Delile’s Story Time: The failure of Kir Perthyr

Once there was a beautiful Radzhi woman named Kir Perthyr. Her scales were as green as… that plant, you know the one.

By the way, Siph, can I ask you something? Why is green the ideal? Wait, is that tactless cause you’re not green at all, like is that hard, cause I think blue’s just as good but I’m not a Radzhi, and –

Right.

Her scales were… yeah. Her eyes glowed like the moonlight… that’s too pale?

Okay, not to you personally, but –

Rich yellow? So like you then, oh I see, so you make up for the scale colour with your eyes. What glows yellow? A dying sun?

Right, moving along.

Kir was told by the prophetess of her village to undergo three trials. If she succeeded even one of them, great power of legend would be hers, and she would fulfil an ages-old destiny of her people. Her mother had trained her for all her life, she was brave and educated and pious, and basically nothing could go wrong. So she went to the temple between the pillar rocks to ask for her first task.

The right pillar told her to solve the Equation of I Tirze. As I understand it, that was cheating, cause nobody solves it. That’s the point of it. Not that I’d know, me and equations… But Kir tried her best, but she had to give up. No problem, two more to go. But Kir started to worry if the tasks would all be like that.

Then the left pillar said she had to outrace a Zikzi worm. Again, nobody outraces a Zikzi worm. But she tried her best. Siph, have you ever seen a live one? They sound kind of horrible, but I think I want to see one – no huh? Alright. So for the rest of you – they’re telepathic. And the worm sensed her honest struggle, and she did come rather close a few times, which is impressive but she was destined to be a heroine. Just before the worm won, it implanted this thought in her head: “It’s better if you fail, if you don’t want to give all of Thizha to us.” That gave her pause, of cause. In any case, the worm won the race, and Kir only had one more trial to go.

But the second one had been fairer than the first, so there was still a chance – but what had the worm meant?

The right pillar spoke up, and Kir was disheartened cause that was the cheating one. The last trial was a test of her will. She had to sit in front of the temple doors, and when she was ready, the instructions would come.

Kir decided that was a weird and stupid test, at least the other ones had made sense for a heroine to have to pass, but this? But she sat down in front of the temple door and waited. No instructions came.

After a while she started to wonder about food and drink and sleep and whatever else you need, and wondered if she should ask the pillars if she could take a break and come back to waiting for the instructions or what. But she didn’t dare yet. But it was getting really uncomfortable. And the days were long and harsh from all the impossible trials. Was that the test? And when was it enough discomfort? If only the worm was here for company. Or even I Tirze with his assholish equation, even though he was long dead. But she had the words of the worm. Should she fail?

Or was that part of the trial? What if the worm hadn’t just been a willing opponent in the race but was further in league with the pillars? What if he was meant to plant that doubt in her mind? She couldn’t let him beat her twice in a row, could she? So she had to hold out.

But then she thought of her home village, and her nest siblings, and the next generations, and what if the worm was right? It wasn’t worth the risk. So she stood up.

The pillars sighed. “Another failure.”

And that was that.

But the village still stands. It’s named Kir now, as a reminder to future generations that it’s Radzhi against pillars, and you shouldn’t bend to the will of the pillars under the pretence of proving your own.

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Up in flames

Meldeen runes appeared on the screen. They were familiar, although Siph couldn’t read them. Nothing to misinterpret about a repeated game-over screen. The fire covering the virtual ground rose up and consumed the world. Siph confirmed. Up in flames, once more.

The screen went dark, and for a moment, the room was pitch black.

The optimistic drums and fanfare of Flame Generals blared out, and a different set of familiar runes appeared. Should he try once more? With his reflexes and his coordination and his perception being as they were after the failed augmentation that had done the opposite? Not even able to pass that level?

Simeon would do it for him once he got home from his negotiations. Or maybe he would fail and not mind. In any case he’d understand, as he always did, because something in his nature made him understand the pariah who had experimented with his own brain and lost some of his skills, as others subject to his research had lost their lives because they had not been able to panic and remove their own neuro implants. It had been a beautiful dream. Then Thereth Station had been in shambles.

And now here he was in a room on Hayes, a refugee on a slowly failing space station. Sitting in the dark, frustrated at a game he had shown Simeon on a whim when confronted with his love of Meldeen culture of all things. A novelty, back then. And currently the bane of his existence.

Simeon would understand. Because of that twisted something in his nature that made him understand the pariah over his victims; that had made him take him in instead of the innocent arriving on the same ship. Made him seek his company over that of those who would have deserved the attention. His eyes narrowed in a smile, the tip of his tongue darting out to taste the air this situation was in.

