There were more people waiting for the tram at the top, she sidestepped politely to get out of their way, and then just turned and walked away. Hell with it. Probably just a little burned hole anyway, wouldn’t hardly show. She kept her feet moving, although they didn’t seem to be in firm contact with the ground. Low G, move gently, she told herself. And then Simon was beside her, worry in his eyes.
"Don’t touch me," she whispered, "Prissy?"
"I just sent her down to the Colonel. How bad is it?"
"I feel very . . . unwell." She panted, "Can’t seem to catch my breath." Now they were at yet another sliding door, with Simon leaning on the controls as if to make the tram come faster.
She closed her eyes, which made the floating sensation even worse. She heard the doors slide and pried her eyes open in time to see Ivan coiled to pounce on anyone outside the tram. He straightened and checked a movement to touch her.
"It’s funny," She told him, edging carefully into the tram. "All these years, I don’t think I’ve ever been lasered through the lung before. Very odd sensation." She could hear her voice fading out as she talked and her vision narrowing down to a tunnel and then it squeezed shut and the sound faded as well.
Chapter Forty One
He froze when he saw, or rather, didn’t see the larvae on the tank edges. Standing still he scanned the area. There were plenty of hiding places, behind the pots and the overgrown plants that were spilling out of them. He’d planted things that were labeled fast growing, perhaps he had over done it? He tossed one chunk of meat into the pool to the left. A slick green streak shot out of cover and into the water. "Ax," a hissing cough barked from the far side of the other tank. He gave a hard toss of the meat into the tangle of plant growth. It was snatched out of sight. With both newts located, he quickly moved pots, giving a clear field of view from the ramp. Of course, even that wouldn’t be safe much longer. He’d better release the birds and rats, so the newts could start feeding themselves. He could always throw the grain for the birds and extra meat for the newts down from the fourth level.
Chapter Forty Two
"Collapsed lung and internal bleeding. The way we heal she’ll be fine in a few days."
Chuck watched Cherry worriedly, she looked stressed and on the verge of tears. He held out his arms and she dropped into his lap and buried her head on his shoulder. "She’s always doing things like this,’ she wailed, "I thought she’d quit!"
Oh shit! Chuck thought. "I knew she was going to try to help Prissy. I didn’t know Beringar’s internal security guards were armed with lasers. Oleg must have given them to him. Although," he hugged Cherry tentatively as she glared at him, "in this case it was better than stunners."
"You knew!" she yelped, then glared, "Or did you order her to go?"
"No, but she did make sure I knew ahead of time. I don’t know what she would have done if I had flat told her not to go."
Cherry sagged and leaned her head back onto his shoulder. "She would have gone anyway. Trust me."
Chuck let himself relax for a long moment of bliss. Gotta set a wedding date! "Prissy says Beringar was keeping her locked up to keep her from helping the ichimps with their problems." He blew out an exasperated breath. "I haven’t a clue what to do about the nasty bigot. I’ve half a mind to take the AI away from him and just isolate them in their two els."
Cherry smiled at him, "He’s the last person I’d ever choose to take along on a long trip. But it will keep us from squabbling internally, having an exterior threat like him around."
He snorted. "Yeah, we wouldn’t be getting along nearly so well with Ivan if it weren’t for Beringar." He thought about it for a long moment. "Maybe. We view the ichimps as lesser threats and possible allies, but how do they view us?"
"Ivan’s working hard at calling us ‘genengineered like us’ but frankly I don’t think it’s working. All the experienced space construction hands know that May was one of the bosses. They don’t care about her genes." She sighed, "In the gene lab, Prissy does all the nano work, Doctor No and Doctor Livingston deal with the patients. Most of them don’t realize that a human is fooling with the genes, otherwise they’d probably refuse testing and treatment."
"There’s been a lot of harm done to them and they have good reason not to trust us." Chuck murmured into her hair.
