A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 01

A Beautiful Friendship

David Weber


Unexpected Meetings


1518 Post Diaspora

Planet Sphinx, Manticore Binary Star System




“I mean it, Stephanie!” Richard Harrington said. “I don’t want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?”


“Oh, Daaaddy –!” Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping lightly, and her heart sank. This wasn’t going well at all, and she resented that reflection on her . . . negotiating skills almost as much as she resented the restriction she was trying to avoid. She was almost twelve T-years old, smart, an only child, and a daughter. That gave her certain advantages, and she’d become an expert at wrapping her father around her finger almost as soon as she could talk. Unfortunately, her mother had always been a tougher customer . . . and even her father was unscrupulously willing to abandon his proper pliancy when he decided the situation justified it.


Like now.


“We’re not going to discuss this further,” he said with ominous calm. “Just because you haven’t seen any hexapumas or peak bears doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.”


“But I’ve been stuck inside with nothing to do all winter,” she said, easily suppressing a twinge of conscience as she neglected to mention snowball fights, cross-country skiing, sleds, snow tunnels, and certain other diversions. “I want to go outside and see things!”


“I know you do, honey,” her father said more gently, reaching out to tousle her curly brown hair. “But it’s dangerous out there. This isn’t Meyerdahl, you know.” Stephanie closed her eyes and looked martyred, and his expression showed a flash of regret at having let the last sentence slip out. “If you really want something to do, why don’t you run into Twin Forks with Mom this afternoon?”


“Because Twin Forks is a complete null, Daddy.”


Exasperation colored Stephanie’s reply, even though she knew it was a tactical error. Even above-average parents like hers got stubborn if you disagreed with them too emphatically, but honestly! Twin Forks might be the closest “town” to the Harrington freehold, but it boasted a total of maybe fifty families, most of whose handful of kids were a total waste of time. None of them were interested in xeno-botany or biosystem hierarchies. In fact, they spent most of their free time trying to catch anything small enough to keep as pets, however much damage they might do to their intended “pets” in the process. Stephanie was pretty sure any effort to enlist those zorks in her explorations would have led to words — or a fist in the eye — in fairly short order. Not, she thought darkly, that she was to blame for the situation. If Dad and Mom hadn’t insisted on dragging her away from Meyerdahl just when she’d been accepted for the junior forestry program, she’d have been on her first internship field trip by now. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t, and the least they could do to make up for it was let her explore their own property!


“Twin Forks is not a ‘complete null,’ ” her father said firmly.


“Oh yes it is,” she replied with a curled lip, and Richard Harrington drew a deep breath.


“Look,” he said after a moment, “I know you had to leave all your old friends behind on Meyerdahl. And I know how much you were looking forward to that forestry internship. But Meyerdahl’s been settled for over a thousand T-years, Steph, and Sphinx hasn’t.”


“I know that, Dad,” she replied, trying to make her voice as reasonable as his. That first “Daddy!” had been a mistake. She knew that, and she didn’t plan on repeating it, but his sudden decree that she stay so close to the house had caught her by surprise. “But it’s not like I didn’t have my uni-link with me. I could’ve called for help anytime, and I know enough to climb a tree if something’s trying to eat me! I promise — if anything like that had come along, I’d’ve been sitting on a limb fifteen meters up waiting for you or Mom to home in on my beacon.”


“I know you would have . . . if you’d seen it in time,” her father said in a considerably grimmer tone. “But Sphinx isn’t ‘wired’ the way Meyerdahl was, and we still don’t know nearly enough about what’s out there. We won’t know for decades yet, and all the uni-links in the world might not get an air car there fast enough if you did run into a hexapuma or a peak bear.”


Stephanie started to reply, then stopped. He had a point, she admitted grudgingly. Not that she meant to give up without a fight! But one of the five-meter-long hexapumas would be enough to ruin anyone’s day, and peak bears weren’t a lot better. And he was right about how little humanity knew about what was really out there in the Sphinx brush. But that was the whole point, the whole reason she wanted to be out there in the first place!


