12 North Engleston

The bed was soft and warm in the cool bedroom. Zeke was conscious of Elenne's soft skin against his chest and long hair laying on his cheek. Sleeping with someone else so close was easier and more comfortable than he'd imagined.

He'd lain quietly for some time, watching her, when she started to stir. His arms were around her and he squeezed her gently. She turned around to kiss him, then got out of bed to dress.

He got up and started to put on his uniform.

She noticed and said, "It didn't occur to me you wouldn't have a chance to get some civilian clothes. We should go to town first thing and find something. But first, I'll cook your breakfast."

Anyari breakfasts were not much different from the other meals. They were more likely to have meat or eggs, or both, but juice was more common with the dinner meal. Zeke went into the kitchen with her, but all offers of help were laughingly rebuffed.

"I thought Anyar wasn't as stuck on gender roles as Earth," he protested.

"No, but individuals have their own preferences, and we acknowledge that men and women are different. We try to recognize and use the knowledge to make our society more harmonious. Women are more nurturing than men and take more pleasure in doing domestic chores. That doesn't mean all women feel that way, certainly not to the same degree. It's rare now for a woman to limit herself to taking care of a household and doing the 'traditional' domestic tasks.

"Warriors," she went on, "are not always men. There is little social pressure for a woman, or a man, to fit into a specific gender role. Still, more women are doctors and in the medical field. More men are warriors and physicists. But there are male physicians and female scientists, plenty of each.

"And I like to cook. And I enjoy the idea of doing something for you. Your part is to enjoy it," she said with a smile.

She smiled while she prepared the meal and started talking about her life there as a child. A lot of happy times, but everything didn't always go smoothly. Parents and children disagreed, arguments got heated, and sometimes feelings were hurt, no different from Earth.

"You have to have some bad times to enjoy the good," she said. "I guess I don't think things were ever too awfully bad."

He helped her bring the meal of sliced, lightly spiced meat and cheese to the table. They spread the meat and a creamy sauce over toasted bread. Zeke found it good, and somehow vaguely familiar.

The meal was soon finished. He did help by dropping his cups and utensils down a chute, smaller but otherwise not much different than at the Academy.

The rest of the house was quiet as they went out through the living area and up the stairs to the car. The ride into town was much shorter, the car traveling much faster. The roads, though giving the impression of being fine gravel, were as smooth as a highway. Even at the greater speed, the ride in the car, with the windscreen up now, was as pleasant and beautiful as the night before. Now, the view was reduced by the morning fog, but that fog itself gave the forest an eerie beauty.

In town, they stopped at a small shop that was just opening. Elenne took him in and they looked through the store, which catered only to men. He tried on pants and shirts. What didn't fit him, could be easily made by machines in the back.

With Elenne's help, he chose clothes that were most like what he was used to on Earth. Here, the colors ran more to blues, greens, and warm browns. The material was heavier then his uniform, since it was cooler here than down south at the Academy, but he chose some things that would also be suitable for a warmer climate. They had pants that seemed like a softer, dark green denim. The shirts had magnetic fasteners, long sleeves, and, to Zeke's eyes at least, slightly oddly-shaped collars.

He didn't care for the styles. For the first time since he'd started at the Academy, he longed for his jeans and t-shirt. Elenne made sure he walked out attired in something that was a fair compromise between what he was comfortable with and what was common for the area. Touching his comm-bracelet was all he needed to do to pay for them, and he wondered how much he was spending.

"You'll barely notice the amount coming out of your account. Cadets are well-paid and paying for things is more habit than necessity," she said as she picked up a bag.

"Where was everything made?" he asked her.

"The material, and some other components, were probably made in another small town in this general part of the world. The fabrication, what you would call sewing, was all done in the back of that shop. They only keep pre-made items on display so it will look like a shop."

"In large cities," she went on, "some places just measure you with scanners. Machines make the clothes to fit. However, most people don't care for that. They prefer to try them on before they buy, so the measure and make shops have never caught on, though some still continue to try."

They walked down the street where a number of other shops were selling furniture, decorations, and other things for the home.

"Most of these are hand-made, although often with the help of automated machines. Anything more technical is usually ordered and delivered via the service tunnels. Anything you buy here that is too big to carry home is also delivered that way."

A group of small boys was playing in a park as they walked by. He could see them whispering to each other and pointing at him.

Elenne noticed it too and smiled. "Let's sit down for a minute," she said and indicated a nearby bench.

The boys were jostling each other, and it became apparent that they were trying convince one of them to come up and talk to him. Finally, one boy, the smallest, ambled over near them.

Zeke broke the silence, "How are you this morning?" he asked.

"Fine," was the shy reply.

"What are you and your friends playing?"