Chapter Forty Three
"Miss Annie? I’m sorry to disturb you." Simon von Monkenstein, eyed what little he could see of the timid little ladychimp with trepidation. "I got your name from the directory, and, well, according to my paperwork, you’re my mother, but the geneticist says she doesn’t actually think I can be . . . " His voice trailed off. This was hard enough to say without having to talk through a barely opened door.
"Oh, you’re that baby. No, I’m not your mother." The door wavered indecisively between shutting and opening. Opening won. "I suppose I should tell you about it." The door open all the way, "Why don’t you come in?" the last part was a very dubious question.
Miss Anne’s apartment was the smallest and most basic available, with minimal furnishings. Simon, with an almost painful mental twist, suddenly recognized her fear as something he’d only seen in humans before. She’s afraid of ichimps? Or perhaps males?
"Please, sit down," she waved at the only comfortable chair, and pulled out a plastic one from the tiny table in the corner for herself. "It seems so long ago, now. I was working for a family, the parents were both lawyers, the mother had a private practice and the father was into politics. Their teenage daughter was a handful! They bought me when their old nanny died. They didn’t want the girl home alone and unsupervised, although what they thought I could do, I haven’t a clue!"
"Were you with them very long?" Simon asked.
"Oh, no. Xantippe was already sixteen. She’d been in plenty of trouble, drugs or nanos, I’m not sure which. I just cooked and cleaned, and reported what she did." Annie shrugged, "It was awful, the girl was nasty and cruel, never home, obeyed neither of her parents." She met Simon’s eyes for the first time, "I’m sorry. This can’t be welcome news to you."
"Actually, I suspect it’s better than the stories most of the hybrids have been getting, the few who’s mothers are still alive."
"True, at least I wasn’t…" She lowered her gaze again, hunching her shoulders uncomfortably, "I didn’t go out in season, I’ve never much been around ichimps and I didn’t want to, you know," she shrugged in embarrassment. "Xantippe took a dare from her friends. She," Annie stared at the floor, "she stole some of my underwear out of the hamper, for the scent, it was that time, and seduced the neighbors’ butler ichimp. It was just a stupid dare. And the way she ran around, he wasn’t the only thing she’d slept with." She leapt up, "Would you like some tea?"
She obviously needed something to do, "Yes, if it’s not too much trouble." Not that he really needed to hear the rest.
With her back to him, she continued, "She was pretty fat, food was something else she never said no to, so no one realized she was pregnant. One day she stayed home from school with stomach cramps and well, there you were." She handed him a cup with shaking hands, "The baby was obviously an ichimp, and Xantippe was in hysterics about what her parents would say." She got her own tea and sat down again, "I figured they’d just kill the baby, and, well, you were a cute little thing, so I said ‘We’ll tell your parents it’s my baby.’ She grabbed that idea like she was drowning, so I got her, and her room all cleaned up, and when the parents got home, that’s what I told them." She shrugged, "They said they couldn’t possibly have a baby around, disturbing them and sold you." She met his eyes again, "I thought it was for the best, that you be as far away as possible from them, in case they ever found out."
He nodded, "A lady that couldn’t have children bought me and raised me as her own child. I had a great childhood, good education, the works." And luckily I still have her, damn her adventurous spirit, maybe she’ll stay in bed and behave for a week.
She sighed in relief, "I’m so glad to hear that. They got mad and sold me the next year anyway, to a marvelous family that gave me to a free ichimp company and then rehired me. Two marvelous children, they’re both married and have children of their own now."
"You sound sorry to have left them." He commented.
"I am," tears welled up in her eyes, "I should have hidden when that Doctor No came around and said all ichimps had to leave Earth. I don’t know anything about spaceships," she wailed softly, "I don’t know anybody, and I don’t have a job."
"There’s plenty of cooking and cleaning to do," Simon said, "Have you asked around?"
"I tried working in the cafeteria, here, but everyone yelled at me." She smiled wryly, "I kept try to make fancy dishes, and pretty things up. They just wanted lots of food, right now."
"I’m helping to set up the University, in LS ten. We need someone to clean the classrooms and offices, and a little snack bar would be nice. Want to give it a try?"
"All by myself?"
