||THE BARN SAT AT THE EDGE OF A LEVEL meadow, facing the broad,
rich fields, its back to the hill,
house, and landing pad. It was a long, wide building with huge doors
at either end and a roof pitched and curved at
seeming random; during the day its roof and walls of flexible solar
panels darkened as they soaked in the light, and
throughout the night it glowed gently in the reflection of a million
stars. Within, a series of lofts and balconies rose above
the cavernous main floor, connected by swaying rope ladders over which,
on other days, the three Kennerin children
scampered and swung in pursuit of their intricate, carefully plotted
games. Mish Kennerin had seen them as tiny, luminous
figures darting through the dim reaches of the barn, so far from her
that the sound of their voices and the padding of
their feet muted with distance, becoming small, almost subliminal whisperings
in the still air. At those times Mish paused,
almost breathless, her usual resentment of the excessively large building
replaced by a confusion of loss, a sense that the
structure breathed a dark magic which was slowly and certainly taking
her children from her. Uneasy and baffled, she
would blink in the dimness before turning away, often forgetting why
and for what she had come, and stand leaning at
the monstrous doors, caught halfway between the darkness and the light.
Even now the barn seemed to absorb the crowd of refugees, accepting
them into a segregated corner and reserving its
distances for darkness and quiet. Mish stood at the edge of a third-level
balcony, her arms full of blankets, and looked
down at the bright corner of light. What seemed chaos was in reality
an almost shapeless order. The refugees lined up for
the stew and bread which Quilla and Jes ladled from the steaming caldron
or popped from large, cloth-covered baskets;
the few bowls and plates were quickly emptied and handed to those still
in line. Children ran shouting through the crowd,
adults called out over their bobbing heads, babies wailed. It seemed
to Mish that the barn floor below her boiled with an
excess of emotion, a tide of relief. She remembered her own landing
on Terra so many years and lightyears before,
stumbling from the crowded belly of the ship into a winter of inspectors
and hard-faced guards, herded silently through
examinations and searches, separated without explanation into the group
of workers allotted to the Altacostas, the group
to the Karlovs, the group to the Kennerins. But the contrast did not
lighten her mood, nor quell her foreboding. There
were too many of them, too many arms and legs and mouths and feet--so
many fresh and unknown souls that she
shivered unwillingly before moving down the swaying rope ladder, blankets
piled on her shoulders, a small frown between
They had reeled from the shuttles onto alien ground, more than two hundred
of them, plucked by Jason Kennerin from a
world gone suddenly sour, a world soon to die. Carrying their paltry,
miscellaneous belongings clutched to their bodies,
bringing memories of persecution and snow. Their world was dying, their
leaders had abdicated to the realms of insanity;
this much Mish knew, had known when Jason left on Captain Hetch's silver
shuttle, gone to rescue those he could, gone
to make one family's paltry gesture of help. They had expected no more
than fifty people, sixty at the very most; one
shuttle's worth of refugees, one winter's surplus of food and clothing,
no more--most importantly, only fifty new faces,
new bodies, new minds. Enough to handle, enough to understand. After
twelve years alone on Aerie, just Mish and Jason,
Laur and the three children, and the calm, marsupial native kasirene,
Mish's memories of other humans had blurred, until
the crowds of her childhood took on Kennerin faces, and although she
fought against the impression as false, as
dangerous, she had not been able to shake it. The refugees would not
be uniformly brown, Mongol-eyed, thin people.
They would be--what? Strangers. Immigrants. Aliens. And so they were,
more than four times as many as she had
expected, short and fat and thin and dark and light, hair of many shades,
faces in all shapes and sizes, eyes of colors she
had forgotten existed. For twelve years, Jason had been the only tall
one in the universe; now these strangers towered
over her, tired, dirty, broken, gaunt. Yet she remembered where they
had come from, could guess at what they had been
through, and she forced herself to retreat from fear, to remember their
humanity despite their numbers, or colors, or
scents. The rope ladder shifted beneath her feet; she waited until
it steadied, then continued down.
She dropped the blankets into a corner where some few of the refugees
were already curled in the dense, sweet hay, and
she nodded to them in strained friendliness before hurrying along the
edge of the crowd toward the head of the food line.
The voices melted into a continuous, painful cacophony against which
she had little defense. She hunched her shoulders,
slipped through standing and sitting groups, and stopped as she saw
the front of the line. Jes and Quilla stood stiffly,
ladling stew and passing bread, their heads down and their eyes fastened
on the work of their hands. They seemed to
Mish completely rooted automatons--the luminous, enchanted creatures
of the lofts transformed by the pull and press of
the mob. A fierce, protective tenderness rose in her, and she pushed
her way to them, her own uneasiness for the
Jes looked up and tried to smile. His blue eyes were rimmed with darkness
and looked unnaturally large in his weary face.
"I don't think there's going to be enough," Quilla muttered without
glancing at her mother. "We're almost out of stew, and
the bread's about gone." She lifted her head, her face expressionless
"We'll manage," Mish said. "There aren't too many left in line. Where's
"She said the stench was too much for her, and their accents are barbarous,"
Jes said. "She went back to the house."
"Damn," Mish said. This was no time for the fierce old woman to haul
out her genteel upbringing and delicate sensibilities,
but there was no help for it. Mish scanned the barn, looking for her
youngest child. "We'll set up showers tomorrow; she
really shouldn't have left. Where's Hart?"
"Probably home with Laur," Jes said. Mish put her arm around him as
"You go on home, Jessie. I'll take care of this."
