A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 02


She chewed her lower lip and leaned back, letting her eyes roam over the isolated clearing in which she’d been marooned by their decision. The tall green roof of the main house was a cheerful splash of color against the still-bare picketwood and crown oaks which surrounded it. But she wasn’t in the mood to be cheerful, and it took very little effort to decide green was a stupid color for a roof. Something dark and drab — brown, maybe, or maybe even black — would’ve suited her much better. And while she was on the subject of inappropriate building materials, why couldn’t they have used something more colorful than natural gray stone? She knew it had been the cheapest way to do it, but getting enough insulating capacity to face a Sphinx winter out of natural rock required walls over a meter thick. It was like living in a dungeon, she thought . . . then paused to savor the simile. It fitted her present mood perfectly, and she stored it away for future use.


She considered it a moment longer, then shook herself and gazed at the trees beyond the house and its attached greenhouses with a yearning that was almost a physical pain. Some kids knew they wanted to be spacers or scientists by the time they could pronounce the words, but Stephanie didn’t want stars. She wanted . . . green. She wanted to go places no one had ever been yet — not through hyper-space, but on a warm, living, breathing planet. She wanted waterfalls and mountains, trees and animals who’d never heard of zoos. And she wanted to be the first to see them, to study them, understand them, protect them. . . . .


Maybe it was because of her parents, she mused, forgetting to resent her father’s restrictions for the moment. Richard Harrington held degrees in both Terran and xeno-veterinary medicine. They made him far more valuable to a frontier world like Sphinx than he’d ever been back home, but he’d occasionally been called upon by Meyerdahl’s Forestry Service. That had brought Stephanie into far closer contact with her birth world’s animal kingdom than most people her age ever had the chance to come. And her mother’s background as a plant geneticist — another of those specialties new worlds found so necessary — had helped her appreciate the beautiful intricacies of Meyerdahl’s flora, as well.


Only then they’d brought her way out here and dumped her on Sphinx.


Stephanie grimaced in fresh disgust. Part of her had deeply resented the thought of leaving Meyerdahl, but another part had been delighted. However much she might have longed for a Wildlife Management Service career, the thought of starships and interstellar voyages had been exciting. And so had the thought of emigrating on a sort of rescue mission to help save a colony which had been almost wiped out by plague. (Although, she admitted, that part would have been much less exciting if the doctors hadn’t found a cure for the plague in question.) Best of all, her parents’ specialties meant the Star Kingdom had agreed to pay the cost of their transportation, which — coupled with their savings — had let them buy a huge piece of land all their own. The Harrington freehold was a rough rectangle thrown across the steep slopes of the Copperwall Mountains to overlook the Tannerman Ocean, and it measured twenty-five kilometers on a side. Not the twenty-five meters of their lot’s frontage in Hollister, but twenty-five kilometers, which made it as big as the entire city had been back home! And it backed up against an area already designated as a major nature preserve, as well.


But there were a few things Stephanie hadn’t considered in her delight. Like the fact that their freehold was almost a thousand kilometers from anything that could reasonably be called a city. Much as she loved wilderness, she wasn’t used to being that far from civilization, and the distances between settlements meant her father had to spend an awful lot of time in the air just getting from patient to patient.


At least the planetary data net let her keep up with her schooling and enjoy some simple pleasures — in fact, she was first in her class (again), despite the move, and she stood sixteenth in the current planetary junior chess competition, as well. Of course, that didn’t mean as much here as it would have on Meyerdahl, given how much smaller the population (and pool of competitors) was. Still, it had kept her from developing a truly terminal case of what her mother called “cabin fever,” and she enjoyed her trips to town (when she wasn’t using Twin Forks’ dinkiness in negotiations with her parents). But none of the few kids her age in Twin Forks were in the accelerated curriculum, which meant they weren’t in any of her classes, and she hadn’t gotten to know them on-line the way she’d known all her friends back on Meyerdahl. They probably weren’t all complete nulls, but she didn’t know them. Besides, she admitted, her “peer group interpersonal skills” (as the counselors liked to put it) weren’t her strong suit. She knew she got frustrated quickly — too quickly, often enough — with people who couldn’t keep up with her in an argument or who insisted on doing stupid things, and she knew she had a hot temper. Her mom said that sometimes accompanied the Meyerdahl modifications, and Stephanie tried to sit on it when it got out of hand. She really did try, yet more than one “interpersonal interaction” with another member of her “peer group” had ended with bloody noses or blackened eyes.


