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A Southern Belle in Empress Intalasha’s Court (A TGG story)
Posted: 2007-09-02 12:25am
This is a side-story of the Taloran Empire. Most TGG stories revolve around soldiers, leaders, and nobles in general. This is absolutely not about movers and shakers. This is just a little story about a girl going off to school and having some adventures.
Chapter 1: Small Town Girl
The first thing that Tandi noticed was the smell.
It was not a bad smell. She’d first caught that scent on a family visit to Kyoto. In the midst of all the metal and technology and artificiality of the city, she’d smelled something faint, earthy, like dried ferns. She didn’t exactly see what it was, but she had her suspicions. Now, her suspicions were confirmed.
It was Taloran scent.
It was significantly stronger in the elevator station than in Kyoto for the simple reason that there were many, many more than that one person in the Western Hemisphere Pacific Elevator Station complex. She had never actually seen a Taloran in real life before. Now, she could see several dozen here and there among the thousands of people (mostly human) at the station. Taloran scent stuck out even among the multitude of odors of all the other beings and the machinery and despite the best efforts of the ventilation.
“Kid, you’re blocking the path.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” She pulled her bags out of the way and headed for the ticket counter.
It was true what people had said about their appearances. Tall, thin, graceful, and yet perfectly tasteful in their riot of colors of hair, eyes, and clothing. She was glad she had dyed her hair violet, even though Tandi knew was far too short to even attempt to look like a Taloran (unless they had midgets – do the Talorans even have midgets? Probably not anymore with medical technology.) Here and there were other non-humans, but seeing just one or two was an oddity, like seeing that lonely ancient giant tortoise at the zoo. The Talorans stuck out even more because of their numbers.
Bump. “Oh, I’m very sor-” she started, but then she couldn’t see who she had bumped into. Whoever it was, he/she/it/fourth gender pronoun slipped away into the crowd. I guess it wasn’t Taloran, she thought. At least I hope not. I can’t start giving a bad impression now.
She hoped she didn’t look like a country hick gawking at the big city. Tandi had done quite a bit of traveling, really. True, she had never been off-world before, but her parents weren’t badly off by Terran standards, and travel around the world wasn’t that difficult or expensive. She’d seen a lot of Japan. She’d gone to youth camps around the United States, mostly rural but a few urban. She’d visited Europe, Africa, and New Zealand. If she counted the three hours when she was in Ecuador, switching out transport to the elevator station, she’d been in South America. Tandi had been around the world, and some of her poorer classmates had never left the country. Heck, most of the ones who she thought of as cultists had never even left Mississippi.
But of course, it wasn’t the location or the city or the marvels of the elevator. The elevator was a marvel pre-empire technology, but the station itself...wasn’t attractive. A few grimy UTHP motifs still hung in places where they were too out of the way for anybody to bother trying to remove them. Tandi actually found them a bit creepy.
Relax and calm down. It won’t be a novelty much longer. Heck, I’ll be a novelty, with my shortness and dark eyes and...should I have changed my eye col… “Oops, I’m very sorry, ma’am.” Ticket line, NOW. GO!
So elegant and refined! She looked like a clumsy ape shuffling on the ground compared to them. Tandi wanted to check the letters for the nth time, to make sure that she really had been accepted, that she had not misread the letter over and over for months. Even now, standing in the ticket line on the verge of the longest voyage of her life (3 and a half years, 300...500…what was that number...a very large number of light years), it still seemed unreal. And alone!
Had she been looking in the proper direction, she would have noticed when she’d reached the front of the line, and a counter was open. “Excuse me!” the ticket handler half-shouted. “Can I help you?”
She scooted over to the counter. “Yes, yes, sorry about that. Uh, I mean, yes sir, my name is Tami Nakamura Davis, and I have a reservation.” She pressed her thumb into the scanner for verification. Stay calm, Tandi. It’s just like all the other trips you’ve taken, only much farther. And you’re alone. Also you’re not going back home for a very long time, and…
“You’re from Mississippi, Ms. Davis?” he asked. “My grandfather was from Jackson.” He very well could have been, for all she knew. The ticket handler was of what people sometimes called “ethnic American,” meaning he could have any sort of ancestry, from African to Spanish and everything in between, all blurred together to produce his tanned skin and dark hair.
“Yes sir, northern Mississippi, small town. North of Oxford, if you know where that is. You probably wouldn’t have heard of it.”
“Actually, I’m not even sure where Oxford is, so I guess you’re right. And… you’re confirmed, Ms. Davis. Is this your first time going off-world?”
“Ah, yes, actually it is. I’m heading off to college.” There was no reason to mention where exactly she was going. If he is one of the old grumps, then let him think she was going to Mars, or Callisto, or any respectable place in-system.
“Well, congratulations,” he said, as he handed over the plastic ticket strip, covered with the arcane symbols that the ticket scanners read. “I once had a chance to go to school on…but that’s not important. Good luck, and have a safe trip, Ms. Davis.”
“Thank you, sir. I will.”
She moved away and wandered vaguely towards the gate. Tandi checked the time. She still had a few hours before her boarding time.
Oh heck, one last peek. She read, “CONGRATULATIONS! You have been accepted to Quesadi Polytechnic Institute…”
Posted: 2007-09-02 02:20pm
Chapter 2: Elevator Music
The ride from the surface to the orbital station took three days. If one compared an interstellar voyage to an old-time ocean voyage, then the ride in the cars of the space elevator could be compared to an old-time train ride. Meals were provided, as well as sleeping sections, and the view was ever-changing.
That’s what they said, anyway. Tandi was fairly certain now that the last analogy was stretched too far, whatever people claimed about “Pullman cars.” For instance, the view from the darkened observation lounge was very nice the first time, and still pretty nice the second, but it took forever to change, and really it was the same thing the entire time, but farther away. Trains would have changing scenery, at least.
Still, she kept making herself go to the lounge and look down at Earth far below. Tandi decided that it must be out of some sense of duty. They’d said she would be having homesickness problems, wanting to go back, that she would miss the blue skies and green plants and so on. They had said that she would regret not watching the Earth for a single second. “They” also said that she was an abomination merely for being. “They” said a lot of things. Who were “they” anyway? How dare “they” tell Tandi what to think?
