The next morning at breakfast April thanked Gunny again for supporting her at ISSII.
“It wasn’t so much supporting you personally, as I agree we can’t let the Norte Americanos slide back into ignoring treaty provisions and limiting travel to Home. They will just keep picking away at it if we let them. We can’t spare the funds or personnel to put an observer at every USNA exit point. It might precipitate another war to try. So it’s really up to all of Homes citizens to object, if they see somebody trying to detain a Home traveler.”
“I’m going to address that next Assembly,” April vowed. “Not to ask a vote, or suggest anyone be obligated, but just to make an advisory announcement.”
“Not everybody has the nerve or ability to get in the face of customs agents. I saw the necessity of that. However, taking such a hard line with the guard later was more than was necessary. That was twice in a day you put yourself on the line, at risk. If you keep that up the odds will catch up with you. I think the second incident was more a matter of temper than principal.”
“You’re right, what can I say?”
“That’s sufficient. I was glad you didn’t call out Amos though. He is well known down below, and even if you were technically correct on custom, I think it would have been bad publicity. So far your image has been pretty positive with the common Earthies. If the politicians and security people hate you, well, there is a huge public undercurrent against them too.”
“Yes, I keep hearing that, but I don’t see it.”
Gunny shrugged. “It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived there. They may be evil, but they aren’t stupid. The ways they have to control people have been carefully refined, especially the last hundred years. Most people don’t see any hope of getting public support if they openly oppose the government, so they don’t speak out publically. While the government has been quietly perfecting repression the people have invented all sorts of ways to resist. There is much more sabotage, wrecking, than is admitted. That gives some an outlet for their frustrations without open rebellion. I never saw any advantage to rebellion. I guess I was part of the repression, since I kept Wiggen safe.”
“But Wiggen was an advantage for us for a long time. She was moderate enough not to want to attack us, when everyone else were just arguing how to time our destruction.”
“I’m still not sure we are far enough away to not be a target. When we were attacked last year and your dad acted to move us out here L2, it seemed a long way away compared to Earth filling half our sky. But Earth is still there even if it looks more like a marble now. It still isn’t just another pinpoint in the heavens. I’m glad actually the halo orbit lets us monitor the Earth traffic directly. If we were ever tucked in all the way behind the moon I’d worry it was possible to sneak up on us and we might not see them coming until they came over the lunar horizon.”
“Always being in line of sight lets Jeff have direct command of his weapons. I’m more comfortable with that than working through relays,” April admitted.
“I was there you know,” Gunny said lifting an eyebrow. “You and Heather have the control codes too, not just Jeff, unless he took them back and you didn’t tell me?”
“No,” April said, embarrassed. “I just figure if they get used Jeff will do so long before Heather I would release them.”
She looked at Gunny distressed, and he was smart enough to keep silent when she was so visibly thinking something over hard.
“Jeff has some real issues from when he had to bomb the Jiuquan spaceport,” April revealed. “Not that he wouldn’t do it again, because once they had captured his ship there really wasn’t any other choice but to destroy it. If the Chinese had been given time to take her apart and reverse engineer everything we’d all be dead by now without a doubt. But he really had no idea the yield on that weapon would be enough to take out the adjoining town too. He wasn’t faking that. He might have been able to destroy it beyond any data recovery with the lighter warheads we had, but he just couldn’t take the chance when it was a matter of Home’s survival, when he had one big enough to vaporize the whole area even if they were already taking stuff off the ship.”
“What do you mean issues?”
“He sits and has crying jags. He has bad dreams. I finally got him to get some medication to help the PTS before we went down on vacation. I think taking a break helped too, but he is not like some of the Earthies paint him, indifferently depraved, like is a qualifier in Earth law for a murderer. If anything he is too smart, and only too aware of all the innocent individuals harmed.”
“Is he safe to retain control of his systems?” Gunny asked, frowning.
“Would you want somebody holding them who it wouldn’t be bothered to use them?”
Gunny nodded reluctant agreement. “OK, sometimes there are no good choices.”
Across the cafeteria at the order counter the fellow Matt Wilson and his two kids were getting breakfast. April called them to Gunny’s attention with a tilt of her head and a raised eyebrow. “You mind if I call them over?”
“Not at all. Those kids didn’t argue in the shuttle when I told them to go strap in, I would expect a lot of Earth kids to balk when a stranger started giving them orders. I was impressed.”
