Anar, Urim 08, 03262
Honest Impulses 01: A Whole New World
It was sin that had brought Shandy to this place.
She lay her head next to the now featureless gray slate of the University Handbook and fought back tears. She had always enjoyed working with machines and devices that mimicked humanity, and her skills had carried her this far only to abandon her. She'd survived three lonely weeks on the liner starship, taken her first SDisk trip, managed an anxious walk through the city, all noise and heat and terrible fascinations, to find her dorm room, and now she couldn't work something as simple as a foreign data slate. The Anglic Lingua Franca used on Hiroshi wasn't even that far from her own.
She wallowed in her misery until the distant thunder of wheels rolled on the hallway's wooden floor, followed by soft footsteps and the rattle of a latch across the hall. She ran to her door, faltered, opened it. "Hello?"
She froze. The figure across the hall was not human. She— definitely female, Shandy saw with more dismay— had a fluffy, feline head, grey fur with little streaks of gold, and a powerful quadrupedal lower body. A Ssphynx, one of those cat-based centaur types from Pendor. "Hi!" she said. "I thought the dorms would be empty. Class doesn't start until next Monday, and nobody likes to get here early. Are you the first one here?" Her accent was liquid and strange but her Anglic was perfect and her words were ordinary. She wore big square eyeglasses in frames with rounded corners attached with a tiny metal bar across her muzzle. There were no arms to the glasses and Shandy couldn't imagine where they would hang from or why they didn't just fall off. She wore a modest grey skirt around her feline lower half and a long-sleeved white blouse up top. Shandy saw three necklaces around her neck holding a key, a lock, and a large circular pendant.
Shandy hadn't expected to talk to a Pendorian so soon. Or ever. Years of habit helped her find her voice. "I— I think so. Miss."
The other one turned her head slightly and smiled, then maneuvered around to face her. "Miss?' Wow. I don't think I've heard anyone call me anything like that in, oh, a long time. A long time." Her eyes unfocused slightly. "Anyway, hi! I'm Trianna. Rianna Tazal, but my friends call me Trianna."
Shandy nodded and stepped out from behind her door before bowing deeply, letting custom guide her. That custom, and her rising apprehension, thankfully restrained her hands from her desire to touch Trianna's fur. "I'm Shandy. Shandy Oxenhollar. 'Tis really Chandra Grace, but nobody calls me that. 'Cept Mother."
"It's good to meet you, Shandy." Trianna pointed down at the wheeled trunk she'd been hauling. It had an extended shaft to fit behind her long body. "I gotta go unpack."
"Wait!" Shandy said. "Trianna, I'm... I'm no out to be rude, but—- Sorry, I'm no used to asking help from strangers. I'm no, I mean, I need help." She held out the Handbook.
"How do I get any food? Or clothes? How do I sign for classes? I have no bed sheets or toilet tissue, and this thing is no help at all!" She held out the University Handbook.
"Oh, fah, what did they tell you— never mind. Hold on." Trianna opened the door to her own room and shoved the trunk inside. Shandy heard it crash against something, but Trianna ignored the possible disaster and closed the door. "One at a time. Let's go to your room, okay?"
Shandy considered refusing. The Church had always taught that Pendorians like Trianna were possessed of their animal nature and lacked souls as humans did. They could be dangerous, sex-crazed and lascivious. Visions of an embrace with this big, fuzzy, feminine cat-woman rose in Shandy's imagination, wild imaginings of what she would feel like, how warm, how soft. For a moment she froze again, horrified at herself. She shoved the imaginings down into her brain and imagined herself pitchforking them under a hay blanket, spiking it with a sledgehammer, dousing it with gasoline and and setting it all aflame. She clenched her fists and hissed through teeth so tightly her jaw ache. No. God would not permit it.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. 'Tis just too much, too confusing! I'm supposed to be good with machines, 'tis why I came. I'm good with the machines where I'm from. I thought I would be able to understand this, but I don't!" She shook the Handbook. Thinking about it kept her from thinking about her own awkward, broken special burden.
