The Orpheus Trait
By Ivy Rangee
Lady Hippolyte's Office
1 Aprilis 3027
With his notebook perched on his knee, Alex doodled while he waited for his great grandmother in the parlor of her office. Bored he leaned back, sinking into a cushy armchair from which he had a clear view of the very cottage garden where he and Euris had argued the night before.
"Ourea, thank you for advising me to return" he whispered.
"Let that be a lesson to you," replied the sylph.
Alex closed his eyes; just twenty minutes ago he'd slept with Euris beside him. The heat of arousal pulsed through him at the recollection of her scent, of the way she curled her arm around his naked waist, of her silky skin brushing hot and smooth over his, of his knee resting between her legs. Filled with longing, he smiled and wrote:
Music fills the gap between us,
Granting meaning to my poetic non sequiturs
Making sense of nonsense
Freeing me from bonds
Made of coherence.
Sipping your nectar,
Wings appear where there were none,
Bearing me above the darkness pulling me down.
Gliding on possibility,
A new world rises,
Lustrous, and brimming with passion.
Lover, how I long to rest in your arms.
Desiring nothing more than to lay naked with Euris forever, it had taken every ounce of willpower he had to get out of bed. But he'd had no choice. Polli rarely volunteered information on the Yokujin family's history, and he would take advantage of her willingness to talk.
But his mind drifted back to Euris, and the intensity of their passion. Shivering, he rolled his eyes, aware of the effects caused by dwelling on Euris touch. But his grandmother would soon walk through the door which brought Alex back to his notebook where he worked on something more sober.
The Amplifying Power of Love
Pleasure amplified by love-Ecstasy.
Separation amplified by love – Torment.
With disregard for the nature of the sensation,
Love increases without discrimination.
"Would you care for some tea?" asked Lady Hippolyte, interrupting his concentration. She placed a tray laden with tea things on a small table and sat down across from Alex.
"No, thank you."
"What are you writing?"
"Alex! Why must you do that?""
"Well, where were we?" sighed the striking woman shaking her head, as she poured a cup of steaming green tea.
"You were about to tell me the truth about Lord Lupanarius," replied Alex.
"Ah, yes, but Alex."
"Please finish your journal entry describing the Lupanarius incident when you have time. You have a phenomenal memory, and anything you recall might be helpful."
"When Dionysia read your journal aloud, I learned a great deal. Perhaps you will remember something that will help us understand what House Petros has to do with all of this."
"If you think it will help."
"About Lord Lupanarius?"
"As you know, common knowledge holds that Gaia is the ancients' name for Prester. So when I questioned Lord Lupanarius I was surprised that he knew Prester and Gaia are, in fact, two different worlds, since this information even now is a state secret."
"A very well known state secret."
"Maybe on Kuramasu Island, but in polite society such a pronouncement will lead to imprisonment or worse."
"Under what charge?"
"I believe they're using heresy right now. So please do not openly disclose this view to anyone you don't trust."
"It is not a view; it is proven fact."
"Even so, it is a dangerous topic, given the current climate."
"How did Lord Lupanarius know?"
"He's an Eraclea and, before his cousins exiled him, he had access to all the documents stolen by the Guild from the Temple of Lady Gaia."
"Did he know planet Gaia's location?"
"No, that is what led him to Kuramasu Island. Jiguzagu's library contains several very old star charts, and he believed they might hold the location of Gaia. Nanny Anne, alias Lady Clodia, stole the charts, and we never missed them."
"What House was Lady Clodia from?
"She's House Pulchri, declared abandoned fifteen years ago. She gave the charts to Lord Lupanarius, but they are useless for two reasons. There are no discernable points of reference in them, and the text was in the un-deciphered script."
"Do these charts show the actual location of planet Gaia?"
"Unknown, there is no way to know until that script is deciphered."
"Ensign Karpov has brought some picture books and manuals with him that are all in the un-deciphered script. He calls it the ancient script, but it's the same."
