by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 2 appears
in this issue.
After her confinement Skoshi went to her grandmother. Upon seeing the bruises that covered Skoshi’s face and wrists, it did not take her long to realize that her son’s eldest had made good his threat.
“I see that that boy did not waste any time.”
Skoshi looked at her grandmother through squinted, blue-skinned eyes.”Whatever can you mean, grandmother? I fell in my room and slammed into the wall during the night. Five times in fact. Almost as if a hand held me, pushing me.”
“Yes, those mysterious ‘accidents’ have always been so strange. Particularly in their timing.” Skoshi’s grandmother spoke bitterly. Those “accidents” were not uncommon in the life of a woman. During the night, jerked out of bed and whipped. No, those bouts of strange “clumsiness” were all too common.
“My own, now that... now that my grandson is dead. What will you do? Have you thought about my proposal?”
“Yes Grandmother, I have thought of it. You realize that it is ‘unnatural’ and ‘selfish’ to flee from marriage?
“You realize that if we are caught it will mean marriage under lock and key for me? With nothing to look forward to but bearing sons and eventually, death? And that for you, for you it will mean expulsion? None of my uncles will have you. And my father certainly will not. It will mean that you would have to die, starved, cold, and alone.
“Yes grandmother, I have thought of these things, and others.”
“But.” Skoshi held up her hand.”If you are willing to risk these things, so am I. For, the chance of freedom, to never have another ‘accident’, to be able to read when I wish. To choose not only whom I marry, but if I ever do. Those freedoms must be worth some risk. I am ready to go.”
* * *
The next day Skoshi’s Grandmother approached her son.”Son,” she began, careful to be respectful, “I would like to take Skoshi to New Edo for the Tea Baths.”
“I was going to have her mother do that.”
“But, my son, your wife will have much to do in preparation for the wedding, and it is the custom for the Grandmother to do it if she is still alive.”
“Well, I don’t know...”
“Son,” she continued, weighing her words carefully, “I know in the past I have given you nothing but shame and grief...” She ignored her son’s snort of acknowledgement, “but I am now an old woman and I wish to do one service to the family before my time runs out. One thing to... atone for my actions. Please, my son.”
“Very well, Mother, you may take Skoshi.” As he walked away he thought to himself, “I never thought to see the day when my mother was respectful.”
After her son had left the courtyard, Skoshi’s Grandmother immediately went to the kitchen, where her daughter-in-law was. “Daughter-in-law,” she said, “I require clothes packed, and provisions made ready for the girl and myself. We leave for New Edo tomorrow.” And then she strode out of the room.
Skoshi’s mother, surprised by the sharpness in the woman’s words could only stare at her receding back, before turning to give the orders to the servants.
* * *
The next day Skoshi and her grandmother left for New Edo. There were few tears in Skoshi’s eye. She would miss the beauty of her home, but she would not, could not, miss its inhabitants.
Their journey was expected to take three days and Skoshi’s grandmother figured that by the time the establishment where they would be staying called the authorities and reported that they had not returned for the night, Skoshi and her grandmother should be on the space station. And by the time the authorities got to the station they should be on the ship and under way.
When they did finally get to the city, they checked into their hotel and then went out and bought tickets for the next shuttle up to the spaceport. It was scheduled in five hours and it was recommended that they reach the bay at least an hour before takeoff.
When they finally arrived at the port, Skoshi’s heart sank. There was a guard checking on the groups. She knew that no one could yet know what they had done, but she still knew that two women, traveling together would arouse suspicion, and that was the last thing they wanted.
Glancing around frantically Skoshi’s gaze fell on a young man, and, oddly, he was staring at her. She could not imagine why, her clothing was clean, and she was dressed no differently than any other woman in the area.
But the oddest thing she noticed was the expression on his face. A normal Hon’yan man would have had either a leer or a look of disdain, but this man was no Hon’yan. You could tell from his dress.
But, his look... it was of... admiration, not a cruel animal-like admiration, but respectful, like when you looked at a beautiful sunrise. When he saw her looking at him, he smiled, Skoshi’s heart began to race wildly. What a kind smile. Beautiful, too, like a string of shining pearls.
That smile gave Skoshi courage. In one move, Skoshi rebelled against everything she had ever been taught, She boldly walked up to the young man and asked, “Sir, are you boarding the shuttle for the spaceport?”
“Yes, I am.” he answered. When he spoke he had a slight accent, she could not place the origin.
