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 Three

September 1, 2380
TO: Mr. Thomas Sah'surraa Abrams (and family)
Pacific Grove, California, Terra
TerraNet ID 47346-XALK-2214

Dear Tom:

Well, here I am in your grandparents' home outside Sah'salaan.

I'd been warned about Sah'surraa--and not only by you--but really, though he can be a little gruff now and then, he's made me sincerely welcome, and he can't seem to do enough for me. (And that reminds me of a story. You probably know that the administration at Sah'salaan University prefers incoming freshmen to stay in the residence halls, unless they have blood relatives in the area, which I don't any more. But when they complained about the arrangement we'd worked out, your grandfather told them "My grandson's bond-mate is not going to sleep in a dormitory!"--and then he threatened to cut off funding for their Literature Department scholarships. Needless to say, they backed down. I've been told that's "typical Sah'surraa.") Your grandmother and your Aunt Ehm'sanzz (your Uncle Sah'sell's mate; I guess you haven't gotten to meet her yet) have been real treasures. They've taken me into their den, as the old saying has it, and they've apparently decided to compete to see which of them can best stand in for my mother. Sah'sell has been wonderful too. When I arrived he took me on a tour of the house, and told me "If there's anything at all you need, don't hesitate to ask." He really meant it, too. I'm already starting to think of them as family--which of course they are, or will be.

Everyone here says to say hello to you, Ehm'rael and your parents--and to tell you all that you'd better be arranging a trip to Sah'aar soon, because--as your grandfather put it--"We're not getting any younger!"

One thing I still can't get used to is the size of this house! Even the living quarters at the Embassy on Terra are nothing like this--and our old Sah'salaan apartment was a hunter's night-shelter in comparison. I expected to be stuffed into a spare bedroom somewhere--but instead your grandfather gave me an entire suite! (Sah'sell says you'll remember it as the rooms your parents used when you were here two years ago.) I couldn't believe it--a bedroom with a huge bed, a sitting room, a private terrace, and a kitchen, all to myself! I've been given the household access codes, of course, and I can come and go as I wish. I'm also welcome to use the family shrine, the library, and all the other facilities. Eating is another thing. Ehm'naala and Ehm'sanzz have promised to keep my kitchen well-stocked, and I can eat there if I choose--but I've been told that I'm welcome to dine with the family at any time. In fact, according to Sah'sell, I'm more or less obliged to join them for dinner whenever I can. I already have, twice now. Based on your description, I expected it to be an uncomfortable experience, and I guess it was--but less so than some of the Embassy dinners I've suffered through, and the food was much, much better.

As I write this it's early morning, and I'm breakfasting on the terrace. I spent the last couple days unpacking, and getting the lay of the land, so to speak. As a kit I never spent much time out on the savanna; we were city-dwellers, and Mother and Father were always far too busy for picnics. It's very beautiful, and very peaceful, out here--but I have to admit I'm looking forward to getting into Sah'salaan proper again. I guess I'm just like your sister, after all: a born mall-crawler.

The weather is wonderful this morning, just the right side of warm, with a nice breeze. There was an exceptionally heavy Interval a few weeks ago, so all the local streams are still running, and the flowers--wild and cultivated--are spectacular. (Ehm'naala says to tell your mother that her roses are doing well, and she hopes Ehm'ayla's are too.) The afternoons can get a little hot, though, and I'm afraid I've already scandalized your grandfather with my shorts and halter--blame Rae for getting me started on that. But Sah'sell just winked and told me not to worry about it--but to make sure to wear a day-robe to dinner. I've gotten too used to San Francisco weather, I guess: even the Second-Summer sun can feel a little intense. Being a blackfur doesn't help, either.

My new friend Ehm'murra should be arriving soon. (I met her on the ship; I'll tell you all about her when I have more time. I hope you and Rae get to meet her soon; I think you'll really like her. If nothing else, you ought to be able to relate to her.) She's going to take me to Sah'salaan U and show me around. I know I'd halfway promised to let Rae's bond-mate Sah'larssh do that…but, well, I think I feel more comfortable with Ehm'murra. She's closer to my own age, for one thing, and while I don't know that we have a lot in common, we do understand each other. We both know what it's like to stand out in a crowd--whether we want to or not. But I don't imagine I have to tell you about that.

