The extent to which Deucalionites touched each other, whether friends, lovers, or anything else, had shocked her at first. There was nothing like it back on the colony ship. She only let Raisi and Qaisa have this liberty, sometimes.

Zio must have been quiet for awhile, because Raisi said suddenly, “Did you dream again, Zio? Even you aren’t usually this lost in yourself.”

Zio shook her head and blinked a few times, refocusing on the present.

“Yeah, I dreamed. I don’t know what it was. Nothing about my home. The nightmares have changed, no more drowning or whatever I used to dream about. I wish I knew why Deucalion V did this to me. Qaisa says she see them here too, that all semutates do, even the men and the neutros.”

The two of them looked at each other. Zio was finally present enough to really acknowledge Raisi. She gently squeezed Zio’s hand. Her face was a bit drawn with concern, Zio could tell. The slight frown, the tensed brow. Nothing new to Zio, who often found that her experiences scared people (not Qaisa, never Qaisa) into a concerned silence.

She decided she wanted to talk about something else.

“How’s your apprenticeship, Raisi? Make anything new?”

Raisi’s face had relaxed a bit, she look out at nowhere in particular.

“You know, I just started studying Semutate Medicalities yesterday. I was going to tell you, but I missed you on the way in. The Technarchos showed me the scripts for the production of the patches they give you. It’s amazing what they do. I’m just on the device end, but it all starts with plants harvested in equatorial regions of the planet. We synthesize the compounds, assemble the right materials, make the patches, and there it is. I got in late because I stayed up making one before we got in. We export a lot of them too, though it’s usually not legal in the places they’re going to. It’s profit for us all the same.”

Zio chuckled lightly. “Yeah, I’m sure my people try to keep them far away. Woman shall be thy master, that’s what we were taught growing up. There can’t be any confusion about who that woman is, I guess.”

Zio didn’t like to discuss her own apprenticeship very much, she had found it a strange fit. All the adolescents on this planet were given an apprenticeship based on their aptitudes, and that’s what she got, a chance to learn to be an oikomentate? It was all negotiation, resolving conflicts, and counseling for those who needed it. She figured that Aunt Qaisa had decided to keep her close, so she had to work under her. Zio, who wasn’t prone to fantasize about aptitudes she never had and hated pointless chit chat, found the work grueling. Still, that’s where she was going after breakfast.

“Zom Zio, Raisi!” an adolescent boy’s voice rang out, that cracked on the third word.

Ah, Qondol.

Qondol, a short, stocky boy but strong, who was younger than both Raisi and Zio by a couple of years, marched up to them and stood in front of them. He had come from Maqer, a refugee since the Tuql Machinae harvested his planet for minerals and incidentally wiped out the entire organic surface population. It had been a civilization of space adventurers and explorers, rich with trade and blessed with a resource-rich planet, though the blessing turned out to be a curse. He had darker skin that Zio, who herself was light brown in color, and kept his head shaved clean. He had something in his hands he was hiding.

“I heard you two talking about your apprenticeships. Well, I got something for you two yesterday when we traded with the Fellians at the post on Deucalion VII.”

He held out his palms in front of them and smiled. Like an idiot, Zio briefly thought. But Zio’s eyes widened involuntarily when she saw. There were two bronze statuettes in his hand, burnished and gleaming. The art style wasn’t anything she had ever seen, and maybe they had maybe been painted a long time ago, but it was all gone. They depicted an adrogynous figure, with shoulder length hair, and a strong, naked body. The eyes looked straight ahead.

“Go on, take them. They told me these are from Terra, though who knows the truth of that. Old space traders make up stories all the time to sell their stuff. They’re definitely old, though.”

The two girls let go of each other’s hands, each took one and looked at it. Raisi said, “Thank you.”

Zio took it and sort of liked it, but in her bad mood blurted out, “Don’t know what I’m supposed to do with some crappy old statue, but thanks.”