The car had other accommodations, as well. There was a library section for study, work, or entertainment (not necessarily in that order.) Whenever she had another angry fit in the lounge, she went to the library. Tandi tried to watch some light comedy shows, or do some reading, or review her notes, but she got irritated at everything for no reason and stopped in the middle. If it was time to eat, she ate. She tried to take naps but could not sleep. Eventually she would wander back to the observation lounge, stay for a few more minutes, and leave again.
It was impatience and nervousness. She wanted to leave, get out, go. Tandi was not yet at the Point of No Return, on the ship that would take her across the stars and away from Earth and her not-so-beloved hometown. From the gravitationally bound rock of her birth to…a more complicatedly gravitationally bound rock in a more happening part of the galaxy. There was still time for a fit of insanity, the buying of a ticket for the trip back down to Earth and a most un-triumphant return to uncountable “I told you so’s” from the townsfolk. Once on the ship, there was no turning back, and she’d be safe.
There wasn’t a single Taloran in the car. Despite the relatively large number of Talorans in the station, none of them were scheduled for her exact car. She’s mentally rehearsed what she would say, and then just happened to be stuck on the entire three day trip without one. A group of five would be leaving on the next one, she’d heard. They’ve already left by now on one of the parallel ribbons, she corrected herself, as she saw the time.
As she was about to leave the lounge again and try to find a new place to pace back and forth, she heard the sound of a plucked string, and then another. Tandi saw where the sounds were coming from. A man was tuning a mandolin. He looked vaguely “ethnic American”, but with lighter skin and hair than the one at the ticket counter. His hair was long enough to almost be pulled into a ponytail, but not quite. It was hard to tell in the dimmed light, but he might even have red hair. His mandolin was old but well-taken care of, made of natural wood and lovingly played by many people. He finished tuning, and began to play.
He started with a few chords, a couple scales, and eased into an ancient hymn. When he finished, the crowd that had gathered around him applauded.
“Aw, that was nothing. Nice and easy to play. This, on the other hand,” he said, and broke into a catchy dance tune from three hundred years before. He played sad laments, upbeat marches, pure miracles of sound on his old mandolin. Sometimes he accompanied the music with his own tenor, and he sometimes got his increasingly large audience laughing and singing with him. He serenaded them at dinner with hilariously faux Italian love sonnets, and had them crying at dessert. Tandi listened to him in fascination (and noted that he indeed did have reddish hair in good light). Whoever he was, he was a remarkably talented musician.
He played on the second day of the ride, as well. He refused all money offered (though he did accept a kiss on the cheek from an old woman) and would not give out his name, preferring to call himself simply the Man with the Mandolin. After a while, he was kissing babies like an old-time politician, letting them tug at his red hair and gawk at his instrument, making demonstrations to the children in the car. Later, to the great amusement of many of the people who’d formed his core audience, he played massively overblown parodies of Taloran marches. Tandi did not enjoy that at all, but thought, I guess you have to play for your audience.
On the third day, most people were too busy preparing themselves for arrival at the orbital station to listen to the mandolin player. Tandi didn’t understand how they could possibly have much to do, but the lack of crowds in the observation lounge was nice, she had to admit. So was hearing gentle music from the mandolin, and not the horrid “marches” of the previous day.
She sat close to him, just enjoying the music. The Man with the Mandolin looked at her and smiled, never stopping his music. “So where’re you from, and where’re you going, Miss…?”
“Tandi. I’m from Mississippi, and I’m heading out to college.”
“I thought I could hear a little accent,” said the Man with the Mandolin. “I’m from Alabama originally, Muscle Shoals. Heard of it?” She nodded. “Small world, ain’t it? Well, we’re not on the world now, but no matter. Haven’t been in Alabama or around those parts in a while. I’ve been traveling, going around places, but I needed money and so now I’m heading out to work on Ceres. Probably I won’t be going back home for another long time. You’re not going to Ceres, are you?”
“Ah, no, a little farther out, one could say. So, ah, why did you bring out your mandolin?”
“Well, I thought, everybody likes a little music. It’s just better when you hear it right there, instead of from some disc, however good it is. I thought I’d play a little bit, but then everybody gathers around and I just gotta keep playing. And I might as well practice. It’ll just be me and my mandolin for the next God knows how long on Ceres.”
He strummed a few notes randomly, melodic but tuneless. “It’s a damn shame.”
“This. Me, having to leave and go to some metal chunk in the sky to make a living. World’s being bled dry, between the colonies and the elves, holding us down so we can’t make a living on our own home soil. Making a smart girl like you have to go off-world to go to school.”
Well of course, he’s just another old grump who can’t get over losing the war. Just like those cultists in the woods who still worship that Confederacy of theirs. Two sides that didn’t deserve to win in the first place.
“It’s all them elves’ faults, you know. We were gonna make Earth great, a power to be reckoned with. We’d have our own Star Empire, and nobody in the universe would push us around. Then the elves came in and turned all the colonies against us…against us, their own brethren, of their own homeworld! There were those backstabbing chinless nobles, too, fighting on our own soil! And now we’re all slaves of the elves, buncha pompous elf-kings the lot of ‘em. But then, they all got what was coming to them, the colonies and the inbred bluebloods. The elves just turned on them next. Nothing personal, of course. You can’t help but go to the better universities out there, since we can’t make ‘em all come back to Earth where they belong. Damn elves.” He went back to playing his mandolin.
Tandi slipped away after she thought that enough time had passed, and returned to the window. She looked down at Earth far below. The car had almost reached the top. All the passengers would be disembarking soon, but there was time for one last look down at Earth. It floated in the darkness, blue and green and white, with the grey-silver of cities. She wouldn’t be seeing Earth for another three and a half years, if ever again.
Posted: 2007-09-03 11:01am
Chapter 3: Point of No Return
“Hi Mom! Hi Dad!”
“Tandi-chan! How are you?”
Tandi had calculated that there should be about a half second of lag total going back and forth from the station. She couldn’t really tell the difference. A fourth of a second down and a fourth of a second back. Maybe it seemed a tiny bit off.
“I’m good. I just reached the station so I’m calling like I promised.”
“Everything been going alright? Missing anything?”