Matt herded the two little ones ahead of him. When they all had their trays he turned to the seating. April waved and invited them to the chairs opposite her and Gunny with a sweep of her hand. He nodded and started their way with no hesitation, so he must not think her a trigger happy lunatic.
“Miss Lewis, Mr. Tindal,” he said formally.
“Gunny is fine.”
“And I’m happy with April.”
“Thank you, for myself, but my children are trained to address older people respectfully.”
“I wouldn’t think to sabotage that,” Gunny agreed.
“This is Iaan and Jenifer,” their father introduced them.
“Welcome to Home,” April said, looking at the kids to make sure they knew they were included in the greeting. “Are you visiting or immigrating?” she directed at the father.
“Immigrating, if I can manage it.”
“We have a labor shortage, so you should be able to find something.”
“I’m hoping to not have to look for a job. I’m a writer, and circumstances are such now in North America that most of what I’d earn would go to my ex-wife for the rest of my career, so I had no real future there. It wasn’t the best of times to leave either, but I came to realize it would never be a better time to leave, so I bit the bullet and did it.”
“And yet you retain the children, despite having the minority of the income. I’d have expected your wife to pay child support,” Gunny said. It sounded like a question though.
“At the time I had no income. But my quitting my job to write full time was the reason my wife divorced me, although it was at her father’s urging. What can I tell you? It was California, with a female judge, very good lawyers hired with her father’s money, and the kids were not something that fit her proposed new life. She spoke frankly about that in front of the kids, so it’s far too late to shield them from that.”
“Giving her two thirds of any royalties I earned was to punish me for quitting my job as an insurance adjuster and doing what I wanted. They all assumed that I expected to live off her father’s money, and when my first three books sold really well it wasn’t welcome, it just pissed them off. Her dad sees all writers, poets, musicians and artists as lazy leaches avoiding honest work, unless they have been dead long enough to satisfy him. Bach, or Hemingway, or Paul McCartney for example, all get a free pass.”
April and Gunny were stunned to silence for a bit. That he’d speak so bluntly in front of his children did say they’d heard it all before, or worse. And they didn’t so much as twitch at hearing it again. Finally April worked up the courage to ask, “What does your father-in-law do that he can be so disdainful of creative people?”
“Ah, interesting question. He’s a lawyer too, but not the sort that does divorces, he does corporate law dealings with finance, and things like mergers. Things society needs to his mind.”
“Home doesn’t have lawyers,” April told him.
Matt was sipping coffee. He dropped the cup long enough to say, “The horror,” sarcastically and went on with his breakfast.
April was trying to think what that would do to a child and their lifelong attitudes to hear they were unwanted and see their custodial parent attacked. She frequently thought Earthies were barking mad, but this was a new level. Sometimes she’d felt her mother was distant, and sometimes that she’d favored her brother, but she’d never outright rejected April. She’d have asked other questions, but the two kids sitting there listening still made her not want to offend their sensibilities further. So she changed the subject.
“We have at least one writer I know, Ben Patsitsas, who writes mysteries.”
“Sure, I’ve read some of his stuff. I liked it.”
“There’s a bunch of guys, some retired, some self employed. Most morning, a bit later, there will be a cluster of them sitting close to the coffee. There might be three or a dozen, any given day. I don’t recognize your name though. What do you write?”
“I write romances, so far they have all been historical romances, but you wouldn’t recognize my work because I write as Molly Wilson.”
Jenifer looked up from her pancakes and smiled. “It’s lots of fun to tell your teacher your dad is Molly Wilson.” Her brother nodded amused agreement. “Especially when she’s a big fan.”
The two seemed unusually comfortable with each other. April kept expecting a frown or a nasty crack, but there was no sign of sibling rivalry. Instead they sat touching hip to hip. She had the sad thought that she wished her brother had been like Iaan when he was alive.
“Ms. Lewis, are there many children our age on Home?” Jenifer asked. “Will we be able to make friends?”
“I remember my mom told me recently there are still less than a hundred children on Home. She runs a private school, and the last we talked she had eighteen students. They all study in a room in common, because there aren’t enough of any age to have grades or classes like an Earth school. There were even less kids when I was growing up. There will only be a few kids your age, but most of my friends growing up were older than me, some adults even.”
