A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 15



Marjorie Harrington finished writing up her latest microbe-resistant strain of squash, closed the file, and sat back with a sigh. Some of Sphinx’s farmers had argued that it would be much simpler (and quicker) just to come up with something to swat the microbe in question. That always seemed to occur to the people who faced such problems, and sometimes, Marjorie admitted, it was not only the simplest but also the most cost-effective and ecologically sound answer. But in this case she and the planetary administration had resisted firmly, and her final solution — which, she admitted, had taken longer than a more aggressive approach might have — had been to select the least intrusive of three possible genetic modifications to the plant rather than going after the microbe.


She knew even some of her colleagues back on Meyerdahl would have backed the “fast and aggressive” approach, but Marjorie had always regarded that as a last resort. Besides, her distaste for such methods lent a certain elegance to her work. There was something almost poetic about it, like the way she’d grafted the genetic resistance of native Sphinxian plants into terrestrial celery to defeat the blight which had threatened to destroy the plant. This one hadn’t been quite as subtle as that one, but it still left her with a sense of profound satisfaction, very like the satisfaction she felt standing back from her easel to survey a finished landscape painting.


She smiled at the thought, looking remarkably like her daughter for a moment. Then her smile faded as she turned her mind from squash to other matters. Her workload had grown much heavier over the past weeks as Sphinx’s southern hemisphere moved steadily towards planting time, and the press of priority assignments had kept her from finding the time for long hikes with Stephanie. She knew that, but she also knew she hadn’t even been able to free up the time to help her daughter explore possible answers to the celery pilferage which had finally reached the Harrington freehold.


At least she’d responded enthusiastically to Richard’s resumption of her hang-gliding lessons. In fact, she’d started spending hours in the air, checking in periodically over her uni-link — and despite the vocal worry of some of the Twin Forks parents whose kids were also learning to glide, Marjorie wasn’t especially worried by the risks involved in her daughter’s hobby. A certain number of bumps, scrapes, contusions, bruises, or even broken bones were among the inevitable rites of childhood, and while Marjorie Harrington didn’t want her child running stupid risks, neither did she want Stephanie to grow up into an adult who was afraid to take risks.


Which, judging by Stephanie’s personality at “twelve-but-I’ll-be-thirteen-in-only-eight-months” wasn’t very likely to happen, she reflected wryly.


Yet if Marjorie had no qualms over Stephanie’s new interest, she was still unhappily certain Stephanie had embraced it mainly as a diversion from other disappointments, and she rubbed her nose pensively. She had no doubt Stephanie understood how important her own work was, but the situation was still grossly unfair to her, and although Stephanie seldom sulked or whined, Marjorie had expected to hear quite a bit of carefully reasoned commentary on the subject of fairness. And the fact that Stephanie hadn’t complained at all only sharpened Marjorie’s sense of guilt. It was as if Stephanie —


The hand rubbing Dr. Harrington’s nose suddenly stopped moving as a fresh thought struck her, and she frowned, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to her before. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know her daughter, after all, and this sort of sweet acceptance was very unlike Stephanie. No, she didn’t sulk or whine, but neither did she give up without a fight on something to which she’d truly set her mind. And, Marjorie thought, while Stephanie had enjoyed hang gliding back on Meyerdahl, it had never been the passion it seemed to have become here. It was possible she’d simply discovered she’d underestimated its enjoyment quotient on Meyerdahl, but Marjorie’s abruptly roused instincts said something else entirely.


She ran her mind back over her more recent conversations with her daughter, and her suspicion grew. Not only had Stephanie not complained about the unfairness of her grounding, but it was over two weeks since she’d even referred to the mysterious celery thefts, and Marjorie scolded herself harder for falling into the error of complacency. All the signs were there, and she should have realized that the only thing which could produce such a tractable Stephanie was a Stephanie who was Up To Something and didn’t want her parents to notice.


But what could she be up to? And why didn’t she want them to notice? The only thing she’d been forbidden was the freedom to go wilderness hiking on her own, and however devious she might sometimes be, Stephanie would never break a promise. Yet if she was using her sudden interest in hang gliding as a cover for something else, whatever she was up to must be something she calculated would arouse parental resistance. Which, unlike her promise to avoid woodland hikes, wouldn’t stop her for a moment until they got around to catching her at it. Her daughter, Marjorie thought with affection-laced exasperation, was entirely too prone to figure that anything which hadn’t been specifically forbidden was legal . . . whether or not the opportunity to forbid it had ever been offered.


On the other hand, Stephanie wasn’t the sort to prevaricate in the face of specific questions. If Marjorie sat her down and asked her, she’d open up about whatever she was up to. She might not want to, but she’d do it, and Marjorie made a firm mental note to set aside enough time to explore the no doubt boundless possibilities.