"Perhaps you can get Euris to work on it, Alex."
"She seems eager. But what has all this to do with me?"
"Lord Lupanarius recalled that in his research for the location of the true planet Gaia he'd found a reference to a legend about House Yokujin."
"There's a legend?"
"Indeed, all Yokujin men are said to be exceedingly gifted, but in truth it is more likely one in four."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about."
"No, I don't, Polli."
"Alex, please don't be coy. Now, where was I? Ah – most information on the men of House Yokujin is based on legend, since except for you and Eucario, there have been no boys born in several centuries."
"Why is that?"
"Yokujin women never have male children."
"What I know of the story my mother told me."
"As you know, the founder our House, Tamon Yokujin, was a very powerful man – a military commander with exceptional abilities."
"What kind of abilities?"
"Much like yours, he was a poet, musician and an animal whisperer. But it is also said he conversed with the gods, aiding them in the creation of this world. And he valiantly fought certain Guild houses after they rebelled against the will of the gods."
The similarity of Polli's story to that of Lord Dionysus' sent a shiver up Alex' spine, as he whispered, "Rebelled?"
"Yes, they usurped the power of the demiurge, building a world that served only their pleasure."
"What happened to Tamon?"
"The Guild exiled him to Kuramasu Island, where the Yokujins have lived ever since. He made a life here, marrying Evaexa, a woman of the Alwet desert clan. Their first two children were boys; both disappeared mysteriously. After that she bore him twins, a girl and a boy; this boy went missing, too. After the twins two girls were born, followed by a fourth boy who Tamon kept close, as he prayed to the gods for the child's safety."
"When the little boy was three, members of House Dagobert attempted to kidnap him, but Tamon drove them away. However, to no avail, a few weeks later Guild mercenaries arrived and took the boy."
"What did they do to him?"
"Unknown. But after House Eraclea purged the Dagoberts from the Guild, I made contact with them. As an apology they turned over all of their genetic research on House Yokujin."
"In time, let me finish my story. The Guild warned Tamon that if any more male children were born to the Yokujin clan they would be taken. It is said that after this Tamon lost faith in both himself and the power of the gods. He and his wife obeyed the Guild, and thus only daughters were born to House Yokujin. However, this only lasted three generations."
"Tamon taught all his daughters the martial arts, and so all the generations of this clan's women have taught their daughters. That's why Yokujin women married desert clansmen. They were the only ones who could handle us."
"However, the downside of martial strength, overconfidence, brought the birth of more boys, since these vigorous women believed they could overpower any Guild operatives. By the third generation there were twenty Yokujin women, and five of the children born to this group were male. The boys thrived, and everybody laughed at the old taboo. But one day when the boys were ten, a Guild representative with his entourage arrived on Kuramasu Island in order to confirm rumors of Yokujin boys. He tried to remove the poor boys, but the Yokujin women attacked him and his flunkies, forcing them to flee. In retrospect, those Yokujin women should have killed the Guilders, because they came back with reinforcements and abducted the boys."
"Do you know what they did with those boys?"
"No, but I fear they experimented on them."
"We must make them pay, Polli."
"The Yokujins once again knew the suffering of losing children. But the women refused to stop having boys. From then on, they dressed their boys as girls; this practice thwarted the Guild for a while - until the Yokujin boys grew up and preferred impressing girls rather than dressing like them. When the Guild found they had been tricked, they came to the island with their enormous ships and seized all the children, boys and girls. After that the women obeyed."
"But why didn't Tamon stand up to the Guild in the first place?"
"What did he do?"
"He used his song to call on the gods, and somehow he was able to continue the work of macro-engineering Prester."
"In this case, planet building. There is a scientific proof that says this is not a natural world, but was, in fact, created by a machine or machines, not gods. The different mechanisms or phases of building are named after gods, and that is how the confusion came about."
"Do you believe that the gods are machines?"