“Listen, Steph,” her father said finally. “I know Twin Forks isn’t much compared to Hollister, but it’s the best I can offer. And you know it’s going to grow. They’re even talking about putting in their own shuttle pad next spring!”


Stephanie managed — somehow — not to roll her eyes again. Calling Twin Forks “not much” compared to the city of Hollister was like saying it snowed “a little” on Sphinx. And given the long, dragging, endless year of this stupid planet, she’d almost be seventeen T-years old by the time “next spring” got here! She hadn’t quite been ten and a half when they arrived . . . just in time for it to start snowing. And it hadn’t stopped snowing for the next fifteen T-months!


“Sorry,” her father said quietly, as if he’d read her thoughts. “I’m sorry Twin Forks isn’t exciting, and I’m sorry you didn’t want to leave Meyerdahl. And I’m sorry I can’t let you wander around on your own. But that’s the way it is, honey. And” — he gazed sternly into her brown eyes — “I want your word you’ll do what your mom and I tell you on this one.”


*     *     *


Stephanie squelched glumly across the mud to the steep-roofed gazebo. Everything on Sphinx had a steep roof, and she allowed herself a deep, heartfelt groan as she plunked herself down on the gazebo steps and contemplated the reason that was true.


It was the snow. Even here, close to Sphinx’s equator, annual snowfall was measured in meters — lots of meters, she thought moodily — and houses needed steep roofs to shed all of that frozen water, especially on a planet whose gravity was over a third higher than Old Earth’s. Not that Stephanie had ever seen Old Earth . . . or any world which wasn’t classified as “heavy-grav” by the rest of humanity.


She sighed again, with an edge of wistful misery, and wished her great-great-great-great-whatever grandparents hadn’t volunteered for the Meyerdahl First Wave. Her parents had sat her down to explain what that meant shortly after her eighth birthday. She’d already heard the word “genie,” though she hadn’t realized that, technically at least, it applied to her, but she’d only started her classroom studies four T-years before. Her history courses hadn’t gotten to Old Earth’s Final War yet, so she’d had no way to know why some people still reacted so violently to any notion of modifications to the human genotype . . . or why they considered “genie” one of the dirtiest words in Standard English.


Now she knew, though she still thought anyone who felt that way was silly. Of course the bio-weapons and “super soldiers” whipped up for the Final War had been horrible. But that had all happened over five hundred T-years ago, and it hadn’t had a thing to do with people like the Meyerdahl or Quelhollow first waves. She supposed it was a good thing the original Manticoran settlers had left Sol before the Final War. Their old-fashioned cryo ships had taken long enough to make the trip for them to miss the entire thing . . . and the prejudices that went with it.


Not that there was anything much to draw anyone’s attention to the changes the geneticists had whipped up for Meyerdahl’s colonists. Mass for mass, Stephanie’s muscle tissue was about twenty-five percent more efficient than that of “pure strain” humans, and her metabolism ran about twenty percent faster to fuel those muscles. There were a few minor changes to her respiratory and circulatory systems (to let her handle a broader range of atmospheric pressures without the nanotech pure-strainers used), and some skeletal reinforcement to cope with the muscles, as well. And the modifications had been designed to be dominant, so that all her descendants would have them. But her kind of genie was perfectly inter-fertile with pure-strainers, and as far as she could see all the changes put together were no big deal. They just meant that because she and her parents needed less muscle mass for a given strength they were ideally suited to colonize high-gravity planets without turning all stumpy and bulgy-muscled. Still, when she’d gotten around to studying the Final War and some of the anti-genie movements, she’d decided Dad and Mom might have had a point in warning her not to go around telling strangers about it. Aside from that, she seldom thought about it one way or the other . . . except to reflect somewhat bitterly that if they hadn’t been genies the heavy gravities of the Manticore Binary System’s habitable planets might have kept her parents from deciding they simply had to drag her off to the boonies like this.