Qondol just laughed, “And I’d don’t know what I’m supposed to do with such a crappy old friend, but here we are. Glad you like it.”

His comeback made Zio laugh just a little, and smile for the first time today. Their friendship was mostly just back and forth like this, teasing each other and Qondol telling about his adventures off planet or meeting foreign traders.

Raisi smiled too, and looked at Zio, “Look, Qo, you actually got her to smile. I was getting worried.”

Zio shook her head and rubbed her forehead with her free hand. She felt a little lighter, finally, “Oh, you two, without you…”

She wasn’t able to finish the thought. One of the adults cooking called out, “Time to rise! Food for an hour, then to work.”

Qondol said, “Thank the stars, I’m so hungry!”

Raisi and Zio got up and went to put their gifts in the trunks by beds, then came back to get in line. Qondol had already turned and started rushing to get in line. The three of them got their plates of fried and boiled grains, pulses, and root vegetables with greens, sat down, and ate quickly so they could head out on their way to the center of the nomarchy and their daily labors.

~~*~~

Zio and Raisi stood in at the entrance to the Altaric Unit with Qondol and each gave him the customary Deucalionite goodbye of a kiss on the cheek before he parted from them. His path was along the beach, to the space port that served theirs and other nomarchies in the region. Zio and Raisi were headed on the path through the Purpurea that led in the other direction, in to Eleutheria. The two didn’t talk much after chatting at breakfast, just held hands and looked around while they walked on. It was mostly flat, besides the Purpurea waving in an occasional breeze. Deucalion, as always, loomed over them at the edge of the sky, huge and ominous. A great green storm near the edge of where they could see looked down like a watchful eye.

Zio glanced at it more than once. Some people from off world found it disturbing, the sheer scale of the gas giant. It seemed like it might swallow up its moon at times. Not Zio, though. Looking at it brought her comfort. She didn’t know why, it just did. It was constant, never changed. Planet-dwellers took for granted that you would be in one place for a long time. She had never had that until she came here. Sometimes in her dreams it spoke to her.

They went along. There were occasional mounds that housed Domition or Altaric Units, that got more dense as they went. Eventually they reached a fork in their dirt road, and it was time to say goodbye to Raisi as well. They kissed each other’s cheeks, and Raisi gave her a hug.

“Zom, Zio. See you at dinner.”

“Bye, Raisi.”

Zio went on in to the center of the Eleutheria. It was not hugely different from the areas where everyone lived, just here there were more mounds, with digs that went deeper and larger entrances. Zio had been to many of them. There were actual buildings on the surface too, single-floor and made of carved red stone, that were built out of the sides of some of the mounds when more space was required. Underground buildings were mostly preferred, since Deucalion would sometimes block the light of the two suns from reaching the moon for days. Solar energy was stored in batteries, and all planting and harvesting had to be done underground to be safe, beneath some of the larger mounds here. All of these structures stood around one very large central mound, where Zio was headed and where the current nomarch had their office and the oikomentates did their work

Zio went in the entrance, which was big enough for ten people to enter side by side. She forced her way through the crowd of people streaming in who worked in the nomarchy administration, and others coming in to petition or make their requests. She used to marvel at how different everyone looked. There were all kinds of humans here, intermixed without much respect to the usual human tendency to discriminate based on arbitrary preferences of phenotype. It’s what happens when a planet is populated almost entirely by refugees and their descendants, and they keep coming from all sectors where humans live.

She walked for awhile, keeping her head down. The cavern was lit with the usual mix of holes letting in sun light and artificial light panels. Finally she reached a metal door in one of the side walls to her left, smooth with a small camera in the center. She leaned in, and a green beam quickly scanned her eye.

An androgynous computer voice said, “Welcome, Oikomentate Apprentice Zio. Please enter.”