Iaan and Jenifer exchanged a look that was a little alarm, a little consternation, and Iaan spoke for them. “On Earth, if we weren’t afraid to have an adult as a friend most of the time they would afraid to be our friend anyway. I never had a teacher I’d have called a friend. They all had an obligation to snoop on us for the government, and some of them were pretty good at it. If they tried to be a friend somebody would have thought it was a bad thing. They’d probably get a warning on their record that they had an inappropriate relationship with a student. We had a teacher who played basketball at the city park where some of his students went, and when it was hot, he not only wore short sleeves, he took his shirt off. They kicked him out of the park and made him transfer to a school in a different county.” His sister nodded solemn agreement.
“My brother was older than me,” April told them. ” He was three years older, but we did all sorts of things together. We didn’t always get along, but when you don’t have that many people to do stuff with you learn to get along. That’s a big difference about Home. If you treat people as disposable you run out of people who will have anything to do with you pretty fast. That applies to adults doing business with each other too. It isn’t like Earth where if you get upset over some little thing and want to ignore somebody there are lots of other people to chose from.”
“Do you just have one brother?” Jenifer asked.
“I did. He made a few mistakes, and got with the wrong people a couple years ago, and his ship blew up while it was going around the moon. I wish we’d still been close when I lost him, but we were having a lot of trouble with each other. Now I’ll never have a chance to fix that.”
The brother and sister looked at each other. You could see them imagining the same situation for themselves. Jenifer put her hand around Iaan’s elbow like she was going to make sure he didn’t get away. It was kind of touching.
“The lady there that made your breakfast, Ruby, has been my friend since I was your age. She and I traded information lots of times. I knew when stuff like sani-wipes or gloves might get bumped back on the shipping schedule, and she seemed to know every time somebody changed jobs or was dating somebody new. I’d make sure she got stuff she needed before it ran low, and she knew who could drop stuff off at people’s cubic for us, or who would print stuff for my brother and me.” She smiled. “That was back when we didn’t have a print shop you could walk in and had to get somebody to run it off their private printer. Things are a lot different now. I’d come by and when she had a break we’d sit at a table and chat a bit. We’re still friends, and her husband is a good guy to know too. He works outside flying a construction scooter mostly.”
“When we went to public school none of the cafeteria ladies were allowed to talk to us. They would tell us if our lunch choices were outside the guidelines, but never just friendly chat. In fact the last school I went to we weren’t allowed to talk at lunch. We still would sign and point and do stuff like split up something we hated on a couple trays so the monitor didn’t see us throw away too much. You got written up if you wasted too much,” Iaan explained.
“I can’t see how that is much different than being in prison,” April said.
Iaan laughed out loud, shocked at that. “You couldn’t say that either! If you did you’d be labeled antisocial. Of course I guess the guys in real prison are already so solidly antisocial it wouldn’t matter what they say. I mean, what else are they going to do to them?”
“Stick them in solitary?” their dad asked.
“Yeah, like detention,” Iaan agreed, frowning at the new thought.
“And your parents wouldn’t have been upset to know you were visiting with a service worker?” Matt asked.
“Not at all. You might have to reconsider how you regard people here. Some of the things that were true on Earth may not be here. There aren’t a lot of stupid people on Home, even if their job description sounds menial to you. Even for something like corridor maintenance and cleaning, or supply and delivery, they screen for work history and psychological profile. They have more applicants than positions so they can be picky. People with degrees accept manual labor to get up here. You don’t get weirdoes, stinks, and thieves. People who can’t get along or manage to hide a problem end up back down on the mud ball pretty quickly.”
“Now Ruby, as an example, is pretty sharp. She grew up in Detroit, spent some time as a loadmaster in the air force, and was a college professor teaching Medieval music before she came to Home. But if you called her Doctor Dixon she might smack you with a spatula. She’s always been very insightful about people and what motivates them. I’ve learned a lot from her, and she was never shy to tell me when I was out of my depth.”
“OK, things are different up here. That’s why we’re here, but I can see it’s going to be true of a whole lot of little things I hadn’t planned on being different,” Matt admitted.
“It’s true, we are getting more people now who are self selecting to come to Home, instead of being hired. But there are still a lot of barriers to really undesirable people coming in. If you don’t have a job or a sponsor it takes quite a bit of money to live here until you can establish yourself. You have to be smart or lucky or ruthless enough to get that much money. Things on Earth are making it harder all the time for an average person to accumulate much wealth. That’s why you are here right? They were going to make it hard for you to make an honest living.”