"Just ball," he answered. "You don't know?"

"I don't know your game or the rules."

"You're Zeke, right? The one who came here from... Earth?" he stammered as he asked.

"Yes, I am. What's your name?"

"Silpen," he responded, "would you like to play with us?"

"Can you show me how to play? I think I played a game something like it on Earth."

The game was simple, something like soccer, with two small goals marked with short posts. The ball had to stay on the ground, and it was smaller than the soccer ball he was used to, but he'd played enough on Earth to impress them with his skill. He stayed and played with them for several minutes, after which he gave Elenne a questioning look. She just smiled and waved for him to continue. Elenne watched and smiled as he teamed with Silpen against the other two.

When he said he had to leave, they sighed, but Elenne came over and suggested that she take a group photo of them. She did, and touched her comm to small bracelets that each of them wore, transferring the image.

"Will you be back?" one of them asked.

"I don't know when I'll be able to. Probably not for some time, but I will try. If I do make it back here, I will be sure to come to the park."

They continued their stroll through the town for a while longer before Elenne suggested they head back home--she had things to show him.

When they got back, she pulled some other items out of the other bag: a couple of pairs of shoes and some shorts in his size.

"Why don't we go down to the beach?" she asked.

They dressed quickly in her room where she pulled clothes for herself out of drawers in the wall. They were more tight-fitting on her pleasantly-shaped hips, and she wore a light blouse.

The went out through a door onto the deck in front of the house. On the side were steps down to the beach, perhaps twenty feet below.

The waterline was where it had been last night, as far as he could tell. "Do you have tides here?"

"Tides?" she seemed confused for a moment before answering. "No, not really. Our moons are small and their positions seldom line up with each other, and the sun, enough to change the level very much. The waterline only changes a few feet during the day, most of the time. With two moons, the tables would be pretty complicated, too. For the most part, it is so small that we just ignore it."

They walked down the beach and he could see other houses dotted the bluff, some closer to the beach, some higher up. Zeke had never been to the ocean before, and the sounds of the waves were as soothing as he'd heard.

"Those are members of our extended family," she told him, pointing up at other houses built into the face of the hill. We have a group of ten or so other family units that are part of our clique. That's not very common on Earth, is it?"

"No," Zeke answered, "are you related to them? Uncles, aunts, cousins?"

"No, not for the most part. It is a relationship that we chose. We share a great deal, socialize almost daily, and care for each other's children."

They found a place at the edge of the bluff, sheltered from the wind and out of view of the other houses, and sat on the grass-covered ground. Zeke put his arm around her and she drew him close.

"Is it all right if I ask you a few questions that you will probably think are silly?" Zeke asked.

"Of course. I've tried to learn a little about your world. Some things have been published in the news. I can't imagine being on your world by myself," and he could feel her shudder slightly.

"On Earth, when two people do the things we did last night, it might mean different things. The two might expect different things, depending on the situation. I guess I don't know what to make of it. I don't think I gave you any indication that I expected that we would do," and he paused, "that".

She smiled a smile that drained away his embarrassment.

"I think you know that we view sex differently here. We are more comfortable with it, and it isn't as big a part of our entertainment as I gather it is on Earth.

"Not," she went on, "that I pretend to understand a lot about things on Earth from the little I've read. I'm just trusting that whoever wrote them got the real story from you, or from somewhere."

"No, I think you understand it pretty well. Sex is used to sell things. It fills our television and advertisements. I'll explain all that some other time," he joked. "There are a lot of inconsistencies about what we say, what we do, and what we expect from people. I don't understand it. However you handle it, it's pretty much got to be better--if it is simpler."

"OK," she smiled. "I won't understand everything about you and Earth right away, if ever. But I think you were asking about what last night, and I'm hoping again tonight," she smiled again, "means to me?"

He nodded.

"Sex is never simple, but we try to keep things from getting complex. It doesn't mean I expect a lifetime pairing with you, but I would not have sex with someone just for fun. Though some, but not many, women would. And there would be no stigma for them if they did."

"You, I mean your society, have to deal with the same issues of possessiveness and jealousy that we do on Earth, right?"

"Yes, of course, but our priorities differ. In general, we must be less possessive than someone from your world. That doesn't mean we don't have jilted lovers who kill their competitors. We're the same in many ways, I think, as your people. On average, we try to tone down the intensity where sex relates to relationships. Sometimes, anyway, but not always. That wouldn't be any fun.

"I hope you don't think the intensity was turned down last night."

"Oh, I didn't think that," he said with a grin.

They took off their shoes and ran through the water as the waves lapped up on shore. It grew cooler and the waves higher. Soon they headed back to the house.

Jonephs was up on the deck. Elenne excused herself and went to visit with her mother.