Jes looked at her with gratitude and ran, not through the crowd to the
nearest door, but into the darkness of the unused
portion of the barn. Mish watched him, wishing that she, too, were
taking the long, quiet way home. Quilla continued to
ladle stew, her face once again turned away from the people. Quilla
had been two when Jason and Mish left Terra. Jes
and Hart were born on Aerie, and had never seen humans other than the
family and Laur; Quilla probably could not
remember the crowds of her birth-world.
And I forgot to worry about that, Mish thought wearily. No help for
this, either. She touched her daughter's cheek, in love
"Can you last it out a bit more?"
"I guess so. I'm tired."
"I know. I'll take care of this. Can you go up to the storage loft and
see if there are any more blankets, anything we can
use down here?"
Quilla managed a smile. "Sure. The third loft? Is anyone up there?"
"No. Bring the stuff down by the door. People should be able to find
Quilla gave her mother the ladle and slipped away, going as her brother
had into the far emptiness of the barn, and Mish
knew that her daughter would follow a maze of ropes and balconies,
finding solace in the quiet darkness. Mish ladled stew
until the caldron was empty, then raised her head. A gaunt, determined
man stood before her and thrust a bowl at her
"I want some more," he said harshly. "That crap you gave me wasn't enough."
"There'll be more food tomorrow. The stew's gone."
"I want more now. I'm still hungry."
A hand appeared on the man's shoulder. "We're all still hungry, Gren,
but we'll last. Calm down."
Mish looked at the speaker: a gray-eyed young man with a flute tucked
under his belt, pale yellow hair matted and dirty
around his face, torn clothing, bare feet. As alien as possible, yet
he smiled wearily at her and took Gren by the arm, and
Mish felt a tide of amity and of relief.
"Come on, kiter," the young man said. "You've had a bowl."
"He's had two," a child said importantly. "I saw him. He's already had
Gren jerked away, flung his bowl on the ground, and stalked into the
crowd. The man picked up the bowl.
"I'm sorry Gren was nasty. He lost his family on NewHome, and it's made
him worse than usual."
"It's all right." She took the bowl and held it, then dropped it into
the empty caldron. "I'm Mish Kennerin," she said, not
knowing what else to say.
"I know. I'm Tabor Grif." He smiled at her until she smiled back and
her shoulders relaxed.
"I guess we're all a bit tense. We weren't expecting quite so many of
Tabor shrugged. His smooth, pale face darkened momentarily, and he touched
his flute. "Your husband's a remarkable
man. We were going to die there, in the camps. Many of us already had."
He gestured at the barn, the people, the
caldron, at Mish. "It's hard to believe we're here. That we're alive.
That we've eaten. That they won't come after us again
tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that."
Mish touched his arm. "It was very bad?"
"Ask Jason." He smiled again. "But here we are. Can I collect the empty
bowls and put them in the pot? Would that help?"
"Yes." Mish realized that her hand was still on his arm. She stepped
back quickly, smiled, watched him turn and begin
searching through the crowd. She moved away from the caldron. Fewer
people were about and the noise had abated
considerably as the refugees crept into the piles of hay, settled themselves
and their belongings, and slept. Mish walked
slowly, looking for Jason.
Eventually she found him directing the placement of more hay in the
sleeping areas, and she stood silent, watching the
shift of his muscles under his light suit. Save for the brief embrace
at the landing field, they had barely seen or spoken to
each other during the long evening. He reached forward to grab a bale
from the pile, turned with it, put it down, raised an
arm, called something; the barn blurred until he moved in her vision
against a backdrop of running darks and lights, and
when he glanced at her she gave him a look of such intensity that he
turned from the work and walked to the barn door.
Together and in silence they crossed the fields, until the sounds from
the barn were muted with distance. Mish lay in the
unmown grasses, suddenly urgent, and pulled him to her.
In the warmth after lovemaking, Mish's unease returned. She collected
scattered clothing and pulled it around them,
and Jason settled his head on her breast and sighed. His eyes closed,
but before she could collect her thoughts into
rationality, he moved still closer and touched her cheek with his fingers.
"I couldn't leave them," he murmured. "They were in a camp, near the
port, so many of them, and bodies thrown outside
the fence like garbage. We had to fight our way out. I thought the
Council would be glad to let me take them, but. . .
Captain Hetch let them all on; he didn't turn anyone back. Oh, Mish,
there were so many bodies on NewHome."
His voice carried pain and fatigue, and she held him tightly. "It's
all right, Jase. They're safe now."
"I don't even know who they are. I just grabbed people, behind me, running,
grabbing people, pushing, and people falling
down in the snow, sick or killed or old, I tried, Mish, but there were
so many bodies." He shivered against her.
"Don't they know about their primary?"
"Maybe. Certainly. They're all crazy there. They don't care. Trying
to make a killing before the killing." He laughed bleakly.
"Too busy persecuting people, killing people until their sun kills
them. Soon, Hetch said. Maybe not soon enough. Their
souls are rotted." Jason put his hand over his eyes, and Mish kissed
his fingers. "So many bodies, Mish. So many bodies,
and so much snow."
He fell asleep, curled as close to her as possible. She held him and
listened to the remote noises from the barn. Two
crescent moons floated overhead, and behind them the innumerable stars
of The Spiral glowed against a backdrop of
black velvet. She wondered what the stars looked like from NewHome,
seen through the cold air of a winter camp. So
many bodies on NewHome: dark, like hers; light, like Tabor Grifs. Old
men. Children. What Hetch had told her of the
purges made no sense--politics, parties, religious convictions, philosophies.
The sun moving toward nova and the climate
of NewHome entering chaos--those were the real villains. Five years
of drought and three of famine, and if the
government of NewHome had any sense, they would have evacuated in the
third year, when the primary shift became
certain. But there was no vengeance to be had on a star, on an atmosphere,
on meteorological conditions, on blight. And
no profit, either. Scapegoats were needed, instant symbols of The Enemy,
symbols which could be broken and
killed--unlike the long dryness, unlike the dying sun. Symbols which
could be looted, could be sacked. Old women.