Tandi spent the next ten minutes promising her parents that everything was fine, nothing was amiss, she hadn’t forgotten anything, she hadn’t lost anything, she still had plenty of spending money on her, all her papers were in order, and that she’d call again before boarding. When she cut the connection, she was slightly relieved not to be talking to them anymore. She loved them, of course, and she knew they were doing what any caring parents would do when their child was about to leave for almost four years without returning. They were worried, and also not quite accepting in their hearts that their baby girl was leaving, and so on and so forth. She understood all that intellectually, but she was still a teenage human girl. Also, she was rather nervous herself and didn’t want to be reminded of it.
Point of No Return. Tandi wasn’t there yet and she would be quite irritated until she was. It was always the worst part of a trip for her – the time right before she left to go on the trip. The point where she could still turn back. Oh sure, a ticket back down would cost her a bit of money and another three days, but it could be done, still. Impractical but possible. There were always those people who left to go to the Big City and then came crawling back a few months or a year later, beaten up in spirit and having “learned a lesson.” Well dadgumit, this rebellious teenager wasn’t going to crawl back home! She was going places, and she wasn’t going to return and they could stick that up where the sun don’t shine.
Unfortunately first she had nearly a whole day on the station to mull it over.
Elevator stations are big places. Forty interstellar ships could dock at one at a time, plus a huge number of intersystem ships. Hundreds of thousands of people lived in each one, and more passed through them going to wherever they were headed. The stations themselves were usually big tourist draws too. A great view, low-G sections, and every amusement designed to separate a tourist or passer-through of money. But Tandi didn’t feel like shopping, gambling, gaming, or sex in microgravity. Too much risk of getting distracted, and if she got distracted she could get left by the liner. It was best not to risk it. Besides, she’d had enough of her cruddy ol’ homeworld and didn’t want a last chance for a taste of home…well, maybe one.
She’d reserved a little bit of money on her card for a meal before boarding since she would have to wait a while. Her dad had insisted that she have enough for a massive gourmet meal with lobster, steak, sushi, and whatever dessert she wanted. She was too excited to be hungry enough for a big meal, so Tandi instead stopped at a bistro calling itself “Taste of Home” and ordered a large bowl of chili and cheese. It was hot enough to make her sweat, just the way she liked her chili, and the cheese had been a proper thick melted layer on top. It even came with a pickle. Not exactly the most dignified last meal to pick, but it filled her stomach and made her much more relaxed.
After her final meal of Earth, she headed straight for the gates.
The different liners rented space for docking, and each company had its own gate. Tandi accessed a map and found hers. The station had a little loop train that took passengers around to the different gates, conveniently free for anyone to use, and also free of any amenities besides a limited number of seats. Most of them were taken, so Tandi stood. A few displays on the walls posted safety information and maps in multiple languages. It’s hardly a train. More like a little people-mover. The train stopped a few times, picking up new arrivals and disgorging people who were departing. Finally Tandi’s gate came up, and she forced her way through the crowds along with a few others. All humans around her. She was a bit disappointed, and then she caught the scent of dried ferns. As she got in line, she glanced around, searching for the source. Only as she moved up in the line did she see where it came from.
The ticket handler was wearing the uniform of a petty officer, plain and unadorned by Taloran standards and a bit ostentatious by human standards. Hand him a trumpet and he would have fit in well in a marching band, actually. Heightwise, he wouldn’t even have stood out. The long, bright green hair, though…
A Taloran! A real life, honest to goodness Taloran! Not just a glance out of the corner of her eye or an electronic image. She was really meeting one, for the very first time!
If I puke from excitement I will never forgive myself.
“Your ticket, please?” he said, in perfect English, with just the faintest hint of an accent. Wide-eyed, she handed him her plastic ticket strip, which he scanned. He then quickly scanned her and her luggage. Seeing her reservation and finding no weapons or dangerous cargo, he handed back the ticket. “Thank you very much, Ms. Davis. Your cargo has already been stowed and your room will be available shortly when the ship begins boarding. Enjoy your trip.”
Tandi remembered her manners just in time to say, in her best Taloran, “Thank you very much, officer, sir!” It may have been her imagination, but she was certain that she saw a small twinkle in his eye as he twitched his ears at her before turning to the next in line.
Oh my goodness I just met a real Taloran and I just got through the gate and he wiggled his ear at me but I don’t really know the ear movements well yet but I think that was good so YES he said something nice which means I did well and…wow, there’s actually a lot of them here already.
Women, men and even a few children underfoot. It actually made sense. This was the big liner heading to Talora Prime. If any Talorans wanted to head back home, this would be the way to do it. It didn’t matter if they came on business or travel; this was the way back. They might not even be going back there particularly, since the liner would stop at a few other worlds before the final destination. Even nobles would have to take this ship. Tandi looked around for a moment, but then realized that nobles probably had their own, private entrance to the ship. I bet they don’t have to ride the people-mover either.
Anyway, now that she was at the gate, it was time to call home one last time.
“Hi Mom! Hi Dad! I’m at the gate. I made it safely.”
“That’s good to hear, Tandi-chan. Did you eat something?”
“I ate after I called you last time. I probably won’t eat again until after the ship leaves. Boarding starts in a couple hours.”
“You have all your luggage?”
“I have my suitcases right here for my cabin and my luggage for college is already in the ship. My ticket is right here,” she waved it, “and there are lots of Talorans here!” She moved aside for a moment so her parents could see. “There’s so many of them!”
Her dad grinned at her, then took a deep breath. “Tandi, there’s something we want to tell you.”
Her eyes widened in worry. “What is it? Something wrong? Something secret?”
“No, Tandi-chan, nothing like that,” her mother said.
Her father started again, “Tandi, we’re both very proud of you. You know that. I know you hated that town, but despite everything you were able to succeed and now you’re heading off for a bright, new, strange future.”
Tandi blushed slightly. “Aww, you know I couldn’t ‘ve done it without you both.”
“And that’s the other thing we wanted to say, Tandi. You’ll be a long way from home, and we won’t be there to help if you need us immediately. At the very least it would take us two months to get there.”