"I'm fortunate to have you here. I hope you don't mind if I ask you about what things are like on Earth?" Jonephs asked.

"No, not at all. For once I'll be the authority on something. The reputation I seem to have is something that, so far, is more of a problem than a pleasure."

"If you weren't hidden behind the walls of the Academy, I'm sure you'd get more attention, from the press and admirers, than would be welcome. I'll try not to be too bothersome."

"Except for the debriefings I got when I first arrived, I haven't had a chance to talk much about Earth. I know it is pretty backward compared to Anyar, but I guess I can't help but take pride in it."

"Totally understandable," Jonephs told him. "Don't think that we are arrogant snobs who look down on Earth's culture. In our past, we were every bit as violent and had just as much disparity between the classes. We still have some. We have problems, some of which will become apparent to you. Some are more subtle, as I'm sure you've found out."

"You mean the Behrlende mission?" Zeke asked. "What do you mean?"

"Not only were we not able to solve that riddle for hundreds of years, but you were treated terribly, even more inexcusable, considering the debt we all owe you. Even I can understand the resentment, but the extent to which you were snubbed, especially at a place that should contain our best, was unfortunate. Hopefully it is all in the past?"

"I guess I dealt with worse in a small school in the 'middle of nowhere' as we would say on Earth. And since then, I've found some of the best friends I've ever had. And I'm not even talking about Elenne yet."

"I am proud of her, and she is lucky to have your interest, or, I presume you have some interest in her."

"She is the first girl who's shown an interest in me. I guess I should say woman, but somehow that doesn't feel right on my tongue. I was a pretty insignificant part of the social world back in my school. She has changed the way I look at myself and life--and I like the change.

"Although it doesn't seem out of place to me, if I think about it, I am still the age of a secondary student, and she is a couple years older and has a profession with some status. I don't know, it might be frowned upon, or worse, on Earth.

"On Earth, a relationship between someone her age, especially if she were a teacher, and a student my age would be a crime."

"We certainly have some moral boundaries here, but they are evidently somewhat more flexible. Young people at seventeen are considered pretty much ready to start making their own decisions, though gaining maturity often takes a lot longer. We enforce a strong social stigma if something appears to be detrimental to someone, especially a young person."

"But then," Jonephs continued, "we have a more relaxed attitude and are less likely to consider something to be bad unless there is a good reason. Cultures, even here, vary greatly in terms of the things they find offensive."

"There are a lot of terrible things that happen on Earth, even in my country, the United States, which is, in most ways, the most powerful and wealthy nation on the planet. We let poor people go hungry, or without medical care, while some are paid incredible salaries to play games."

Jonephs' face betrayed his shock. "How can that be? We have had times when the wealthy ignored the needs of the poor and lived ostentatiously while others suffered, but it is hard to imagine that the middle and lower class would be so willing to support the lifestyle of others at their own expense."

"Especially in America, err... that is the same as the United States, there is a culture of individuality and working to achieve. Many, too many I think, aspire to be entertainers or sports figures for the status and money. Things start off reasonable...then they slowly get crazier and crazier."

"Yes, cultural values, when they move slowly, have a tendency to go to extremes. That's been true here, I'm sure it still is in some ways."

"On Earth, things can be quite different in different countries. We have dictators and a number of countries that have very authoritarian rulers. One is so bad that the majority of people don't have enough to eat, but the government has been able to keep that nation isolated from the rest of the world."

"You may have heard," Jonephs stated, "that we once had something similar here, before the first Attack?"

"Yes, that was in our first briefing."

"You still have countries? Do the laws and values vary a lot between countries?"

"Yes," Zeke answered, "women's rights are very limited in some countries. The right to speak freely is also controlled very much in some places. Sometimes, different groups or regions prescribe very different limits on personal behavior and freedom. Sometimes, of course, one group tries to force their values on others."

"That isn't something new, except for us, it is mostly in the past. There is nothing like the threat of annihilation to unite people and make the differences seem unimportant."

Their talk went on for another hour. Zeke still didn't understand much of what he heard, but he got a better understanding of the less favorable parts of Anyari culture. There were poor people. Hard as it might be to understand, there were those who were content with just getting by. Even those, though, had food, shelter, and medical care.

There were ethical issues, too.

Like everywhere else, the moral issue of care for children was never settled. How much right does society have to dictate standards for the care and treatment of children?

Anyari society, it turned out, believed that it had a lot of control. Families who did not care for their children were given warnings before, finally, the children were taken away. Nice as the Anyari seemed to be, parents were given only so many chances, depending upon how bad the situation was, but once a child was taken away, they were taken away forever.