“Yes, I don’t know if you’d classify me as smart or lucky, but I could see every time I made more money they were going to take more. I’m moving my book sales to other countries, and the new ones I’m already working on will never have any connection to the USNA. They simply won’t have any handle on me to collect the money the court awarded. They may try to block my North American sales, but almost everyone now can circumvent those sort of controls if they want to. There are all sorts of black markets and grey markets and bartering.”
“I’m trying to understand how the Earth economy works. My partner Jeff has me studying economics, and I read the news feeds and some of the private journals, but nobody will speak frankly about how the underground economy works, or how big it really is. If you’d explain the real mechanics of it to me it would be very helpful. I can trade you help with how things work up here. Does that sound beneficial?”
“Yes, but I’m trying to understand, how is it that Jeff assigns you something to study? Are you both in some sort of a study group in school? He looks quite a bit older than you. And are you planning a career track that will use economics?” He looked genuinely puzzled.
“I’m not in any formal school right now, except a Japanese class at the University of Kyoto. I don’t think I’ll ever not be studying something. I’m studying to get my lander certification, and I’ll have to put some hours in to qualify on the specific type lander I have access to. When I went down to Earth the trip before this one, I suggested strongly to Jeff he start a bank while there was a window of opportunity on Home. By the time I came back he’d formed it, and was gathering a clientele and doing transactions. He’d just started coining a local currency, the Solar, and if I wanted to be of any use to Jeff and Heather to actually help run the thing I needed to understand economics. Since it was my idea in the first place it seems like it would be pretty hard to refuse to help run it. We three do a lot of business together, and they always pitch in when I need something.”
“How can you contract to do business? I mean, how old are you?”
“I’m sixteen, but I’m an emancipated adult. If I look young to you, well I’ve had Life Extension Therapy, and it pretty much all kicked in before I was fourteen. I probably won’t look much different until I’m past twenty five. I’m content with how I look. If anybody has a problem with it – it’s their problem.”
“She’s the girl who was in Hawaii last year dad. They tried to hush it all up because it’s super antisocial to dress like her, and she disappeared from Hawaii and nobody knew where she went or anything, and then she showed back up here, and was in the gossip boards and stuff again. But my friends in Europe and Australia all send me pix and stuff the net censors block. I got ’em all on my phone. I’ll show you sometime if you want,” Jenifer offered.
“Don’t believe everything you see about me,” April begged. “If you want to know if something is true ask me and I’ll tell you honestly. OK?”
“OK, then tell me please, how can you eat such a big breakfast? You had twice as much as Mr. Tindal and you’re half his size.” Her dad looked horrified at the question.
“My parents bought me some genetic modifications, and I’ve added some myself later. My metabolism can run quite a bit faster than normal so I eat more. It lets me do some things like run a lot further than other people.”
“That’s really personal stuff, Jenifer,” her dad told her.
“Well she said to ask!”
“If there is ever anything I ever don’t want to answer, I’ll just tell you. Your dad is right, I have some stuff I keep private, just not the same stuff he might guess. Now down on Earth lots of people thing gen mod people are horrible, and a lot of people think Life Extension Therapy is bad too, but nobody thinks a thing of it up here.”
“This is a whole lot better than the breakfast at school,” Iaan told them. “And there’s no compliance officer counting our food groups.” He blinked and looked at his empty plates and his sister’s with a funny expression. “And I didn’t even think about throwing any of it away!”
* * *
“You were unusually tactful with Mr. Wilson,” Gunny said later, out in the corridor.
“Compared to my – usual self?”
“Well, you could have felt he was attacking your friend Ruby when he suggested service workers were not fit company. You do tend to have a certain directness.”
“I’m remembering how Lin told us how careful they had to be hiring people for the boat. It is probably the same in North America. Desperate people do bad things. If Lin is careful of his boat and crew how much more is Matt going to guard his kids? But we’ll nudge him along to see it’s Earth think, that he can ease off on a little bit. At least I hope we don’t get more weirdoes and criminals than we can weed out, so Home stays different than Earth.”
“I’m sure we’ll have some native criminals. Some people are just born defective, and the Assembly will have to deal with them. I’m just not sure how yet. You can hardly exile somebody who was born here. Where would we send them?” Gunny asked.
“You should know, I elected to pay taxes so I can vote.”
“Good, that’s one more sensible voter.”