Children. Snow. The National Confederation of Great Barrier reaching
across boundaries to smite the foe. No wonder the
Council had not wanted Jason to take the people. The Council wanted
revenge, and there is no satisfaction in revenge
enacted on absent parties.
A small, six-legged lizard ran up Mish's arm, stopped, chattered at
her indignantly, and sprang into the grass. One moon
slipped below the horizon, and the other sat directly overhead, so
that the stars of The Spiral seemed to radiate from it.
Mish turned her head, nestling her cheek in Jason's hair, and he moved
in her arms. She closed her eyes. Tomorrow they
could talk about Gren, and Laur, and the food, and they would make
plans to deal with so many people, so many needs,
so much uncertainty. Tomorrow. She deliberately relaxed and tried to
push the worry from her mind, but it pursued her
into sleep and colored her fitful dreams.
HART KNELT IN THE SOFT HAY OF AN UPPER balcony, his hands gripping
the slim railing, and he
stared through the darkness at the patch of light below. The shapes
of the refugees seemed to melt and run together;
they reminded him of the way maggots looked under the translucent skins
of dead fourbirds. Mish moved through the
crowd to Jes and Quilla, and Jason stood near the main doors, talking,
pausing, pointing, walking. Hart tried to watch all
four of them at the same time and trembled, terrified that they would
be absorbed forever into the mass below.
They said it would be different. It was going to be different. He had
expected more Kennerins, more kasirene; people like
the people he loved, aliens like the aliens he had known for all his
seven years, who were as familiar as the shadows in
his room, or the heavy-leaved kaedos on the hills. Not these almost-Kennerins,
odd of speech, dirty, evil smelling, the
colors of the dead. A white man, there, with pale hair; a maggot-man
holding a slim silver rod in his hand. Smile, point,
kill--What did that rod do? Jason carrying a maggot-woman to the straw;
she held a lapful of holocubes, which tumbled
out of her dress and scattered on the barn's floor. Jason put her down,
and she scrabbled weakly at the cubes, started
crying. Jason picked them up carefully and piled them around her, and
she clutched them with pale hands, arms, fingers.
Damp. Sticky. Slimy. How could he touch her? How could they all be
down there, accepting them, talking to them, feeding
them? Hart trembled more violently and his hands tightened on the railing.
Let them go, then. Let them be eaten up.
They hate me. They made it all happen and they hate me.
Heavy, unnatural noises boomed amid the quiet of Hart's barn; alien
boots trod his floors and alien bodies curled into his
hay. The stench of unwashed bodies nauseated him. His knuckles whitened
against the dark wood of the railing and he
shook violently. These maggot-people would steal his island as they
had stolen his barn; they would fill his planet and
cover his meadows, poison his seas and darken his skies, and come for
him, reach their white hands to him, suffocate
him, touch him. Touch him. His muscles locked and he screamed, helpless
to stop himself. The loft rocked under his feet.
Then hands gripped his shoulders and shook him, and through his screams
he saw the face of his sister. Her mouth
moved silently, words drowned in noise. He hungered for the warmth
and protection of her arms, for the comfort of her
voice, but could not stop the high keening, could not unfreeze his
limbs. She stopped shaking him, bit her lip, and slapped
his face, breaking his hold on the railing and breaking the terror's
hold on him. He collapsed onto her, and she gathered
him to her body as he sobbed.
"What's wrong?" she said urgently. "Hart, baby, what's wrong?"
He had no words, and he sobbed more loudly and shook his head against
"Hart? Are you hurt?"
He pointed a shaky finger downward. She craned her neck to look over
the railing and saw only the crowd of tired, hungry
"The people, baby? Is that it?"
He nodded, his sobs lessening. Now Quilla would understand, as she had
understood scraped knees and cut fingers and
nightmares. She would perform a magic equivalent to that of antiseptic,
bandages, and kisses, and make the world right
Instead, she said, with calm practicality, "It's only people, baby.
They won't hurt you. Here, come down with me and you'll
Hart stared at her in shock. Her face seemed to shift, to become briefly
maggot-like. Before the features of his sister
reestablished themselves, he pushed violently from her arms, swayed
for a moment, then kicked her thigh viciously and
fled down the length of the balcony.
"Hart!" Quilla cried, but his single-minded flight did not change. He
leaped at a rope ladder and barely caught it, swayed
precariously for a moment, then swarmed down the ladder out of sight.
Quilla stood gingerly and rubbed her thigh. She
picked up the glow lamp and glanced down the length of the balcony
before turning toward the storage bins.
She did not stop at the outer bins, knowing that Mish would have already
emptied them. Instead, she moved toward the
wall of the barn, skirting bailing ropes and castaway lumber, until
she stood before a large bin almost hidden amid the
barn's detritus. She reached up without looking and hung the glow lamp
on a nail, pushed aside the lid of the box, and
stared within at the stuff of fantasy. A spare piece of solar sheeting
made a spacer's cloak; a tattered red blanket had
dignified the banquets and judgments of monarchs and friends. The jaunty
green hat of a space merchant, the peaked
cap of a Contestor, the epaulets of the Warlord of Saturn V, all made
of twisted and braided grass. Laur's old gowns, now
the vestments of emperors and courtesans, pirates and fools. Crowns,
swords, blasters, shrouds, tents, rugs, all the years
of Quilla's childhood thrown together in a heap of rags and glory.