The Anyari were even prepared to make sure some never had children again. After a child was taken away, an irresponsible parent was not going to have the opportunity to allow another child to suffer.

"That is something that would only be allowed, even in the most oppressive of earth cultures. In fact, I don't know of any that do, at least not now," Zeke said.

Society realized, Jonephs told him, that such cases would not always be fair. Public opinion was clear, however, that it was worth the occasional injustice to prevent the terrible abuses that would occur otherwise. There had been a time, ages ago, when life had been difficult and tough choices had been necessary, Jonephs told him. Maybe that makes us more prepared to make those choices now.

The discussion ended when Elenne, Ne'eme, and Enenne brought lunch.

"Do you use robots for anything except washing the dishes?" Zeke asked.

"Some people use them as servants, to prepare and serve food. By personal choice, we only use them to serve if we're busy or sick. We do have the robots do laundry and most of the cleaning. The concern we have for becoming too dependent on them for everyday tasks doesn't extend far enough for me to willingly scrub floors," Ne'eme said with a laugh.

"I think our view, which is also shared by the rest in our clique, is probably about average in rural provinces like this. In larger cities, people tend to use them more."

"What are large cities like?" Zeke asked.

Enenne answered, "They are mostly underground. With robotic labor, it isn't much harder to put them underground than it would be to build tall buildings. It also makes them less conspicuous targets, something that we are aware of since the First Attack."

After that extended answer, self-consciousness overtook her again and she looked around, specifically not at Zeke, and was silent.

Jonets and another young boy, apparently about the same age, came out onto the deck.

"Zeke, this is Lennet, his family is in our clique," Jonets made the introduction.

"I'm pleased to meet you," Zeke told the boy.

"Yes, hello," was his brief response.

Zeke could see the expressions on Jonephs' and Ne'eme's faces darken, but they said nothing.

"Would you like to stay and have lunch with us Lennet," Elenne asked him.

"No, thank you," was the reply, "my family is expecting me."

With that, he muttered a quick goodbye to Jonets and left, heading back into the house.

"I'm sorry," Jonephs told Zeke, his face dark.

Zeke's confused look was answered by Jonephs, "Lennet, and his family, are in the camp that is unhappy with your Behrlende mission success. We are all very sorry for his behavior. Especially by someone in our own clique."

"That's OK. My skin has become thicker--do you use that expression here?--since I arrived here on Anyar."

Jonephs smiled, "That is a new one, but I think I grasp the meaning, it's a good one which I will remember."

"I'd like someone to explain to me, later, about cliques, but right now, I'm hungry and I think I've absorbed all of Anyari cultural habits I can for now."

The lunch gracing the table was chicken served with something that resembled pasta. The vegetables, this time, were fried in a spicy oil, and they served apple juice to drink.

"I could spend all day asking about things here and how they compare to Earth. The juice seems to be the same as what we drink. All the vegetables are similar, but not identical, to what I'm used to."

With that, the conversation wandered to weather and how the ocean affected it. Heavy snow was common in the winter. Most of the year was rainy and cool, something like the American northwest.

When they were done, Elenne suggested they relax for a bit and then go riding. Jonephs had work to catch up on, but Ne'eme and Enenne said they'd accompany them.

For a while, after lunch, they sat on reclining chairs, facing the ocean. The only sounds were the waves crashing on the shore and the occasional seabird. Zeke could detect no sound of other people or machinery. He asked Elenne about it.

"That was an important reason my parents chose this place and this clique. We have a lot of trees and not too many people. Most things are delivered through the tunnels. People, too, use them when pressed for time."

"I'm taking Zeke down to the barn to look at the animals, you can come along when you like," Elenne said to her mother and sister.

There was a stone trail that led off to the north. The barn was a stone building, recessed back into the bluff with a portion of a wooden roof that extended out. It wasn't large, about five meters across, with a door which was less than half that width.

Inside, the building was twice as deep as it was wide, and there were stalls with four or five horses. They looked like horses. On closer inspection he could see that they were a little smaller and squatter, with shorter legs and wider bodies, than any horses he'd seen on Earth.

Elenne helped him put a saddle on the largest one, who she called Flank. The saddle was similar to an English saddle, without a horn and with stirrups made of loops of metal held with a leather strap. The bit and reins seemed pretty standard.

Before they were done, Enenne had entered with a quick smile at Zeke and went to her horse to get ready.

"You have ridden...on Earth?" Elenne asked.

"A little," Zeke confessed. "It's been quite a while."

"Let's take him out on the beach first and see how you do."

It turned out Flank was pretty mild mannered and Zeke was soon comfortable.

By the time he'd been up and down the beach a few times, Enenne was astride her horse and he could see Ne'eme in the barn, saddling hers.