“I... I am afraid I cannot find the gate to the boarding ramp,” she lied, hoping he might offer to escort them there.
He cleared his throat with a broad smile and laughing eyes. “It is really not far. I can direct you too it.”
Skoshi panicked and did the first thing that entered her mind. She lowered her head and raised her eyes up at him.”Dear sir,” she allowed two small tears to well up in her eyes. “we have been traveling. And my grandmother is a frail, weak woman.” Skoshi’s grandmother stared at her with a look of astonishment, and then began to look weak and frail.
“Would you please escort us past the guard and onto the shuttle? I am so tired and confused, I doubt I could follow instructions accurately.” Skoshi’s grandmother rolled her eyes.
Endeavoring to look stern, and not entirely succeeding, (for, he knew he was being played and didn’t mind a bit) the young man picked up two of the bags and led them through the gate.
The guard, used to seeing women leaving with men daily let them past with a mere nod. After walking a few yards more, the young man stopped and said, “Here we are!”
And indeed they were, standing right in font of the shuttle. When Skoshi turned she could see the exact place they had been standing. She blushed. “Thank you, sir, I... I must have gotten... disoriented.” she stammered. Seeing her discomfort he excused himself and walked away laughing.
Her grandmother then turned to her, obviously amused, and said, “Good work, Skoshi. That is known as feminine wiles. You have taken your first step down a pathway of power. You need some more practice though.”
Skoshi rolled her eyes, “Oh, Ma’may!” Then she picked up the bags and they made their way to the shuttle.
* * *
If you have ever been on a shuttle blasting off, you will know how frightened Skoshi was. When she was first strapped down it wasn’t so bad. Then a great pressure weighed on her, like an elephant was sitting on her chest, and then she heard a roar and a blast. The weight stayed for about five more minutes. Next she felt weightless. Soon, about two sick bags later, the horrible ride was over.
As soon as she got off the shuttle, she made her way to the first bathroom she could find. After washing her face Skoshi felt much better. When she came out she saw her Grandmother patiently waiting on a bench. “Hi,” she greeted her grandmother, rather weakly.
“Feel better?” her grandmother asked. Then, without waiting for a reply she continued, “Let’s go, the ship leaves in twenty minutes.”
They were the last passengers to board the ship, and the attendants hurried them through the various tests. When they were all completed, Skoshi and her grandmother were escorted to their suite. The attendant with them reminded them that dinner would be served in one hour, and to be sure to be on time. After grandmother tipped him he walked away smiling.
“Oh...” Skoshi groaned, “what a day. But we did it. We actually did it! We made it onto the ship.”
“Of course, we did!” cried her grandmother, a tad indignant.”I told you we would. But remember, we aren’t out of the woods yet. But now, go and get cleaned up. Dinner is in an hour and we must be ready.”
Skoshi’s father was livid. He had just received word that Skoshi and his mother had not gone to their hotel that evening. And when he had made an inquiry, he had found out that they had bought tickets to the shuttle up to the space station. He was sure that they had not gone just out of curiosity. They were going to run.
His wife had been right. His mother was a bad influence, and she was a disgrace. She was leaving Hon’ya again, and this time she was taking Skoshi. He would send out men to the station to retrieve them, and if they weren’t there he would have to go to the expense of sending a man to each of the different ships’ destinations. But they would be brought back. He would not lose the worth of five cows as well as his pride and standing in the community just because of his mother!
* * *
When both Skoshi and her grandmother were ready they went in search of the dining room. As they walked through the corridors Skoshi began to wonder if men anywhere respected women. She saw many of the leers she would have expected from a Hon’yan man, a couple of strange whistles, too. (Her Grandmother told her they were this culture’s way of expressing admiration, but Skoshi found them decidedly unsettling.)
When they found the dining room they were told that they were to sit at the captain’s table. As they approached, Skoshi saw the man who had “shown them” the way to the shuttle. Then, to her horror, she was seated next to him! How she hoped that he would not mention that afternoon! But, of course, the first thing he did was turn to her and say, “I’m glad you were able to find your way to this ship.” He was very polite and courteous, but nonetheless, Skoshi blushed.
“Thank you again for your assistance, this afternoon I mean. I was so confused!”
“Yes... well, the shuttle pad can be confusing your first time there. But after a while you tend to figure it out... My name is Ethan Frazier. He smiled, and once again Skoshi noted what a nice smile he had.