“But you won’t be alone. You’ll have your roommates, and telling from the descriptions in your orientation papers they sound like good people. The polytechnic will have facilities there too, and people who are there to help. The professors wouldn’t be teaching if they weren’t interested in aiding their students, especially for the Talorans, I hear.”
“And of course, you’d better remember to write once in a while!”
“I will, Mom!” Tandi promised.
“We’ll see about that,” her mom said jokingly, then continued. “We’ll be sending care-packages to you when we can. And if you write, we could know better what kinds of things to send. Hint, hint.” Then her cheerful attitude faded for a moment, and there was an awkward pause as she choked back a sob. “I promised I wouldn’t say anything embarrassing and sappy like ‘Oh my little girl is going off to college’ and ‘I won’t be seeing my little girl for another four years’ but…oh…”
Her dad held back tears as well. “Tandi, we love you, and we know you’ll do just fine. Just keep your wits about you, work hard, and remember that when things go bad that you just have to pick yourself up and go on. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”
“I know, Dad.”
“I love you, Tandi,” her mom and dad said, almost together.
“I love you too, Mom. I love you too, Dad.” Her finger lingered on the button to cut the connection, but she did not want to press it. Finally, her dad cut it on their side, and the screen was dark. Tandi took a deep breath, pushed back a tear, and then turned around and saw the Talorans again. And she realized at that moment that she didn’t notice their scent anymore.
She looked around the gate area again to see if there was anything vaguely interesting. A few shops sold massively overpriced “LAST CHANCE” souvenirs, plastic doo-dads and cheap clothes that might as well be made out of plastic themselves. The ‘classic’ “I went to Earth and all I got was this T-shirt” shirts and cheap models of the Pyramids that were sure to be lost within minutes and magazines that were 90% advertisement. There was also a pastry shop, with owners well aware that anyone already in the gate area was essentially stuck, so they could pump scents of fresh pastries into the air and jack up prices exorbitantly. A holoprojector showing news was ignored by all; few people cared about whatever trivial factoids it was talking about, and even those few couldn’t actually hear what the broadcaster was saying. Tandi decided to just grab a seat and wait for the boarding call.
She picked a seat with enough room to set her bags down and got out her computer to pull up a book. Tandi tried for a few minutes to read, but she could not focus well, and because of that she soon became aware that someone was behind her, looking over her shoulder. She turned around and found herself looking directly into the amber eyes of a young Taloran girl.
“Oh, sorry, umm, Hello, I did not see you there.”
“I was reading your story. What’s a ‘bratwurst’?”
“It is a, how do you say, a ground meat wrapped in intestine. We humans eat it.”
“Is it tasty?”
“Quite tasty, yes.”
“My mommies didn’t let me eat much human food. I never had any bratwurst.” She looked a little dejected, but then cheered up again. “My name’s Hilamhsi.”
Tandi was still processing the part about ‘mommies’ and almost didn’t catch her name. “Oh, my name is Tami, but everyone calls me Tandi.”
“Tandi! Are you from Earth? I’ve been allll over! Have you been to-” And Hilamhsi began rattling off a string of places so quickly that Tandi barely had time to respond. She’d never had to deal with such a fast speaker in any of her Taloran language classes or programs. Apparently, the teachers and programmers never thought that anyone would have to talk to a child.
“What’s Mississippi like? Are there big cities? Are there mountains? I went to the mountains in Colorado – that’s near Mississippi, right? – and I got really, really dizzy and my mommies got really worried and they made me wear an oxygen mask and then-”
“Hilamhsi! Don’t trouble the human lady!” A Taloran woman, tall like all of them (in Tandi’s view), with bright orange hair and amber eyes came up to Hilamhsi. Tandi made a not-so-wild guess that this woman was one of her ‘mommies.’
“She was not disturbing me at all, madam.” Am I saying the honorifics correctly? I hope I’m not insulting her. “I was answering her questions about Earth and telling her about my travels as well. If I may intrude with a question, are you Hilamhsi’s mother?”
The woman shifted her ears in a way that Tandi hoped was approval or amusement. “I am one of her mothers. My wife Dhrisama is over there, watching our luggage.” She gestured at another Taloran woman, also tall by Tandi’s standards, with magenta hair, who was standing by a cart filled with baggage. “I hope you are not offended,” she continued, with an exaggerated ironic tilt in her ears. She obviously had been dealing with humans for an extended length of time.
“Not at all, madam.” Tandi was pretty sure what kinds of humans she’d had to deal with and thought herself to be above those prejudices. “I have not been offended for any reason at all.”
“Tandi’s been really nice!” Hilamhsi said.
“I would not mind at all to continue talking with your daughter. In fact, I would be pleased indeed, as I would be to meet your wife.” Suddenly Tandi realized that she had been speaking with Talorans for several minutes and had not yet made a total fool of herself or spontaneously combusted. She was actually conversing and handling herself! She nearly lost her composure as she found herself invited over and being introduced to Dhrisama, and very self-conscious for holding all her bags and trying to talk to three Talorans at once. Tandi was so flustered that she could barely remember any of the conversation at all.
The boarding call began, starting with Taloran and repeated in several other languages. She let the family go ahead and followed them to the entrance. Hilamhsi and her mothers went first, and then after their tickets were scanned, continued on with their cart. The human woman at the counter then took Tandi’s ticket, scanned it for final confirmation, and handed it back. “Enjoy your trip,” she said, in a monotone that said that she was entirely running on automatic and everyone was blurring together. And then Tandi walked ahead to let the next person in line get his ticket scanned.
Tandi almost wished that there had been more ceremony to it. It might be routine for them, but this was her first big trip. She was going Out There. She trundled through the tunnel towards the entrance. She was about to head inside a real life interstellar liner, the stuff of dreams and science fiction. Tandi wanted to hurry in and find her room but many people were in front of her, including Hilamhsi and her family, and she wasn’t about to push ahead of them rudely. She saw some light ahead – oh geez, light at the end of the tunnel and stepped out into the brightly lit central promenade, tourist class. Just like the guide had said, but she hadn’t really believed it. Ships were supposed to be these uncomfortable small things with no room, not a mall with a park. Tandi pulled herself aside from the crowd streaming in and checked her guide again. Yes, actually a few shopping areas, but she only had access to two. A park, arcade, microgravity rooms, athletic facilities including a number of swimming pools, of all things a small aquarium, and a couple things she couldn’t even figure out, aside from them probably being methods of separating her from her cash. It was a whole city in a ship. Just like the guide said.