It wasn't long before everyone was ready and Elenne led Zeke to a trail that wound up the bluff. This trail, Zeke was pretty sure, was just a natural trail. From one point they could see the house, then, just a short distance down the trail was another house.

"Lennet's family," Enenne said, simply.

The trail was not too challenging, so Zeke was able to relax and enjoy the ride. Before long, they took a fork that led them away from the ocean.

"All the houses are near the ocean. We won't see any back here," Ne'eme told him.

They crossed small meadows and a few streams--the larger and deeper ones had rough wooden bridges.

For more than an hour, they rode southwest, the trail wound upward. Zeke had seen a peak early in the ride and that was evidently their destination.

They reached the peak in the early afternoon and stopped at a rocky outcrop that afforded a panoramic view from the western horizon northward, and back eastward to the ocean. Zeke could see the town to the northwest, but, except for that, there was little sign of anything done by humans.

"Where is everything?" he asked. "It looks more isolated than my hometown. How many people live in this area, anyway?"

Ne'eme answered, "Almost a hundred in our clique. The other homes line the beach for several hundred yards north and south of our home. Two other cliques are several kilometers away from us, also on the beach. They are really just a collection of homes, though, not as close, socially, as we are."

"Keeping a low profile means, we hope, not being a target for attack. And, beyond that, our sensibilities guide us to keep our impact on the world to a minimum. The natural setting is more beautiful than anything we could construct."

"Is the entire area centered on the town? How many people live in North Engleston?"

"Probably almost ten thousand, although I can see that you could not tell it from here. That is with a purpose, as you might imagine, although I think we have come to prefer the lifestyle."

The women had, to Zeke's delight, packed some sandwiches and drinks in saddlebags. They sat on the rocks, enjoying the view, as they explained to him how so many people could occupy the area without being more visible.

They had a lot of tunnels; robotic labor made that easy. Zeke could see a few roads, once they pointed them out. Most were like the one he and Elenne had used to travel to and from town, one lane and used mostly for pleasure. Some people preferred to do without even that and only used the service tunnels.

They were soon finished and mounted their horses for the trip back. Descending was quicker, but a little less comfortable. However, it didn't seem like long before they were back in the barn, feeding and caring for the horses and putting away the saddles.

Elenne found his hand as they walked back up to the house. He was filled with a sense of belonging and warmth that he'd never felt before. At the house, he offered to help prepare the meal but was told, in very certain terms, that although he was to make himself at home, he was to be treated like a guest.

Supper was, evidently, to be a little more elaborate and he had more time to talk with Jonephs.

Zeke asked about his profession, and Ne'eme's. What he did, how he was compensated, etc.

Jonephs told him that he spent most of his time doing historical research, which he could do from home. That, he said, was true of most people these days. All the old records were, of course, available to him electronically. All the books from the pre-electronic revolution had been scanned, not just optically, but with several instruments which were sensitive to different wavelengths from low infrared to x-rays.

Education here was not unlike Earth, with roughly the same divisions between primary, secondary, and post-secondary. The percentage of those continuing to post-secondary was very high, but the coursework and training varied considerably. Each institution covered a relatively narrow area, unlike Earth universities. Liberal arts education, though not really frowned upon, didn't receive much support in a society always ready for war. And wartime was really the mentality of all Anyari, calm though it might appear now.

Ne'eme was a physician, which probably explained Elenne's career choice. Simple problems were handled by MI's; others could be handled through video conferences. A health facility, something like a hospital, was available in town with enough equipment to do an organ transplant, if necessary. Serious cases, she told him, were referred to others in the larger urban centers, though often even that wasn't necessary anymore.

Zeke was curious about economics and asked how they were paid, what they used for money.

"Everyone receives a stipend," Jonephs answered. "On top of that, additional compensation varies by profession."

History professors were not highly paid. Physicians were, although, he was told, the difference was modest. Unless a person chose to work much more than the average, the income differences were minimal. The most highly paid profession was only paid about three times that of the lowest.

Zeke wondered aloud if that would provide enough motivation to cause people to enter the most needed professions and was told that, to his surprise, that wasn't usually a problem. Most, but not all, had a strong desire to pick a career that was needed by society. Those professions promised something that was more important to Anyari than money--status and respect.

By the time the meal was ready, Zeke's brain was again overwhelmed by all the new information he was trying to assimilate.

They sat down to a dinner of steaks. These weren't highly spiced as he'd expected. Instead, he could choose from a number of sauces to dip the meat in, or cover it with. This meal, for the first time, included a drink that he thought must be wine.

"On Earth," he joked, "I'm not old enough to have alcoholic beverages, although many my age find ways around that. Adults pretend to take the prohibition seriously."