"I don't know what the truth is. I follow the old ways because it gives me solace, however, I'm not a fanatic; I firmly believe everything should be subject to the scrutiny of reason."
"I do know that sound is very important to this story," she said, ignoring his interruption. "Frankly, I have no idea how, though I surmise the vibrations produced by the singer's utterance activate procedures performed by machines. Perhaps Tamon used his voice to set instruments resonating."
"But wouldn't any voice succeed in this? Why did it have to be his?
"His voice must have had a special quality. The genetic information I obtained from the Dagoberts shows that some women of House Yokujin carry a trait. This trait is recessive in girls because these genes lie within the X chromosomes which determine gender."
"I don't understand."
"All women are women because they have two X chromosomes, one provided by their mother and the other by their father. The trait is recessive, in other words it does not manifest when there are two X chromosomes, because the X chromosome contributed by the father holds the trait in check."
"I still don't understand."
"When a boy is born, his gender is determined by the XY chromosome combination. He receives the X chromosome from his mother and the Y chromosome from his father. There is no second X chromosome to stop the trait from manifesting."
"What is the trait?"
"Brilliance in mathematics, music and language as well as the ability to control animals through sound. It also seems to bring some superior leadership and athletic abilities."
"But Jillian is a musician."
"That's true, but she cannot sing as well as you do, and she does not have your intellectual and artistic abilities. Nor is she an animal whisperer."
"It is so like Lord Orpheus."
"Yes, that is a good comparison; Lord Orpheus, the tekton – a world builder – like Tamon he had power over the creation of his world. The songs Lord Orpheus created and sang moved mountains, and he is often pictured singing to adoring animals. In fact Orpheus would be a good name for the trait since in reality it is a complex set of abilities more than a single characteristic."
"You said Tamon Yokujin could communicate with the gods."
"How did he do it?"
"The story says he was their favorite. He sang to them, and they responded."
"Why didn't he complete the process of planet building?"
"It is tragic."
"He'd been warned many times to stop singing, but he continued in secret. Finally, they cut out his tongue."
"The Guild's maestro ordered it."
"Sorry, I suppose desserts are off limits?"
"Perhaps, but maybe that is not a severe enough punishment for a seventeen year old. You don't even eat them anymore; do you?"
"I'll have to find a more diabolical punishment."
"Polli, I'm old enough to curse!"
"Gentlemen do not curse! However, I'll overlook it this time since you're right about them; they are bastards. Very few people realize it yet, but the Guild is our real enemy, not the Disith. However, it is not time to take them on, they are much too powerful."
"Why didn't they just kill Tamon?
"That is a good question. I've often wondered why they didn't do away with the entire clan; they must have a need for House Yokujin."
"What has this got to do with Lord Lupanarius?"
"Besides knowing what the Guild and the government of Anatoray have attempted to keep secret – that our world is not the same as Gaia - he was in possession of some other curious information."
"He knew a great deal about the abilities of Yokujin males, and he believed that with those powers you could intuit or channel the meaning of the un-deciphered script."
"Where would he get such a strange idea?"
"He knew things I'd never heard before, and he was very willing to share."
"I'll let you read his sources; he gifted them to me."
"When can I see them?"
"I have them locked away in the archive, but anytime you wish. There is something else you might wish to read."
"Like you, Tamon Yokujin kept journals; since you are his true heir, they are yours to investigate."
"But wouldn't he have written in the un-deciphered script?"
"You're correct. He wrote many things in the un-deciphered script, but not his journals. Those are in House Yokujin's cipher."
"Truly, Polli, I look forward to reading his journals."
"I thought you might."
"But, I wonder, is this rumor that I have mastered the un-deciphered script why House Petros is after me?"
"Yes, it's possible, but then it makes no sense would try to murder you."
"It would seem that I'm more useful alive."
"Indeed, perhaps it has to do with the new Guild leadership. They may have broken the code. Or maybe Duke Petros wasn't supposed to kill you; on the other hand he may not be working for the Guild. I'll need to look into this."
