O Green World
The journey of the Nonsuch brought us back to this house, which had been my base of operations ever since I'd agreed to participate in the information-gathering on Earth.
Even though things had changed between us without a major resolution, Cabell and Lantas stayed over, and we began to talk openly about where we were going to go now, instead of arguing more about that other issue. There was never any question of Lantas abandoning her explorations to stay with me, or of my abandoning my role in the SDF-3 talks, fruitless though I thought them to be.
And so for a time we would be separated. But with the invention of instantaneous space folds, I would be able to visit Tirol often.
While it had lasted, it was refreshing to be on Tirol without being followed by constant escorts, and to see a world being rebuilt, with time now to appreciate the end results.
There were many pleasant days spent with Lantas in the great libraries of Tiresia, which I had never been near, never even noticed, in my earlier life, content with the information and duties dictated by my masters. She has such a lively mind, a spirit of inquiry, asking profound questions out of nothing in order to see what would happen.
Cabell remained my good friend during those years, and kept his promise to help Lantas find her new knowledge. He still expressed his tacit disapproval, but all of us learned to function with it. Not the healthiest course of action, but any discussion we had on the matter was so repetitive that we had eventually stopped speaking of it.
Naturally I had still missed those lost ones, especially the ones now sitting in my living room. I had never lost faith that the SDF-3 would be found; after witnessing so many strange things in the recent years, to consider them alive was no great leap of logic.
But then the residents of Tirol began to shed their trauma and start to resent the clones living in their midst.
The clones were perceived as reminders of the Masters' earlier decadence, of the corruption that Protoculture had wrought. There were also more universal objections: that the clones were unnatural, should not be granted freedom and protection, or educated beyond their rigidly segmented roles. The last one was described by some to be useless, since they believed the clones did not have the capacity to learn beyond themselves, or that resources should be devoted to helping the Tiresians instead.
Some clones had become violent as well, experiencing the dangers of freedom that one Penny Mirman had once warned me of. It had been painful to witness the renewal of a cycle, but there was nothing to do but turn this feeling into activism.
I did not think it would be pertinent to tell the Sterlings that my relationship with Lantas was hardly unbroken bliss. Such things would come out in time, and the issues were no moreso than would be normal, scarcely what one would term a "tempestuous" relationship.
We had argued about my participation in being involved in the activism for the Tiresian clones, Lantas fearing for me and my reputation. Somehow it had eventually reversed, and I was at one point asking her to come to Earth with me to take up permanent residence there. At that, Lantas had accused me of letting sentiment disable my intelligence, everything I'd stood for. There were times when we'd found each other condescending, and when we'd both wondered why such a reserved and self-conscious courtship had continued.
But other times, enough times to define it, we were quite happy.
Sometimes Lantas and I did not see each other for months on end, me being called to Earth for more speculation and study on the SDF-3 issue. But despite the conflicts that arose on this, we were ultimately aware that fear could not limit us. And every time we met again, we would have new experiences, new knowledge to share with each other and debate about.
On occasion Lantas would also journey to Earth herself, but it was only luck that led to Lantas and I both being on Earth when the SDF-3 had emerged, receiving the signal on the communicator in my house that had been set up for that purpose.
We had both wasted no time in journeying to the proposed landing site. The Nonsuch was still in service, and functioned as a vehicle for Lantas and myself.
The rest, the Sterlings knew. Lantas and I had been bumped, jostled, and squeezed by anyone small enough not to crush us, listening to whoops and cheers and sobs and laughter. I still wasn't inclined for such public displays, but had felt an indescribable joy at the sight of our people alive again, and had gladly accepted the embraces of complete strangers.
Eventually, however, they had begun to settle, and questions had started to be asked, and after some joking responses that we would never believe it, requests for places to rest had been put forth instead.
Pike Base was brought up, and to Max I had said, "I have a residence in its vicinity. I am afraid that there is only one bedroom, and not room for many guests, but anyone who wishes to come is welcome to it."
Greying Rick, with a black-haired boy clinging to his leg, had clapped Max on the back and said, "You'd better field this one."
"Yeah. Y-Yeah, I'll see you, right?"
"Don't forget his books!" said the boy.
Max: "Exedore, this is Roy Hunter. Rick and Lisa's son."
"Hello," was all I said, still unsure how to deal with small children. As an afterthought I added, "And how old are you?"
"Pretty old," was Roy's reply. He looked up at his father. "Daddy, can we go now?"
"Sure." He led Roy off with a gentle hand on his back.
I had looked at Max again. His darkened hair was also showing some grey. I wondered again how long Zentraedi lived. Tiresians seemed to live much longer than Humans, But I felt...in the moment, as Lantas had put it. I wasn't greying, though I had worn my hair in a simple long pageboy rather than my "widow's peak" which had grown out ages ago. Miriya was showing any signs of ageing, though only facially.
"Still have a face that can frighten small children, hey?"
Dana had come running over, with her own "mummy bag". Aurora was looking as faraway as ever, though when we reached the Nonsuch she had asked if she could ride on the roof with her family.
"What's the matter, kid? Didn't your third eye tell you that you could?" Dana chuckled, and Aurora was still looking at me.
