by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 3 appeared
in issue 179.
In the somewhat distant future, Japanese and Arab emigrants share a small planet where they live in separate colonies. They name the planet Hon’ya, ‘world of books’ because the Arabs are a ‘people of the Book’. The Japanese colony into which Skoshi is born has reverted to ancient social norms whereby women are severely repressed and treated as chattel.
Nonetheless, Skoshi acquires an education by stealthily reading books from her father’s large library. While she contemplates with dread an arranged marriage, the premature death of her beloved younger brother frees her to flee with grandmother. A brilliant student, Skoshi integrates very successfully among foreigners in the Space Corps. But she and her grandmother are being pursued...
As Ethan slowly walked towards his room he thought about what she had told him of her world. She had told him of the beatings; the submission; the education and lack thereof; and, finally, she had reluctantly told him why she and her grandmother had left, as well as how. She had profusely apologized for using him to sneak them aboard, and for lying to him. She had practically been crying. Ethan had really not minded, since that way he had met her. She was right; he had been staring at her. How could he help himself? She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. And even though she had a limited education, she was smart!
And her thirst for knowledge was amazing! For instance, calculus. Most girls he knew didn’t really understand calculus that well. And that didn’t bother them a bit; they were fine with being purely decorative. Skoshi wanted to learn! She tried hard to understand things that she didn’t.
And she succeeded. They had made a date tomorrow, in the passenger’s lounge, so he could explain the Frazier theory. It was a theory his Grandfather had thought up. He was kind of tired of explaining it, but he did not mind the idea of explaining it to Skoshi.
* * *
After Skoshi and Ethan had parted, Skoshi went into her room and began getting ready for bed. Her thoughts were centered on Ethan, though. He was so nice. And patient! He had listened to her babble on about Hon’ya, and then had tried to explain advanced calculus to her. She thought she had it. But she did feel so stupid! She knew so little about physics, science, everything. Ethan had been nice enough to suggest that they meet tomorrow to talk about the Frazier theory. She looked forward to it. Skoshi really liked Ethan; he was nice, kind, smart, and quite handsome, too!
Just as she was brushing her teeth she heard her Grandmother come in. She quickly finished and went to her Grandmother’s room.”Grandmother, where were you? When I couldn’t find you I was worried!”
“Oh, Skoshi, love. Don’t worry. I was in the lounge gabbing with the Captain. I found out his best friend is my old sweetheart.”
“Your old sweetheart? I didn’t know you had one. Tell me, please!”
“Well, it was when I ran away from home. I used a boy to help me get through the gates, much like you did. Later we began to talk, and we fell in love. We were planning to marry. Unfortunately, as you know, I was caught and forced back to Hon’ya. Their abduction of me was illegal, but by the time James got the police to Hon’ya, I had been forced to marry and there was nothing they could do. That was that.”
“Oh, Grandma, how awful! No wonder you hate men so!”
“No, Skoshi, I don’t hate men. I just hate what men’s traditions did to me!”
* * *
The next morning after breakfast, (only dinner was at a certain time and place), Skoshi went down to the passengers’ lounge and found that Ethan was already there. He had found them a little table and a couch in the back corner of the lounge. They spent the whole morning on theories.
When they had finished with Frazier’s theory they went on to other ones. When they were completely finished they went to the ship’s kitchen and got some lunch, as well as some ice cream cones.
After lunch Ethan took Skoshi on a tour of the ship. They went to the observatory, the Hydroponics section to see the plants, and then, through one of his friends, he took her to visit the Bridge.
The Captain, she found, was a very nice man. He had to leave in the middle of the tour to meet with, strangely enough, her Grandmother! Skoshi could not help but wonder what she was up to.
After the Captain left, Ethan, with the help of his friend, showed Skoshi the different stations and what they did. Ethan marveled again at how quickly she picked up things. And the fact that she had that rare desire to learn, a desire so strong that it seemed to almost consume her.
Later, after the tour was over, they went back to the lounge and Ethan told her about his life, particularly his childhood. It had not been nearly as bad as hers. He told her how his life had been after his mother and father died, how his grandfather had raised him to be “a strapping Highland engineer” and how he had been livid when Ethan decided to go into the Space Corps instead. He told her about his first attempt at playing the bagpipes, how he had huffed, and blown until finally a tiny little squawkkk had come out.