The muted noise of the refugees and the soft, dark
smells of the barn faded, and Quilla saw magic in the box before her,
the simple sorceries which allowed the figures of her
books and of her dreams to come to life and, briefly inhabiting her
body, and Jes', and Hart's, stalk the narrow
passageways of the barn, living their stories again. Then the noises
from below pressed in on her, and for a moment she
could almost find her way into Hart's pain and terror. She lingered
briefly on a ledge of comprehension and loss before the
magic within the box paled into a jumble of tawdry, stained, and ragged
cloth. She lifted out the canopies of kings, the
shroud of a dead warlock, the rugs from far, imaginary cities, the
tents of nomads, the spacer's cloak, carefully folding the
cloth and piling it on the floor beside her, until all that remained
in the box were a few bits of wood, some shards of
plastic, and the caps of grass. She lowered the lid of the box and
slung the cloth over her shoulder. Picking up the lamp,
she hesitated again, then trudged toward the rope ladder, her weariness
suddenly hard upon her.
She stepped from the swaying ladder and turned to face the crowd, searching
for her father amid the moving shapes.
Eventually she saw him standing near the far wall wielding a pitchfork,
while others collected the hay he tossed to them
and spread it deeply over the hard-packed dirt floor. Already people
curled into the hay, their coats tucked under their
heads and arms over their eyes. One woman lay with an infant held to
her breast; the woman with the holocubes had
spread them around her and activated them, and she slept surrounded
by the pale light of beloved faces. Quilla turned
again to search for her mother, but as she did so, people came to her
and looked at the cloths. She offered them mutely
to the waiting hands, then dumped the remainder by the door and wandered
through the barn, trying to find a familiar
face. Jason climbed from the loft and, leaning against his pitchfork,
watched the spreading of the hay. She took a step
toward him, then he bent to arrange hay and she could not see him.
Her eyes felt dry and her feet hurt. People jostled
against her and, unused to moving in a crowd, she lost her balance
again and again, clinging to the struts and beams of
the barn to keep from falling. She moved without purpose, forgetting
why she was here but knowing that she could not
leave, and the sights and sounds became meaningless. Then a hand grabbed
her forearm briefly and swung her around.
She staggered and held to a beam.
"Girl, give me a blanket."
Quilla faced a young woman, whose age she could not judge, save that
she seemed older than Quilla but younger than
Mish, and it took her a moment to push enough of the fog from her mind
to understand that the woman was talking to
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
The woman looked exasperated. "I said, fetch me a blanket. Can't you
Quilla shook her head to clear it. "They're over in the corner," she
said, trying not to let weariness slur the words. She
pivoted slightly and pointed toward the barn door.
"I didn't ask where they are, stupid!" People gathered around, faces
blank, and the woman flipped red-brown hair from
her face and tilted her chin imperiously. "I want a blanket and I want
it now, so get it! I'm not going to wait all night."
Always remember that you are a Kennerin, Laur's voice said with
calm assurance, and under that Quilla heard Hart's thin
screams of terror, saw Jes' tired eyes, remembered Mish's stories of
a different life on a different planet, saw her father
bow with equal respect to the kasirene in the fields. It seemed to
her that she stepped from her own skin and watched
with amazement as some other Quilla straightened smoothly, set her
hands on her hips, and stared at the woman. When
the words came, they came from someplace Quilla did not know, and she
heard her voice say them calmly and clearly.
"My name is Quilla Kennerin. My family owns this planet. We fetch and
carry for no one. Do you understand?"
"Well," the woman said, the beginnings of uncertainty in her voice.
She suddenly looked much younger than before.
"Do you understand?" Quilla demanded. The girl nodded reluctantly. "Good.
The blankets are in the corner. You may have
one, and not more than one, and you'll get it for yourself."
The girl's hands fluttered as though in protest, then she turned abruptly
and walked toward the blankets. Quilla watched,
still baffled by this wonderful stranger who had taken over her body
and her mouth, and had done the right and proper
thing. The girl selected a blanket. Quilla turned and moved toward
the door, conscious now of the many eyes on her, still
too amazed to glory in her own performance and her own dignity. Then
a tall, pale man with gray eyes touched her arm
lightly and saluted her with his flute.
"Good for you," he said in a low voice. His smile barely creased the
corners of his mouth. "Taine's had that coming for a
She looked at him as though he had just told her that her jeans were
split behind. Her composure vanished. She nodded,
desperately holding on to her dignity, stared at his eyes, turned,
and stumbled and flailed awkwardly as she lost her
balance. He reached for her shoulders and steadied her.
"You must be as tired as I am," he said pleasantly. She gaped at him,
still off balance, and grabbed his flute. Her dignity
shattered totally. She thrust the flute at him and fled through the
door. He caught the flute before it hit the floor and
stood, head cocked, watching her ungainly exit. She glanced back as
she rounded the door, moaned slightly, and rushed
into the night.
He shook his head, amused, and picked up the last empty bowl. He carried
it to the caldron and stacked it atop the
others, thinking about Quilla's eyes. She rides her soul on her face,
he thought, brown and terrified and soft. He slipped
the flute under his belt, then went to find a blanket and a place to
sleep. As he neared the door, he saw Mish Kennerin
and her husband slip into the darkness; sexual tension sang between
them. Brown and soft, and not at all terrified. Lost in
thought, he found a place in the hay, ignored the lack of a blanket,
and stretched thoroughly before turning on his side to
sleep. Despite his weariness, though, sleep escaped him, no matter
how he turned and twisted. He sat and leaned against
the wall of the barn. Lights dimmed around him until the barn was filled
only with its natural luminescence, and in the
semidarkness he slipped his flute from his belt and blew softly, letting
melodies shape themselves in the stillness. The
sounds of people sleeping rose gently through the clear tones, and
Tabor felt for the first time an almost palpable
homesickness. The tall mountains of Great Barrier rose before him,
blackened, majestic, and beloved, and the flat green
rivers of Kilnvale; the high, white streets of Mestican, with their
tinkling fountains and sparkling shops, the cries of birds
he would never see again, resting in the boughs of trees now lost to
him forever. Tabor breathed into the flute and its
music painted the beauty of his homeworld. Hatred, persecution, camps,
and death were forgotten; only loveliness
remained. The flute sang in the alien night.