The guide did not say exactly where every room was, but it did point out where directories tended to be, and Tandi found one nearby. She could take the stairs down to the deck with her room, or she could take the elevators. They were a bit crowded with people all thinking the same thing as she did, but she didn’t feel like carrying her luggage down the stairs either and she rode the elevator down.
Tourist class room DH7, singlet, deck 22. It was somewhat in the middle of the hall, a rather unassuming door surrounded by other rather unassuming doors, better quality than third class but definitely not the swankiest pad around. Her parents had insisted on paying the extra amount to get her a room to herself. And there it was. Her room, on the Taloran liner heading to Prime itself. It was real. It was really, actually, truly happening. She checked her ticket, punched in the code on the buttons on the wall, and pulled the lever to the door. It opened, and she entered.
She had not slept well on her last night on the elevator. Tandi had been too excited and nervous to sleep. Then she had spent all day in a constant state of stress, tiring herself out. Once she had stepped in her little room, dropped her bags on the floor, and made a quick inspection of her surroundings (toilet-equivalent, check; nobody else, check; bed, check), she popped off her shoes and crawled into her bunk. It was just to rest for a moment before unpacking, she told herself. Just a moment. And almost immediately she dozed off.
“Your attention, please!” Tandi bolted up at the announcement. The intercom continued, “The ship is now departing. Our next destination…”
Tandi didn’t hear the rest of the announcement. She was too pleased to listen since she could finally relax. Even if she wanted to, there was no turning back. She had passed the Point of No Return.
And then, she went back to sleep.
Posted: 2007-09-04 05:31pm
Chapter 4: Potty Humor
Words of Wisdom from Mama:
1) Don’t plant tomatoes before the last frost.
2) There are billions of fish in the dating sea.
3) Whenever you find yourself in a new place…
“…Make sure to find the bathroom first! Aaaugh!” Tandi rounded a corner, only to find herself still lost and not any closer to a human-usable toilet. “I know Mama! I know!”
3e) …especially if you eat at a restaurant and accept its offer of free unlimited drinks.
The English translation of the restaurant had been “Tasty Gruel.” It said so on the sign and in the ship’s guide. It was also listed as one of the places that would accept a tourist class meal ticket. Tandi’s Taloran wasn’t perfect by any means of course, but she could read it passably and could tell that the restaurant was actually a café that served soup. It was very good soup, in fact, and it let her test out the enzyme supplements as well as her Taloran some more.
No one yet had made any comments about her grammar and accent, including the Talorans who were working there. That had been a bit of a shock to her as well. She knew that they weren’t all nobles who ruled the stars and they had their working class schlubs as much as any other species, but at some level she’d absorbed that popular image of them as all being snobby rich ruling folk. Even though Hilamhsi and her mothers seemed to be much more informal than she was expecting. They could have been minor scions of a poor noble family, right?
At any rate, it was possible that the workers had liked her for treating them like they were big important ruling folk. That could explain why she got a free extra bowl of soup. Also the free refills of a wonderful beverage Tandi had just discovered: voli. But she only drank a few cups. Several. Many. Baker’s dozen. That, combined with the two bowls of soup…
“GAAAAAAH!” Of course she had to leave the map in her room. Of course Murphy’s Law had to kick in with every corridor being the wrong one. A directory or computer console could probably lead her somewhere correctly, but Tandi had no idea where one was. She had no idea where she was, either. The walls were starting to look grimier and here and there pipes and cables could be seen jutting out.
Unknowingly, she had passed through an opened door into forbidden crew-only areas in the bowels of the ship. The door had been left opened so some of the crew could move some large equipment for maintenance. People were passing through every few minutes, and for over half the time someone wearing a grimy coverall would have been nearby to shoo Tandi away (and tell her how to get to a bathroom). She somehow managed to slip through during a window when everyone was gone, plus she missed the dirty sign with the Taloran equivalent of “Authorized Personnel Only” written on it in large characters.
In only the space of a few minutes, Tandi was disoriented and lost somewhere in the maintenance areas of the ship. Every turn looked the same, but her bladder would not allow her to stop and think for a bit about where to go. She briefly considered relieving herself in one of the greasy corners, but since she did not know what kinds of chemicals they used in the ships and what everything was, she thought better of it. Better to hold it in a bit longer than to blow herself up accidentally.
Geez, how is it that no one is around? Shouldn’t this area be crawling with crew members? Tandi decided to run to the first person she could find and get directions out. She began to mentally rehearse the excuse she was going to give, probably while she jumped from one foot to the other in agitation.
Thump, thump, thump, thump.
Heavy footsteps at a distance. They seemed to be coming from one corridor. Footsteps meant a person, and a person meant a possible way out. Tandi hurried down the corridor. The footsteps became louder, and after turning a corner, Tandi finally found someone. A Jikar, a crewmember too, telling from his coverall. She stopped and leaned against the wall, trying to remember her excuse while catching her breath and holding the flood back. The Jikar just looked at her for a long moment.
This particular Jikar was the type of person about whom people say, “bless his heart but he’s dumber than a sack of door-levers.” He got the job on the ship because one of his brothers worked in the company and got him a position doing menial labor. He could lift heavy things and handle tasks that were simple for a sentient being but difficult to program into a machine, and that was good enough to cover his pay.
He had heard reports that a little Taloran girl had gone missing, and he joined in the search for her. While most other people were covering the passenger areas, he had decided to go searching in the crew-only areas. In addition, he had very little previous contact with humans before, and thought that all humans had dark brown skin and hair. This little creature had much lighter skin and colorful hair. It was small, but children are small. Therefore, this must be the missing girl. He’d found her!
In his best Taloran, he carefully pronounced, “Little Girl!” It came out far more aggressively and threateningly than he intended or thought.
Tandi did what any sane person would do when an eight foot tall hexapedal coyote began acting belligerently towards her: she ran like hell.
The Jikar crewmember saw her turn and flee and chased after her. He tried to think of ways to make a little child some to him. “Little girl! I have treats!”