Too uncertain, still. Too much negative ghosting around. All in his head, of course.

Banking on the understanding of someone who appreciated Meldeen culture and yet tolerated his self-inflicted weakness was a shaky ground to walk on.

Worrying about it in the context of too many virtual deaths was comical. Yet that fanfare kept mocking him. At last, he turned down the sound. Too quiet, now.

The door slid open, and he turned around. There he was, with a smile at the screen and then at him, pale like those of his kind had become that had adapted to Jairra’s toxicity, here because he hadn’t adapted enough. Perhaps…

The door slid shut behind Simeon, and he turned on the light. Well. Really he had already done that moments ago.

Siph’s eyes were slits, he noticed. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you.” Simeon’s eyes wandered between him and the surroundings as he sat down next to Siph. “It was of course completely useless. Those people…” A pause, and Siph could see him gather his thoughts and words. “They don’t like sense. It’s too neutral. And they only like empathy in name. If they could just admit what they want, this would be a lot easier. But they can’t do that either. Empathy still sounds too good, in name.”

Siph’s tongue flicked out briefly. “So no progress?”

“None. There was no point in me being there. Not as Mrs. Thorne’s token refugee, and certainly not as anyone who…” He gestured back at the door. “Who has anything to say that they’d listen to. I can’t deal with those people.”

Siph’s eyes wandered over him and landed on those pale hands that looked as if they could be snapped by a gust of wind. He placed the controller in those hands. “Then could you deal with Sar’thrak’s armies for me?”

The Jairran’s lips curled into a different smile, his eyes took on an appraising note. “I’ll say. Next time I’ll take you along.”

Diversity

“Which of these are yours?” Siph held up two identical pill bottles, the blue scales on his bare arms pale in the dim, cold light.

“I don’t even care anymore,” Simeon said and laid his head back down, shivering. “Isn’t it…”

Siph put the bottles back down, the right one landing beside the table first. He squinted and picked it back up. “Isn’t it…?”

Simeon sat up with a subdued noise of displeasure, holding his head and closing his eyes. Then he opened the bottles.

“Careful. Side by side, don’t mix them up,” Siph warned. How his voice could still be this even, Simeon could not fathom. A Radzhi thing, most likely.

Simeon took out a pill each and laid them next to the bottle caps of their respective bottles, carefully segregated. “Isn’t it…” He frowned and shook his head. Nonsense. But Siph wanted to hear something, and Simeon wanted to talk. “After all these years and our species getting closer, this difference is a joke.” That wasn’t a bad start. Or perhaps it was. It was hard to tell in this condition.

Siph rewarded him with a smile from his narrowly glowing eyes. “That’s no reason to…” He faltered. At least he faltered, too. “Don’t make a statement by mixing up the remedies.” He held his left hand next to a pill forming a wall and picked it up with his right hand, holding it in front of his eyes. Then he laid it into his cupped left hand and regarded it again.

“There are worse hills to die on,” Simeon said, watching him, not caring much what he was arguing.

“Don’t die on any hills.”

Simeon returned the smile at last. “That may be best. Besides, we’d need a planetary surface with…” This was inane and not where he wanted to go at all, even when he didn’t care about much else. He leaned over looking at the pill in Siph’s hand. “Can you identify it?”

The Radzhi’s eyes widened a little, their light growing duller. So he was having trouble.

“Shall I help? You’re the doctor, but I can…” He could get away with mentioning the existence of problems, and he was too tired to dance around it.

Apparently, Siph was too tired to mind, too. He held his cupped hand with the pill closer to Simeon. “Is this grey and curved?”

“I think it is.” Simeon picked up the other pill. “This one is whiter and the edges are… No, the surface is…” Words failed him.

“Then this one’s yours.” Siph handed him the grey pill he was holding and took the other from his hand. “The rest is easier to tell apart. Your hands are cold.”

“I’m cold. How are you not?” Simeon laid the pill between his front teeth, gently holding on to it until he would get to a glass of water. The glass on the table was almost empty. He would have to get up for this. He sighed through his teeth.

“If we both were half-ill, we would have the same temperature perception.”

Simeon smiled and almost lost hold of the pill, but held on to it. Now not to bite down on it too hard. He got up and picked up both of their glasses to fill them with water.

“Think they’ll pick us up soon?” Siph asked in a seemingly disinterested voice.