He felt a gentle rustle in the hay beside him, and when he let the last
note linger and die, he put aside his flute and saw a
young boy sitting nearby, staring with fascination at the instrument.
Even in the dimness his features were instantly
recognizable, and Tabor wondered again at the strong resemblance each
Kennerin had to the others.
"Would you like to see it?" he whispered, holding out the flute to the
boy. The child nodded and with great care took the
flute into his hand.
"It's a flute, isn't it?"
"I've never seen one before. Do you blow here?"
"Yes. I'll teach you how, if you like."
"Could you?" the child said with wonderment, then grinned. "I'm Jes
"I'm Tabor Grif." Tabor offered his hand, and Jes stared at it without
comprehension. "Don't you shake hands on Aerie?"
"There's never anyone to shake hands with." Jes offered his own hand
hesitantly, and Tabor showed him how to lock
thumbs, palm against palm, and press briefly.
"That's all there is to it. I can give you a flute lesson tomorrow,
if you like."
"Why not now?"
"Because in the beginning you'll make terrible noises, and people are
"Oh. Okay," Jes said easily. He gave back the flute, rapidly made a
nest of hay, and slid into it. "Good night."
"Are you supposed to sleep here?" Tabor said.
"Oh, I sleep wherever I want to. I sleep in the barn lots of nights.
You'll get used to it."
"Put a lump of straw under your head," Jes advised. "It's more comfortable
Tabor did so, and within seconds he was asleep, his flute clutched loosely
in his hand. Jes raised himself on an elbow,
reached over, and touched the flute, then slid it next to Tabor's chest.
He touched the man's pale hair and, content, slid
into his own nest of straw. Laur's wrong, he thought sleepily. They're
not barbarians, not if they can play the flute, and
they'll take baths tomorrow after Jason sets up the showers, and I'm
glad they've come, all of them. Aerie is not the only
planet, Eagle not the only sun. There's so much to learn now, he thought
with satisfaction. There's so much new to know.
JASON WOKE GROGGILY AND WONDERED why the snow felt so warm. The
sky through the window
was blue and cloudless and the lace of the halaea's slim branches and
feathery leaves overlaid the blue like a delicate
shadow. He stared at it blankly, then felt a stirring and weight on
his chest and glanced down to see Mish's head cradled
on his shoulder, her arm thrown across his waist, and the tumbled blankets
of their bed piled haphazardly on the floor.
Home, he thought with gratitude and benediction, and let the sunlight
flood his soul. Great Barrier is four lightyears and
four weeks in the past. He brought his arm up to cradle Mish and gently
nuzzled her hair. She stirred against him.
"You're not asleep," he whispered.
He felt her lips curve in a smile against his chest, and he held her
more closely. It was hours past dawn, the morning furor
of the birds had quieted now, the air was still sweet with the freshness
of dew--his world, his fertile black loam, the
upward bending of his halaea tree, the warm body of his wife nestled
against him in the pleasant disarray of his own bed.
Jason was well content. Jason the scholar, Jason the dreamer, had necessarily
slipped into the background years ago,
giving way to Jason the practical, Jason the farmer. But in the quiet
mornings and evenings of his land, a deep, peaceful
joy pervaded him and he looked on the world about him with a poet's
and a lover's eyes, filled with a voiceless singing of
thankfulness and praise. This morning, as every morning for the past
month, the land seemed an especial gift to him, a
personal grace from the universe which took his care and toil and returned
them a thousandfold, returned not only the
bounty of the land, but the land's beauty, something he could never
hope to earn but could only accept with a deep and
He sometimes wondered whether Mish, so small and soft beside him, stopped
in the midst of the fields to look with
wonderment on their world, and although he would have liked it to be
so, he doubted it. Mish, twice an outcast, loved the
land with a passion which he knew to be both deeper than and different
from his, loved it with a fierce protectiveness
which had as its genesis pride rather than wonderment, determination
rather than gratitude, and he could understand
although not share her feelings.
Jason had been born to a world of luxury and unquestioned superiority,
a member of an aristocratic family which had
never left Terra to colonize, and which, along with only four hundred
other families, owned all of the mother world and
ruled it completely. In Jason's world, the lower orders were those
who did not own land; below them were those who had
lost land, colonists returned from failed or failing worlds. From this
scorned and abused class came Mish, born on a world
whose poisonous atmosphere eventually defeated humanity's efforts to
conquer it, daughter of a mining engineer and a
doctor, neither of whom had made it off their doomed planet. Under
the complex, inescapable class structure of Terra, an
affair between Jason and Mish could be tolerated, an infatuation noted
with disapproval, and a marriage considered
almost against the laws of nature. But married they had, too much in
love to consider the consequences, too much in love
to consider their subsequent banishment from Terra as a tragedy. They
took the payoff money from Jason's family and
bought Aerie sight unseen; shipped out with a bare minimum of necessities,
their infant daughter, and Laur na-Kennerin,
Jason's old nurse, who had insisted on coming with them. And they had
set about building a world, an Eden, of their own,
safe from those who would separate them.