"Why did Lord Lupanarius search for the whereabouts of Gaia? What use could he make of such information?"
"He planned to travel there."
"He never revealed that, even when pressed most severely."
"There's something else I don't understand, Polli. How can Yokujin women have only daughters?"
"It is a technique taught to us by House Dagobert."
"Did you abort male babies?"
"Of course not."
"There are six factors."
"What are they?"
"Some other time, dear boy."
"Will you teach this to Tia?"
"Yes, but I'll not insist she have only girls."
"Will you teach it to my wife?"
"Will you teach her?" Alex demanded.
"There will be no need to teach her; there is no way she can be a carrier of the Orpheus trait. If you have daughters, they will all be carriers since one of their X chromosomes will have to come from you, and the only X chromosome you have to give carries the Orpheus trait. But none of your sons will have the trait or carry it since their Y chromosome can only come from you, and the Orpheus trait is not carried on the Y chromosome."
"But what if I married a woman who carried the gene?"
"Unless you plan to marry your sister, it is not within the realm of possibility. The trait is extremely rare."
"I would still wish you to teach my wife."
"It would be nice to have a house full of little girls."
"You say that now, but I suppose you would be king of the castle. Wait, are you trying to tell me something?"
"Yes, one of the reasons I have to go to the capitol."
"Alex, you cannot marry Yukino."
"I don't wish to marry Yuki, anymore. But I do want to have this made into an engagement ring," said Alex, taking the raw diamond that Lord Hades had given him from his pocket.
"Let me see that. Where did you get it? It must be worth a fortune."
"It was a gift."
Why did he give it to you?"
"I offered some helpful advice."
"I see," Lady Hippolyte hesitated. "And who is it you wish to marry?"
"Aren't you going to ask me who Lucian Kolasi is?"
"Later, now answer me. Who do you wish to marry?"
"Euris. But I'm afraid I will be unacceptable to her father."
"But that is wonderful. Prime Minister Bassianus will be visiting in two weeks. You and I will meet with him. When?"
"When will you marry?"
"I haven't asked her yet. But if she agrees, I would like to marry as soon as possible."
"Well, get to it."
"But I need the ring."
"You don't need the ring until we talk to Marius. I'll have a jeweler here within the week. Do you have anything specific design in mind?"
"I do," said Alex, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket. "Here's a drawing."
"Ah, that's lovely. A stone held by two swans - birds that mate for life. How do you want the stone cut?"
"Alex, you're such a romantic. I had no idea."
"Yes, you did."
"I guess I did, my dear boy."
"Hisabo, how likely is it that Prime Minister Bassianus will give his consent?"
"I cannot say for sure, but I believe there is a very good chance he will."
"He thinks highly of you."
"But Euris has already attracted the scions of Houses with a much better pedigree than House Row."
"Please Alex, do not forget that you are the scion of House Yokujin."
"You are my heir. All of this will go to you when I am a resident of the infernal realm."
"I didn't know…Hisabo, you are well?"
"Why? Are you planning something?"
"Don't be stupid. How would any of us get on without you?"
"I'm afraid the Yokujins are rather long lived when left to their own devices. So you will be dealing with me for a few more years."
"That's a relief. But what about Tia?"
"Tia is heir to your father's estate."
"But that is worthless."
"Hmm…that is not entirely true. And hopefully by the time Tia inherits Tereine Estate, the climate change that has rendered all such landholdings unproductive will be undone."
"What do you mean 'not entirely true'?"
"That, my dear boy, is something I cannot discuss. You must ask your mother and father. But suffice it to say Tia will be fine."
"Hisabo, have you considered whether I have the abilities necessary to run Yokujin Enterprises?"
"Alex, you have nothing to fear; you have the aspect of a leader. People naturally follow you; they always have. When the time comes you will manage very well."
"I don't like to think about the world without you."
"Then don't; and as to Marius, he knows very well the benefits of Euris marrying into House Yokujin."
