Cover Timeline P 1 2 3

 

THE STONE DOGS

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


Chapter One

 

Representatives of the Alexandria Technological Institute today announced that the fetal-transplant process has been cleared for Citizen use after extensive testing. "Ova may now be stored indefinitely in frozen form, either before or after fertilization, then warmed and implanted in either the donor or a host-mother." Eugenics Directorate officials are enthusiastic about the technique, which they say removes the last biological constraints on the reproduction and improvement of the Citizen population. Clinics offering transplant services will be established throughout the Domination; healthy serf wenches to act as host-mothers will be provided for those who have none suitable in their own households. In addition. Citizens with outstanding mental and physical characteristics will be asked to make contributions to sperm and ova banks. Once brought to term in host-mothers, the Infants will be offered for adoption into selected Citizen families or raised in the Education Directorate's existing orphanages. It is expected that over the next twenty years, these measures will at least double the present Citizen birthrate of 24 per thousand, enabling Citizen women to do their reproductive duty to the Race without interfering with their military and other commitments. Even greater improvements are to be anticipated shortly, when gene-engineering becomes practical.

Alexandria Herald
May 8, 1962

CLAESTUM PLANTATION
DISTRICT OF TUSCANY
PROVINCE OF ITALY
DOMINATION OF THE DRAKA
SEPTEMBER 1, 1964

 

Eric von Shrakenberg paused at the edge of the steps, looking up at the constellations of the northern hemisphere. This was the north front of his sister Johanna's Tuscan plantation manor; the stone pathway wound up to the crest of the hill under ancient trees, oak and cypress and chestnut. They had been here long before the Eurasian War, but the new masters of Europe had changed the patch of forest to suit their tastes. He could hear the tinkle of water ahead, smell the damp scents of new-cut grass and flowers; roses, he thought, opening their blooms to the hot Italian night. Sweat tickled his flanks under the linen of his djellaba robe, under the leather of the shoulder-holster harness beneath it.

For a moment, he considered going back to the birthday party, rather than seeking out his sister and her husband. No, he decided. The people were salt of the earth, no doubt about that. Local planters, of course, overseers, Combine and League execs from the nearby towns... not many of them personally known to him. And face it, provincial, he thought. And politics keeps me in Archona too much, and Johanna and Tom seem to have grown on to this place like a pair of barnacles.

He would not have thought it of her, or of Thomas Ingolfsson either, when the man had been a neighbor and a friend and a rakehell fighter pilot in his sister's squadron, back during the War... Well, time and marriage and children do change us, he thought, and walked up the steps. The stone was smooth and warm and slightly gritty under his bare feet.

"Shhhh, Lele!" Yolande Ingolfsson hissed.

The night was quiet on this side of the hill; the house was visible only as a glow through the treetops ahead of them, the noise of the guests less than that of the crickets and nightjars and the slow rubbing of branch and thicket. Away to her right in the valley were the lights of the Quarters, but the party there would have ended sooner, the plantation-hands had to be back at their work tomorrow, getting ready for the vintage.

The serf girl beside her looked subdued. Yolande sighed to herself as she squirmed on her stomach past the topiary bush. This whole birthday party for Ma had been boring. The gifts were stupid stuff, mostly: statues and paintings and jewelry, or Combine shares and like that. She gritted her teeth. And her cousin Alexandra von Shrakenberg had been put in charge of the children's part of the celebrations, and that was... was... impossible, she decided; that was the word. Being ten was impossible, too.

Alexandra's only thirteen, that's only three years older than me, she thought resentfully. Stuck-up. Because she was in Senior School; all she could talk about was the serious things they had to study and the boring love affairs at school and how her parents' estate in France was prettier than Claestum...

Yolande heard voices and string-music from uphill. There was a waist-high circle of clipped hedge ten meters before them. Her eyes estimated the ground the way the instructor at school told the children. The slope here was down from the wooded crest, and to the north; there was an artificial stream coming down, falling through a stepped marble trough in a chuckling tumble. Cypresses on either side, opening out into circles around the pools, each with its benches and flowerbeds, and the hedges around those. So.

She looked back at Lele. The serf girl was nearly her age. Deng the foreman's daughter, one of Yolande's birthday presents, given to her like a puppy five years ago. I'm getting too old to play with serfs, Yolande decided. Tantie Rahksan's son Ali had been fun, always ready to climb and stuff, but he had gotten all sullen and close-mouthed lately. Lele was better, but she was so weak and slow... All serfs were, of course. Yolande sighed imperiously, then led the way at a stop-motion leopard crawl toward the hedge; they were on clipped grass, which made it easier to move quietly. Reconnaissance was fun; there was a thrill to spying on the grownups, and you could hear things they wouldn't say in front of a child.

Dew chilled her chest and stomach as she crawled; mouth open and breathing light and regular, the way the trainers said. Test your path, touch it lightly. Don't look at anything bright, it cripples your night-vision. She reached the hedge, rolled under the bench and curled her body to lie under it, a hand's-breadth back from the prickly leaves; it was whitethorn, not the shaggy multiflora used for field-boundaries out in the working part of the plantation. Lele followed more clumsily; they lay head to head, feet pointing in opposite directions along the circle. Yolande applied her eye to a natural gap.