Tandi remembered the videos she had seen as a little girl about not talking to strangers. Her mind, unbidden, imagined an eight foot tall hexapedal coyote…she ran faster.
The Jikar was gaining on her. The passageway was narrow and low for him but not enough to really slow him down. Tandi saw a narrow side opening and slipped through between two metal tubes. She climbed up and around more plumbing, looked back to see the Jikar trying to squeeze between the tubes, then scanned the area for an exit. She spied a grate that looked to be covering something just large enough for her to fit into. A ventilation shaft? Some badly thought out emergency escape? Whatever it was, she was able to pull the grate off easily and wiggle in. It was filthy, but there was a light at the end (what is it with me and lights at the ends of tunnels, anyway) and there was no possible way her pursuer could possibly follow her.
When she crawled to the other end and pushed out the grate there, she heard some sounds from behind her. She fell out into another nondescript maintenance area and looked back. A massive arm was clawing at the walls while the Jikar yelled down the tube, “Little girl! Little girl! Come back!” Tandi walked away, brushing away the dust and grime from her clothes. Her pants had an odd moist streak…and she realized that her bladder was not full to bursting anymore. Oh, come on. Of all the things…
Now, she was completely lost in the bowels of a massive interstellar ship in an area she was not allowed to enter in the first place. Also she was filthy and smelled bad. Somehow she had traveled that whole distance before without seeing a single person besides that one scary Jikar, and now she could hear voices and action in the corridors around her. Some of the voices were coming closer and getting louder.
Get caught, have to explain why I’m filthy and deep within the unauthorized areas of the ship. Hide, don’t get caught, maybe escape before they catch me. Or maybe hide until I’m too hungry to care about being in trouble or not. Hiding it is. She scrambled behind some nondescript containers and waited for the people to pass for a few long minutes before slipping back out and going in the opposite direction.
Around an hour passed, an hour of ducking, dodging, and scrambling behind whatever Tandi found to be most convenient. She could not remember anything well from her previous scurrying and nothing looked familiar at all. Everything looked generally alike, but that of course only made things worse. For all she knew, she was going around in circles, getting dirtier each time.
Sobbing. Tandi could hear the faint sound distinctly. It sounded like a little girl sobbing to herself. Curious and with nothing better to do, she followed it. She crawled into a nook made by a pile of crates and a huge pipe that smelled faintly of sewage and found the source of the sound.
She was oily and filthy too, like she had also been crawling around in the area, and she had been crying for a while. Hilamhsi pushed back a sniffle. “Tandi?”
“Yes, it is I. Why are you in this place?”
“I was-I was playing a game, ‘cause Teacher said if I got all my work done we could play a game. So we were playing, and I had to hide, so I got in this big box I saw ‘cause I could fit inside around the stuff there, but then the box started moving and all these people were talking and I got really scared. I didn’t say anything, and then the box stopped moving and it was all quiet and I got out but I was in here somewhere and I’m lost and I don’t know what to do.” She looked at Tandi with her big, amber eyes. “Could you please help me, Lady Tandi?”
“I am not a lady, in truth, but of course I shall help you” Tandi said. She reached into her pocket and found a napkin from the restaurant that had, amazingly, not fallen out or gotten utterly filthy. “Allow me to clean your face.”
“I got it,” Hilamhsi said, taking the napkin and wiping her nose and eyes. She smeared a lot of the grease and grime around too, but she did look marginally better afterwards. Having a friendly face there helped. She had stopped crying. “How’d you find me?”
“I heard you crying and came here to investigate.”
“Were you looking for me? Is everybody worried?”
Tandi thought of that Jikar. “I think so. Everyone wants to know that you are safe. I, however, erm, umm, was also lost. I was trying to find a toilet.”
Hilamhsi giggled at the thought of Lady Tandi getting lost while trying to find a bathroom. Tandi thought the giggling was a good sign. At least she feels better. I guess I should find some worker now to get us out of here. She held out her hand. “Come, now. Let us leave from here.” Hilamhsi took her hand, and they started walking. Tandi still didn’t know where they were going, but if she looked confident then Hilamhsi wouldn’t worry, and they would run into someone soon enough. And within moments, some voices could be heard down the corridor, coming closer.
“But really Dhemalvas, we shouldn’t leave those access doors open so often. It’s not just regulations. People could wander in.”
“I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter. No one’s actually dumb enough to come in here if we leave the door open a few seconds, and it’s a lot easier than punching in the codes while we’re bringing in another huge load…who’s that?”
The two crew members saw a grimy human girl waving at them as she held the hand of a grimy little Taloran girl. They could tell the difference only by the ears and the human’s lack thereof. When Tandi came close enough, she grinned, even though she had missed the conversation, and said, “I believe you had a missing girl, and she needs to get back to her mothers.”
The junior officer had been chosen for the ridiculous situation because he had learned several human languages, including English, during an extended stay in the colonies. This human girl Tami Davis who was calling herself Tandi insisted that she could speak good Taloran, but the people up top wanted to make sure they got to the bottom of it. He looked up from his pad at her. Someone had kindly thrown a mat over the chair and tied some bags to her feet so she would not get everything filthy at she walked around and sat down.
“Allow me to repeat all this so I make sure I have this correct. You had to urinate, and while running around searching for a restroom, you somehow wandered into one of the internal maintenance areas. As this compartment is not a large one, presumably you wandered around in circles for an hour. After that, you got chased by a Jikar, whose name I will keep private but I assure you he meant no harm, escaped through an empty emergency wiring duct-” So that was what the pipe was! “-and then wandered around in circles again until you heard the girl Hilamhsi crying. You found her, lead her to some crew members whose negligence apparently lead to both of you getting caught in the compartment in the first place, and then they called their superiors to figure out what to do. Is that everything?”
“I think so, sir,” Tandi said. “If I may ask, how is Hilamhsi?”
“She is perfectly fine. We have already released her to her mothers to get washed up. They send their thanks for finding her.”
“Oh good,” Tandi said. “So, umm, what about me, sir?”
He twisted his ears sardonically for a moment and then turned to a slightly amused tilt. “You did break several rules, but this was your first offence, and since you did find the missing girl and all turned out well in the end, thank Farzbardor, we’re going to let you go with a warning this time. This had better not happen again.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll be careful about what doors I enter for now on.”