"Someone of your age is usually limited to very mild alcoholic drink," Ne'eme told him. "Wine and other beverages are the norm."

"You said 'usually'?" Zeke asked.

"A cadet at the Academy, and someone with your reputation in general, is allowed more leeway. The etiquette in that respect is somewhat flexible. I thought we were a very egalitarian society, but with you here to ask questions about the many things we take for granted, I see we do arbitrarily favor some."

Discussion around the table was lively. He found Jonets' views to be surprisingly sophisticated for his age. Zeke drank sparingly of the wine but ended up finishing the glass by the time the meal ended.

The discussion wound around and ended up on the journey that brought Zeke to Anyar. Jonets asked him if he would tell the story and he agreed. They got up from the table to sit in the living room. Elenne ushered him to a plush padded couch, the others arranged themselves around the room. Jonets lay down on the floor facing him. Jonephs and Ne'eme sat together, across the room and Enenne sat cross-legged in a chair next to him.

He started, "You all know that I was just an average guy in a small town? I lived in a country called the United States of America. Sometimes we call it just America, or the United States. It is, compared to most of the larger countries on the other continents, fairly young, only a little over two hundred years old. I know your years are a little longer than ours. It has, for the last fifty years, been the most powerful country on the planet, though I don't know if that will last much longer.

"I lived in one of the smaller states, Kansas, in the middle of the country. Agriculture is the biggest industry in the state. I was in my junior year. That is the third year of four for our secondary education system. Another year and, I hope, I would have gone to college."

At that, he thought he saw both Jonephs and Ne'eme's eyebrows raise for just a moment.

"My high school had only a few hundred students, which was smaller than most. Some high schools used to be even smaller, but a lot were consolidated about the time my parents went to school. Budgets were tightening...

"Anyway, I didn't have a lot to do with the girls in my school. A few I spoke with, and there were a few, not nearly so pretty as Elenne, who I liked, but dared not speak with," he said. This brought a smile from her.

"So my Fridays and Saturdays nights, the nights that there wasn't school the next day, and when most people had dates, were usually spent alone, or with my friends, male friends, mostly playing video games."

He wasn't sure if they knew what he meant by video games. He used a literal translation of the terms, but no one interrupted him to ask, not even Jonets.

"My grandparents have a small farm. My grandfather had been an engineer and was...is retired. They have a few cattle and other animals.

"It was in the fall and I was walking back to the house after doing my chores around the farm.... Wow, that makes me feel badly about leaving them without the help to care for everything." He paused and thought about it for a moment, a sad and wistful expression on his face.

"It was on a Friday night, when I was walking back to the house that I saw what looked like a meteor to the south. Although it wasn't exactly like one, it glowed and moved quickly, but it didn't go out--it just faded slowly as it neared the ground. I heard a boom, which I thought was thunder, but I didn't see any storms on the horizon.

"I don't know. I guess I let my imagination run away with me sometimes," another Earth expression that hopefully was universal. "It seemed odd enough that the next day, since I didn't have much to do, I decided to go and take a look.

"We don't have many trees in that part of the state, but there were heavy stands of trees lining a stream that ran through that area, which I followed. If there had been anything out in the fields on my side of the stream, I could probably have seen it. I'm not sure what I was looking for, maybe a small crater from the meteor.

"I was following the treeline when I saw something hidden in the trees. Pretty large, almost as big as a bus--a vehicle that carries twenty or so people. But a bus wouldn't have been down there, and it didn't look like a bus.

"You all, I guess, would know what it was, but for me, it was strange. My first reaction was fear, as I lived in the area and I knew it was something new--and not something I recognized.

"After my first reaction, my second and third were also fear," he laughed and drew sympathetic smiles from everyone.

"I don't know if I've ever been as frightened. In fact, I ran back to the road for a while and stopped.

He looked at Elenne to check her reaction to his admission. She was looking at him intently, and he saw no trace of disappointment.

"I really don't know why I went back. I guess I didn't want to run and tell someone else and timidly follow them back.

"I went down and walked along the stream, slowly making my way back. Before I was even very close, I saw someone lying on the bank of the stream. You know who it was," he smiled. "He was dressed strangely, and was clearly unconscious."

Elenne looked at him and said, "We didn't know that. It wasn't part of the story that was on the news."

Zeke went on, "He'd slipped on the muddy bank and hit his head on some driftwood. I'll confess, it probably took me five minutes to work up the nerve to go closer. It seemed like much longer than that. When I finally got closer, I could see that he was human. He was lying in the mud, his legs in the water.

"I finally got close enough to see that he was breathing, I bent down and tried to wake him, but he was out cold."

"That," he said, "was when one of the Rilun's remotes appeared.