Ooops, she thought. It was her mother and father, sitting at their ease in the pool; a housegirl was on one of the inner benches in the background, strumming on a mandolin. The pool itself was a circle of white-and-green marble two meters across, with water entering and leaving by the top and bottom ends. Tantie Rahksan was there, too, laying out a tray with wine and fruit and a waterpipe. That was unusual: Tantie had been with Ma forever, and she never did menial's work. Supervised the house staff, and she had run the nursery before the Ingolfsson children were of school age. She was quite old, too, nearly as old as Ma, nearly forty. From Afghanistan; you had to look in the history books for that, it wasn't there any more.

Oh. Tantie Rahksan had drawn her tunic over her head, and gotten into the pool, too; all she had on was a string of beads around her waist. It was funny, she didn't look all that old. Field wenches were just solid and brown and lumpy when they were forty, and the ones in the Great House got fat, mostly, but Rahksan was all curvy still. Her breasts floated up when she sat between Yolande's mother and father, handing them each a glass of wine. They drank some, and gave Rahksan sips out of their glasses, and passed the mouthpiece of the waterpipe back and forth. Yolande made a face; kif, she could smell it. Children weren't supposed to use it; she had snuck a quick puff once, and it had just made her feel heavy and sleepy.

I'd better leave, she thought. Pa was kissing Rahksan, and Ma was touching her breasts. Tantie Rahksan was sort of squirming and making sounds, and her hands were stroking the Draka on either side of her. Yolande felt her ears burn, as if they were turning bright red at the tips, and a weightless feeling in her stomach. There were books and tapes about sex in biology class at school, of course, but children weren't supposed to watch, and it was really impolite, and Ma might strap her if she found out.

Yolande looked up, and met Lele's wide eyes. She laid a finger across her lips and prepared to squirm backward, when she heard a voice from beyond the other side of the pool.

Trapped! she thought. A tall man at the north side could see the stretch of lawn they must cross to get to the next downslope terrace. Oh, boy, I'm really going to get into trouble now! Longingly, she thought of her bed in the tower room and the new Young Draka's Illustrated Odyssey Uncle Eric had brought her. Oh, shit, that's Uncle Eric!

"Oh. Sorry," Eric said, seeing that his sister and brother-in-law were busy, and half-turning to go.

"No matter," Thomas Ingolfsson said. "Just amusin' ourselves. Settle in, if yo' were lookin' fo' us."

"Was at that," Eric said. Rahksan emerged dripping from the pool to take his robe; he looked her over with reminiscent pleasure. Still a fine figure of a wench, he thought, remembering times on the ancestral von Shrakenberg estate in southern Africa. She gave him a pouring smile and folded the cloth by the pool's curb, the Tolgren 10mm neatly on top.

"Ahh, that feels good," he said as he sank in across from the pair. The cool water seemed to wash more than his skin, relaxing tensions he had not known were there. He ducked his head under and threw the wet hair back from his forehead. "Good to slow down fo' a while, too," he continued, lying back against the glass-smooth marble and sliding down on the underwater shelf that acted as a seat.

"No more news about Sofie?" Johanna said, taking up her wineglass.

"Thank yo'," Eric murmured as Rahksan waded across with another for him. "No, not since this mornin.Those lung transplant operations are still tricky..."

"Wouldn't have minded if yo'd stuck it in Archona," Johanna said' Eric nodded gratefully; his sister had always liked Sofie, even though his wife came from what passed as a lower class among the Citizen caste.

"Yo' know Sofie, wouldn't hear of it," he said. A scowl: "Wouldn't stop smokin', either."

Tom shrugged. "If'n I knows our Sofie"—his voice made an attempt at a hoarse soprano—" People who expect to live a long time don't join the paratroops, and if I hadn't done that I wouldn't have met Eric. And think that clinches the argument."

"Well, now she's goin' to quit," Eric said, and for a moment his voice went entirely flat. Then he shook off the mood. " Relief to get away from all the politics, too."

"Well, Archona is the capital," Johanna said. "Some grapes, Hahksi... which is why I stay away from it as much as I can." She cocked an affectionate eye at him. "Yo' know, brothah dear, I always figured Pa pulled in his polit'cal debts to get yo' the Senatorial seat just so yo' could write those damn subversive novels without gettin' a pill from the headhunters."

A Senator had a certain immunity from the Directorate of Security, even for offenses that would merit a pistol-bullet in the back of the head for an ordinary Citizen.

Eric turned his hands up from the edge of the pool and raised the palms. "Think that's how he thought about it." Eric's own war record had not hurt, but that was something he preferred not to remember. "I... it's a matter of responsibility." He grinned. "Service to the State," he added.

"Glory to the Race," they muttered back, in the obligatory formality.

"Well, just between thee an' me, the headhunters are still tryin' to trip me up. Tried to block me from the Science and Technology section of the Strategic Plannin' Board, but failed."

"Oh, ho, we are movin' up in the world," Tom said. "Why, though?"

"Well, partly... yo' heard of Louise Gayner? SD Merarch, 'fore she retired. Representative from North Angola, now. Has it in fo' me, personal. Damn it, the headhunters spend half their time tryin' to steal research from the Yankees; how do they expect us to apply it, if'n we don't make mo' use of the serfs? We've got to keep this creakin' anachronism of a social system workin' somehow. Field hands don't need to know how to read, factory-serfs can do without it. Even ordinary Janissary infantry soldiers could, though it's inefficient and we're givin' them all basic now. Bookkeepers an' secretaries and technicians, we could get away with rote-learnin', but times are changin'. Computers and space between them, they're the frontier of power... less than a hundred million Citizens in the Domination, a billion and a half serfs, we need millions with real education—"

He stopped, relaxed once more. "Sorry, didn't mean to launch into a campaign speech." Though it wouldn't hurt to have friends in the local sections of the Landholders' League and the Party, he thought. That brought sadness; would there never be a time again when he could wholly discard his work? Probably not, he decided.

