SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 42:
She got up and took the arm he offered. The offer was done in such a way that she was pretty sure it was because he regarded her as walking wounded. He certainly had no idea about the duties a man owed to his mistress! Teaching him was going to be quite a lot of fun, although right now her head and ribs were still sore, which rather limited the appeal of sex. She stole a look at his profile. Okay, so some women might regard the first addition to her harem as a freak, but there was some odd primitive appeal to his body. She leaned on the arm. It was solidly muscled.
"Right—here is my work cubicle. Normally men should keep out of this area, except to clean it." She sat down gingerly. Winced. It was from the graze on her side, but he reached the wrong conclusion.
He blushed. "I didn't mean to drop you so hard." He bit his lip. "That is a lie. What I mean is, I am sorry I dropped you so hard. It was unchristian of me. I didn't think about how much I would hurt you."
"I'd just kicked you in the belly and in the balls," she said. "And I did mean to hurt you."
He shrugged. "I should have turned the other cheek."
She swatted him. Playfully, across the behind. "Right. Consider the other cheek hit."
He backed off, looking very fearful.
"Oh, for goodness sake! I didn't hurt you."
"No." He bit his lip. "But it is not right that you should touch me, flesh on flesh, exposing me to the temptations of the flesh. I… the Society of Brethren do not believe a man should have… uh, knowledge of a woman unless they are man and wife."
He was turning her down? It wasn't exactly something he had any choice about! The court, acting as his mother, had accepted her bid. It was a woman's right! She'd noticed that he wasn't entirely disinterested. That did add a certain… piquancy to it all. She was used to young men physically desiring her. She'd bitterly come to accept that they regarded her as fine for a bit of experience, just not old enough, or wealthy and powerful enough, to really tempt them or their mothers into signing a bond.
She decided on a direct approach. "Don't you find me attractive?" she asked.
He blushed to the roots of his hair. "It's not the same thing," he mumbled, and looked terribly embarrassed. "It's not right, and nothing will ever change my mind."
"Really?" said Lani, feeling something of a challenge here. "We'll just have to see."
She gave him her best smile. This was something entirely new. It gave her a rather perverted little frisson of excitement. This sort of chase… was different. Diana the huntress would approve. She doubted if the rest of the society of the Matriarchal Republic would, but they didn't have to know what she was doing inside the walls of her own home.
"Anyway," she pointed to the screen, activated it with the other hand. "We don't still have books. We have this. There are several hundred thousand texts available. Let's see if I can find a manual for the scoot." She flicked to search. "Ah. Here."
"The letters are so clear! They're… wonderful!" Looking up at him she realized that she might have serious trouble seducing him from these bizarre ideas of his… as long as he could have something to read. His face was rapt, and he was plainly entranced by the dull technical text. He looked like a child with the most wonderful toy.
Rather cute, really. She didn't bother to ask if he wanted vox. He, like her, obviously read faster than the machine could say the words.
"There is more?" he asked hopefully.
"Millions of pages. Oh, you mean of this document? Just hit this button to scroll down."
He did, almost devouring the words with hungry eyes.
At length he shook himself. "It is strange to read something that isn't holy writ. The letters are so regular! How do they do this?"
"I've never really thought about it. There'll be a book on it somewhere. Or I can ask someone at the university for you. My mother didn't have the money to send me, but I know a few people."
He sighed. "It is very wonderful. I have seen so much today that my mind is almost numb with wonder. But this… this is one of the most wonderful. I don't understand all the words, but it is like a door opening. Thank you."
It was so obviously heartfelt that she could hardly refuse to show him how to use the dictionary by highlighting the word. She was, she admitted to herself, totally unprepared for his delight at that. It was rather sweet, really.
They found the numbered part together and ordered it. It was surprisingly cheap.
Eventually, she looked at her wall-clock. "So late already. We'd better eat." She jerked a thumb at the kitchen. Howard looked blank. Lani started to get angry and then… checked. "Can you cook?" she asked warily. "I suppose that's something else you might not have learned to do."
Howard beamed, straightening up from leaning over the chair, and almost bumping his head on her ceiling. "I'm a good cook," he said. "Well, that's what Sister Thirsdaughter said. I can't cook anything like as well as my mother could, of course. But for a man, I can cook well." He looked faintly embarrassed. "It comes of being a bachelor still at nine-and-twenty. Most men marry much younger—often straight from living with their parents, and have never touch a skillet."
Lani looked at him suspiciously. "Your mother cooked?"
Howard nodded, his blue eyes innocent. "Didn't yours?"
"I'm damn sure she never touched the inside of a kitchen. Next thing you'd be suggesting that she washed plates or changed diapers." She caught the look on Howard's face. "I suppose your mother did?"
Howard nodded. "My father did help. He cooked on Sundays, and took his turn in the chores list with the dish-washing. But many people in New Eden consider cooking and house-keeping to be women's work. I did it because I lived alone, of course. But I would have expected my wife to do the bulk of it if I married."
Lani pushed open the kitchen door. "Things are very much the same here. Except that it is you who are expected to do the cooking. And, as a woman living alone, I've been looking forward to it. I can burn nearly anything. I suppose I should show you where things are."
She was a little embarrassed by the state of the kitchen. But then she hadn't expected to be bringing home a man when she started her day. "It's a bit primitive," she said, gruffly. "But we can improve it one day when I have a bit more money."