"I was terrified, but it---the probe--spoke to me in English. That helped me start breathing again. It...she told me that the probe wasn't capable of getting the guy, Danil, back inside without help. All the remotes were too small. She even said something about a reward--which I never really got, by the way---unless you count Elenne--if I would help."

"I was in such a state that her mentioning a ship didn't even sink in, but it isn't our way, any more than it is yours, to run away when someone needs help.

"Danil is the same size I am, maybe bigger, and I certainly wasn't able to just pick him up and carry him. I ended up dragging him back. Luckily he didn't have any injuries that could have been made worse. I guess I could have gone for help, but it didn't even occur to me, and I don't think it would have been a good idea. I don't know what Rilun would have done if I'd done that.

"By the time we got to the ship, we were both a muddy mess. After dragging him through the mud, getting him up into the medical compartment was all I could do.

"Rilun spoke to me from units inside the ship. That kind of freaked me out for a while. I asked if I should leave, but she wanted me to stay. To see the mechanical hands and arms working on Danil was a little freaky. There is a movie on Earth, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" with scenes from inside a 'flying saucer', an alien spacecraft, where the visitor from another planet has died and is rejuvenated. It made me think of that.

"Luckily it wasn't long before Danil woke up. Once he did, Rilun translated and he told me his story.

"I know now that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I offered to go with him. He didn't ask me, I suggested it.

"I went back to the house and left a note for my grandparents." As he said that, Zeke's chin fell to his chest and his eyes grew wet. "I didn't think about what it would be like for them. How could I be so selfish..."

With that, he had to stop. Elenne handed him a tissue to dry his eyes. No one spoke.

After a minute or two, Ne'eme said softly, "I can imagine their loss. When you have children, losing them is a fear that you can never push out of your mind. That you regret it so deeply tells much about who you are."

Elenne squeezed his hand. "We are glad that you are here with us today--and that you came with Danil and saved us."

It took a few minutes for Zeke to regain his composure. He would start to speak again but the tears returned and he had to turn his head away. Finally, he was able to continue.

"You know the rest. We found the Redun on our moon. Almost everything was still functional, and we were able to bring it back. I went out in a fighter, with the rest of the fighters from the ship slaved to mine. The MI on the fighter just followed my instructions, which weren't many. I fired at some of the Rogue force as we made a high-speed pass through them. I doubt I hit anything, but it did get their attention. The other fighters couldn't fire without pilots, so they set their lasers to low power, to give the illusion that they were firing.

"Danil manned the guns on the Redun as it closed in. He did score some kills, and between the two of us, we were able to allow the Anyari forces to switch from defending to attacking."

"Did any of the Rogue fleet escape? The news was somewhat vague about that," Jonephs asked.

"Almost certainly. That is what I was told after the debriefing. What that means, how they will interpret the appearance of the Redun, no one knows for sure."

"You met the Royal family? There is a rumor about you and Enne..." Enenne asked.

"I did, you can imagine...Danil and I went through a lot. There was Danil's trial for stealing the shuttle.

"His own father couldn't very well pardon him, so the assembly and the war council did. Then they gave him the medal."

"How come you didn't get a medal?" Elenne asked with a hint of indignation.

"I'm not Anyari, and I didn't destroy a single Rogue ship. It is not something that bothers me. And," he said with a smile, "I've exchanged about five words with Enne. If there are rumors about something going on between us...she probably started them. There were plenty of her suitors around. Do your news organizations spread as much gossip as they do on Earth?"

"No," answered Jonephs, "not as much, but human nature appears to be the same on both worlds. Here, I suspect, a subtle reference to something like that is probably almost as talked about as if it were a big news item on Earth."

"And it is talked about," said a smiling Enenne.

Recounting the story had left Zeke feeling drained. The sun had set. Jonets had been up past his normal bedtime and was sent to bed. They talked of the latest news for a bit longer. Before long Elenne looked at him with a certain smile, one that he hoped her parents hadn't noticed.

They said their goodnights and Zeke followed Elenne down to her bedroom. It seemed like the natural thing to do, where just last night he hadn't known what to expect.

They lay close in her bed, her head against his chest. The passion of this night was different, warmer and more familiar. He was conscious of the way she smelled and the softness of her hair as he twirled it around his fingers.

In this warm glow, they both drifted to sleep.


Zeke woke during the night to hear the sound of thunder. He drifted back to sleep to the sound of rain on the window.

In the morning, he woke up before Elenne. Laying beside her, he was struck by how pretty she was. He knew she was a few years older than he. On Earth, that would have been something of note, but now, he felt older, and that difference was of no consequence.

An alarm chimed and he watched her wake. He saw a moment of confusion in her eyes as she remembered where she was, and who she was with. It was just natural as she moved closer and they kissed long and deeply.