"Tell me bout' it," Johanna said. "Just got one of those tiny brains ourselves; wonderful, if we didn't have to have the League send round a technician every month. Speakin' o' space," she continued, "how we doin'?" She looked up; was there an edge of wistfulness there? Eric suspected flying the family plane did not leave his younger sister completely satisfied...

"Not bad, not bad at all. The scramjets are workin', and the Technical Section people say the next lot will even be as safe as Russian roulette. That giant magnetic catapult dingus on Mt. Kenia is on schedule. And we're copyin' that Yankee pulse-drive thing. Sounds insane, throwin' atomic bombs out behind yo' ship fo' propulsion, but evidently it works."

He yawned, slightly tired, slightly disoriented still from the long flight up. Always a little bewildering, to go from winter to summer. It made you conscious that you really did live on the surface of a globe. Eric glanced up; none of the new moving stars in Earth's firmament was visible just now, but they were there. The Alliance and his people had two orbital platforms each now, and the tiny new stations on the moon. It changes your perspective, he thought. How I envy those youngsters up there.

Johanna sighed. "Better be gettin' back to bed," she said. She and her husband rose, and Rahksan moved to towel them down and hand them their clothes.

"Mistis?" Eric looked up; the Afghan was crouched by her owner's feet, fastening the sandals. "Mmmm... maybe Mastah Eric want an attendant here?"

Eric smiled. "Don't let me deprive y'all," he said politely. There was a rustling sound; the Draka froze and reached out for their gunbelts. A moment passed.

Tom laughed, and snapped fingers for the serf with the mandolin. "Fox, or a rabbit. Haven't had bushman trouble here fo', oh, seven, eight years... Yo' stay here then, Kahksi; we can always teach Elizabetta heah a new tune," he said. Johanna chuckled and threw an arm around his waist.

"See yo' in the mornin', brothah," she called over her shoulder as they left.

Rahksan moved the refreshments closer and slid into the water again. "Masta Eric, yo' hasn't changed one li'l bit," she said, half chidingly. He smiled at the familiar accent. It was the serf dialect of the Old Territories, below the Zambezi, the speech of his childhood, the sound of home.

"Neither have yo'," he said. Not quite true: the full breasts no longer stood out without benefit of buoyancy, and there was a little gray in the strong coarse black hair. And genuine friendliness in the curve-nosed, roundly pretty face. More warming than any number of younger and more comely bodies, when you could not know the thoughts behind the eyes. "I means up here," she said, touching him on the forehead. "Yaz still thinks too much, Mastah. Hurts yaz inside." She grinned, slow and insolent, and the hand stroked teasingly down to grip him below the water and knead. He put his hands around her waist, and she swung to face him, knees astride his waist. "And I knows how to make yaz stop thinkin',f whiles," she whispered.

They nearly heard us, Yolande thought, forcing herself not to shake. She had been glued to the hedge while they spoke; this was great stuff, about spaceships—and then Lele had nearly spoiled things by trying to crawl away too soon. I'm going to switch her, Yolande decided, glaring at the abashed half-Chinese serf. She had never actually beaten Lele, but... Oh. I'd have to tell Ma or Tantie Rahksan why I wanted to switch her. Children had no disciplinary authority over servants, even their own, until well into their teenage years. I'll just yell at her.

She put her eye back to the hole in the hedge. Tantie Rahksan and Uncle Eric were face to face, moving. Just then the serf gave a cry, and her feet came out of the water, locking around the man's lower back. He stood, water cascading off the linked bodies, and Tantie Rahksan had her hands dug into his shoulders and her head right back... I had really better go, Yolande decided. This wasn't at all like the pictures. It's confusing and scary and their faces look so... fierce, she thought, squirming back.

Below the lower terrace, they rested for a moment. Yolande looked up, through the moving leaves. Stars, she thought. That would be something.

 

From: CLAESTUM PLANTATION DISTRICT OF Tuscany
TO: BAIAE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF CAMPANIA
PROVINCE OF ITALY
DOMINATION OF THE DRAKA
SEPTEMBER 1, 1968

 

It's too crowded in here, Yolande Ingolfsson thought irritably.

The crowding was not physical. The van was an Angers-Kellerman autosteamer from the Trevithick Combine's works in Milan, a big six-wheeler plantation sedan like a slope-fronted box with slab sides. There were five serfs and one young lady of landholding Citizen family in the roomy cabin; the muted sound of the engine was lost in the rush of wind and whine of the tires. None of them had been this way before.

Young Marco the driver was chattering with excitement, with stolid Deng sitting beside him giving an occasional snarl when the Italian's hands swooped off the wheel. The Oriental was a stocky grizzle-haired man of fifty, his face round and ruddy. He had been the House foreman since forever; Father had brought him from China when he and Mother came to set up the plantation, after the War. Saved him from an impaling stake, the rebel's fate, or so the rumor went, but neither of them would talk about it. Bianca and Lele were bouncing about on the benches running along either side of the vehicle, giggling and pointing out the sights to each other.

Not to me, Yolande thought with a slight sadness. Well, she was fourteen, that was getting far too grown-up to talk that way with servants.