She looked more hopeful that appalled, so he nodded, "We don’t have anyone else yet. We don’t have very many students, so we’ve just sort of coasted, so far, with us teachers dumping the wastebaskets and, well, we need to sweep or mop or something, the floors are getting pretty bad. Would you like to come up and see it?" he asked, "I could give you a tour and you could make up your mind about the job."
She visibly gathered up her courage, "Yes, I’d like that."
He escorted her out to the elevator to the tram, aware of her stifled flinch every time one of the many ichimps in the hallways came near her. El nine was split between residential and light manufacturing. Like most of the els there were a lot more men than women, but they were ichimps, so they shouldn’t be hassling her.
She gripped the rail tightly as the elevator rose. With the els at full extension it was a long trip, with the apparent gravity falling all the time and shifting direction. At the tram, he automatically hit the down button. It was a little longer to go down to engineering to transfer to the first tram run, but the PGPer’s were getting so obviously hostile that everyone avoided the top part of tram run three.
"Are you familiar with the other els?" he asked, walking her around to tram one, and at her shaken head continued, "This tram run serves the two Government els at the top, although they only have one in use just now. From the bottom, el sixteen has part of the University, the School of Engineering, we call it. I come down and teach two classes three times a week; a bunch of the engineers live there. Above it, el thirteen contains the elementary school and the dorms for the ichimp kids Ivan took out of the Foundation School. Most of the teachers live there too," he added. "This is el ten, with the high school and the main part of the University." He held the door for her, deliberately using all of his human mannerisms as he ushered her into the elevator. "The University also has a School of Medicine, up one more el. It’s associated with the hospital, of course."
"Of course," she repeated, starting to relax as her weight increased.
"At the moment," Simon waved around as they exited at the top of the el, "The High School has this side of the el, and the University the other. Actually, at the moment we only have fifteen full time and twenty-two part time students at the University, so our side is mostly empty."
She peeked curiously into the food lab, and then around at the tables, "This is the cafeteria?"
"For the High School, although we come over sometimes and eat too. When our schedules permit." He led her down the wide stairs, "Our tentative plan is for the University to take over this whole el and the High School to move into el thirteen after all the farmed kids grow up. We want to have small neighborhood elementary schools in nearly every el."
"Do you think we’ll ever be so normal?" she asked, sounding wistful.
"I hope so," he said, "But it may take an entire generation, and what we will be by then is hard to say. You know from your own experiences that ichimps can interbreed with humans, and some of us," he pointed across the atrium, "Did you meet Maxine on the trip out to the Chamberlain? Some of us will be very close to human."
"Yes, she was furious. And she was right, too," Annie looked up at him, "her human husband was, is, the father of her children. And he’s been left behind."
"Yes," he winced, "Well, anyway, these are the only classrooms we’re using just now. I’m setting up a small Chemistry lab for next semester."
"Oh dear, how very…bachelor." She looked around, frowning at the grubby floor, and the dust bunnies boldly lining the corridor. Simon found himself cringing mentally as she pushed open the bathroom door and sniffed, before letting it close with no comment beyond a stiff and disapproving back. "Well, you certainly need a housekeeper." She pronounced. "I accept the position."
"Excellent. Would you like to move in here? We’ve got level two set up as residential, there’s plenty of space. I’m the only University teacher living here, but most of the High School teachers are here, and the fifteen full time students I mentioned. The dorm for the High School students is on the other side."
She walked back to the atrium and peered around. "It’s so quiet! How many people live here?"
"This el is fairly low in population, but you won’t think it’s quiet when classes let out." Simon grinned, "I kind of like the bustle, myself, but they mostly go over to el fifteen for movies and such. There’s umm, a hundred and eighteen people here now, I believe." He glanced at her, "All ichimp."
She smiled wryly, "I know I have to get used to my kind, but it’s hard. I barely remember my mother, it seems like she was always busy and I spent more time with the human children of the family that owned us than with her." Her lips thinned. "Then they sold me. I was twelve, I’d grown up in their house, playing with their children and they sold me."
