Serial: Earthrise, Episode 40

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Earthrise
Her Instruments, Book 1

Episode 40

      “I don’t know why you’ve chosen to come home,” Gran said. “But I’m glad you finally have. You’re getting old, Theresa, and your body won’t be good for anything much longer.”
      “Gran, I’m only thirty-two.”
      “Yes, yes. You’ve only got three years.”
      “The operation takes better if you’re thirty-five or younger,” Auntie Mae said. “You know that.”
      She hadn’t, but it didn’t seem like the time to volunteer. “I’m not here to have a baby.”
      “We wouldn’t expect you to start the moment you came home!” Gran exclaimed. “You need to settle down. Find the rhythm of Mars again.”
      “I’m not here to settle down,” Reese said. Her stomach clenched at the ensuing silence. “I’m here to ask for a loan.”
      Another few moments of quiet. Then her mother: “What?”
      “I need money,” Reese said. “For repairs.”
      “You came here for a hand-out?” Auntie Mae said.
      Reese flinched, but said, “Yes.”
      “You already have your inheritance, girl,” Mae said. “Why are you coming back here for more?”
      “I’ll pay the family back,” Reese said.
      Gran lifted her head and squinted past Reese at Ma. “This is out of hand.”
      “What am I supposed to do?” Ma said. “I can’t make her stay home. She’s an adult now.”
      “She’s not acting like one,” Gran said.
      “Not proper at all,” Auntie Mae said, eyeing Reese. Unlike Gran and Reese’s mother, Aunt Mae had brown eyes to go with her caramel-colored skin. They were all different colors, the Eddings, thanks to the traditions of Mars. “Haven’t you been listening, child? You need to settle down. Send away for a baby.”
      “I don’t want a baby,” Reese said, stunning them all into speechlessness. She’d never had the courage to say those words out loud before. Recklessly, Reese went on. “I’ve never wanted a baby. And even if I did want one, I wouldn’t want a… a mail-order baby by some man I don’t even know the name of!”
      “And how else are you supposed to have a daughter?” Gran asked.
      “That’s another thing,” Reese said. “What’s so wrong with having a son?”
      Their stares had lost their unfocused shocky quality; one by one, starting with her grandmother, they hardened with suspicion and anger. After weeks of reading Hirianthial’s restrained body language, her family’s disapproval radiated with the subtlety of a dropped atomic bomb.
      “The Eddings family doesn’t have sons,” Gran said frostily. “We have daughters. We don’t need any meddling men.”
      “Obviously she’s picked up some off-world notion about marriage and family,” Auntie Mae said with a sniff. “Disgusting. Next she’ll be telling us she’s found herself some man. How on earth can you insure a child of fine quality when you mix it up with some man? Who knows where he’s been?”
      “Or when he’ll leave,” Gran said with a curled lip.
      Which was, in the end, the crux of the matter. The men of Mars had softened its soil with their blood in the civil war with Earth… and most of the families that had remained had never recovered from the loss. The Eddings clan wasn’t the only one to have made tradition out of necessity when it came to artificial insemination.
      “I’m not mixed up with any man,” Reese said. “I just need a loan.”
      “You’re not home to stay,” her mother said quietly.
      Reese turned. “No, Ma. I’m still working.”
      “You could work here,” her mother said.
      Reese shook her head. “I’ve got a good lead on some things,” she said. Which she did, if one counted a mysterious Eldritch patron. “I just need to do some repairs and I’ll pay you back.”
      “And then, when you’ve succeeded, when you’ve made all the money you want… you’ll come home?” Ma asked.
      Reese hesitated.
      “I thought she said she was going off to be a wealthy merchant,” Auntie Mae said. “She was supposed to bring home more money for us. Not take it away.”
      Reese flushed. “I will bring you more money. One day I’ll buy you a new house. A nicer one. And you’ll have everything you need.”
      “We’ve got everything we need, Theresa,” Gran said. “Everything but you. You think money’s going to replace a daughter to take care of us when we get old? You going to shovel us into one of those living graves where other children without a bit of gratitude put their aging family?”
      “Your duty’s here,” Auntie Mae said. “You stay here, have yourself a baby. Then you’ll have someone to take care of you when you get old, and you’ll be here to take care of us. We don’t need money. We need you, child.”
      “I’m not staying,” Reese said.
      “You’d be welcome,” Ma said, distracting her. Reese turned to her. Her mother was wiping her hands on her apron… slowly, very slowly. “We could use your help around the house.”
      “I can’t,” Reese said. “I’m not done living yet.” She ignored the hostile quiet that descended after that statement and hurried on. “I just need to borrow money. I promise this will be the last time.”
      “You’re right about that,” Ma said. “Walk on out of here, girl.”
      “Ma?” Reese said, startled.
      Her mother’s eyes were cold. Blue eyes could be incredibly distant. “You leave now, girl. Don’t come back either. Don’t ask me for money. Don’t you come calling. Don’t bring us back some man-bred baby, either, if you settle down. This isn’t your house. We aren’t your family.”
      Reese’s lips parted. “Ma…”
      “I’m not that to you either. Go on, now. You don’t belong here and you never did.”
      Her mother turned to the kitchen table and began clearing the dishes. Auntie Mae helped; Gran returned to her knitting. They all ignored her, as if she’d become part of the peeling wallpaper, the furniture, the red sky. Reese turned, shaking, and made her way up the short hallway to the door. She let herself out, carefully closing the door behind her and barely hearing the soft click of the lock.