The van had the highway mostly to itself on the drive down from Tuscany, past Rome and through the plantations of Campania; Italy was something of a backwater these days, and what industry there was clustered in the north. There was the odd passenger steamer, a few electric runabouts, drags hauling linked flats of produce or goods. Nevertheless the road was just as every other Class II way in the Domination of the Draka, an asphalt surface eight meters broad with a graveled verge and rows of trees on either side; cypress or eucalyptus here, but that varied with the climate.

Fields passed, seen through a flicker of trunks and latticed shadow slanting back from westering sun, big square plots edged with shaggy hedges of multiflora. Fields of trellised vines, purple grapes peering out from the tattered autumnal lushness of their leaves; orchards of silvery gray olives, fruit trees, hard glossy citrus, and sere yellow-brown grain stubble. Fields of alfalfa under whirling sprinklers, circles of spray that filled the air with miniature rainbows and a heavy green smell that cut the hot dust scent. Melons lying like ruins of streaked green-and-white marble tumbled among vines, and strawberries starred red through the velvet plush of their beds.

Arch-and-pillar gateways marked the turnoffs to the estate manors, hints of colored roofs amid the treetops of their gardens. Yolande felt what she always did when she saw a gate: an impulse to open it. Like an itch in the head, to follow and see what was there, who the people were, and what their lives were like. Make up stories about them, or poems.

Silly, she thought. People were people; plantations were plantations, not much different from the one she grew up on.

Words and surfaces, hard shiny shells, that was all you could know of people. Yet the itch would not go away. You thought that you knew what they were like, especially when you were little; then a thing would happen that showed you were wrong. She shivered. Like that time years ago at the party; she had been peeking down through the banisters when Mother and the stranger began quarreling. Their voices had gone hard, then very quiet. The man began a motion to hit Mother, and the slap of her hand on his forearm was very loud.

A second before the main hall had been noisy with talk and music, then quiet had gone over it, rippling the way wind did through ripe wheat. Yolande had watched her mother's face go strange, very still and smiling. Not moving at all, even when the others talked and then some houseserfs came with her gunbelt and the man's. The two of them had walked out the French doors into the garden, Pa and a friend with Mother, two guests with the one who had tried to hit her. Two shots, so quick, before she had time even to be afraid, to think that Mother might be dead. Then she and Pa had come walking back through from the garden; Mother was laughing, and she had her arm around his waist. Some of the house servants had come in carrying the stranger on a folding garden chair; there was blood glistening and seeping from a pressure-bandage on his stomach, and his face looked yellow and waxy.

Yolande shook the memory aside. It was just because it was so sudden, she reminded herself. Duels were-not that common—years could go by without one—and the insult had been gross. I was too young to understand.

The senior maidservant Angelica was sulking, but she was quite old, twenty at least, probably missing somebody back home. It would have been good to have someone to talk to, reading in a car had always made her nauseated. Lele gave a giggle that was almost a squeal at something the other maidservant, Bianca, said, and Deng turned back to scowl at her. Lele stuck out her tongue at him, but lowered her voice. Lele was Deng's get; usually it was anybody's guess who fathered a housegirl's children, but the foreman was the only Oriental on the estate. You could see it in the saffron-brown tint of her skin, the delicate bones and the folds at the corners of her hazel-tinted eyes.

The Draka girl leaned back with a sigh, feeling heavy and a little tired from the going-away party last night. She had the rear of the autosteamer to herself, a semicircle couch like the fantail of a small yacht. Nearly to herself: her Persian cat Machiavelli was curled up beside her. He always tried to sleep through an auto drive; at least he didn't hide under a seat and puke anymore... The windows slanted over her head, up to the roof of the auto, open a little to let in a rush of warm dry afternoon air. She let her head fall back, looking through the glass up into the cloudless bowl of the sky, just beginning to darken at the zenith. Her face looked back at her, transparent against the sky, centered in a fan of pale silky hair that rippled in the breeze.

Like a ghost, she thought. Her mind could fill in the tinting, summer's olive tan, hair and brows faded to white-gold, Mother's coloring. Eyes the shade of granulated silver, rimmed with dark blue, a mixture from both her parents. Face her own, oval, high cheekbones and a short straight nose, wide full-lipped mouth, squared chin with a cleft; Pa was always saying there must be elf somewhere in the bloodlines. She turned her head and sucked in her cheeks; the puppyfat was definitely going, at long last. She was still obstinately short and slight-built, however much she tried to force growth with willpower.

At least I don't have spots, she mused with relief. Her first year at the new school, and her first in the Senior Section, as well.

"Bianca, get me a drink, please," Yolande said, shifting restlessly and stretching. The drive had been a long one, and she felt grubby and dusty and sticky; the silk of her blouse was clinging to her back, and she could feel how it had wrinkled.

The air had a spicy-dry scent, like the idea of a sneeze.

Yolande sipped moodily at the orange juice and watched as the auto turned south and east to skirt the fringe of Naples: just a small town now, badly damaged in the War, and afterward most of the non-historic sections had been torn down. The low bulk of Vesuvius was ahead of them, twin peaks notching the broad cone of the volcano, and the road swung west toward the impossible azure blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Her mouth was dry despite the cold drink. She handed the glass back to the servant girl and wiped her palms down the sides of her jodhpurs, hitched at her gunbelt, ran fingers through the tangled mass of her hair, adjusted her cravat.

"Bianca, Lele, my hair's a mess," she said. "Fix it." There was a sour taste at the back of her mouth, and a feeling like hard fluttering in her stomach.

