Copyright 2000 by Paul S. Gibbs. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, reuse, reposting or alteration of this work, without the express written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited.


Volume Two

August 22, 2380--In transit, aboard SDS Matriarch

I made a new friend today. She's very nice--but apart from my bond-mate and his sister, she is without a doubt the most unusual Sah'aaran I've ever met.

After breakfast I went exploring--which didn't take long. Captain Ehm'aasfah let me have a very brief look at the Control Deck--as long as I kept quiet and didn't touch anything--but I wasn't allowed to see either the engine hull or the weapons-control room. Which is just as well, I guess: Tom would have been fascinated, but spaceship operations aren't exactly high on my list of major turn-ons. As long as a ship gets where it's going, I don't care how.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot else to see, except for sickbay, the dining hall and the rec room. I hope I never need to get a closer look at sickbay --but the other two are destined to become extremely familiar. They're pleasant spaces, quiet and nicely-decorated; but because they're so deep within the hull, neither one has windows (or portholes, or whatever the proper spacefaring term is.) By the time we reach Sah'aar, I'll probably have memorized--and come to loathe--every painting, holo, tapestry and rug. Oh--there's also a shrine, of course, but it was in use when I passed. I'll probably have to wait until the middle of the night to see it.

Except for the crew, there are only about two dozen people aboard--all of them either much older or much younger than me They're all Sah'aaran, and with one exception, all connected in some way to the Embassy: staff members and minor functionaries mainly. Some of them I've met, at various receptions and whatnot; but I can't say I really know them. They're headed to Sah'aar, either on vacation or because they've been reassigned, and most of them have their mates and kits with them. And that's why I don't want to get too friendly, if I can help it: I've had enough of baby-sitting to last a lifetime--or at least until Tom and I have kits of our own.

I didn't feel like sitting in my cabin watching the walls close in, so at the end of my abbreviated tour I made my way to the rec room. And there, to my extreme surprise, I found someone almost exactly my own age.

The place was fairly crowded--nobody else wanted to stay in their quarters either, I guess--but she caught my eye immediately. She was curled up on a big chair in the far corner, reading, her nose almost literally buried in her palm-reader. Her coloration was pure Sah'salaan--golden-brown fur and reddish-orange mane, done up in a long thick braid--but it was her clothes that attracted my attention. Not a day-robe--not at all. She wore close-fitting, calf-length pants, dark-green in color, a short-sleeved, open-necked white shirt, and a multicolored vest that appeared to be hand-woven. Her collar matched the vest. I noticed too--with a little burst of smug satisfaction that shamed me even as I felt it--that her ankle was bare.

I couldn't resist: I simply had to know who she was. I crossed over, ignoring the silence and the stares that (as always) followed me. She didn't seem to notice me , so I cleared my throat softly. "May I join you?"

She looked up, and I had to bite my lip to stifle a giggle. She had the most interesting facial markings I'd ever seen: wide, thin-walled black circles around her eyes, which made her look exactly as if she was wearing a pair of big round-lensed spectacles. Her ears were tipped with black too, but that's not uncommon.

She looked startled--which isn't unusual either--and I smiled. "Hello," I said. "I'm--"

"Ehm'tassaa," she said flatly. She had a strange accent, and she spoke slowly, as if she wasn't comfortable with our native language. "Daughter of Junior Ambassador Sah'churaaf and Dr. Ehm'varra. Bond-mate of Thomas Sah'surraa Abrams, son of the legendary Commodore Ehm'ayla."

"Impressive," I said, as I took a chair across from her.

"My job," she said proudly. "I'm a journalist." Her whiskers drooped. "Well, a journalism student, anyway." She shook herself, and smiled. "Sorry--I'm forgetting my manners. I'm Ehm'murra."

"I am honored," I said formally. "Journalism, eh?" I decided against telling her my father's opinion of that profession. "Text or vid?"