Besides, Trianna didn't seem sex-crazed, lascivious or animalistic at all. Her outfit was clean and handsomely pressed, but it was also almost dowdy. Trianna said, "Where are you from, originally?"
"Abi, Miss. Ottiwells, in the Catholic Landing."
Trianna's muzzle hung open slightly in a silent 'O'. "I've heard about Abi. Which one is the Catholic Landing?"
"The Landing, we no let machines make decisions for us. We believe in the word of God about the primacy of— " Her brain quickly filtered through a list of words— "people over machines. But I'm no like that. I mean, I think I want no robots making decisions for me about how to live my life, but I no mind them being, being— existing. I'm going to the Engineering and Remotes Vocational Training program next week. 'Tis no woman's place on The Landing to want to study those things, but I wanted it so badly. I'm looking to meet my first robot or AI, I am! After I tried to run off, Father consented to me taking schooling here. I just no thought it would be so different."
Trianna's smile was kindly. "Different, this? Well, I suppose it is." She reached over and ran her hand on the door jamb of Shandy's room, her hand stroking plastic that was textured and painted to look like wood. "If you think this is different, just wait until you visit the rest of the Corridor. You're not likely to meet a robot here for a long time. There just aren't that many on Hiroshi. It's barely one step away from Abi. Very few AIs, too, mostly the silent nudgy type. Not that many SDisks, and no angelnet." Trianna looked around. "I like these kinds of worlds."
"No AIs at all where I'm from," Shandy said. "And no robots. Not even hovering machines like the one's I've seen in the sky here. Even if a human could fly them, it would take a super-machine to fix them so The Landing doesn't allow them."
"No, I guess it wouldn't. Now that's creative anachronism. Let's go sit down and take a look at your handbook."
Convinced by Trianna's kindness, Shandy swallowed and led Trianna into her room. Trianna leaned against the bunk bed and curled onto the bottom mattress. Shandy frowned as the bed didn't ring. She missed all the little bells she'd had on her own bed back home, all carefully picked to not clash with one another.
"Come sit," Trianna said. Trianna's large lower half filled most of the bed, but there was still room enough for Shandy to sit down. She passed over the Handbook while ignoring the warmth of Trianna's body only a few centimeters away. It didn't take long for Trianna to show Shandy how to bookmark the laundry, the browseries, the cafeterias and cafes and snack shops, the classrooms and registrations centers, and the study buildings on the Handbook's map. "Now, this is odd," Trianna said, looking through Shandy's profile. "It says here you have an unlimited but governed stipend for any food markets on-campus, and a specific allocation of LIU for clothing and school supplies, and that's it."
"But what does it all mean?"
"It means you can eat anywhere on campus you like, but you can't get any food in the city. Or any of the other cities. You also can't buy more than you can eat in a day, per day. That's the 'governed' part. You have a budget for clothes, but..." Trianna looked around. "Where's you luggage?"
"That's it," Shandy said, pointing to the beaten saddlebags hung over one chair.
"Aye, Ma'am. I think it was Father's way of punishing me for wrecking the motorcycle."
"You have a motorcycle?" Trianna said.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. What happened?"
"I crashed it into about a hundred pieces."
"What? How did that— Oh, fah, were you hurt?"
"Just a few bruises, but I had good clothes. Three months ago. My attempt to get to the city of Stolen Horse and take a train to the spaceport."
"Called my Father, the police did. He came and picked me up, saying that if I was so determined to run off, he ought to help me finish the job, there was no keeping me on the farm like that. Drove me to Stolen Horse and we took the train to the starport in Edo together. He saw me off." Shandy leaned against the post of the bunk. It almost felt like painted wood. "I had a letter from a sponsor that got me onto the shuttle and the ship."
"Can I see this letter?"
Shandy pulled the letter out of her vest pocket. She unfolded it carefully, looked it over, let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and passed it to Trianna. Trianna said, "There's no name. All this adventure and you don't know who's paying for it?"
"Paying for it? I thought money was no a thing. Out here."