The two servants quieted immediately and knelt on the cushions to either side of her. The feeling of their fingers and brushes was familiar and comforting, even if it hurt when they tugged at the snarls. Yolande used the forced immobility to practice the breathing exercises, driving calm up from the body into the mind. There was something oddly soothing about having your hair combed, a childlike feeling of trust.

Don't fidget, she told herself as the tense muscles of her shoulders and neck eased. It's serfish. It was emotional to be frightened of going to a new school; they weren't going to hurt her, after all. Children and serfs were expected to be emotional; a Citizen ruled herself with the mind. Bianca was humming as she used the pick on the end of her comb to untangle a knot. Yolande's hair had always been feather-soft and flyaway.

The school was on the Bay itself, surrounded by a thousand hectares of grounds. A chest-high wall of whitewashed stone marked the boundary, overshadowed by tall dark cypresses; the van slowed as they passed through the open wrought-iron gates and past the gatekeeper, bowing with hands over his eyes as the law commanded. Then the wheels were crunching and popping on the gravel of the internal road. Lawns like green-velvet plush spread around them, flowerbanks, clusters of stone-pine, oak, clipped hedges of box and yew. A herd of ibex raised their scimitar-homed heads from a pool, muzzles trailing drops that sparkled as they fell among the purple-and-white bowls of the water lilies.

"Turn right," Yolande said, unnecessarily; there was a servant in the checkered livery of the school directing traffic.

The sun had sunk until it nearly touched the horizon, and the light-wand in the serfs hand glowed translucent white. More servants waited at the brick-paved parking lot, a broad expanse of tessellated red and black divided by stone planters with miniature trees. The van eased into place, guided by a wench with a light-wand who walked backwards before them, and stopped; Yolande felt the dryness suddenly return to her mouth as she rose.

"Well," she said into air that felt somehow motionless after the unvarying rush of wind on the road. "Let's go."

Deng pushed the driver back into his seat. "Not you, Marco," he said.

The younger man gave him a resentful glare but sank down again. Deng was not like some bossboys, he did not use the strap or rubber hose all the time, but he was obeyed just the same. He flicked a match-head alight between thumb and forefinger as he climbed down from the cab, lighting a cigarette and puffing with grateful speed, then undamped the stairs beneath the side door.

Yolande ignored the acrid smoke and the stairs as well, stepping out and taking the chest-high drop with a flex of her knees. The servants followed more cautiously, passing the parcels and baggage out to Deng and taking his offered hand as they clambered down the metal treads. The Draka girl stood looking about as the pile of luggage grew. There was activity enough, but nobody seemed particularly concerned with her. An eight-wheeler articulated steamer was unloading a stream of girls; that must be a shuttle from Naples, the ones coming in from the train and dirigible havens.

They were all dressed in the school uniform, a knee length belted tunic of Egyptian linen dyed indigo blue, and sandals that strapped up the calf. She felt suddenly self-conscious in her young-planter outfit, even with the Togren 10mm and fighting-knife she had been so proud of. They were mostly older than her; all the Junior Section would have arrived yesterday. Their friends were there to greet them, hugs and wristshakes and flower-wreaths for their hair...

Yolande swallowed and forced herself to ignore them, the laughter and the shouts. A few private autos were unloading as well, sleek low-slung sports steamers, and two light aircraft in an empty field to the east. Tilt-rotor craft, civilianized assault-transports; as she watched one seemed to tense in place, the motors at the ends of the wings swinging up to the vertical. The hum of turbines rose to a whining shriek and brown circles appeared in the grass beneath the exhausts as the long propellers blurred. Burnt kerosene overwhelmed the scents of steamcar distillate, flowers, warm brick. Then the airplane bounced five hundred meters into the air, circled as the engines tilted forward to horizontal mode, shrank to a dot fading northward. Navigation lights blinked against the pale stars of early evening.

She blinked; in half an hour it would be past Sienna. Past Badesse, past home. Over the tiny hilltop lights of Claestum; her parents might look up from the dining terrace at the sound of engines. Tantie Rahksan with her eternal piece of embroidery... Moths would be battering against the globes, and there would be a damp smell from the pools and fountains. Warm window-glow coming on in the Quarters down in the valley, and the sleepy evening sounds of the rambling Great House. Her own bedroom in the west tower would be dark, only moonlight making shadows on the comforter, her desk, airplane models and old dolls and posters...

This is ridiculous, she scolded herself, working at the knot of misery beneath her breastbone. The quarrel at the old school had not been her fault; even if somebody had to leave, it should have been Irene, not her. Would have been, if they had not valued peace over justice.

"Hello."

She looked down with a start; a girl her own age was standing nearby, hands on hips and a smile on her face.

"You're Yolande Ingolfsson, the one from up Tuscany way?"

She nodded, and grasped the offered wrist. Then blinked a little with surprise, feeling a shock as of recognition.

I must know someone who looks like her, she thought.

"Myfwany Venders," she was saying. "Leontini, Sicily. I'm in yo' year, and from out-of-district, too, so I thought I'd help yo' get settled."

The other girl was a centimeter taller, with brick-red hair and dark freckles on skin so white it had a bluish tinge, high cheekbones, and a snub nose; big hands and feet and long limbs that hinted at future growth. She grinned: "I know how it is. They pitched me in here last year and I went around blearing like a lost lamb. It's not bad, really, once y' get to know some people."

"Thank yo'," Yolande replied, a little more fervently than she would have liked. Myfwany shrugged, turned and put thumb and forefinger in her mouth to whistle sharply. "It's nothing, veramente. Let's get the matron."

"Missy."

Yolande stretched and turned over, burrowing into the coverlet.