Kennerins had lived and worked their lands on Terra since before the
Expansion, with a basic, unquestioned, and portable
security; possession was so natural to them that they never paused
to consider the possibility of loss. Even exiled from
Terra and Kennerin Manor, Jason had taken the security of ownership
with him, and because Aerie was his and his only,
he loved it all the more. But Mish, who had had nothing, seemed almost
to distrust the land, seemed forever ready to
battle those who would take it from her. Had her possessiveness been
any less intense, Jason would have viewed it with
amusement. But he knew that while he would work and fight for his world,
Mish might kill for it, despite her moral
reservations. When they had originally discussed bringing the refugees
to Aerie, Mish insisted that the land remain theirs,
that no title to any speck of it pass to people not in the family,
and Jason had accepted her demand. She had also insisted
that the refugees be treated as equals, that they not be forced into
the same tight, miserable life Mish had lived on Terra;
she feared being either oppressed or oppressor with as much intensity
as she feared loss of her land, and Jason wondered
uneasily which desire was the deeper. But she ran her fingers down
the length of his body, teasingly, and he bent to
cover her mouth with his own. Soon the sheets followed the blankets
to the floor.
"How late is it?" he murmured afterward.
"Almost ai'l," she said, and sat. Her long black hair tumbled down her
back, and the strands of early gray caught and
glistened in the sunlight, bright against her copper skin. She pushed
her locks from her face with slender fingers and
reached for the brush. "You worked until well past v'al last night
and I thought you could use the rest."
Jason stretched slowly and thoroughly. "I should have been out hours
ago," he said with no real urgency. "There are logs
to be brought in today, and we can finish the doctor's house once we
have the lumber. And I promised the kassies I'd
come down and check on the sands."
"Tabor's already gone," Mish said. "And Hirem left for the forest last
night, while you were busy with the forge."
"A musician and a lawyer." Jason grimaced and swung his legs to the
floor. "What good will they do?"
"You can't treat them like children, Jase. They'll learn by doing, just
like a poet I know learned by doing."
"Perhaps. But I didn't expect to cart home a bunch of soft-handed professionals,
that's for sure."
Mish glanced down at her own work-roughened hands, and Jason grinned.
"Always been fond of hard-handed women,"
he said. Mish smiled and twisted her hair into a knot at the back of
her head, so that two wings of dark hair framed her
Oriental face. Jason stopped dressing to watch her.
"Why the knot? You used to let it hang loose."
To his surprise, Mish flushed and turned away from him.
"Someone told me it looks nicer this way," she said. "And it does keep
it out of my face."
"I like it." He pulled his shirt over his shoulders, gave Mish a swift
kiss, and move down the stairs to the kitchen at the
back of the house. Laur gave him a cup of tea and an indignant look
and the two kasirene cooks tittered.
"Well, I'm glad to see you're finally up," Laur said sharply. "It's
past ai'l already, and the people are waiting for you." She
inspected his pants critically. "You've got a stain on your seat,"
she said. "You're as hard to keep presentable as the
Jason grinned and plucked a fresh roll from her hand. She slapped at
his wrist and missed. "Jason Kennerin, I don't know
how I manage. You stop bothering me. I'm not getting any younger."
"Nonsense," Jason said comfortably as he put down the empty cup and
slipped the roll into his pocket. "You'll outlast all of
us, Laur na-Kennerin. Just see if you don't."
Laur sniffed and turned to yell at the cooks, and Jason strode down
the hill toward the city the refugees called Haven.
"City" was, perhaps, too fine a word for the place. Village, Jason thought,
would be more apt, although even that was
stretching the truth a little. Two streets had been laid out, crossing
each other, and land for public buildings and shops
had been set aside at this intersection. Plots of land for houses lay
beyond, mapped out in string and sticks. There had
been wrangling over whose house to build first, and where. Jason had
decreed that the houses of those whose skills were
the most important would be the first built and the most centrally
located. This, in turn, led to acrimony over who was
most valued, and to a certain extent this argument continued, although
considerably abated. The refugees had set to
work eagerly. Doctor Hoku was important, on this everyone agreed, and
the Doctor's house was almost finished, lacking
only some interior work. The Doctor had already taken possession and
set up her surgery, and a stream of wounded
fingers, abraded knees, and sore backs passed under her skillful fingers
as the clumsy professionals of Great Barrier
learned the basics of carpentry, metalwork, milling, and casting. The
old woman treated them all with quick competence
and sarcastic words, and Jason smiled at her as he approached the village.
She stood at the door of her surgery, arms
folded and wiry gray hair plastered with water to her head.
"Dr. Hoku, good morning to you," Jason called. "Idle hands on a bright
"Waiting for the walking wounded," she said. "And better idle hands
than an idle body." She surveyed him thoroughly and
nodded. "Good for you. Procreation's a necessary evil on a new world."
Jason laughed. "Don't tell me how you do it," he said. "I'd hate to
"Probably," she replied calmly, and Jason waved as he rounded the house.
Before him, people swarmed over the skeleton
of a building. Under the direction of the carpenters, who had been
considered lower class on NewHome, lawyer and
accountant and judge and engineer and contestor and fisherman swung
hammers and pulled saws, meekly accepting
orders that issued from the lanky young woman who sat atop the rooftree
with a level in her hand. The intersection had
been turned into a temporary foundry, and here sands from the beaches
and spare metals of almost every description
were dumped into the processor, which then spewed out nails and nuts
and screws and bolts, supplementing the wooden
joints which were carved in the evenings by the glowing light of the
barn. The kasirene had undertaken to keep the
processor supplied with sand, and a constant line of them trudged into
Haven, staring at the construction and the busy
humans. The refugees were distrustful of the tall, four-armed, marsupial
sentients. NewHome had killed its last native
sentients centuries before, and these six-limbed creatures looked dangerous,
they thought. The kasirene, however,
accepted the new humans with their usual combination of taciturnity
and curiosity. Their local population seemed to have
undergone one of its mysterious, random increases, and Jason was pleased.