Simeon filled the glasses and let the pill fall back onto his tongue, drinking it down after a few attempts, then re-filled his glass. He took the glasses back to the main room. “They probably will, once we’re back to health, conveniently.” He set the glasses down on the table. “I should fetch a pitcher. This is annoying.”

“Thank you,” Siph said. “I don’t really mind.”

“I’m glad it’s you and you know what you’re doing,” Simeon said on his way back to the kitchen.

“That’s debatable. My track record is…”

Simeon filled the pitcher with cold water and carried it back over. “Your track record with humans is getting good, though.” He put it down and dropped onto the couch, exhaustion flooding his senses.

From the corner of his eyes he saw Siph’s eyes light up and his narrow tongue flick out briefly. “I’m glad you think so.”

Simeon tried to think of something fitting to reply; instead he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the backrest. “I never liked climate.”

Delile’s Story Time: The Legend of General Ra’dzeot

Alright, I’ll try to be more coherent this time. But you guys have to listen! Don’t fall asleep again, Bryn, that was charming only one time.

So. We’re talking about Ra’dzeot’phra, or General Ra’dzeot for you plebs. Alright Simeon, two plebs out of three.

So we’re on Karmee. It’s in the old times. The really, really old times. When the fire was covering the ground. Should I get into the origins of the fire…? No, okay. I still think it’s better for the theme, though. Like it makes the story loop around and gives it a kind of cosmic coherence… Alright. Alright. So there’s fire on the ground.

But the Meldeen could take it, cause they have that flame-proof carapace and a flame-proof… skeleton… endoskeleton, that. Yeah. Still, unpleasant, right? Nobody likes fire.

And there’s also war. Lots of war. Like, worse than what our ancestors put up with before coming to the solar. Sure, some of our ancestors. Sorry Siph.

Anyway, it’s a massive-scale war. Not a chance at peace. And they say it’s all that anger and that wrath – and maybe some of their weapons, too – that got the fire started in the first place. There, I put it in. And then along came a general. Not Ra’dzeot yet. He was alive, but he was young and insignificant then.

Now Lera’ha, he was young and insignificant, too, but not for long. He was one of those super generals, those genius leaders that just take over everything within a short time, and the world’s theirs. That’s what he did. And everyone was so tired of all that war…

No, they couldn’t just stop. They were too far gone. But… No, I don’t know why they didn’t. Why didn’t they on Earth back in the day? Nobody knows. Cause you can’t, without… some kind of… some kind of… The kind of thing that Lera’ha gave them. There. They didn’t have that before. He just simply didn’t give them a chance, and so they were all conquered, and there was peace.

But he wasn’t good at maintaining that. I mean, he made sure they stayed conquered. For a while. But he was a bad ruler, and he didn’t really care about what you have to do for people so they feel good and don’t wage war.

And there was still fire on the ground, can’t forget that. So life was uncomfortable, and there was no enemy and no greater cause, so everybody really minded it all of a sudden.

Yeah Siph, that’s simplified. You want an economic breakdown of a myth or… Good.

So, they start to rebel. They think to themselves, more and more… You know, if life’s gonna suck, and there’s fire everywhere, and we’re starving and whatever, you know, war wasn’t so bad, was it? And this tyrant Lera’ha, it’d be good if he was gone, too. So let’s go for that.

So there were little cells of rebellion all over the world, and they became big cells of rebellion, and no matter what Lera’ha did, he couldn’t suppress them any longer. But they couldn’t get at him either. So it was massive civil war once more. But they’d had a taste of someone winning and ruling, right? So they thought, if only I was the one to do it, it’d be better for sure. But everyone thought that, so that didn’t help any.

And along came a small local military man. Stumbled into the general’s position by everyone else dying. Nearly got his people extinct cause he was so unprepared. And then a miracle happened, and the Meldeen say it was the gods interfering. Either cause they loved their species and wanted to protect them from self-destruction or because they were just sick of their shit. So this general starts winning. And people start flocking to him. And he gains power in the region, and then beyond the region, and somehow his people aren’t starving either.

So he gets it into his head to conquer everything himself, cause it’s clear the world actually would be better off if he ruled it.

Then a lot of war happens, you don’t want the details, do you? Mixed vote? Alright, no details. So. As you can guess, this guy is Ra’dzeot’phra. General Ra’dzeot. And he’s the perfect guy to go head-to-head with Lera’ha in the end, when they’ve both amassed enough power and influence and… Well, really Lera’ha’s was waning, but he had amassed it before, and there was enough left. But now there’s this new guy.