"Missy. Time to get up."

That was Lele with the morning tray. She was wrapped in a robe, her own half-Asian face still cloudy with sleep.

"Thank you." The Draka yawned and stretched, rolled out of bed, and drank down the glasses of juice and milk.

It was still quite early, with only a faint glimmer of light through the glass and drapes along one side of the bedroom. She walked over and drew back the curtains, yawning again, and walked out onto the terrace. This section of the school faced the sea, with a series of garden-terraces running down to the beach. The sun was behind her, still hidden by the hulk of the inland mountains; a mild breeze was setting in from the ocean, smelling of salt, oleander, rosemary. Gray-blue water stretched to meet dark-blue sky; Jupiter and Venus were fading overhead, and lights winked from the water. A hydrofoil ferry going out to Capri, fishing boats, a tall-masted freighter raising sail; above, along the horizon, were the long hale-shape of a dirigible and the distant pulsing of engines.

Yolande stretched again, turned back into the bedroom. The white-and-green marble tiles were cool under her feet. She worked her toes into the Isfahan carpets and looked around. It was not large, twenty feet by fifteen, part of the usual five-room Senior School suite. Schools had the same facilities, but they were not built to a set pattern. Pale-blue stone walls, plenty of room for anything she wanted to put up; some of her hangings and pictures were still boxed in corners. She walked through the olive-wood door and down the corridor. Different marble on the floor, patterned in geometric shapes. Doors: a study, a lounge, cupboards, a washroom. A room for her servants; she had checked that last night.

Mother's voice in her mind's ear: You make their choices. It's your responsibility.

A vestibule, before the outside door. Deng and Marco were waiting, ready for the trip back to the plantation. The Oriental bowed slightly, and the younger man looked down and flushed. Yolande blinked in puzzlement, then realized she was naked. Oh, she thought. Serfs were strange about that sort of thing. Especially here in the New Territories; Marco had not been up from the Quarters long, and that mostly in the garages.

"We leaving now, Mistress Yolande," Deng said, crumpling his cap in one hand and bowing again. His eyes flickered past her, to Lele...

"A quick journey back and a happy return," Yolande said. "Tell the Mastah and Mistis I'm well settled in, not to worry, I'll call soon. Give Tantie Rahksan a kiss fo' me." She felt the familiar wince of guilt; she was a terrible correspondent, missed her parents bitterly, could never seem to remember to call... Home was a prison that you longed to escape, and your safe warm place as well; seeing Deng go was like losing another bit of it. "Don't yo' worry either, Deng, I'll take good care of her." She parted his shoulder; it was like tapping the edge of a boulder.

"Thank you, Missy," he said, with a rare smile.

She could remember him smiling that way when he played tossup games with her, when she was a toddler; now her eyes were level with his. The two men left, and the door closed with a sough.

The other score or so of girls in her Year and section were already gathering in the courtyard, dressed like her in rough cotton exercise tunics and openwork runner's sandals, talking and yawning and helping each other stretch. Baiae School was laid out in rectangular blocks running inland from the water's edge; it was slightly chilly in the shade of the colonnade that ran around three sides of the open space, and the sun was just rising over the higher two-story block at the east end. The low-peaked roof was black against the rose-pale sky, and the sound of birds was louder than the human chatter. In the center of the court was a long pool; water spouted from a marble dolphin, and she could feel a faint trailing of mist as she walked out into the garden beside it among the flowerbeds and benches.

A few heads turned her way as she rummaged among the equipment on a table. Weights for the ankles, and to strap around her wrists; she bound back her hair with a sweatband, and sniffed longingly at the smells of coffee and cooking that drifted over the odor of dew-wet grass and roses. No food for an hour or two yet.

"Ingolfsson!" It was Myfwany Venders, the redheaded one who had greeted her at the parking lot. "Come on over here, meet the crew." The girl from Sicily continued to her knot of friends: "This is Yolande Ingolfsson, down from the wilds of Tuscany." She turned to the newcomer. "This is—"

Yolande struggled to match names with faces as the introductions were made; it was important, she was the outsider here. Most of the others were from south-central Italy, daughters of planters and overseers, civil servants and Combine execs. A few from farther away—that was government policy—from the French and Spanish and Balkan provinces, even from the older territories on the south shore of the Mediterranean. Most humiliatingly taller than her, why was she still short...

"Look out," Myfwany muttered. "It's Bruiser and the Beak."

Two adults were walking toward them from the administration block at the head of the courtyard. A woman in white cotton pants and singlet with a towel around her neck; stocky-muscular, broad in hips and shoulders, big-busted for a Draka, with a hard flat face and golden-brown hair. The man beside her was much taller and almost thin, with a close-cropped mat of black hair shot with silver and a face that would have been handsome except for the eagle swoop of his nose. He was stripped to the waist and his body looked wiry and very strong, long ropy muscles moving easily under tanned skin.

"Teachers," Myfwany continued, sotto voce. "Married. She's Unarmed Combat and Hand Weapons, he's Firearms and Tactics."

The students fell silent. "Keep stretching," the woman said, walking and appraising. "Some of you need it." The man dropped forward, caught himself on three fingers and a thumb and began doing one-handed pushups. His wife stopped in front of an apprehensive-looking girl and poked her below the ribs with one finger. "Too much pasta this summer, Muriel. Yo'll regret it."

Well, she is a bit plump, Yolande thought. Not fat, but with a smoothed-at-the-edges look, serfish. Stupid to let yourself go like that over the holidays; it just made school harder... and you lost respect, too.