The kassies worked steadily and for little in
the way of goods, and he needed all the help he could get. He finished
his roll, shook crumbs from his hands, and
grabbed a hammer before swinging himself up through the beams of the
At jev'al the work broke for lunch. Jason climbed from the rooftree
and accepted a cup of soup from one of the refugees.
As he finished he heard a buzzing in the distance, and Jes rushed over
the brow of the hill.
"It's a shuttle!" he shouted. "A shuttle, coming toward the pad! Jason!
A shuttle's coming!"
A quick silence descended as the news spread, and the refugees put down
their cups and stood uneasily, staring toward
the east. Jason quietly picked up his hammer and glanced around.
"Jes, you get the children together and take them to the barn. Take
them up to the lofts and play with them, don't let any
of them leave."
"But why, Jason? What's wrong?"
Jason glanced at his son. "We don't know who's in that shuttle, Jes.
I want the children to be safe."
"But. . ."
"It might be from NewHome," Jason said. "Go on. I'll let you know when
it's safe to come out."
Jes, wide-eyed, nodded and hurried through Haven to the meadow where
the children played. Jason shifted the hammer
from hand to hand.
"I'll go meet them," he said to the refugees. "You get into the woods
until we know what's happening. If it's bad, head
south to the mountains and. . ."
"No." Medi Lount, the sculptor, stepped forward, a wrench clutched in
her pale hand. Behind her, Tabor Grif lifted a length
of pipe and rested it on his shoulder.
"This is our home now," Medi said. "We're not leaving."
"Don't be foolish," Jason said, then Dr. Hoku marched to them. She held
a scalpel in one hand and a splint in the other.
"Quit chattering," she said sharply. "It's coming in fast."
"All right," Jason said. "Stake out the pad, get behind the trees or
boulders, out of sight. If the shuttle's from NewHome,
wait until they come to you; don't go charging them. They'll have weapons
better than awls and hammers." He listened
intently for a moment. "Okay, let's get going."
Within seconds Haven was deserted. As Jason reached the pad, Mish ran
in from the fields, a heavy sickle in her hands.
She looked at Jason's hammer and gestured derisively. Together they
slipped behind the dirt barrier, and the roar of the
shuttle filled the small valley.
Jason stared at the piled dirt, trying not to see the snowfields of
Great Barrier. He listened to the increasing roar, the
sudden, heart-stopping silence as the shuttle reversed thrust, and
the solid, final thunk as it settled to the ground. He
peered carefully around the edge of the barrier. The shuttle's nose
pointed toward him, and he could not see the
Federation registry numbers on its side. Mish slipped between the bank
and his body and looked out over the crook of his
The shuttle's hatch swung out and down, and a figure appeared at the
opening. It stopped abruptly and looked around
the deserted pad, then moved cautiously down the ramp. Jason squinted
against the light, his hands suddenly clammy,
then shouted and threw his hammer to the dirt.
"It's Hetch!" he yelled as he ran down the slope to the shuttle. "Captain
The small, rotund captain stopped at the bottom of the ramp and looked
at Jason, then stared as the refugees appeared
from behind trees and rocks, their rude weapons clutched in their hands.
When he saw the sickle that Mish carried, he sat
slowly on the ramp and put his head in his hands, and when Jason touched
his shoulder, he saw that Hetch was laughing.
MANUEL HETCH BURPED CONTENTEDLY AND patted his round belly.
"Best table in West Wing," he said with appreciation, and Mish smiled
as she handed him a glass of wine. The sounds of
dishwashing floated in from the kitchen. Laur had chased Hart and Jes
to bed; they could still be heard complaining in the
rooms overhead. A small fire filled the room with yellow light, and
Quilla sprawled on the couch, her determination to stay
awake with the adults conflicting with her sleepiness. With Jason busy
in Haven, Quilla had taken over his share of work
in the fields. Her clothes were stained and dirty, and bits of leaves
clung to her hair. Jason touched her hair as he passed
behind her couch, and she smiled at him. He sat beside Mish and looked
around the room at the comfortable, makeshift
furniture and the clean floors of kaedo wood, the curtains of homespun
river willows and the crackling fire, and felt his
unvoiced evening benediction fill his mind.
"However," Manny Hetch said, "this isn't a purely social visit."
Jason spread his hands. "There are no orders now," he said. "I could
fill your ship twice over with the things we need, but
I can't make payments. We've barely got enough to last us through the
"I wasn't expecting orders, not this trip. But you're going to need
things, things you can't make here, and you'll need
more of them than you think. Thought about how you're going to get
Jason glanced at Mish, and she shrugged.
"No," she said. "Some of the people were talking about getting property
or fremarks from NewHome, but now. . ." She
shook her head.
Hetch had been besieged by refugees as soon as they found out who he
was, people who wanted to thank him for their
lives, people desperate for news of home and relatives. Hetch stood
in the clear sunlight of the port and told them.
Confiscation, disappearances, martial law, curfews, rationing of what
little food was available, unseasonable storms, and
the purges continuing. Great Barrier had not connected Hetch with the
people's escape; Hetch had been discreet in his
inquiries. The refugees owned only what they had taken with them. Nothing
more. They listened in silence, and in silence
turned away. Hetch left the pad growling bitterly, but a good dinner
and good wine had restored his usual high spirits.
Jason lifted his own glass and looked at the captain through the yellow
"Forget about NewHome," Hetch said with a trace of his earlier bitterness.
"Nothing's coming in from there."
