by tais teng
I saw a white star all ablaze
and gladly would have lingered
but I have promises to keep
and light-years to go
before I sleep.
:attributed to Great-Captain Frost, discoverer of Starholm
20,693 AFR (After the Foundation of the Redoubt)
Gossil, age 9"Name the six worlds of Starholm," the teacher said and Gossil was the first to raise his hand.
"There is Yal-bin-Armanth, ser. Out among the comets. Its is all oceans and icebergs. The people live on rafts of seaweed and ride improved sharks. Next to the sun lies Ferno, with lakes of lead and sulfur. The cities are underground and the Fernos look ever so pale and white, like mushrooms. The..."
"I see you did your homework. Good." The teacher pointed. "Now Yaleena will tell us about their capital world."
Yaleena sat bold upright. 'Sorry, ser. My aunt had a baby. I had to help my mother with the birth-muffins." She smiled. "It was human, ser! Its DNA came up as green as grass!"
"Congratulations. Yes, a new baby is more important. Starholm will still be there tomorrow. Gunnar? The capital world?"
"Nue Fusang has a thousand islands and..."
Gossil sat fuming. "I see you did your homework." I could name all Starholm worlds before I was five. He balled his fists. When the Ship launches I will be standing at the helm. Great-Captain Gossil. I'll see the Perfect Worlds with my own eyes.
"Great-Captain Frost said in the poem: And gladly would have lingered. Now, why didn't he?"
"I know that, ser!" Yaleena cried. "There was that other scout-ship, with his wife. It was falling in the black hole that Starholm orbits."
"He didn't save her, but he tried. The black hole took them both. They are still falling because time stops at the edge. They will be falling forever."
She smiled like it was something beautiful, Gossil saw. Stupid girl. Real heroes don't fail. When Frost went down, he sent that poem, not the coordinates of Starholm. It took another five thousand years to find Starholm again, and all because of a woman.
I will do what is right, he decided. I won't get all squishy when a girl hands me a fruit of the darling-vine or puts a flower in her hair. He glanced at Yaleena. Her curls were a glowing verdigris, with the red yellow of copper at the roots. She was of pilot stock: made to live in space. The moment she became weightless her hair would knit itself in a space-helmet, shielding her brain from radiation. She would be the perfect wife for a star-ship captain, but not if she kept cooing about babies.
He must have spieked too loud because he suddenly heard Yaleena night-whispering in his brain.
"You are so stupid! I'd rather kiss a plow-ape or give my fruit to a..." Her thought sputtered out: she was clearly unable to think of something worse than Gossil.
When Gossil came home his aunt Fayima was sitting under the hearth-lamp with his mother, nipping a pale green liquor. Gossil had tasted it himself once in the kitchen: Asperol was horrible, bitter and sour at the same time.
Now aunt Fayima was all a woman should be: as Niketria she commanded a hundred companies and even those brand-new Censors deferred to her. As the old saying goes: it takes a man to fight a battle, but a woman to win a war.
"Hai, Gossil. How is life?" She turned back to his mother without waiting for an answer . .., .
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