SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 48:
He had a knife in his hand, and a look of triumph in his eyes. However, the most censorious woman in the Matriarchy might have forgiven him. Howard's knife was an old rounded buttering knife—and the reason for his triumph was finding that its tip fitted the slot on the top of the shaft. They had the part. What they didn't have was any tools. The little ring of metal the online manual had described as a circlip had been hell to remove. It had taken the near destruction of her tweezers to finally send it whizzing across the yard. Then they'd had to hunt for it.
She'd hugged him when he spotted it. He'd gone bright red and hastily backed off.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I forget myself. I… wish you were wearing clothes," he said, slowly.
She considered him, standing there looking awkward. Looking at anything but her. "I could wear clothes if it would make things easier for you." It was perverted, she knew. And un-natural. But, if it would help to free him of his inhibitions… excite him and arouse him… Well, if rumor was to be believed quite a few women did it in the privacy of their own homes anyway. Was a piece of cloth really that bad? A guilty part of her subconscious said 'yes'.
He looked at her face with those adoring-puppy eyes. "It would be much easier. I must be honest, your body is a temptation, and as much as I try to resist, I find my eyes drawn to it. It would help me greatly to resist the temptations of the flesh that are set in my way by the evil one. Thank you."
It wasn't quite what she'd meant to achieve, but the very idea had somehow made him more at ease, able to hunt a makeshift tool in her kitchen with her, without him leaping like a startled child if they touched. He was very good with those big hands, she thought, clinically.
He spun the scoot's wheel, beaming with pleasure at the achievement. "I really believe," he said earnestly, "that if God hadn't meant us to do such things he would scarcely have made it such a wholesome pleasure to succeed."
I wonder if I could stretch your mind as far thinking that about sex, thought Lani, far from clinically. But she held her tongue, and took the scoot for a brief test-ride.
It alarmed her with its sudden, easy acceleration, and the smoothness of its ride. The back wheel had always had a bit of a shake at speed. That was gone. It seemed quite obvious now that problem had been developing for a while. Well, if it was going to be this simple, maybe they should start repairing scoots. After all, there was nothing wrong with your man helping you, working as a team with you, on a job. The idea of being in the force was giving her a sour taste in the mouth, now.
She came back to her yard, smiling. The smile didn't last long. Not when she saw two officers standing waiting, with what was obviously a writ.
"Captain Lani LaGarda, you've been charged with neglect, improper man-care, and common assault," said the belted woman. "Accordingly, I must ask you to proceed to the station with me until your pretrial hearing. Your man will be held in protective custody until the matter is resolved."
Howard stood stock still, waiting to see what would happen next.
It obviously worried the arresting officer too. "It's a technicality, Captain. But it is the letter of the law. I'm sorry. I can't see why you won't be released on your own recognizance…"
Lani scowled: "Chapter three, paragraph 7. They'd be breaking the law themselves if tried to do otherwise as the people who laid these charges are themselves facing charges placed by me. I assume these charges come from Captain Rodgers and her patrol, and are unsubstantiated except by their accusations?"
"Er. Yes," admitted the officer.
Lani shrugged. "Well, we'd be playing into their hands if we didn't co-operate. I'm sorry, Howard. First they beat you up then they want to jail you. Let's go."
But they discovered that it wasn't quite so simple when they got to the police station. Lani could go, yes, and just come to her pre-trail. But Howard…
"I'm afraid he'll have to stay in, Captain. I've got a gelding-order here for him. If he is found to have been beyond your control, well, they'll cut. Of course charges of irresponsibility on your part would be diminished by that."
"What?" she demanded.
"He's too big," explained the desk-officer. "The attached affidavit reads that they do not want any aggressive tendencies linked to high testosterone levels and large size to enter the male population again."
"That's ridiculous!" snapped Lani.
"If you sign the disclaimer," said the desk-officer holding out the form, "the medical officer can do it quickly now and we can release him into your custody, while your restitution claim goes through."
Howard listened in horror. If he hadn't been in the cage, he'd have been running. He was relieved to hear Lani say "No," firmly.
The desk-officer shrugged. "I've heard that they're easier to manage and far less inclined to stray after they've had the chop. And they still do the housework well, even if they don't father children any more." She was talking about him as if he was a troublesome dog. "Well, then, he'll just have to stay locked up. I'm sorry."
"But you can't do that!" said Lani, hitting the desk hard enough to make it vibrate.
The desk-officer folded her arms. "I'm sorry, Captain. I have to. You know the rules about visiting times."
Howard found the loneliness and fear even worse this time. Lani was a naked painted Jezebel from a Godless culture. But she had her good points too. When she'd reached through the bars and squeezed his arm, her eyes wet…
There’d been a shift in the foundation rock of his beliefs. The edifices of the life he'd built on it, trembled.
In the meanwhile he had to get out of here. There are some male fears, Howard discovered, that are shared beyond religion or culture. As soon as he was left alone, he began exploring his cell for a way out. The walls seemed solid. The bars too. The roof…
They hadn't thought of anyone easily reaching that, he'd bet. The ceiling was low. With his arms straight up Howard had to bend his knees. Ideal. He pushed. Hard. Howard had done enough labor to know that human strength was principally in the legs.
So he tried again. He was about to try a third time when he heard voices. Two of the little local men were herded into his cell. They were tiny, Howard realized, seeing them close up for the first time. He was tall, large and muscular from farm work. These men were half his size, with little muscle-tone. The two plainly found him intimidating, too, by their posture.
Well, they could hardly help being painted and pallid; and, like him, they were in trouble. "Peace be with you, strangers," he said, smiling and holding out his hand.
Their hands were very small in his. By the way they trembled, they were expecting him to do terrible things to them. Still, the one with scar on his head called him closer. "We are from the Men's Liberation Movement. We want you to join us. Escape and flee to wildlands near the core, to join our liberating army. Men must be free!"
Howard had to agree with the philosophy. Men here certainly needed liberating!
"When we march," said the other, "all the men are going to rebel. We will capture all the elevator banks, seize city hall, behead the matriarch and declare male rule."
It would have been even more shocking if the poor little mite had sounded more convincing. He sounded as he was reciting timetables.
"And these women with the belts and clubs?" asked Howard. "Won't they stop you?"
"They'll have to be killed if they try," said the first one. "Of course, we'll keep some. Every man will have as many women as he pleases to take whenever he wants. Male rule!"
The smaller, more miserable looking one took him by the arm, just as he was about to reply. In his hand was a small piece of paper. It read: DON'T. LISTENING. He put the piece of paper in his mouth and ate it.
As Howard had been about disagree—at least to ends and means—this made things easier. Men weren't supposed to read, but inevitably some would learn. "You are wrong, brothers," he said, calmly. "Violence and killing will not achieve anything. We must be gentle."
"But they beat us!" protested the first man.
"And then we must turn the other cheek," said Howard.
Howard actually had a very enjoyable half hour repeating sermons and scripture to the two. The smaller one, who had originally been so frightened, was now plainly hard-pressed not to laugh. Howard was shocked to notice that the two had their finger's entwined. But then perhaps men did that here.
The two belted women who came to fetch them soon after that looked decidedly sour. It had undoubtedly been a trap. Was there such bitterness here? Or was there really a men's liberation movement to fear, to fuel this?