“Mine is Skoshi Hara,” she replied, wondering whether she should speak at all. “It means, ‘little bit’ in my language.” Then, gathering her courage, she continued, “Umm... Can you tell me why people keep staring at me? Even you did earlier.”
“Staring at you? You mean you really don’t know why a man stares at a pretty woman?” he said incredulously.
“Yes, I know that. But, why stare at me? I am no famed beauty.”
“Hon’yan standards must be higher than ours. Because you are very pretty.”
“You mean these people stare at me because they think I am pretty? Is that why they give that strange whistle sometimes?” Skoshi imitated it.
“You’ve been whistled at, too?” Ethan’s lips pressed together in a thin line. No, men do not whistle out of admiration. The “wolf-whistle” is derogatory.
“I would like to apologize for the whistles. You learn on a ship that men around a pretty girl aren’t exactly the best examples of human nature.”
“You don’t have to apologize, you didn’t do it.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the Captain turning to Ethan, “Lt. Frazier, how’s the leg?”
Ethan turned and replied “Uh, fine, sir, I’ll be seeing the doctor once we reach Zotar.”
The passenger sitting across form Ethan asked, “What happened to your leg Lt. Frazier? I noticed you limped.”
“Well, the ship I was serving on, the Manchester, was studying a new star in the Bolan sector. While we were there, we got caught in a solar storm; they are very common in that portion of space. Anyway, it caught us off guard. We managed to get far enough away that the ship survived.
“But there had been a hull breach and we needed to fix it. I have a lot of experience doing that, and usually it is quite safe, but the material I was handling was quite sharp. Also, my assistant was inexperienced. Well, he shoved the metal at me too hard, and it quite neatly went through my leg. The doctor could only save most of it. So one of my legs is shorter than the other one.”
Skoshi gasped. He had told it so... detachedly. She knew it must have been awful. Apparently so did the rest of the table, because there was silence for the rest of the meal.
* * *
After the meal was over the band began to play. Several couples got up to dance, and Lt. Frazier asked Skoshi if she would like to dance. She saw her Grandmother dancing with the Captain. And decided that she had done so many foreign things tonight that one more could not hurt. After making sure it would not bother his leg, she consented.
When they first began dancing she was puzzled, even shocked. What a strange culture this was to let a man and woman dance in each other’s arms. And for an unmarried, or even married for that matter, couple to hold hands in public was unheard of! At first she was uncomfortable. But as the dance progressed, and she began to get the feel and rhythm she enjoyed it (who knew that proper hygienic habits could make a man smell so nice?) She looked around and saw that all the other couples where talking, so she decided to give it a try.”What planet do you come from, Lt. Frazier?”
“Call me Ethan. I come from Earth, a country called Scotland.”
“Is that why you have that accent?”
He laughed, “Yes.” Then, his accent became even stranger, “That accent you’re hearin’ is nowt but good old Scots brogue.” Then, at Skoshi’s puzzled look, he said normally “I said that the accent you heard was Scots Brogue.”
“It sounds...nice. It has a... a rhythm, Like the music we’re dancing to.”
“Brogue is beautiful. It reminds me of my mother, and the little thatched cottage where I grew up. The whitewashed stone, and the roses.”
“Does you mother still live there?”
Ethan paused, “No, my mother died when I was six. My grandfather raised me.”
“I’m sorry. You, you seem to have had many adventures in your life. Is that so?”
“Well, I don’t know about your standards but I consider having your leg sliced off and then reattached fairly adventurous.”
Skoshi closed her eyes. She seemed to keep bringing up the worst subjects.
Ethan noticed her dismay.”Don’t worry, I’m not sensitive about it. It happened, no reason to pretend it didn’t.”
“It must have hurt you very much.”
“It did. The odd thing was that, even when the leg wasn’t there, I could feel it. I could have sworn that my leg was there the whole time.” He looked off over her shoulder.
Skoshi looked around.”Where is my grandmother? How will I find our cabin now?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you find it. All you have to do is look at a corridor map, or ask a stewardess. Come on.”
As they walked out into the corridor and found a map Skoshi mind raced, a Hon’yan man would try to take advantage of this situation, would Ethan?
Her room was two levels down and on the other side of the ship. They walked halfway around and found an elevator. Once they were down they finished walking the rest of the way.
When they finally reached her door, they stood talking. They worked their way from ship life to calculus to Hon’ya. Eventually Skoshi, seeing the time, said goodnight, and retreated to her room.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Katherine Allen