"Oh, there's money. You usually don't need it. But you might want some." Shandy listened closely as Trianna described the difference between table money, LAU, LIU, and other forms of exchangeable currency in use.
Shandy said, "But if everyone gets table money, why can I no eat off campus?"
"Restaurants takes LAU, not table money. You can convert them but the rate's ruinous and you might go hungry if you try. The whole point of Hiroshi is to learn how to be, well, an ordinary adult, to make you want more than just a hovel with a dining table and an entertainment center. Usually students get a small LAU and maybe LIU budget stream from their parents, guardians or sponsors. You didn't. Just something between table money and LAU, and very specific, too. I wonder how your sponsor got Hiroshi to agree with that." Trianna read the letter again. "It's very strange that you don't know who your sponsor is. You didn't get anything from your parents, I take it?"
"I no think they could even if they had wanted. We no ken anything about all that money work, or how I would go about changing Landing dollars into LAU or whatever." Shandy held her hands apart to express her confusion. That gesture seemed to be clear. Trianna shrugged her shoulders, stood up and stretched.
Shandy was impressed to watch as that shiver ran from Trianna's ears all the way down to her tail. Now that Trianna was no longer sitting next to her, Shandy became aware that something had disappeared— Trianna's scent. She had smelled good. Shandy's farm had cats and they'd often slept in her bed when the weather went cold. Trianna had smelled like that. A part of her, a jealous, hungry, sinful corner of her soul, a part Shandy feared, whispered more. Shandy silently muttered a prayer to still it.
"Shandy, let me go unpack just a few things in my room and then let's go to dinner."
"You mean, with me?"
"We're the only people here."
"Oh." Shandy knew she could control herself. She needed to learn more. "Aye, then. Thank you. Would you care for me to come help you unpack?"
"Sure. Come on."
Shandy followed Trianna into her dorm room. Trianna's bed was naturally big enough to hold her large body, and Shandy's heart clenched as she stomped hard on the thought that it could be big enough for both of them. Otherwise it was indistinguishable from Shandy's. The day was late already, and sun was streaming in through the pair of large windows along the far wall. After a few moments of straightening up the mess Trianna's luggage had made she said, "Let's go eat."
She led Shandy to an on-campus cafe, one that took Shandy's money. Trianna walked her through the simple process of paying for her meal. "How's the food?"
"'Tis okay," Shandy said, picking through a salad laden with vat-grown chicken and other vegetables. It was one of the few items on the menu she found familiar, and it promised protein. "I could cook better."
"I love to cook!"
"That's a virtue, you know."
Shandy got the impression from the way Trianna said it that she meant it. Shandy's confusion gave way to a strange sadness that just cooking should be considered virtuous. She changed the subject. "Trianna, is this your first time on Hiroshi? Are you a freshfen?"
"First time here, but not a freshfen. I graduated with an Engineer's Certificate from Yindalowe University on Pendor, but that was a long time ago. I'm here because it's been a while since I was a ship's crewfen, and I felt like I needed a refresher course. So I'm here for a year's intensive."
"Oh." Of course Trianna had been on Pendor, she'd probably been born there. "Is Pendor really more strange than everywhere else?" Her first choice of word had been 'corrupt,' and she was grateful she'd managed to bite down before saying it.
Trianna laughed. "No, it's not that much different. A lot more tech, I guess, but somehow the people there stay very rooted. I like my homeworld a lot. I miss my forests. The windbreak just west of here barely counts."
Shandy thought she should be able to look at Trianna without being tempted. It was a terrible thing, that temptation. Every time Shandy had seen Pendorians on Landing news, they had always been distant, mysterious, and maybe a little frightening. Trianna was the opposite: mysterious, perhaps, but her friendliness was a strange balm.
Shandy had been surprised, and then grateful, to realize Trianna was fully covered up. There weren't many students on campus but Shandy had been shocked by just how little the women (and 'morph fems) wore when the sun was truly blazing overhead. She'd seen at least one wearing little more than a pair of shorts, and nothing up top. Shandy had looked away quickly out of embarrassment. And temptation. The kind she felt near Trianna.