But the gods are shaking their heads at all this, and why does it always happen, and are they really all that stupid? They are. They’re living beings, we’re all like that.

So as a result, the conquering doesn’t go so well anymore for Ra’dzeot. Nor for Lera’ha. Cause they were both declared colossal idiots by the gods and dropped. So instead of victory and peace and prosperity, or even victory and tyranny like with Lera’ha last time, we get a long, bitter war of attrition. And it drags. And it’s hell. And there are still flames everywhere, can’t forget that for the atmosphere.

And somewhere in the darkest hour – only lit up by the flames everywhere – Ra’dzeot decided it was enough. And he was a colossal idiot. And the Meldeen gods listened up at that.

And Ra’dzeot decided to end the war, and the bloodshed, and the flames.

See, aren’t you glad I put in the flames part earlier?

And he thought he couldn’t appeal to the gods cause of what he’d done, so he appealed to the Forces in the Deep. They believe that’s part of Karmee itself. A power within the planet, and you shouldn’t trifle with it. But Ra’dzeot thought it’s not trifling when everyone’s dying and it’s partly his fault. So he made a pact. He had himself transformed into… “something that extinguishes the flames and the war”. That became his new purpose of existence. And he gained that power in return.

And he went and extinguished the flames covering the planet. And that led to peace because that was a miracle, and they’d had those flames for many generations. There was nobody alive that remembered a time without the fire. And then it was gone. So that’s the side you stick to, right? And he went and fought Lera’ha, one on one. And won.

Now – I know I said he wanted to get rid of the wrath and the war and all that, but he still killed him. It was the time, you know? And he could have been the next leader just like he’d planned, but he couldn’t actually, because of the pact. Cause his purpose was the extinguisher of the flames and the war, and there was nothing left to extinguish. So he perished.

The people made a huge fuss, and turned against the Forces in the Deep. Cause they’d done that. And if you have any decency, you let that kind of deal go when the world was just saved by it and the guy’s a hero. But the Forces in the Deep don’t have that kind of decency.

And there, they say the gods found that window of opportunity to gain ground, and intervened once more. They changed Ra’dzeot back into their own creature and let him into the afterlife after all, and he got the title of the Deep Redeemer, so the people could keep him as a folk hero. But they had to seal off the Forces in the Deep. The people thought that deal was alright.

So from then on, generation after generation, the Meldeen worked on covering the surface of the planet, and becoming less and less dependent on it. Now they’re so far they don’t even depend on natural climate anymore. And there’s prosperity, and more or less peace, apart from a bit of strife here and there.

And so the Meldeen were saved. And maybe something was lost. Some people say it wasn’t worth it. Some people say the Forces in the Deep will wait for their time and retaliate. Or they’re the real victims here. But I say fuck those guys. Ra’dzeot was too cool and had to be saved. And there’s peace, too. Happy end.

If you can’t take Jairra

“My dad says if you can’t take Jairra, Jairra won’t take you either.” Elbert said it with the fortitude of one who knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was right. And of course he did. His dad had told him.

He knew it like Simeon knew he would be next.

“Fuck you,” Rayner spat. “That doesn’t bring Lexina back. She’s on that ship now, and she’s going to Miller Station, and I’ll never see her again.” Like as an afterthought, he kicked at the always somewhat toxic dirt beneath their feet. “And fuck Jairra, too.”

Rayner was one of those better-adapted humans on the planet, the ones who had never had to worry about whether they would make it here, and he liked to show it off. Still, at this moment Simeon felt some degree of sympathy for him. He didn’t know what it was like to have a sister or to lose one, but he tried to guess. And for a family like Rayner’s… They had never had anyone taken away to a space station as far as he knew, and there had been two children. Two. Many people never had any. They must have felt at the top of everything. But one should never feel too secure. Simeon tried to rein in something twitching around his lips that the others would probably not like to see.

“Yeah alright,” Elbert conceded between gritted teeth. “Lexina was okay.”

It was a miracle he admitted that much. Lexina had been okay indeed. The only one out of their group that Simeon had gotten along with. Perhaps he should have gone along with her. But his parents were keeping him here. They said he had to try to make it here, and they didn’t want to give him away. And if he died from the cold and the poison everywhere, would that be better? But here he was, with these guys. If it was his turn to leave, they wouldn’t grumble and kick at the dirt. Either they’d be glad, or they wouldn’t notice. Hard to tell which.

Rayner turned to him. “Why’d she go and you’re staying anyway?”

Right on cue.