"How will the other Houses view such an inequitable marriage?"
"I have no doubt there will be those who will frown on a marriage between you and Euris. Your father is only a conte and House Yokujin has no title, due to Tamon's exile. But House Yokujin is very influential and very wealthy."
"Why does Prime Minister Bassianus think highly of me?"
"Well, you did save his daughter's life."
"But as far as he knows I am the one responsible for breaking her arm, and I involved her in my extremely risky games, which led her into all kinds of trouble on innumerable occasions."
"Marius has always been fond of you. The first time I took notice of this was during one of the Saturnalia celebrations at Tereine Estate. Your parents had presented you with a brand new tricycle, and you took to it like a madman, careening around the hall terrorizing the guests. Your father had you removed from the room after you ran over Marius' foot and toppled one of the beautifully decorated fur trees."
"Do you think he remembers that?" groaned Alex.
"Probably, but never fear, because as I helped him to a chair, he laughed, and said that if he had a son, he would want one exactly like you."
"Indeed, though he appears stern he has a kind heart. I believe that is a good sign."
"I hope so. But Polli, I was born a bastard at the Emperor's Enclave. I don't even know my birth date."
"Your birth date is 27 Perpatima 3010, and House Bassianus was purged from the Guild. Nobody's perfect. "
"How can you be so sure of my birth date?"
"Because I had a Jiguzagu operative taking care of Jillian when she gave birth to you."
"I should have known."
"Yes, you should have."
"Hisabo…did Gillian know about the prohibition?"
"Regarding the birth of boys?"
"I found her long before she gave birth to you."
"Why didn't you buy her freedom?"
"That is for her to answer."
"But you tried."
"Thank you, Hisabo."
"Dear boy…you do realize that if you marry Euris it will have to be a state wedding?"
"No, Polli, no! Those things are ridiculous and…"
"You will be fine, though there is something you must avoid at all costs."
"Are you and Euris…intimate?"
Alex' face turned a deep, autumn apple red as he stared mutely at the floor.
"I'll take that as a yes. You must be very careful that she does not get pregnant until after you are married."
"She…she's taking the draught," Alex stammered.
"And where did she get access to that?"
"I wouldn't know. Can we change the subject now?"
"Here, take these," said Lady Hippolyte handing Alex several boxes of condoms.
"What do you think I am, Polli? How could I possibly go through so many condoms? How could anyone?"
"I'm sure I wouldn't know, but better safe then sorry. It would not do to have the prime minister's daughter involved in a steam musket wedding. You know things were very different when I was young; I didn't even meet my fiancé until the week before we wed. Courting customs were more conservative then, however, we had decades ahead of us. The life expectancy at that time was seventy years, now it's a mere twenty-seven; you have to make the most of the little time you have."
"You never talk about great-grandfather. What was he like?"
"Some other time, Himago," said Lady Hippolyte, as her chin quivered at the mention of her deceased husband, Admiral Niccolo Raul Shalshelet Martis. "He would have been very proud of you."
Noting her strong reaction, Alex dropped the subject, hoping someday she would tell him more about his great-grandfather. "Polli, there's something else; I must visit the Temple of Persephone, soon."
"The Temple of Persephone?"
"Yes, it's urgent."
"I…I've written a praise poem to Queen Persephone, and…"
"You need to deliver it?"
"Never mind… I'll take you, but we'll go to the main temple on the Rarian Plain. And we'll go with bodyguards. I'm acquainted with the head priestess there. Will that do?"
"Is there a Temple to Lord Dionysus there?"
"Of course, you know what they say?"
"No, what?" asked Alex.
"When Lord Dionysus withdraws he sleeps in the house of Queen Persephone."
"Yes, that makes sense. She's his mother."
"I've never heard that. I thought it was because he is an aspect of Lord Hades. Tell me this myth."
Alex explained as much of the story as Lord Dionysus had revealed, including his ascendency as ruler of the fourth and current cycle. Lady Hippolyte listened attentively, her face averted as she watched the garden.