Lantas answered for me. "Of course you can. That's what it's there for." She had then walked up to Miriya and took bother of her hands in hers. "Miriya Parino Sterling. It's wonderful to finally meet you."
Miriya. "Uh...thank you. But who...?" She had turned to me for explication, but Lantas had continued.
"You and the other Zentraedi, the Five. Your story was an inspiration to us--the clones, that is. I'm sure you can understand why."
The Sterlings all ended up riding atop the Nonsuch, Aurora asking Lantas and I to first bypass the house, so that she could get a good view of her homeworld. I believe that the rest of her family wanted to take the time as well.
At the house, everyone had been too exhausted to speak further. Lantas and I gave spare bedding to those who needed it, Dana preferring to sleep in the meagre backyard. Miriya and Max took the floor, leaving the small old couch for their younger child.
It was the next day after that Max had asked to know more about where I was, which had led to our evening of conversation. It was possible that they had all asked themselves the question of where Lantas was being accommodated, but had been too tired to truly care.
The incredible story of the SDF-3 had emerged gradually, to myself in private talks with the Sterlings, to the rest of the world when the rested crewmembers began to speak to the media. Many commentators had scoffed at the unbelievable accounts, and of those, some had even begun to prod the children to display of psychic phenomena, sarcastically then earnestly.
The Hunters and the Grants and several others had angrily protested--though likely the end of that particular mess had come when the Zentraedi parents had made their opinion on the matter known.
And it was during this period of reunion and renewal that Kazianna Hesh requested a meeting. She had asked for five: myself, Cabell (now visiting from Tirol), Aurora, Miriya, and Dana. Lantas had also attended at my request.
I was thankful for this more intimate meeting, curious to meet Kazianna again, to talk with her directly. Though it was not strictly rational, I had begun to feel that our connections to Breetai were decent pretext for forming a friendship on our own, and had kept that desire for the years since I'd seen her last.
The remaining Zentraedi (how cold I briefly felt when I though of that) were temporary housed in one of Pike Base's empty hangars. Some makeshift facilities had been set up to make conferencing and living easier, but it was not a place they would have chosen to live in.
Kazianna was already outside when we walked up. Instead of anything ceremonial, she was wearing an off-duty female Zentraedi jumpsuit, blue with a green trim, where the male ones had been purple with yellow.
When we had stopped, Kazianna went to one knee and bowed her head. "Welcome, all of you. Especially you, Cabell."
"There's no need to bow, my dear; we're all friends here."
She raised her head, looking directly at Cabell. Kazianna sighed, a deep basso sound. "I am sorry. I would rather have these protocols out of the way, but you are..."
"Yes, yes, yes," Cabell replied, amicably. "I understand. And I think today I'd rather honour your impatience."
Kazianna stood to her full height, and I tilted my head back to see her return Cabell's smile, her grey-tinged skin reddening. "I would like that."
She led us into the bunker, where sheets of metal had been set up to create the illusion of walls and privacy, though it was also at the time deserted.
There was a large table made from discarded industrial materials with a chair to match. Kazianna lifted us up onto it one by one, apologizing for the crudeness of the setting. After we were settled in our own Micronian-sized chairs, She began without preamble. "This performance will be repeated for the rest of the military personnel, but I wanted you all to be the first to know what we have decided."
From across the past came a feeling of annoyance. I had been left out of conferring on the Zentraedi fate? But it faded as quickly as it had come.
She went on. "Some time from now, not soon, but eventually, the Zentraedi will be leaving Earth to set up permanent residence on Fantoma.
"Despite everything that my people put the Humans through, it has been...a good experience for us to gain culture through our contact with them. But to be a true people, we must be given a chance to develop on our own, using what the Humans have taught us."
"And what are your plans?" I asked, before anyone else could speak.
Kazianna looked at something I could not see, as if the walls were transparent and she was surveying the landscape. "It will be the same as our location: we will start with what we remember, our lives as miners."
I asked her, "Will you only be miners?"
She smiled. "That will be the start. But Breetai told me much about you, Lord Exedore. About the values you found in the 'intellectual' culture of Earth. If there are those among us who desire something different, we will do the best to accommodate them, and as the generations pass, we will try to reach out to other occupations. The harsh conditions of our world will not prove a barrier."
But I had read much on the invisible bonds which worked to tie down those whose ideas disagreed with the norms of a culture. Rare was it that the dominant were directly malicious towards the maverick. "I believe you, Kazianna Hesh. But you must be aware that sometimes a people cannot even know that they are preserving the status quo at the expense of growth. Do not fear what you might be becoming."
She nodded solemnly. "We will also remain in contact with the Tiresians. But that planet is not ours, even if we might share their blood. It was little more than a laboratory for us.
"We will be making our announcement to the military personnel afterwards, but I had wanted a personal meeting with the people most closely related to us."
From the accounts, I had expected to see a theatrical eeriness about the Zentraedi children, along with illuminated corneas. But from what I could see, their eyes had been "turned off", and they were simply playing with the makeshift toys that had been made for them out of smaller objects, or with the rocks and dirt around the area.