"We'll manage," Jason said.
Hetch snorted. "Not this way, you won't. You need something to export,
Jase--something that will bring in money from
"What?" Mish said. "We're not set up for mining, and even if we were,
you know that metals don't pay. There's nothing
here exotic enough to create a market. . . no valuable crafts. We've
been through this before, Manny. All we've got is the
foodstuffs you buy from us, and that's barely enough to provision your
ship. This year we can hardly provision ourselves."
"You've got land, haven't you?" Hetch demanded. "Good fertile land
and the climate to grow things."
"Come on, Manny, we can't export dirt."
Hetch grinned. "Nope. But you can export this." He reached into his
belt pouch and removed a small box, which he
handed to Jason. Jason glanced at him curiously, then opened the box
while Mish leaned over his shoulder and stared
down. Quilla opened her eyes and watched from across the room.
Jason reached into the box and removed a fine wire, almost white, which
felt cool and metallic to his fingers. He handed it
to Mish and picked up an amber-colored rectangle. It shimmered in the
light of the fire as Jason held it up. Next was a
gray lump, slightly resilient. Jason's fingers molded it gently and
Mish put her fingertips in the indentations he had left.
Four fuzzy brown seeds. Mish set them carefully at the end of the row
she had made on the small table beside Jason's
chair, and together the Kennerins looked at Captain Hetch with silent
curiosity. Quilla's eyes closed again and she stirred
gently on the couch.
Hetch pulled his moustache and leaned forward to tap the wire. "Best
and cheapest electrical conductor I've found. Won't
rust, won't break, almost no resistance at all. Sells for maybe seven
fremarks the kilo on Althing Green." He tapped the
amber rectangle. "Comes from this. Second stage processing. Orbiting
factories, needs the freefall to come out right.
Crystallize the things, I think. Looks like this"--he tapped the gray
lump--"before processing starts. Raw material."
Mish folded her hands in her lap. Hetch lifted the seeds and spread
them in the calloused palm of his hand. "Zimania
rubiflora," he said. "Native to Marquez's Landing. Grows about one
hundred fifty centimeters tall, about one twenty round.
Bright red flowers, inedible fruit. Yellow. Trunk's about forty centimeters
around, scaly brown bark. You cut the trunk
halfway up and collect the sap. Harden it to this." He tossed the gray
lump into the air and caught it deftly. "Send it to the
orbiting factory and, hey presto, the best conductor in the Federation."
Jason frowned. "Electrical wire from sap? You're pulling me, Hetch."
"Truth and light," Hetch swore solemnly. "They crystallize it and polarize
the crystals. Something like that. I've been using
it for the past ten, eleven runs, and it works beautifully. Cheaper
than metal, easier to store, won't freeze, won't rust,
damn near won't melt, either. And you don't need a lot of equipment
to produce the raw stuff, just good, arable land and
a little work."
"But the factories--" Mish said, and Hetch waved his hand.
"Albion-Drake, over by Shipwright, has a dozen factories begging for
the stuff, they can't get it fast enough. All you have
to do is grow the plants, collect the sap, harden it, and ship it off."
"Ship it off?" Jason said.
"You ship with me." Hetch reached for his wineglass, and Mish refilled
it. "That's my end of the deal. You sell to me, I sell
to Albion-Drake. We both make a good profit. And I'll advance you credit
until the first load's ready."
"How long?" Mish said.
"About four years, I'd guess. The plants flower and fruit after two
years, and you'll want to take seeds from the first batch
to plant out the rest. By the fourth year, you would have enough mature
plants to produce a good harvest, and we start
shipping then. What do you think?"
Jason leaned back and crossed his arms. "Manny, did you steal these
Hetch looked honestly surprised. "Steal them? Of course not. What makes
you think I stole them?"
"Anything this valuable isn't going to be floating around for anyone
to pick up. And Marquez's Landing--"
"Can't even keep up with the demand," Hetch said. "No, it's a question
of where it'll grow. Aerie shows up on my scopes
almost identical to Marquez--the seasons are pretty much the same,
climate's about equal, sunlight, trace minerals. Not a
usual pattern, water-worlds with this sort of primary, this far from
it. My bet's that Marquez and Aerie are the only places
it'll grow. Seller's market. Well?"
"You didn't answer my question," Jason said. Hetch grinned and waved
his arm. Mish took the seeds from Hetch and
spread them over her palm. Jason recognized the look in her eyes. The
back of his neck felt suddenly tight.
"When's your next trip through?" she said to Hetch, without looking
"Four, five swings. That's, what, five months Aerie? Next spring?"
Mish nodded. "If they germinate, if I have growing plants by that time.
She glanced at him, and Jason nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said. "You'll have your answer in the spring."
"Good enough." Hetch stood and stretched, his belly thrusting out before
him. "I've got more seeds in the shuttle, and a
manual for you. I'll bring them in the morning."
He waited until Mish awakened Quilla and sent her up to bed, then said
his good nights and followed her upstairs. Mish
stood by the fire, cradling the seeds. Jason cupped her extended hand
in his own, his dark fingers curving over her amber
palm. The four brown seeds seemed like the heads of nails, binding
the hands together. Mish smiled, and Jason brushed
her hair with his cheek as he turned to bank the fire.
"Jase? I smell something burning."
"The fireplace," he said without turning.
"No, different. Can you--Sweet Mother!"
Jason turned abruptly. Mish had thrust the curtains aside and a sullen
red glow pervaded the room. She opened the
window and acrid smoke billowed past her head.
"The kitchen or Haven," she said. "Get the children!"
The door crashed open as she ran out of the house. Jason stood for a
moment, staring at the seeds she had dropped on
the floor, then turned and pounded up the stairs.