"Where did you learn this?"
"From a friend."
"Who?" But just as Lady Hippolyte asked someone knocked on her office door with urgency and, before she could answer, the door swung open to reveal a very agitated Antiope.
"I'm sorry for interrupting, but our transports have had to turn back."
"There's a typhoon approaching from the east."
"Mobilize everyone. Begin preparations for landfall."
"Is there an estimated time for landfall?"
"Good, start by evacuating everyone from the eastern village."
"I'm on it."
"Isn't this unusual?" asked Alex. "We don't have typhoons in spring, and they never approach from the east."
"It is rare; the last time it happened you were seven or eight."
"Perhaps it will miss us."
"I hope not; we need the rain."
"I suppose we do."
"Alex, I want to know more about this friend of yours when time permits."
"Hisabo, are you acquainted with Lucian Kolasi?"
"Indeed, I am."
"Will you tell me about him?"
"Maybe, when you're older."
"But why not now? I've met him."
"I'm not prepared to discuss this with you at this time. There's work to be done; I'll rely on you to make sure Euris gets safely to the adyton."
"The adyton? But Polli…"
"Yes, yes, I know it's our clan's secure location, but we have no choice. It's the only safe place with enough space to house everyone. We'll use only the west entrance, there's no need for our guests to know how many conduits lead to it. After our visitors depart we will permanently destroy the west entry."
"Alex, I encourage you to ask Euris soon."
"Why, do you think there's someone else?"
"No, I believe you're the only one."
Alex smiled at his great-grandmother. "Yes, I'll do that, but Polli, I do have to see Yukino. You know that."
"No, I don't. Why must you see her?"
"I have to tell her in person that I'm going to marry Euris – that is if Euris accepts.
"Alex, let Yukino go."
"I can't do that; she's close to my heart."
"But she ran off to the Enclave."
"I am very aware of that, Hisabo, but it doesn't matter."
"Indeed, it does; she betrayed us."
"You don't believe that. No doubt she's feeding you information as we speak."
"That may be true, but it broke my heart when she did such a rash thing."
"Alex, don't start dwelling on it again."
"I won't, but I need to tell her myself."
"Your gesture will be lost on her; she doesn't feel the same way you do."
"Let me think about it. You'd have to go in disguise and with bodyguards."
"And you'd need to follow my instructions to the letter."
"Obedience without question."
"I'll work on it. Gather your fellow cadets; your first assignment is the airfield and hangars. When you've completed that task take a heavy transport with four cadets and survey the island's coast. Make sure no one is left behind."
"But I'm grounded."
"I take it you have not read the message from the Commander Moody."
"I haven't had time. Why?"
"He's pardoned you of all charges. He even removed the five hundred demerits you had accumulated. Really, Alex, how does anyone get that many demerits?"
"It's really not that difficult when you're instructors are idiots the likes of Sub-Commander Dieter Meister and Lieutenant Uriah Truckler."
"They are your teachers, Alex, you must show them respect no matter how idiotic they are."
"Sorry, Polli, but that's not how you raised me, and I earned most of those demerits for infractions of the chivalric code during war games."
"I suppose you are right, but Alex, you really ought to read that message."
"Well, get moving. One more thing Alex, make sure you take that imbecile, Ensign Whelan, with you before I murder him with my bare hands. Though I'm sure I'd get off with justifiable homicide."
"Consider it done, Polli. Oh, I forgot – What about Pelletier's bachelor party?"
Lady Hippolyte groaned, "Just what we need, another party."
"He'll want to have it at one of the Enclaves."
"You can have it at the beach house."
"But…he'll expect women."
"He will take what he gets; this is not the time for an elaborate bachelor party. And besides, I have a feeling that young man's life is one extended bachelor party."
"You've seen the inner sanctum of his soul."
"Now go; the storm preparations are more urgent than young Pelletier's party."