Myfwany held out linked hands. "Hamstring?" she said.

"Thanks." She swung the heel of her right leg into the other's fingers. "Higher," she said, rolling back the toes and laying the ball of her foot in line with the shin, kicking position. Myfwany bent her knees and raised it slowly until Yolande's foot was pointing at the sky. That brought their faces close together, and she whispered:

"What're they like?"

"Beak's not bad," the redhead whispered back. "Used to be a tank commander in the Third. His classes are pretty interesting. Bruiser's fair even with her own daughters, but sort of strict. Doesn't much care for excuses; she was in a recon cohort."

The former scout-commando came to stand behind the new girl. "Good extension there," she said. "Try the other leg." Yolande switched feet. "Well, yo' limber enough. Here." Her accent was flat and a little nasal, north-Angolan or Katanga.

Yolande shook out her legs and took the offered hand; it was like gripping a piece of carved wood. She squeezed as strongly as she could, admiring the thick wrist and smooth flat ripple of the teacher's forearm.

"Not bad," the instructor said, releasing her. "Stronger than yo' looks; little ones fool yo', sometimes."

The girl's ears burned. Why does everyone have to comment on my height? she thought.

"Right, fo' all the new ones here, I'm Vanessa Margrave, and this is my husband Dave." The man dropped onto the fingers of both hands and flicked himself upright, using the strength of his arms only.

"That's Miz Margrave to yo' little horrors. We're goin' to get on fine, as long as certain things are remembered. Back home on Pappy's plantation, yo're all princesses an' the apple of every eye. Here, we learn discipline." She grinned, and a few of the girls swallowed nervously. "Yo've all had seven years of the basics; now Mr. Margrave an' I are responsible fo' turnin' y'all into killin' fighters. Yo' will do it, and all become credits to the Race. And in the process, yo' will suffer. Understand?"

"Yes, Miz Margrave!" they chorused.

"Now, it's six kilometers befo' breakfast, and I'm hungry. Let's go."

Yolande hesitated at the entrance to the refectory, one of several scattered throughout the complex. There were seven hundred students at Baiae School, half of them in the Senior years, and Draka did not believe in crowding their children. In theory you could pick the dining area you wanted, from among half a dozen. In practice it was not a good idea to try pushing in where you were not wanted, and she had tagged along with Myfwany's group from the baths where they had all showered and swum after the run.

I feel like a lost puppy following somebody home, she thought resentfully. Back at the old school she had had her recognized set, her own territory. Here... Oh, gods, don't let me end up a goat, she thought. Yolande knew her own faults; enough adults had told her she was dreamy, impractical, hot tempered. School was a matter of cliques, and an outcast's life was just barely worth living.

The dining room was in the shape of a T, a long glass-fronted room overlooking the bay with an unroofed terrace carried out over the water on arches. Yolande hesitated at the colonnade at the base of the terrace, then closed the distance at a wave from one of Myfwany's friends. There were four of them, five with her, and they settled into one of the half-moon stone tables out at the end of the pier. It was after seven and the sun was well up, turning the rippled surface of the bay to a silver-blue glitter that flung eye-hurting hints of brightness back at her like a moving mirror, or mica rocks in sunlight.

There was shade over the table, an umbrella shape of wrought-iron openwork with a vine of Arabian jasmine trained through it. The long flowers hung above their heads translucent white, stirring gently in the breeze that moved the leaves and flickered dapples of dark and bright across the white marble and tableware. Yolande stood for a moment, looking back at the shore. You could see most of the main building from here, stretching back north. It was a long two-story rectangle like a comb with the back facing Vesuvius; the teeth were enclosed courtyards running down toward the sea. The walls were pale stone half-overgrown with climbing vines, ivy or bougainvillea in sheets of hot pink, burgundy, and purple.

Formal gardens framed the courts and the white-sand beach. At the north end of the main block another pier ran out into the water from a low stone boathouse; little single-masted pleasure ketches were moored to it, and a small fishing boat that supplied the kitchens with fresh seafood. Beyond that she could see a pair of riders galloping along the sea's edge, their hooves throwing sheets of spray higher than the manes.

"Pretty," she said as she seated herself.

"Hmmm? Oh, yes, I suppose it is," Myfwany said, pressing a button in the center of the table. "Everyone know what they want?"

"Coffee, gods, coffee," one of the others said as the serving wench brought up a wheeled cart.

Yolande sniffed deeply, sighing with pleasure. The scent of the brewing pot mingled with the delicate sweetness of the flowers over their heads and the hot breads under their covers, iodine and seaweed from the ocean beneath their feet, and suddenly she was hungry. For food, for the day, for things that she could not know or name, except that they made her happy. She looked around at the faces of the others, and everything seemed clear and beautiful, everyone her friend. Even the serf, a swarthy thick-set woman with a long coil of strong black hair; the identity number tattoo below her ear showed orange as she bent to fill the cup, and the coffee made an arc of dark-brown from the silver spout to the pure cream color of the porcelain.

"Thank yo'," she said to the servant, with a bright smile. "I'll have some of those—" she pointed to a mound of biscuits, brown-topped and baked with walnuts—and the fruit, and some of those egg pies."

"Grapefruit," Muriel said sourly, watching with envy as the others gave their orders and Yolande broke a roll. It steamed gently, and the soft yellow butter melted and sank in as soon as it was off the knife. The plump girl had lagged badly when they sprinted the last half-kilometer of the run, and bruised herself doing a front-flip over one of the obstacles. The wench put two neatly sectioned halves before her. "I loathe grapefruit."