Kazianna informed us that the adults standing around them were a mix of their biological parents and others. Most of the Zentraedi had eagerly volunteered to protect and help raise them, even if they were not their own offspring. Kazianna admitted that, in the process, they would be helping make up for each others' inexperience.
She called Drannin over from the small group, and he dropped his patchwork ball and came running eagerly.
I studied him, hopefully without looking like I was.
I did not expect to find Breetai reborn in Drannin, for I do not believe in the talk of legacies, of offspring as a replacement for a parent; each child conceived was their own individual self.
Drannin had the features of Breetai and Kazianna arranged in inextricable ways, softened by a youth neither of them had had. He had his mother's purple hair, but several shades lighter. His skin was neither pale grey nor pale aquamarine, but what Micronians might have called swarthy; possibly this proved that certain Zentraedi skin tones were mere cloning deformities and would revert to natural ones upon biological reproduction.
Drannin and the rest of the children were wearing old Zentraedi boots and uniforms, cut down and rearranged to fit their smaller bodies, irrespective of colour matching.
He pointed at me. "That's Father's friend?"
"Yes, Drannin," I replied, feeling strangely touched. "My name is Exedore Formo."
One of the other children, a very pale girl with teal hair, had come over to investigate and said, "Why are you so small?"
I wondered if they were just feigning childish ignorance, trying to appear normal. But I indulged them. "Because I am Micronized. Have your caretakers ever told you of that?"
"Not yet," replied Drannin, looking up at his mother as if he expected a secret to be told.
Kazianna explained it tersely, and the bare explanation seemed to satisfy him, though Drannin didn't walk away when the girl did.
"I'm sorry about that," Kazianna said. "But it didn't seem relevant to the children. There wasn't any question what we'd raise them as, and even if someone could get the chamber to work again, we'd inform them of the option when they were old enough to chose it."
"I take no offence at it. In some fashion, I chose my circumstances."
"And so did I," Miriya added.
In the early days of the Zentraedi presence on Earth, some military figures had tried to peddle Micronization to us as a way of restoring "what nature intended". I'd urged them to instead appeal to the more real problem of the potential drain on resources, pointing out that since the Zentraedi knew ourselves only as giants, that was what would seem the most "natural" to us, regardless of the imagined alternatives. What we had experienced directly easily overpowered the abstract.
Cabell and I asked Kazianna and the other caretakers about their plans for Zentraedi education. In their time in newspace, the children had been taught how to write and read, with the Humans to show their parents how to start doing that.
Unsurprisingly all the Zentraedi were looking a bit starstruck at being so close to Cabell, but some where also looking at Miriya in a similar fashion...and me? Of course I knew why, but that was still very strange.
Eventually Lantas and I had to reveal our relationship to others that we knew. Still, it was appropriate that I could first inform the woman who I had developed such a bond with. As opposite as Miriya and I were in beauty, stature, and social inclination, we were both Zentraedi reborn, and that would always ensure a connection, perhaps part of the reason that I had never left the SDF-3 for dead.
Lisa Hayes had also been approached about a memoir, and I had asked her to keep my relationship with Lantas a secret. After the Tiresians had had an entirely different sort of moral panic about our relationship, I wasn't eager to have any more of a fuss made over this, and neither was Lantas. And because she did not have the urge for any kind of ceremonial joining, hopefully that would make things relatively quiet for many more years.
I met with Kazianna several more times, sitting on tabletop chairs again. Sometimes Lantas was with me, other times not. On that first informal meeting, Lantas introduced herself to Kazianna, and explained briefly who she was.
"Congratulations to both of you," Kazianna had said, offering her gloved finger for Lantas to shake, Humanlike.
After informing Kazianna of the difficulties her people were having on Tirol, Lantas had added, "Having the Zentraedi as neighbouring citizens is only going to make things worse,"
Kazianna had only nodded in response. I knew that we would all meet it with the same strength as before.
But it was not all so sombre. Kazianna, Lantas, and I spent much of our time talking about Breetai, whom Lantas already knew much about. Both Breetai and Kazianna had known that they would eventually produce a child, and had coincidentally agreed with me: that Drannin was to be his own man, not at all obligated to be like Breetai or herself.
"Inasmuch as I can have an opinion on such things, I believe that a true legacy rests in memory, not in genes," was what I had said to Kazianna, and she had agreed.
It had slowly come to light that Kazianna would have been very much at home with the Friendly Five, as she had, almost from her first briefings about Micronian culture, desired not only to embrace the new life, but to seize it. If culture had been introduced the female fleet first, Kazianna had joked, she would have been one of the first to defect.
But in those early years Kazianna had been inclined to a cheerful solitude, content to explore on her own, though now she regretted never coming to know me personally. Kazianna had also been a ferocious participant in the strikes against the Malcontents, a member of the twenty-first.
All this was a heartening experience, but after almost a year of modifying, repairing and planning, the Valivarre left Earth with all the remaining Zentraedi aboard but for Miriya and I. Many turned out to watch the launch, including everyone one would expect. I could hear Miriya trying to fight back tears, as Lantas put her arms around me. But though I felt a trifle melancholy, I was still confident in the rightness of my choice.