So, no, she hadn’t made any friends among Twin Forks’ younger population. Not yet, anyway, and the settlement itself was totally lacking in all the amenities of a city of almost three million people, like Hollister.


Yet Stephanie could have lived with all of that if it hadn’t been for two other things: snow and hexapumas.


She dug a booted toe into the squishy mud beyond the gazebo’s bottom step and scowled. Daddy had warned her they’d be arriving just before winter, and she’d thought she knew what that meant. But “winter” had an entirely different meaning on Sphinx. Snow had been an exciting rarity on warm, mild Meyerdahl, but a Sphinxian winter lasted almost sixteen T-months. That was over a tenth of her entire life, and she’d become well and truly sick of snow. Dad could say whatever he liked about how other seasons would be just as long. Stephanie believed him. She even understood (intellectually) that she had the better part of four full T-years before the snow returned. But she hadn’t experienced it yet, and all she had right now was mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud, and the bare beginning of buds on the deciduous trees. And boredom.


And, she reminded herself with a scowl, she also had the promise not to do anything about that boredom which her father had extracted from her. She supposed she should be glad he and Mom worried about her. But it was so . . . so underhanded of him to make her promise. It was like making Stephanie her own jailer, and he knew it!


She sighed again, rose, shoved her fists into her jacket pockets, and headed for her mother’s office. Marjorie Harrington’s services had become much sought after in the seventeen T-months she’d been on Sphinx, but unlike her husband, she seldom had to go to her clients. On the rare occasions when she required physical specimens rather than simple electronic data, they could be delivered to her small but efficient lab and supporting green houses here on the freehold as easily as to any other location. Stephanie doubted she could get her mom to help her change Dad’s mind about grounding her, but she could try. And at least she might get a little understanding out of her.


*     *     *


Dr. Marjorie Harrington stood by the window and smiled sympathetically as she watched Stephanie trudge toward the house. Dr. Harrington knew where her daughter was headed . . . and what she meant to do when she got there. In a general way, she disapproved of Stephanie’s attempts to enlist one parent against the other when edicts were laid down, but one thing about Stephanie: however much she might resent a restriction or maneuver to get it lifted, she always honored it once she’d given her word to do so.


Which didn’t mean she’d enjoy it, and Marjorie’s smile faded as she contemplated her daughter’s disappointment. And the fact that she and Richard had no choice but to restrict Stephanie didn’t make it fair, either.


I really need to take some time away from the terminal, she reflected. There’s no way I could possibly spend as many hours in the woods as Stephanie wants to. There aren’t that many hours in even a Sphinxian day! But I ought to be able to at least provide her with an adult escort often enough for her habit to get a minimum fix.


Her thoughts paused and then she smiled again as another thought occurred to her.


No, we can’t let Steph rummage around in the woods by herself, but there might just be another way to distract her. After all, she’s got that problem-solver streak — the kind of mind that prints out hard copies of the Yawata Crossing Times crossword so she can work them in ink instead of electronically. So with just a little prompting. . . .


Marjorie let her chair slip upright and drew a sheaf of hard copy closer as she heard boots moving down the hall towards her office. She uncapped her stylus and bent over the neatly printed sheets with a studious expression just as Stephanie knocked on the frame of the open door.


“Mom?” Dr. Harrington allowed herself one more sympathetic smile at the put-upon pensiveness of Stephanie’s tone, then banished the expression and looked up from her paperwork.


“Come in, Steph,” she invited, and leaned back in her chair once more.


“Can I talk to you a minute?” Stephanie asked, and Marjorie nodded.


“Of course you can, honey,” she said. “What’s on your mind?”