Chapter 17



Extract from the Transcript of the Slowtrain funding debate of Lower House, SysGov.


            "Tolerance breeds tolerance. The only thing a tolerant society should not tolerate are things which impact on the lives, liberty and happiness of its citizens, such as, for example, bigots. Personally I think shipping them out of the system is a wonderful idea."


Carmen Albert, Representative for Ceres-West




            Kretz found some comfort in a female dominated society. Mind you, so far he'd seen little or no evidence of it being any more rational. In his world, Miran females were older, and once they'd got over the hormonal riot of change-over, more stable. These females didn't have that advantage.

            The room full of women gave him his first chance to really study human female form. Fascinating convergence! He'd had a talk with Sister Thirsdaughter about child-rearing and had wanted to see human mammary glands. It was a bit that odd they only had two, and they were larger than the Miran ones. That was natural enough as they only had two, he supposed.

            "What are you staring at?" asked the large woman that they'd all had to stand up for. She'd sat herself down behind the desk, and everyone else in the room had sat too.

            "You," answered Kretz. "You're quite different from us, but quite alike. I have not had a chance to examine you without clothing. I am sorry if I am offending some taboo."

            She gave him no reply, but instead asked: "What are you?"

            "We call ourselves Miran. I believe your term for us is 'alien'."

            There was sudden buzz from the watchers on the seats."Silence," said the woman firmly. Then she turned to Kretz. "I can see that you aren't human. But what I want to know is whether you are male or female. Looking at you, you could be either or both."

            Something about the way she asked made Kretz suspect that this was a trick question. But he had no real idea what the trick was. All he could do was answer and hope he'd be lucky. "I am, at the moment, male. I should become female in about two of our years time. This is how Miran are. We begin as male and then become female. All animal life on our world that doesn't reproduce by binary fission follows this pattern."

            The woman at the desk made a note on her page. "It's a lesser charge, I suppose. As a male yourself you can't be held responsible for another male. So, where are you from? What are you doing here, in the Matriarchal Republic of Diana?"

            For a brief moment Kretz toyed with trying a lie, for instance that there several thousand other Miran males armed to the teeth coming to fetch him. He decided to stick to the truth. These aliens were definitely more technologically advanced than Howard's people had been, although there were small signs of breakdown to be seen.

            "I am from the second planet of a sun some 1.8 light-years away. We saw this ship and came to investigate. We mean you no harm. My companions were attacked in the first habitat, by primitives with weapons that flung projectiles at us. Most of my friends were killed. I was separated from my companion. She is now back on our ship. I was hurt, fled down the central cable and reached the habitat of my companion. They are primitive humans, having regressed from technology, or for some reason turned their backs on it. They tried to help me, and sent one of their number with me, as an escort, helper and guide. I could not get back, but there is a lifecraft from our ship some four habitats on. We are trying to reach it."

            He paused. "The human who is with me has saved my life. I apologize if we have broken your taboos. I plead for you to understand. You are an advanced people. He is very primitive."

            The woman at the desk made a note on her pad, then steepled her fingers. "Nonetheless, you broke our laws about clothing. And while I am sympathetic about you trying to reach your mistress, and being separated from her, you were still moving in the wrong direction, without a woman to escort you."

            "We did not know of your law," said Kretz.

            "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," said the woman, firmly, in the manner of one using an accepted truism to clinch an argument.

            That struck Kretz as an excuse itself. After all, what kind of legitimacy did a regime have that did not inform its citizens (or visitors) of the rules it expected them to follow? That surely was its responsibility? The law-setter had failed, not the citizen.

            But there was no point in fighting with her about it. "I have no objection to being without clothes. The clothes that I wore were simply to protect me from space. It is cold and airless out there."

            "I know that," she said dismissively. "You could have taken them off once you were in."

            A thought struck Kretz. "These laws of yours apply to your people? You are humans?"

            The large woman nodded. "In full, alien, to human females. Males are considered as minors under law."

            Kretz nodded back, pleased to found a loophole. "I am not human. Therefore surely I don't fall under your law. My wearing clothes then is no worse than…" What was that animal Howard had found so amusing that he'd thought was another intelligent species called? "A pig wearing clothes."

            The woman frowned slightly. "You're very well informed about the animal-life on old Earth. Very well. It'll do away with a tricky case. I suppose, as you're not human, you belong to those who handle animal tissue."

            She turned to the woman who had escorted him in. "Have him shipped off to Dr.. Geriant at the protein vat research unit at the university. Make him her problem, at least until he changes sex."