"Then don't be such a slug, Muri," Myfwany said ruthlessly, looking up from a clipboard. "You were doing quite well last year, and then spent all summer lolling about stuffin' yo'self with ricotta and noodle pie."

Somebody else giggled, and Muriel's face went scarlet; her expression went from sullen to angry, and then her eyes starred with unshed tears.

"Honest, Muri, everyone's just tryin' to help—" one girl began.

There was a rattle of crockery as Muriel pushed her half-eaten plate away, rose, and left at a quick walk that was almost a run. Myfwany scowled at the girl who had tittered.

"Veronica Adams, that was mean."

"Well, I didn't call her a slug, anyway."

"An'I didn't laugh at her. Are we her friends, or not? I thought yo' two were close."

Veronica frowned and pushed strips of chicken breast and orange around her plate. "Oh, all right." she muttered. A moment later: "I'll tell her I'm sorry." A sigh. "It's just... all the trouble we went to, an' she slides back down the hill when we stop pushin'."

"Things aren't easy fo' her," Myfwany continued, expertly filleting her grilled trout. Aside, to Yolande: "Her parents are religious."

Yolande kept silent for a moment, biting into the biscuit and catching a crumble beneath her chin with the other. Myfwany was obviously the leader of the group, and it would not do to offend... not while she was on probation.

There was a slight taste of honey and cinnamon to the pastry, blending with the richness of the butter and the hot morsels of nut. The egg pies looked good, too, baked in fluffy pastry shells with bits of bacon and scallion; she ate one in three swallows, feeling virtuous satisfaction. Her body felt good and strong and loose, warmed from the run and the swim, relaxed by the masseur's fingers.

It would not do to look tongue-tied, either. She swallowed, looked up and raised a brow. Religious... That was unusual, these days. "Aesirtru?" she asked. You still found a scattering of neopagans about, though even in her grandfather's time it had been mostly a fad.

"No, worse. Christians."

Yolande made a small shocked sound, one hand going unconsciously to her mouth. Very unusual, and not altogether safe. Not forbidden, precisely. After all, only a few generations ago most Draka had been at least nominal Christians. But now... it was enough to attract the attention of the Security Directorate. Believers were tolerated, no more, provided they kept quiet and out of the way and gave no whisper of socially dangerous opinions; the secret police took the implications of the New Testament seriously, more so than most of its followers ever had. And it could kill any chances of a commission when you did your military service, even if the krypteia could do no more to you than that.

She felt the eyes of the others on her. "Well, she's a Citizen," she said with renewed calm, undoing her hair and shaking it out over her shoulders. The sea breeze caught it and threw it back, trailing ends across her eyes. "She's got a right to it, if she wants to."

Myfwany smiled with approval. "Oh, it didn't take," she said, waving her fork. "That's part of the problem, we talked her out of it last year—partly us, some of the teachers helped—and then when she went home it was one quarrel with her parents after another, and she was gloomin' all the time. She'll snap out of it." Another hard look at Veronica. "If we help her."

"I said I'd say I was sorry," the girl snapped back, then bridled herself with a visible effort. Softly: "I am sorry." She was broad-shouldered, with a mane of curly dark-brown hair and the sharp flat accent of Alexandria and the Egyptian provinces. "What's today?"

"Intro Secondary Math 8:00 to 10:30," Myfwany said, glancing back at the clipboard. "Classical Lit from 10:45 to 12:15. Historical Geography till lunch, rest period, and then we're back to Bruiser and The Beak. Shouldn't be too bad, Beak's givin' us a familiarization lecture on rocket-launchers today."

"Moo," the third girl said. "Secondary Math." Yolande fought to remember the name. Mandy Slauter. Tall and lanky and with hair sun-faded to white, pointed chin propped in one hand. "Tensor calculus, an' Ah had trouble enough with basic. Euurg, yuk, moo."

"Y'can't make flying school without good math," Myfwany said, reaching for a bunch of grapes from the bowl in the center of the table. She stripped one free, flicked it up between finger and thumb and caught it out of the air with a flash of white teeth. To Yolande: "Yo've fallen in among a nest of would-be spacers."

They all gave an unconscious glance upward. It had only been a few years since the first flights to orbit, but that was a strong dream. Only a few thousand Draka had made the journey beyond Earth's atmosphere as yet, and rather more Americans, but it was obvious that the two power blocs who dominated the planet were moving their rivalry into space. There would be thousands needed when the time came for their call-up in half a decade.

Yolande flushed. "Me, too," she said. "Both my parents were pilots in the War." With shy pride: "Pa was an ace. Twelve kills." Some of the others looked impressed. Thank you, Pa, she thought. Well, it was impressive.

Mandy shrugged. "But tensor calculus... Sometimes Ah'd rather just settle fo' the infantry. Not so much like school, anyway." She reached for a passionfruit, cracked the mottled egg-shaped shell, and dumped the speckled greyish contents into her mouth.

"How can yo' eat those things with your eyes open?" Veronica said. "They look like a double tablespoon of tadpoles glued together with snot." In an aside to Yolande: "Mandy's boy-crazy already, that's why she's considerin' the infantry." The pilot corps was two-thirds female, while the ground combat arms had a slight majority of men.

Mandy laughed and raised the fruit rind threateningly. "Ah am not boy-crazy—"

"Aren't we all a little old fo' food-fights?" Myfwany said, looking at her watch. "Class time."

 

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