"Text. I've had my byline in the Interplanetary News a few times already." She grinned. "Mostly because my father is the Terran bureau chief."

"You live on Earth, then?" As if I couldn't have guessed…

She nodded. "Born and raised."

"Not San Francisco, though."

"No--Seattle. The precipitation capital of North America." Suddenly she changed languages. "Do you mind? I'm embarrassed to say it, but I'm actually more comfortable with Terran."

"Not at all," I said, switching too. "Mine's gotten better these last two years. Are you traveling by yourself?"

"Yes," she said. "I'm on my way to the homeworld--Sah'salaan U. My sophomore year."

"Me too," I said in delight. "But I'll only be a freshman, I fear."

"I suppose I ought to ostracize you, then," she said seriously. She winked. "Just kidding. Will you be living in the residence halls?"

"No. I've arranged to stay with my bond-mate's grandparents."

Her eyes widened. "The famous Sah'surraa and his mate Ehm'naala; the twelfth-richest people on Sah'aar. That ought to be nicer than the dorms, I imagine."

"Much," I agreed. "What about you?"

She made a sour face. "I'll be living with my aunt and my bratty cousins. I try to spend as much time on campus as I can--and around town."

I chuckled. "So how did you get aboard a diplomatic ship, anyway?"

She smiled and laid a finger aside her nose. "My father has connections. As does yours, I bet."

"Too many, I sometimes think." I paused. "I know we've only just met, but can I ask you a favor?"

"Name it."

"When we reach Sah'aar--would you please show me around the campus? I've been privately tutored for years; I'm a little nervous about attending classes again. I'd like an experienced hunt-leader."

"Glad to," she said. "If you'll do me one in return."


"I want an exclusive interview. You know: what it's like to live in the Embassy, what it's like being a blackfur. That sort of thing."

I hesitated, then nodded. "Done."

She smiled--a little more broadly than most Sah'aarans would. "Thanks," she said. "Dad's always telling me I need to work on my interviewing skills."

"Glad to help," I said. "I couldn't help noticing your outfit…"

She lifted her arms. "You and everybody else aboard this tub," she said ruefully. "My uniform, so to speak. I hate day-robes; I never wear 'em if I can avoid it."

Just like somebody else I know, right? "It looks good on you," I assured her. "Especially the vest."

"Thanks. It's Guatemalan. Mom and I took a trip down there a few months ago. So's the collar." She shook her head. "I did absorb that much Sah'aaran culture, I guess: I'm not comfortable without one. I have no idea why, though. Why in the world should we find it necessary to cover our necks all the time?"

I smiled. "You sound just like my bond-mate. He wouldn't wear one at all--until I made him."

"A male after my own heart," she said. "Too bad he's spoken for."

I showed her my ankle. "He is. Very much so."

She glanced down at her own leg, sans bonding-band, and chuckled. "I'm still waiting on that, I'm afraid."

"--Which is why your parents decided to send you to college on Sah'aar," I guessed.

Her smile widened. "Who says a blackfur can't be smart as well as beautiful? Dunno if it'll work, though. Hasn't so far."

…So anyway, that's how it started. We talked the day away, Ehm'murra and I: all through lunch and dinner, and late into the night. It's well past midnight now, as I write this (oh, all right, "zero hundred hours," if you must) and I'm about to drop from exhaustion. But the time passed quickly--and looking back, I realize that I scarcely thought about Tom at all. Well, no more than once every ten minutes, anyway. Ehm'murra has been all over Terra, and the things she's seen and done make me realize how positively sheltered my life has been. Even Tom and Ehm'rael, active as they are, haven't experienced a tenth of what she has.

So it looks like this trip won't be as boring as I thought. And when I reach Sah'aar, I won't have to depend on trying to find my childhood friends, who'll be the Goddess knows where by now. Ehm'murra is certainly exciting to be around, and I'm sure we'll be spending a lot of time together--if I can keep up with her, that is.

To Be Continued...

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