It was almost an hour before they got up and showered. The shower was just large enough for the two of them, but that wasn't a problem. He remembered when she'd watched him showering in the hospital.

It was still raining outside and the whole family was up. They all ate breakfast together.

It was still raining so it looked like the day would be spent inside. Elenne took him to a console and showed him pictures of herself and her family. They were mostly images taken on outings and vacations. A few were formal portraits. He smiled at the ones of her as a young girl with a ragged smile from several missing teeth.

He watched broadcasts on their equivalent to television. News broadcasts were simpler than on Earth. The news was drier than what he expected, but the newscasters had a calm and professional air. Their reporting was limited to the facts, and anything that ventured into speculation or opinion was always carefully identified as such.

The weather outside grew worse. The heavy timber construction of the house eliminated most of the sound of the wind as it began to blow harder. Not until the trees began swaying alarmingly did he really notice the sound of the storm penetrating the house.

He and Elenne snuggled on the couch. Enenne, and later Ne'eme came to join them as they watched a video, a fictional portrayal of a middle-class boy who, by chance, meets a girl near his age who is a member of the royal class. She is taken with him, and the majority of the plot concerns the difficulties they face because of their different social classes.

Lunch was informal, Elenne brought sandwiches and other finger foods for him--along with more hot chocolate, as he watched videos and read about Anyar.

After that, the rest of the afternoon was filled with playing Jabbat, a popular Anyari card game that they taught him. The cards were much different from the standard deck on Earth. Skill was a major part of the game, so Zeke did not do well, and he suspected that the few rounds he won were given to him out of politeness.

Finally, as evening approached, it was time to get ready to head back to the Academy. Ne'eme packed a container with warm food and drinks to eat on the trip. A vehicle was summoned to the house through the service tunnel, since traveling above ground in the storm would have been uncomfortable.

Everyone in the family became teary-eyed as Elenne took her leave. Zeke received a long, warm handshake from Jonephs, a hug from Enenne, and a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Ne'eme.

He prepared to shake Jonets' hand, but the boy held his hands out and jumped up to give Zeke the biggest hug he could manage. "Next time, he said, "it will be my turn to have some time with you. Okay? You will be back?"

"If Elenne still wants me to come, I will be," he answered, "and I promise that we will have time for guy stuff when I do."

As they went through a back door to the service tunnel, regret overtook Zeke. The time had passed swiftly. He had been treated like family and it had left him feeling homesick.

This car traveled at a much greater speed. The trip back to the tube station in town was less than five minutes. The service tunnel took them to the tube station, which was, again, empty.

The capsule, indistinguishable from the one they'd arrived on, was waiting for them and in a few moments they were on their way.

"Are there any other ways to travel besides the tube? How do you cross oceans?"

"Sometimes we fly, we'll do that the next time we visit my family." She looked a little uncertain after she'd said it. "I don't mean to take anything for granted."

"There will be a next time--I hope you'll bring me again," he said with a heartfelt smile as he kissed her.

"Next time we'll fly," she said as a smile lit up her face. "It will cost somewhat more, but you'll get to look at Anyar. We have surface transportation. But nothing is as fast as the tube."

"And, to answer your question about crossing the oceans, the tubes always go underground, even under oceans. There's a limit to how deep the tunnels will go so they're routed under narrow straits when possible. It might mean a longer trip, but even then, they are so fast and inexpensive that it is worth it."

They were quiet then, and with nothing else to do, they returned to the pastime that required nothing but themselves.

Soon, too soon it seemed, the notice came that they were approaching the Academy. Soon after the car stopped, the door opened with a whoosh, and Zeke stepped back into the regimented life of a cadet.

In the station, they kissed quickly one more time before walking up the stairs to the main hall. Zeke was soon back in his barracks and was greeted warmly by his flight mates. Asked how the leave had gone, he smiled and said that it hadn't been bad at all.

He hadn't checked his messages while with Elenne's family, simply because it hadn't occurred to him. He had another from Danil, who would be going on his leave the next weekend. He replied with a short synopsis of his time up north.

Enne had sent a message inquiring about how everything was going. He thought that this time, he should send at least a short reply. He told her that he was adapting and coming to enjoy his time here. He thanked her, warmly, for her message and said that he hoped that everything was well with her.

He checked his schedule for tomorrow. They would be starting the study of the Rogue: strategies, technology, and organization. When the warning came that lights out was imminent, he was the first in bed. For once, it took him a little while to get to sleep. He thought about all he'd learned, wondered how things would progress with Elenne, trying to figure out how he wanted them to progress. He was sure that he did, but couldn't imagine how everything would unfold.