“Really,” he continued. “It’s not fair. She was much healthier than you. You’re always sick.”

There went that sympathy. Simeon stayed silent. There was nothing good to say.

“Eh, he’ll be next.” That was Elbert’s way of being considerate.

“I guess,” Rayner said. “Why aren’t they sending you away though? They only have one kid; they should make sure you don’t die.”

He couldn’t help stressing it. Not even now.

Perhaps especially now.

Simeon picked at his glove and looked up at him. “Now yours only have one kid, too. You’ve got to be more careful now.”

“Fuck you!” Rayner kicked some of that toxic soil at him.

“Come on, let’s go,” Elbert said and tugged at Rayner’s sleeve.

“Yeah,” Rayner said. “No use hanging out with someone who’ll be gone with the next ship.”

And they left.

Simeon turned away and looked at the matte orange hills of his home planet. Why did he have to have been born here? And why like this? Couldn’t they have done something differently to make his life easier? Couldn’t he be something else? He was sick of himself. As so often.


Heavy steps and the noise of a carapace woke him from his daydreaming. A Meldeen was approaching him. That was still a kid, right? They were only kids hanging out behind the old factory, after all. But this one was tall. Almost as tall as a human adult. Broad build, shining black shell covering most of his body. Simeon swallowed. If the Meldeen wanted to pick a fight, he was done for. But he was also frozen to his spot. So he just waited until the other stood right in front of him.

“They left you alone?” the Meldeen asked.

Was he being friendly, or was he scoping out if Simeon was alone and an easy victim? “Yeah, they left.” He smiled a little without knowing why. “I think they don’t like me.”

“Why don’t they like you?”

That still sounded threatening. What if he gave a wrong answer? But at least he talked to him. “Because the planet makes me sick.”

“Why do they care?”

“Because they’re stupid.” That came out faster than any reflection could.

The Meldeen broke into a toothy and pincery grin.

Was that good? Then he should continue talking. “And there was one of those ships here till last night. The ones that they take the sick children away with, to the space stations. And they took the sister of one of them. But I’m still here, and he thinks that’s unfair.”

The Meldeen clacked the right pair of pincers at the back of his row of shining black teeth. “Why don’t your people just build stuff so you can live here like on the space stations? It’s stupid to try like this when you can’t take it.”

Simeon smiled. “Like you did on Karmee? I wish. That sounds so great. You know… The one guy just said that his dad said that if you can’t take Jairra, it won’t take you either. But I think that’s stupid.”

The Meldeen laughed. “Really stupid. Too much pride in pointless stuff here. I don’t know why my people don’t do anything either. Guess it’s easier for us, we don’t get poisoned. But I wish I was on Karmee or one of the stations, too.”

“Yeah. I’m supposed to tough it out, but…” Simeon pressed his lips together. “I don’t think I ever will. I’m just waiting for it to be over.”

The Meldeen clicked his front pincers. He looked annoyed. Simeon flinched. The Meldeen shook his head. “Don’t be like that. How’s that: If you stay here till you’re grown-up, and I’m grown-up, we get away from here and get to Karmee. Life’s much better there.”

That sounded like a dream. Even if Simeon had never considered the species’ home planet as a possible home, he loved the idea of a world even more naturally hostile than Jairra but covered in buildings and technology that made it comfortable. “I wish every planet could be like that,” he mused. “Why aren’t they anyway? Humans aren’t stupid, and you’re here, too. You’ve done it before.” He pointed at the toxic ground. “This is ridiculous.”

“But it took millennia. And they say before they could get started, there was constant war, for more millennia. And it covered the whole ground in flames.”

“Perhaps we could use some flames here to burn away all this waste. Maybe we should get started on that war.”

The Meldeen laughed. “‘Spoken like a true general.’ That’s what my dad always says. Hey. I’m Philen. Or… I know. I’ll teach you. That’s my adapted name, for humans. Really it’s Phi’len.” He said it with a click of his front pincers in the middle. “Try that.”

It was a new world, right here in the cold, toxic waste of Jairra. Simeon loved it. “But I have no pincers.”

“Use your teeth.”

Simeon frowned. He felt a nervous pang. But he’d try. “Phi…” He clacked his front teeth together. “Len.” Okay, this was how. Again. “Phi,” click, “len. Phi’len.”

Phi’len gave him a wide grin. “Our teeth grow in first. Till the pincers arrive, we either whistle it through the gap and it’s dumb, and you sound like a baby. Or we use the side teeth instead.”

“So I speak like a little kid now.”