When he told her this she laughed. It was the first time he had heard her laugh. It made him stop short and just look at her. When she stopped laughing she looked at him questioningly.”What’s the matter?” she asked “Shouldn’t I have laughed?”
“Oh, yes, you should have laughed. I had just never heard you laugh before. It sounds so pretty.”
“Thank you, and thank you for making me laugh! I haven’t laughed so hard since I was four years old!”
“On Hon’ya, there is not much to laugh about. But when I was little enough to play with my brothers I used to love getting them into trouble.”
“Oh, my father had a Koi pond, it was his pride and joy, and some of the fish in it cost over a hundred Edos. Well, the boys were playing with some firecrackers, big ones. And I made sure to tell them not to let any of the firecrackers in the pond, I told them that they did not want to see what happened to fish when a firecracker exploded in the water around them. Now, as a little boy, if your older sister, who you had been taught not to listen to, and to disrespect, told you not to do something, what would you have done?”
“Well, I probably would have gone over to see what happened.”
“And that is exactly what they did. I made sure that I went right back into the house. So, when Father came out later to feed his fish... Oh, I had never seen anyone so mad in my life, he accused the servants, my mother, my grandmother, and me. But finally he knew it must have been my brothers. All they could say in their defense was that ‘Skoshi told us not to.’ And even Father, unfair and bigoted as he was, could not honestly punish me for that!” She laughed again. Then she looked at her watch.”Oh drat! I have to go now! I have to get ready for dinner. Bye!”
As she left the room, Ethan looked after her and muttered to himself, “That’s just mean.” He walked out of the lounge laughing to himself.
Dinner that night was a basic repeat of what it had been the night before, except this time Skoshi and Ethan were oblivious to the other people. They were discussing physics, and even though Skoshi’s schooling was elementary she still held her own fairly well. And it did keep them fairly engrossed in each other. Apparently some people at the table could think of some other reasons why they might be engrossed in each other.
After dinner, while Skoshi and Ethan were dancing, an older widow, Mrs. Pruitt (whose only love besides eating was gossip, especially if it was about love) commenced upon congratulating Grandmother on the fact that “Your granddaughter has certainly caught the eye of a handsome young man!” Of course, Grandmother had begun to notice it, but Mrs. Pruitt’s comment strengthened her resolve. She must speak to her granddaughter about this!
Later that evening Skoshi and her grandmother sat down and talked.”Skoshi,” her Grandmother began, “do you think it’s very smart to spend so much time with Ethan? One of the other guests was commenting about it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, right now you can’t afford to get really close to anyone.”
“Grandmother, all we talk about is mathematics and... physics”
“You spend all that time talking about math and physics?”
“Yes. Grandmother, I know as well as you do the delicacy of my position, I have to be careful and I can’t become emotionally involved. Some other time it might be different, but I know that right now I have to concentrate on escaping, and on staying escaped.”
* * *
The next few days went on like that. Skoshi excelled in advanced calculus and Ethan began teaching her some differential equations. All too soon, however, they reached their destination. After disembarking, Skoshi and Ethan stood together for a moment to say goodbye.”Well,” Skoshi said, “Thank you for explaining some of the finer points of calculus to me. I had always been interested in it, and now I have a start on differential equations.”
“Yes... well, “Ethan began, “I don’t mind, I like calculus. And it gave me chance to brush up on it.”
Skoshi turned and saw her Grandmother motioning to her. “Well, I guess I had better go, I hope the operation helps set your leg to rights.”
“Yeah, I hope so, too. I hope everything works out for you.” Just then Skoshi’s Grandmother came up and said, “Skoshi, we have to go, we’re meeting someone. Goodbye, Ethan.” With that they walked away.
Skoshi looked back over her shoulder and smiled, remembering how much fun they had together.”Goodbye, Ethan!” Skoshi wondered if she would ever see him again.
* * *
Skoshi’s father had just received word from the men he had sent to the space station. Skoshi and his mother were not there. They could not find out where they had gone. Even after checking with his men at all the final destinations they found no trace of two women leaving any of the different planets. He sat at his desk and contemplated how to tell the young man and his family what had happened. He would have to lie, of course. And he would have to submit new papers to the government stating why the marriage license was to be postponed. He wondered what he would put on that form. He couldn’t lie to the government... Could he?