      She stood on the welcome mat for a few minutes. There were no passersby: nothing but the still air and the distant, distorted sky. Her bones knew the planet’s drag, but everything else had changed, even the smell of things. Without the eucalyptus, it had lost its richness, its spice.
      Reese couldn’t summon any anger, and anger had always been her best shield. She judged it best to leave quickly before she had time to examine the notion of never coming back. The trip to the station took far too long; Reese used it to work on figures, though she had to force herself to concentrate on the blurry numbers. By the time the shuttle docked at Deimos, she’d decided to take the job offer from the man in the bar. The first half of the payment would take care of repairs; the remainder would pay her crew and give her some room for upgrades and cargo after the assignment. It would get them off Harat-Sharii. The man had assured her it was legal; that was good enough.
      Reese arrived on Deimos Station after lunch and decided against finding Hirianthial and Sascha. Instead she located the locker and sat on the bench outside it. She tried reading some of the romance novels she’d bought before the trip, but the words moved, drifted, wobbled.
      It was no use not thinking about what had happened. Her mother had disinherited her… disinherited. Reese rubbed her forehead. A pretty word she’d lifted from books about princesses and royalty. What little she would have inherited from the Eddings family had already gone into buying the Earthrise. What more did she have to look forward to? A catalog featuring photos of smiling men with their vital statistics listed alongside? A mail-order daughter? A life without testosterone? Not that men weren’t annoying, but things started to feel lopsided without them. Reese flicked to the cover of the latest novel and stared at the Tam-illee girl swooning in the arms of the Eldritch prince.
      No, she still had a home: the Earthrise. Even if she could never come back to Mars, she had a place to go back to. She’d never really planned to come here, settle down and have a fatherless baby… had she?
      Maybe she’d merely never planned that far ahead.
      Reese spent several hours sitting in front of the lockers, trying to sort it out and failing.
      “Hey, boss… how’d it go?”
      “Sascha, do you have the ticket for our baggage claim?” Hirianthial interrupted. “I can’t seem to find it.”
      “I thought you—no, wait.” Sascha checked his vest and pant pockets, came up with a plastic chip. “I have the ticket after all. I’ll be right back.”
      Reese watched Sascha disappear into the building, then squinted at Hirianthial. “You sent him away.”
      “You needed a moment to compose yourself,” the Eldritch said, stopping in front of her.
      She stared at his square-tipped boots. “I don’t need you reading my mind—”
      “Lady,” Hirianthial said, “I don’t need to read your mind when your body fair screams your dejection.”
      Reese straightened, squared her shoulders. “I don’t look dejected.”
      He simply looked at her. It was one of his most disarming, infuriating habits: actually looking at people, instead of glossing over them. She grew more and more uncomfortable until the absurdity of the situation stuck her. Her family had kicked her out for good and she was worrying about having an Eldritch stare her down. Reese managed a weak laugh. “Okay, I am dejected—woah!”
      Hirianthial kneeled in front of her—not quite kneeling, but one knee down and the other up. It put his face on eye level. He looked comfortable there, posing like a knight for a book cover… except in the book covers, the fragile Eldritch princes had always looked effeminate. Reese reflected on how badly they’d messed that up. Long hair and long bones alone did not feminize a man. The fussy lace cuffs, the camellias on the tunic, the blood-sparkle ring on his finger, none of it mattered. It was all in the carriage.
      “It will pass,” he said.
      “I… I guess I know that,” Reese said, looking away. The silence that fell was so comfortable she couldn’t stand it. Without deciding to, she glanced at him and asked, “Do you have a home?”
      “My lady?” He looked as startled as he ever did.
      “A home,” Reese said. “Like the Earthrise is mine.”
      “I hadn’t really given the matter much thought,” he said.
      “Isn’t it a hard thing not to know?” Reese asked, and was rewarded by his eyes… closing. She wasn’t sure how he did it, but their warmth drained away. The result wasn’t hostile, like her mother’s blue stare, just distant. Formal. She hurried on. “Because everyone should have one.”
      “Of course,” he said.
      “Look, I want to give you an employment contract. Instead of you just… you know. Hanging around until you get bored or I get frustrated.”
      This time she expected the stillness. She’d hit a nerve. Maybe. “You don’t have to take it. But everyone else in the crew’s got one and you deserve one too. If you want one.”
      The warmth returned to his gaze, as slowly as a spring replenishing. For once his smile was neither cautious nor tired, merely small. He never seemed to do anything large or loud; it made Reese wonder how he bore her. “I would be honored.”
      “Yeah, okay. Then get up, all right? Last thing we need is Sascha coming in on you like this and getting all sorts of ideas—”
      “What sorts of ideas?” Sascha asked, dragging their bags behind him as Hirianthial stood.
      “The wrong ones,” Reese said. Hirianthial brushed the dust from his pants.
      “Curse it all!” Sascha said, shaking a fist at the ceiling. “Why do I always miss all the juicy bits?”
      “Oh, hush,” Reese said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
      “Aye aye, ma’am.”

***

And this ends Part 2, and our visit to Reese’s family.


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