The door gently slid open, and she went in. It gently closed behind her. The Oikomentate Division was a chamber about the size of her Altaric Unit. There were metal tables and chairs dispersed at random, some of them with oikomentates sitting at them, speaking with people who had come for appointments. There were moveable partitions here and there that could be arranged for privacy. Small metal doors like those at the entrance lined the walls, marked with the names of those who held the offices or with the function of the rooms.

Zio went to the dressing room door, scanned her eyes again, and went in. The small room had lockers and was otherwise bare. She went and got hers, and pulled out her uniform. She liked the uniform she had to wear more than the job itself. Oikomentates wore crimson tunics that went down to their ankles, cinched with a black belt at the waist. It was expressly forbidden for others to wear it, because the work they did was so important. Even the nomarch, whoever it was that month, only wore a plain short tunic like everyone else.

And that was something that Zio hated about being an oikomentate, being at the center of everything, arbitrating, consoling, deciding. She had enough of people’s attention when she was younger and singled out constantly. She would prefer to be on the periphery, to work in a fabrication center or in a hydroponics delve.

But here she was.

She took her old tunic off and tucked it away, studiously ignoring the mirror in the room. The patches had helped her a lot and she had fuller hips than years ago and small breasts, which made her happy, but she still didn’t like much to see her body unclothed. She got dressed, cinched the belt, and went out to the main hall again. She went to the door marked with Qaisa’s name. Before knocking on the door to be let in, she took a breath to collect herself.

Always so worked up about this. I hate conducting arbitrations. She had four or five to conduct that day between locals.

Her mind wandered a bit as she gathered herself, to the first time she had met Qaisa, a few weeks after first arriving on Deucalion V, in this very place…

~~*~~

Young one, my child, please sit down. You look so lost. Here, have some tea. Sit now, and listen. I hope your patch is working well. You look a little happier already.

Are you ready? You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to, Zio. Oh, forgive me, here’s something to sweeten that tea. Here you are.

Now, listen please, if you are ready. You’re nodding, so that must be a yes. I must tell you of our planet, if you are to do our work.

Once this moon, your new home, was mostly empty. Home to some hydroponic farmers and a way station for humans traveling to the outer systems. Such a place was an afterthought. The great trade ships sailed from Terra in those days, and new plantings were constantly made on suitable worlds to relieve the overgrown population of humanity’s home. This world was just a stop over on the star maps, not even marked on some.

Then Terra was broken, and that’s not a metaphor. Cracked open like an egg and sucked up. You surely have heard of it, I can see from how you open your eyes and look at me so. All humans remember it some way or another. Yes, Terra was shattered by Tuql Machinae, who harvested the remains. Most of the trillion people who swarmed upon it were reduced to carbon for chemical re-processing. Then the Machinae went to Alpha Centauri, and other systems. Soon enough, the core of humanity was gone, and all that was left were some ships, colonies, and outposts like Deucalion V.

Some refugees came here. A band of traders with some machinists. The farmers let them stay here, in exchange for technology and help trading. A ship of outcasts came too, Semutates and others who had been left at the bottom of Terran society. Here, they were able to work on the farms and on the trading ships. The three communities grew together, and eventually decided that leadership was needed. So everyone came together in a great meeting, and after fierce argument, the first nomarch was appointed at Soteria, and the first nomarchy formed. It was also when it was decided that the nomarch should be chosen by lot, once a month, to keep anyone from lording over anyone else. As you’ve seen, nomarchies now cover this planet, spores of that one original settlement, and we continue to found more when one of our communities has grown too large.

We have always received whoever would come to live here. Our ancestors, like us now, wanted nothing more than peace, prosperity, and a safe world. There are no resources here of note, just industrious people, like yourself, and none of the other species care much for us.

Other people might see in you, and me, and most of the people who live here only the dregs of society and the descendants of cowards, freaks, and abominations. They see only danger, and they fear.

Well, my child, no one will fear you here, and you will fear no one. This is your home. I will be sure it is so.

~~*~~

She was right, mostly, Zio thought and half-smiled. Then she knocked, and the door opened for her…

~~*~~

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