* * *
As Skoshi and her Grandmother walked out of the dock and into the station, Skoshi asked her Grandmother whom they were going to meet.”Well,” said Grandmother, “I told you that the captain knew my old sweetheart, didn’t I?”
“The captain told me that he was now here, at the station, waiting for his ship to finish repairs. It’s his last command. Anyway, I asked the Captain to send a message to James, asking him to meet us here. He radioed back saying he would. So, we are going to meet him.”
“Grandmother, your sweetheart is still alive?” Skoshi asked a bit astonished. Her grandmother was old!
“Yes, dear. I can’t wait to see him. I wonder if he still cares for me.”
“What? What’s the matter?” Grandmother replied, a bit indignant.
“You’re so... so... old!”
“Skoshi, I may be old, but I’m not dead! Just because older people don’t let their feelings rule them does not mean they don’t have them!” This time when Grandmother replied, her voice was definitely frosty.
Just then an older gentleman approached them. He was distinguished looking and quite handsome. He went right up to Grandmother and hugged her.”Jewel!” he said.” I can’t believe it. It’s been forty long years. I never thought I’d see you again!” Grandmother hugged him back. Skoshi could see two glistening tears in her eyes as she stepped out of the embrace.
“James,” she said, “It’s been so long! But I knew it was you the minute I saw you! You still swagger!”
James put his head back and laughed.”Oh, Jewel,” he said, and then noticing Skoshi, “well, now, what have you been up to? Smuggling girls off the planet, I see!”
“Not just any girl, James. Skoshi is my granddaughter, the only good to come of that episode. Skoshi, this is James Murphy.”
Skoshi looked at her grandmother. Her eyes were beaming. Never in her life had she seen her Grandmother so... happy. She then quickly glanced to James. “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.” She had almost given the traditional greeting to elder men, but then she realized she did not have to. She wouldn’t be beaten, or rebuked. The freedom of it was great!
“Skoshi,” James said, “I am very glad to meet you, too. Apparently there is some truth in the old proverb, ‘There is no great loss, without some small gain’.” Then to Grandmother, “Jewel, I can’t believe you are a grandmother! You don’t look it.”
“James,” Grandmother replied laughing, “you were a shameless flatterer then and you still are! I may not look like a grandmother, and right now I don’t feel like one, but my feet do! Can we sit down?”
Laughing, James led them away to the food court. After sitting down, Skoshi’s grandmother explained everything to James, the plan, the escape, and the need to get Skoshi away. “James,” she said, “is there any way you can help us? Maybe recommend her, or get her a commission?”
“Jewel, it’s a good thing you got in today, and not tomorrow, because then I wouldn’t be able to help you. As you know, my ship, the Journeyman, goes out tomorrow. And I’ve been frantic, because I haven’t been able to find another ensign. I only have one. I would like to have at least three, but two will do. I can use Skoshi as my second!
“The captain has the right to chose a ensign, who sleeps in an adjoining room and runs errands for him, as well as keeping the place neat. And, in return, the captain tutors the boy, or in this case, girl. That way there will be less risk of anyone seeing she is a girl, and I can help her with her studies.” Turning to Skoshi, he asked, “Are you a quick study?”
“Uh... I think so.” Skoshi replied, a little startled.”I picked up some quantum physics from Ethan on the way here.”
“Ethan? No! Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Are we agreed? Good. Hurry now, we have much to do!”
With that Skoshi and her grandmother were practically dragged from the food court.
That day Skoshi endured things that would have devastated common women. Her beautiful hair was chopped off short, nearly ten inches of it. She was bought men’s clothing, and a nasty gray uniform.
The last blow was that she had to learn to walk like a man. Head up, shoulders back, arms down.
Don’t let your legs touch each other, they pass each other but they don’t touch!
Never look down to anyone.
It went on for hours! Finally, though, James was finished drilling.
“Well, Skoshi,” he said, “the men will think you walk funny, but, hopefully, they won’t know you are a woman. Men around a pretty girl aren’t exactly the best examples of human nature.” Skoshi smiled, remembering someone else who had said that exact same thing.
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Allen