Simon sighed, "That’s why Ivan did this. We need to be away from people who treat us like animals, people who don’t even see the difference. We won’t be apart forever, this is the first ship to Alpha, not the last. But after twenty years on our own, we won’t think of ourselves the same. I wish we’d gotten rid of more of Beringar’s group, when we took the ship. They and the government people are less than ten percent of the population, but they’re a damned arrogant bunch." He led the way further down the stairs, "Come and check out the residential level."
"The Pure Gene Poolers," she frowned, "have always claimed that ichimps were humans. And they’re right."
"That," Simon admitted, "Is one of the hardest things for me to face. All the times I used to laugh at them, and categorize them as part of the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, and now it turns out they’ve been right all along."
"You weren’t surprised that I wasn’t your mother," Annie mussed, "How did you know?"
"Prissy Vanderville, she’s a pretty good genetic engineer, has been studying us. She said I had human mitochondria and X chromosome, so my mother, or possibly her mother, was a human. She says the Foundation branded the ichimp mitochondria and chromosomes. Apparently there are quite a few hybrids among the free ichimps, but the others all have human fathers, not mothers." He eyed her, uncertainly, "You’ve never had children of your own?"
"No." She hunched her shoulders and edged another few inches away from him, "I’m sorry, but my skin just crawls at the thought of an ichimp touching me like that. And yes, I heard all of Ivan’s arguments about how there are less than seven hundred ladychimps and we all need to do our part." Her lips thinned, "But not me." As they left the stairs for a corridor she paused before one of the vid posters someone had put up in an attempt to make it look more lived in. "This is handsome, to me." She tapped the impractically costumed and artistically tattered adventurer.
"Freddy Venture?" Simon grinned, "They’ve probably got samples of his semen in cryo. You could have his baby."
She stared at him, then looked back at the picture. "Really?" her tone, blended of hunger and speculation made him wince.
Ivan’s going to kill me!
"Check with Prissy, she could tell you." He led on to an extra wide area with barely sprouting landscaping in tubs. "Any room without a name on it is up for grabs, but we’re tending to spread out so that we can expand our quarters without moving if we get married and have kids and so forth. How about this one?" he open one of the unused rooms and stood back to let her inspect.
It was totally empty, just two rooms with a bath and a kitchen nook, but she nodded happily. "What’s the rent and how much are you paying me?"
"Your pay will be," he checked his hand comp for the classification of the job, "One hundred and twenty a month, the apartment rent is the standard for two rooms and bath, thirty a month. Anything extra you do, like a snack counter will be at standard overtime bonus or you can go independent if you prefer."
"I’ll take the rooms," she nodded decisively, "and move today. Tomorrow I will start work."
"Excellent," he smiled at her, and entered the information on the comp. "See you tomorrow."
He carried a club, now. The newts were just too big to face without something. "Here Ax! Here Erk!"
The larger of the two newts slid silently out of the foliage at the edge of his peripheral vision. "Ax!" it coughed at him. "Foo!" He tossed it a big chunk of meat. He could see that it had been eating mostly birds by the plumage that sprouted irregularly over its body, with smaller patches of rat fur patterned with a few patches of human looking skin, from the meat he brought it.
Movement from the other side caught his eye and he spun. The smaller newt froze, then relaxed, trying to look like it hadn’t been stalking him. It sat up on its hind legs, balancing on its short tail. "Erk!" it demanded. He tossed it meat as a reward, although that wasn’t really speech. The little one preferred human meat, and thus had more human characteristics than its larger brother. It had a crop of blonde hair on its head, looking a bit odd next to the greenish feathers covering its shoulders, and the short white fur covering the rest of it.
He backed up carefully, so he could keep both of them in sight at once. The larger one cocked its head considering his move carefully. It was becoming unnervingly intelligent, always analyzing his movements. Its tail was shrinking faster than the little one’s, and it occasionally repeated words other than its name.
He started talking to them, Cinna this time. Hopefully both languages would take and they would be able to tell them apart. He had heard that it worked with dialects . . .