Shandy looked away, hiding her blush from Trianna's eyes. Trianna wasn't at all what she had expected. Talking to Trianna felt safe. No one had ever told her that just talking to Pendorians was a threat to her immortal soul. All of the risks to Shandy's soul came from Shandy herself.
At Trianna's urging, Shandy navigated the way past the commissary to get supplies, then back to her dorm. The air had grown much cooler as night approached. People wore more clothing. Hiroshi's hour-and-a-whisker longer day cycle compared to Abi's was starting to wear on her. When they reached their doors, Trianna said, "Feeling better?"
"Aye, I am. Tired, too." Shandy said. "Bless you, Miss Tazal."
Trianna held out her hand. Shandy looked at it, then held it and shook. "You're very welcome, Shandy." She tilted her head. "I hope we have time to socialize."
"Aye, me too," Shandy said. Trianna nodded and went into her room.
Shandy rushed back into hers, made her bed and populated her bathroom with her newly acquired supplies. With only underwear and a long t-shirt for nightclothes, Shandy lay on her newly sheeted mattress and closed her eyes. She had a blanket now. The sheets felt cool and smooth, the weave fine, the mattress firm, the pillow comforting. She ran her hands over the sheets, appreciating them, pleased to have them.
She could survive this, could make it through to tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and keep going until she had her license and her certificate. She wanted to go home again.
Her mother and father must never have discussed her separate sins. Her father would never have agreed to take her to the starport if he'd known what her mother knew. Her mother would never have let Shandy out of her sight if she'd known her father was going to take her to Stolen Horse. They were her parents, they had brought her into the world. She owed them everything. She owed them her loyalty, and her decency, and her honor before God.
Her father had thought this was always about the machines. That she had loved taking them apart, putting them back together again, making them dance. Shandy had hoped to learn advanced mechanics, but no college in The Landing would have allowed Shandy to take those courses, so she had run away, following in the footsteps of Misuko Ffanci, another woman who had escaped Abi and come to learn the ways out here. A woman who had learned to live here, and yet stayed true to her humanity and to God. Shandy hoped to be just like Misuko, to be so true that she could go home again. Her skills would win her only suspicion in The Landing, but she could live in Edo and take the train to visit her parents regularly.
Her other sin, what Sister Rachie had called her special burden, haunted her now. Her tainted desire to work with machines may have brought her to Hiroshi and won her a scholarship, but with time to spare a thought, her imagination taunted her with her that other crime against nature and her own body.
She fought off images of Trianna divested of her perfectly-matched silk shirt and grey vest as well as the modest woolen skirt that had gone down below her feline knees. Shandy groaned as ghostly fancies of what Trianna's fur would feel like, what Trianna's sex might look like, taunted her. Shandy's fingers crept down between her thighs and under the band of her underwear. She gasped softly. Those ears— could Trianna hear her? She hoped no more than her parents or housemaid had. She'd loved bells as a small child and attached them all to her bed, and learned how to play with herself with complete stillness, never making them ring.
"Stop it," she whimpered to herself as her fingers dug and rubbed into the wetness between her legs. She found the hard nub, the cursedly hungry unfulfilled opening underneath. For all the days she'd been in her starship cabin she'd dreamed of cursed Wynneau and those brief, lovely, terrifying moments before... Her fingers followed familiar patterns but now Trianna lived in her fantasy, and her fur and her voice added color and passion.
Shandy's ritual finally climaxed, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She knew how to feed herself in this place, now, thanks to a tall, beautiful Ssphynx, and the last thing she wanted to do was sully her gratitude with something as crude and unnecessary, as sinful and hurtful, as the ugly unnatural lust that lived inside her. God would not love her if she persisted. Her church and her community had known of her affinity for the machines and called her tempted, and she had promised her father she would never succumb to the full price of that temptation.
She'd keep quiet, try to be the good woman her world demanded she be. She rubbed her face against the pillow, passing the wetness on her cheeks to the fresh sheets. "Forgive me," she whispered, not sure if she meant God, or Trianna. "They no must know. Ever."