Oops--somebody's scratching at the door. Must go.


Well, it's after midnight--again--and I'm totally exhausted, but I had to take a few minutes to tell you about my day.

Ehm'murra arrived as I was writing earlier. I still can't believe how she was dressed--or maybe, now that I've gotten to know her, I can. I wore a day-robe--but not her. She showed up in plaid shorts, a blazing pink T-shirt, a black silk vest and collar--and a hat. Not a cap, like you and Rae wear when you're playing that funny game, but a real, grey, felt hat--I think the Terrans call it a "fedora." With ear-holes, I might add. She even had a card stuck in the band, with the word "PRESS" printed on it in Terran and Sah'aaran characters. She called it her "private joke."

Like I said, I couldn't believe it. I tried to loan her one of my day-robes--we're about the same size--but she wouldn't hear of it. "Since everybody's going to be staring at you," she said, "I might as well give them a reason to stare at me too."

So we went. It's about an hour's shuttle ride from your grandfather's house to the University--but I guess you already know that, don't you? I could wish it was a little shorter, but I suppose I can use the time to study. I'd visited the campus a few times when I was little, when Mother or Father was giving a lecture or attending a reception--but that was a long time ago, and I was seeing the place through a kit's eyes. Now I have to learn my way around--and considering the sheer size of the campus, that could be tricky. Ehm'murra gave me a whirlwind tour--my legs will be sore in the morning--and it turns out that the Journalism building, where she takes many of her classes, is directly across the East Quad from the Linguistics and Communications Department. She took me to the Registrar's office in the Administration Building--and I quickly found out that she's pretty well-known around the University: a definite "local character." Most of my paperwork had already been taken care of--Father's influence--but it never hurts to check. I should be receiving my class schedule in a few days. Fortunately, according to Ehm'murra, incoming freshman have priority in class selection. She, on the other hand, will spend the first week of the semester repairing the damage done by the grazer-headed registration computers. Sounds like loads of fun.

Ehm'murra also showed me the library, the student medical center, and all the other necessary services. And the dining rooms too--or I should say one of the dining rooms. It turns out there's at least a dozen, run by students for the benefit of the various departments. Ehm'murra's favorite is in the basement of the Art building. It doesn't have much of a view, but it's cool and quiet, the paintings on the wall are nice, and the maxigrazer is always fresh and well-seasoned. (It's funny, I guess: Ehm'murra craves excitement, and she loves crowds and conversation--but when she's eating, she wants peace and solitude, just like the rest of us.) She also showed me her favorite places to study, or just to be alone--and made me swear not to reveal them to anyone else. They're mostly tucked in among the Tatak at the edge of the campus, or beside the little artificial streams.

I guess I'm really going on about Ehm'murra, aren't I? I can't help it, though--apart from you and Ehm'rael, I've never had a friend like her. I've never really had the chance to make one--not in the circles my family has always inhabited.

Later that afternoon we took the shuttle into Sah'salaan. The campus was pretty dead--not a lot of interest going on yet, with more than a week until classes start--and I was dying to see the city again. We spent most of the rest of the day--and night--in the Public Market; but you'll probably have guessed that already. I did have a good reason: my wardrobe was a little thin, what with the weight restrictions aboard the Matriarch. And yes, people did stare. A lot. I was about ready to sink into the ground, but Ehm'murra loved it. She insisted on speaking Terran, too, to everyone we met. As your father would say, she's a real live wire. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that she already knew about that coffeehouse you and your father found in the Market--nor that she simply adores cappuccino. "After all," she told me, "I am from Seattle!" Whatever that means…Myself, I stuck with steamed milk.

One thing concerns me about her, though. She didn't say so (not in so many words, anyway) and she changed the subject fast whenever I strayed too near--but I don't think she's very happy with her living arrangements here on Sah'aar. I get the impression she doesn't get along very well with her aunt, her aunt's mate, or her cousins. At a guess, they don't approve of her freewheeling lifestyle. And where have you heard that before, huh? I just hope nothing bad comes of it--she deserves better.

Please say hello to Rae and your parents for me. I miss them, of course I do--but not even a quarter as much as I miss you. I love you more than I can possibly say, and I'm counting the days until we can be together again. I know how much you hate writing letters--but please, let me hear from you soon. Make that very soon.

Your adoring bond-mate,


To Be Continued...

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