The junior officer obviously had quite a bit of experience with humans, because as his ears turned in a wry manner, the corner of his mouth moved into a wry smile for her benefit. “One last thing before you leave.” He touched the panel and a simple symbol appeared. “For future reference, in this ship and in many places in the empire, this is the symbol for a restroom.”
“THAT is the sign for a restroom? Those are all over the place! I passed five of them while I was running around.” Oof, I was looking for the actual word and I passed by their equivalent of the little woman and man picture.
“Yes, I am sure that you did.” He rose from his chair. “And next time, Ms. Davis, use some common sense.”
Posted: 2007-09-04 07:05pm
First comment! I love the story, slice of life pieces are a refreshing change of pace compared to epic warfare and noble maneuvering.
Posted: 2007-09-06 10:56am
Chapter 5: Hair Dye
The black roots of her hair were starting to show. With the violet dye still being a bit dark, it wasn’t too visible, and Tandi could probably get away with not dyeing her hair for another week or two before it was truly necessary. Might as well now, though. She set up the sink and picked out her supplies from the shelves.
* * *
“Aren’t you all prettied up? You wanna be a whore for the elf fags?”
“She’s gonna be some queen’s bitch pet!”
Ah, high school, the worst system ever conceived of and adopted for educating the youth and ensuring that they were still emotionally and mentally stable afterwards. Much of the United States, such as they remained, and even parts of Mississippi were starting to move away from them to other systems, but the backwoods were always resistant to change, especially when change was good.
“Faggot bitch! You’re going to hell with the rest of them!”
Tandi smirked. “You mean the winning side? Because Farzbardor would totally kick your false god’s ass! And Valera is way cooler than Jesus.”
“But He’s the SON of GOD!”
“A hippie son who was born after your god raped a virgin, assuming he even existed. Valera was a real person.”
Privately, Tandi didn’t believe that Farzbardor existed either or that Valera was his Sword or anything like that. But she was certainly a historical figure and a kickass one to boot, so the Farzians definitely won the battle of coolness in religion. And for that she found herself in the principal’s office.
The principal had a look of consternation on his face as he looked over her. “Do you, well, are you really a believer in Farzbardor?”
“Well isn’t that a personal question. What if I do?”
“Oh, nothing. I wanted to make sure.” The attachment where his artificial leg met his body twinged annoyingly. He might spend his evenings in the local community lodges, retelling the heroic tale of how he fought the Talorans back twenty years ago and lost his leg in glorious battle, but now nothing scared him more than the thought of one of them actually coming to Mississippi. He’d lost, but he could keep his scrap of pride in thinking that King George the Something-th wasn’t ruling him and that he would probably never, ever, ever see another Taloran in real life again. And nothing would bring down their wrath so quickly as one of their converts getting dragged behind a truck. He shooed Tandi out of his office and as soon as he knew that she was out of earshot, he began his series of frantic calls.
As she walked down the hall back to the classroom, Tandi grinned and swished her chin-length, newly dyed hair. It was an iridescent violet, bold and shining under bright light. In low light her hair probably looked like a greasy black but she thought the tropical-bird-in-sunlight effect more than made up for it. Earth’s mammals really got screwed in the color department she noted as she glanced out a window. One of the vice-principals had set up a bird feeder on the tree. A male cardinal, bold red, was hogging one side of the feeder and chasing away a goldfinch, yellow and patterned, that also wanted some sunflower seeds. A grackle, common as could be, was preening on a branch. The sunlight fell directly on him through a gap and instead of appearing black as usual, it appeared just as iridescent purple as Tandi’s new hair color. There were rumors that someone’s escaped parakeet, green and blue, was visiting feeders and gardens in the area. Colorful birds, named for their colors. Purple finch. Green heron. Bluebird. Heck, birds of paradise. Peacocks! Resplendent quetzals! Elegant trogons! Why be a dull mammal, a scurrying black rat, if you could at least be an iridescent grackle? Just as common, but much more colorful. Everyone can’t be a parrot but why not try to at least be better?
Tandi returned to the classroom and then to her seat in the back of the room. She hadn’t been banished there; the seats in the back were the best. From there, she could yell out answers and make the whole class have to put up with her. They would ignore her if she was in the front. Also this way, she could watch all of them and they couldn’t do something to her behind her back, like dump things in her hair. Jen Banks had bleached her hair once, just going from mousey-brown to blonde, and some bullies had poured glue and ink in her hair in the middle of class for it. People were supposed to stay “natural” or something. And they got away with it, too.
It was actually her Taloran language class. The school offered it because it was required to have it, but students were not required to actually take it; they could substitute another foreign language for it. Usually they took French. Everyone hated the Mexicans again for taking back part of the southwest and going imperial, but the French had fought back. They’d gotten slaughtered, but dammit, at least they’d fought back! But even with the three-fourths empty room, Tandi still sat in back. Safer that way, especially with the belligerents in the room.
About half the students would have taken French if it wasn’t for a schedule conflict. Weight training or home ec, mostly. Most of them didn’t want to be in the class. Only Tandi and this one other guy had any interest in actually learning the language rather than just sliding by because of requirements. And Roddy did it because he’d been Called to be a Missionary to the Heathens and wanted to convert the Talorans to his breakaway evangelical Baptist sect. Breakaway because they believed that Talorans were actually people who could actually be converted and weren’t Satan’s spawn or demons. They were a rather liberal and open-minded sect like that.
The teacher was a timid little woman who’d been required to learn Taloran at her teacher’s college and now taught it since she could not get a job teaching any other subject. Really, she would have preferred to finger-paint with preschool children, and it showed in her voice. She spoke with the dreaded Kindergarten Teacher Voice, the patronizing falsetto for chastising stupid kids who wanted to hog the crayons. It was the exact opposite tone she needed to handle the class.
“Let’s try this again, class!” she said, as if trying to get them to join her in a sing-along. “Roddy, you and Hulon can start on the third conversation!”
Roddy started, in badly accented but technically correct Taloran. “A good day to you, honorable sir. May I ask if you know the time?”