“Yeah but not like a baby. And you’re a foreigner, it’s okay. Wanna learn more?”

Simeon nodded. “Everything.”

Phi’len laughed. “Okay! What’s your name? Give me your first name, though. I know that about your people. First names for friends. And I only teach friends.”

Well, he was certainly more worthy of it than those humans. “Simeon.”

“Simeon. Good. I know! You want a carapace? I have a plastic carapace piece at home! I got it when my arm was hurt and I broke the shell. Now I don’t need it anymore. You want it?”

Simeon’s eyes widened. “Really?” Could he accept that? He felt bad. Could he just…

“Really! It’s too small for me now, but it’ll fit you. You’ll be part Meldeen.”

Apparently he could just. He nodded.


It was dark when he returned home. He was supposed to be back earlier, and normally he obliged, but today was an exception. Tearing himself away would just have been an impossible demand. So he got his parents’ berating over with. They had already contacted Elbert’s and Rayner’s parents and heard he had not been with them, and so they had been worried sick by their own account. But if they were, why did they let him play in the toxic outdoors? Why wasn’t he at Miller Station now? Or on the way? How fast were these ships?

“What is that?” his mother interrupted her own speech and pointed at his left arm.

Finally something he could respond to! “That’s a plastic carapace. It’s a replacement. My friend gave it to me.”

“Your friend?”

“Phi’len. He’s Meldeen.”

His father’s expression darkened further than its already darkened state. “You speak their language? What was that sound just now?”

“It’s like a clicking sound. You do it with your pincers. Or teeth. When they’re small…”

“I won’t have that barbaric language here. That’s where you’ve been? The Meldeen? Don’t you have normal friends?”

“Come now,” his mother said in a hushed voice. But of course Simeon could hear her loud and clear. “You know those kids abandoned him. We were both angry at them.” She turned to Simeon. “You know you can just come home if you’ve got nobody to play with.”

Simeon frowned. “No I can’t. You say I have to be tough and be out there and play with them. But they don’t want to cause I’m always sick. And they’re mad Lexina’s gone and I’m still here. The Meldeen don’t care. His mother was nice, too. I can go there again.”

He saw his father composing himself with much effort. “This is what it’s come to now.” He mustered Simeon, then turned back to his mother. “Is he really that sick?”

“Oh you know he is. I keep telling you. But you never want to listen.” She shook her head. “I know; I don’t want to think of it either. He’d be gone.” She looked at Simeon. “We don’t want to lose you, that’s all.”

Should he say something? Perhaps. “If I die, you lose me, too. That’s what Rayner said. You should watch out.”

His father hit his fist against the wall.

Simeon flinched.

“Nah. Kid. Listen. That family is a bunch of stuck-up…”

“He’s right though,” his mother said.

“I don’t want to hear it.” His father clenched his teeth. “But now he’s hanging out at Meldeen houses and speaking that clicking language of theirs, and he’s wearing that… thing on his arm. Maybe it can only get worse from here.”

Simeon watched the exchange, keeping his expression as neutral as he could.

“You know,” his mother said after a pause. Her voice was hesitant now. That always meant something important. “I wouldn’t have put him on the last ship. You know what they say about Miller Station. It’s always broken, and they have food shortages. But Hayes is sending one soon.”

“Hayes is full of old people. They don’t want anything to do with the rest of us, and all their businesses are centuries old. Their technology’s dated, too.”

“But they care for their people. I’ve heard they have enough to eat, they have good medicine, and they have rules in place for how people should behave themselves. Something like this wouldn’t happen on Hayes.”

‘This’ was most of today, Simeon surmised. He couldn’t decide if the station sounded like a bad idea or a good one. Old technology sounded bad especially after today’s talks. He wanted to suggest Karmee instead, but after his father’s reaction earlier, that was out of the question. No. Be quiet and best not there at all; that would get him farthest.

“Isn’t there any other?” his father asked. “Didn’t the Smiths send their son to Tellier? At least they’ve got an economy.”

“Tellier is full of Meldeen,” his mother said.

His father wrinkled his nose. Then he mustered her more closely. “You’ve looked all these up.”

She sighed and nodded. “Yes. I knew it would come to this. And we can’t have our only child die.”

His father hit the wall again. “Of course I don’t want him to die! What do you think I am? I was hoping…” He dropped his hand to his side, lifeless. Then turned to Simeon.

“Do you really want to go?”

He really wanted to go. And of course this would happen just when he’d made one friend that was a real friend. One should never feel too secure.

He nodded.