Hulon was supposed to respond with, “Yes, it is ten in the morning,” or a variant of it. Instead, he mangled the tones and the pronunciations, making it sound like the bastard love-child of a mumbling hillbilly politician’s speech and a Russian sexy phrasebook, the part with all the things to say when in a twisted fetishist orgy. In Taloran, it was complete gibberish, and only the fact that they were basically speaking from a script gave hints at what Hulon was actually supposed to say.
Tandi sighed and put her head down.
“Now Hulon, we’ve already talked about how important it is to say the tones correctly. It’s just like Chinese, where a different tone can completely change the meaning.”
“I ain’t talking no ching-chong Chink talk,” Hulon spat.
“Cummah es-tus, YOU-stid*,” said Tandi, without raising her head, just loud enough for the class to hear.
“You say that to me, fag bitch? You wanna suck my cock, fag?”
“Hulon! That’s very dirty language and we will not use dirty language in here!”
“Actually, I think the term is ‘carpet munching,’” said Roddy. “It’s what the Taloran women do during their secret religious rites.”
“Yeah, fag! Come munch on mah carpet! I’ll show you how a real man does it!”
For once in their lives, Roddy and Tandi laughed at the same thing. The teacher just called the principal over the intercom.
The next class was Biology. Tandi loved the subject but hated the class. She half suspected that the teacher was an old-school creationist but it probably wasn’t true, completely. This teacher was at least smart enough to keep her beliefs to herself. This one history teacher hadn’t been so intelligent, and now he was at an unaccredited private religious school, getting paid in room and board.
Tandi went to her seat in the back of the room.
“Today, we’re doing our survey of exobiology as the state mandates. This will be on the test, so pay attention. Has everyone turned in the pre-reading for Chapters 21 and 22? I see Tammy came dressed for the class.” The class turned around to see Tandi and her newly violet hair. She scowled.
“My name is Tami, not Tammy, but I go by Tandi, like I said the first day and every day after that.” The biology teacher wanted to say something to her, but the principal had already talked to her before class about not insulting the Farzian convert. She continued.
“We’re taking a break from studying Earth life today and talking about biology on other worlds. Some of them, like the simple microbes on Enceladus and Venus’s atmosphere, are just like us…yes, umm, Tami?”
“They’re not ‘just like us.’ They have a common origin with us but have diverged significantly. The ones on Enceladus even use different amino acids.”
“The book says they’re similar.”
“One, similar does not mean the same. Two, the book is wrong a lot.” Tandi tapped her computer, a sleek, flat keyboard with a small holoprojector for viewing. She brought up the biology textbook file and showed her own personal annotations to it. “I’ve found, let’s see, twelve flat-out errors and fifty-eight partial errors.”
“If there are so many errors, why haven’t you told me?”
“I did. I sent several emails to you after you told me to stop disturbing the class.”
The teacher wanted to tell her to stop disturbing the class again, but again, nobody wanted the Taloran overlords coming down and taking them all away. She had just bought a house, too. She started again.
“Well, the ones of our own solar system are similar to us, but Taloran biology is completely alien! Yes, Tami?”
“Actually, all things being considered, they’re pretty similar too. They’re probably closer than the microbes on Venus, really, and they’re a lot closer than a lot of the other species out there, too. Why aren’t we studying any of those? Why a whole week on Earth plant structures without even mentioning that you can have plant-analogues that have completely different structures? Bubbleweeds, for instance…”
The biology teacher was getting frustrated. “We’re doing this by the book.”
“There’s more than one biology textbook out there. You could get a better one and then teach from it.”
“OUR life is closer by and more relevant, which is why we mostly cover it and why we have a book that reflects our life.”
“What do you mean, ‘our’ life? It isn’t a matter of us vs. them, Earth vs. Talora. There’s a LOT of possible biological systems out there.”
Warnings from the principal were now completely forgotten and thrown to the winds. “If you’re so interested in it, why don’t you just move there?”
* * *
“There, all done!” she said to herself as she admired her handiwork. She might be a little too short and chubby to actually pass as a Taloran, but her hair was colored nicely at least. It was getting long, too, past her shoulder blades now. I wonder if I brought enough dye concentrate with me. I’ll be using a lot when my hair grows out properly. Then, with a shrug, she started putting away her kit.
*”Cómo está usted”, butchered nearly as badly as Hulon butchered the Taloran phrase.
Posted: 2007-09-08 08:32pm
So this is a universe where Earth got taken over by aliens, right?
Tandi's got pretty much the same psychology as an early twentieth century African Europhile, from the sound of it.
Posted: 2007-09-08 08:48pm
Not quite. The evil fascistic government on Earth declared war on the colonies and tried to wipe them out, who then appealed to the Talorans. The Space Elves, being feudal monarchists, came in, overthrew the government, and installed monarchies all over the planet (they live for very long, so the few centuries between the early 20th century and the time of the story happened within the lifespan of one generation), since for them, they were deposed only recently.
Or so I gather.
Have a very nice day.
Posted: 2007-09-09 02:49am
I meant the comments about the inferiority of human appearance, the hair-dying etc. It really reminds me of blacks who would use skin creams to lighten themselves and artificially straighten their hair. The historical circumstances may be a bit different, but it's not hard at all to see parallels in the psychology.
Posted: 2007-09-09 02:51pm
Tandi is an example of The Lost Generation, broadly, of terran youth, those born shortly after the occupation and the Great Revolt. Generally they congregate in cities, however. Basically, human children who are raised disaffiliated with humanity because of their parents' experiences under the UTHP and who are influenced by natural rebellious impulses to identify more with the Talorans. Talorans, not showing any particular racism, do not expect such conformity, but conforming to Taloran beauty norms is appreciated because otherwise to them humans can be somewhat creepy, having the body shape of Talorans but being to fat, and possessing the wrong characteristics and emphasis on characteristics. Humans can't help the lack of prehensile ears used for communication enhancement, but growing one's hair long and dying it and wearing coloured contacts makes Talorans feel more comfortable. And losing weight.
The lost generation is not important yet, but is becoming that way, especially with the brain drain with Earth which is resulting by the very sophisticated technical institutes of the Empire attracting the best and brightest of Earth.
All the human states have extremely broad-based autonomy, and only a small part of the Arabian peninsula is held directly by a Taloran noble, with an insignificant human population.