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Flowers of Luna



Jennifer Linsky


Smashwords edition by Pale Moon Books, 2018


Text copyright © Jennifer Linsky 2017

Cover image © Susan Linsky 2017


Illustrations by Troy Campbell


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


The right of the copyright holder to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.




Dedications


For Michele, whenever I may find her.



Also for Andy, Christiane, Kristin, Susan, and Troy, whose belief in it and in me kept the project alive when I was discouraged and wanted to give up.





Table of Contents


Dedications

Chapter the First

In which, our heroine reveals her purpose in coming to the Moon; explores a flea market; and flirts with a pair of blue eyes. Crossed paths lead to barbed words, and barbed words lead to crossed swords.

Chapter the Second

In which, our heroine meets a boy; goes on a date; discusses panchira; and encounters a tight squeeze.

Chapter the Third

In which, our heroine is accused of becoming the modesty police; meets a familiar pair of eyes; enters into a lease; and discusses inappropriate activities for a second date.

Chapter the Fourth

In which, our heroine skewers an orc; takes tea with her sister; and meets a girl in a bathhouse.

Chapter the Fifth

In which, our heroine takes a train; attends the theater; and sleeps by the light of distant Earth.

Chapter the Sixth

In which, our heroine attends a street fair; surrenders her underwear; meets a grandmother; and reclaims her underwear. History is discussed.

Chapter the Seventh

In which, our heroine apologizes; enters into another lease; and dances in her underwear. The nieces make an appearance, and the embroidery of knickers is discussed.

Chapter the Eighth

In which, our heroine discusses Japanese grandfathers and fairy tales; debates contracts and obligations; and dyes her hair.

Chapter the Ninth

In which, our heroine discusses the merits of dressing versus undressing; is educated on race history; discards a costume; and puts together a puzzle.

Chapter the Tenth

In which, our heroine provides proof of life; attends a party, gets drunk, and argues with her sister; roots for the rocketmen; and is educated about slow races.

Chapter the Eleventh

In which our heroine ignores calls; meets a vegetarian in a grill; shares a fabric; takes a meeting; and kisses a girl.

Post Scriptum




Chapter the First

In which, our heroine reveals her purpose in coming to the Moon; explores a flea market; and flirts with a pair of blue eyes. Crossed paths lead to barbed words, and barbed words lead to crossed swords.


Female Body Archetype One

Hips and bust equal, with a well-defined waist and relatively longer legs.




I came to the moon to go to college. Sankt Vladimir University had the foremost fashion design program in the solar system -- there were literally a thousand applicants for each seat. As I walked through the cyclopean pressure doors at the north end of campus in my musketeer costume, my left hand resting lightly on the hilt of my rapier to keep the blade from tangling my feet, I admitted to myself that the decision to come here, to apply to and attend this college, had been made easier by the scene spread before me now… the Sunday flea market in Tereshkova square.

As I exited the tunnel, I glanced back at the trompe l’oeil view of the buildings of Sankt Vladimir University on the wall. Distracted, I nearly collided with three small boys running in the long, loping strides effective in low lunar gravity. They wore nothing but shorts and their fur, and I gawked after them for a moment. I had heard of Furries, those who pursued extreme genetweaks to appear more animalistic, but I hadn’t ever seen one before… and had not imagined them so young.

The square was filled with the flea market. There were tents and simple awnings everywhere, marking the limits of each vendor’s booth. To my right was “fashion city,” booths belonging to clothing designers. I could see the massive, multi-space tents of Cocoa and St. Yevette, couture houses known throughout the greenbelt, the innumerable island habitats scattered between the orbits of Mars and Venus. Behind them were the tents of smaller designers, down to the single-space booths of student labels known only to the fashionistas swarming through the market looking for something new and exciting.

Students were required to establish a brand; within the next four years, I knew, I'd have a tent out there. I forced myself to turn away. If I entered fashion city, I would become distracted and never make it to Valentina bridge. Straight in front of me was a group of nine Russian olives, and in their center, a statue of the woman the square and its bridge were named for. I took a step in that direction, but a group of teenaged girls in Gingerbread fashion crossed my path in a rustle of satin and a whiff of leather, their platinum blonde heads together and giggling. A flock of viz drones circled them; I didn’t want to viz-dive, so I turned to the left, instead.

I passed booths selling supplies for students of colleges other than design: used lab equipment, nth-hand electronics, banners and mugs displaying the University’s eponymous saint. I browsed the viral capsules offered by a group of genetics students, but none of the genetweaks on offer looked any better than the package my mothers had specified for my sisters and me before our birth.

I turned up a cobblestoned aisle, heading north again. A few booths along, the legend “Hibben Skye Metal Forge and Foundry” appeared on a tent, displayed above a stylized anvil. I waited for a couple in the abbreviated leather kimono and exaggerated face paint of Kabuki fetish to pass, then crossed the aisle to the entrance. Inside, racks were set up with swords and daggers. A pair of men -- brothers, I guessed -- who looked every bit the burly stereotype of smiths were helping customers. The bald one saw me and approached, his bristly red beard jutting. “Let’s see it, lass,” he said in a clipped accent.

“See…? Oh, my rapier!” I chuckled, freed it from the straps which dangled from my white leather belt and handed it over, still sheathed. I was glad he'd spoken English. Though I'd studied Russian with Josephine, the ship’s Expert Operations System aboard Gray Maru, and had practiced diligently with my twin sister and nieces, it still hurt my head to speak in that language.

“Thank you,” he said, accepting responsibility for the blade, his hands firm. He studied the spiral-fluted walrus scrimshaw grip with its twisted silver wire accent, the acorn pommel, the knucklebows and pierced plate of the guard. “Pappenheimer. realized on a fabricator.” He drew the blade, looked at the flat and then the edge without touching. “But designed by a master,” he conceded, his tone grudging. “The blade is two fingers wide, two cubits long, with a nice profile.” He struck a fencing stance that made the sword look like a toothpick in his large fist. “Nicely balanced. The steel is bainite? That’s a high quality fab.”

“It’s a replica,” I offered, avoiding the question of why I had access to a spacecraft grade fab, “of a pre-upheaval original, commissioned by my mother. You won’t find another one exactly like it in the greenbelt.”

He quirked an eyebrow at me as he sheathed the blade. “Your mother was a fencer? Before?”

“Yes,” I said, wanting to avoid that topic. I reached for the rapier, felt his eyes on me, evaluating my black hair and the family's signature gray eyes as I accepted the weapon back. I avoided meeting his gaze as I clipped the straps back to the scabbard.

“We hand forge our blades,” he turned away to gesture at the racks without asking any further questions. “European medieval stuff, Oakeshott typology, mostly. A few functional fantasy blades, but we don’t do swishy-pokery like that bit you’ve got.”

I grinned and teased, “If I find myself in need of Barbarian arms, I’ll know who to come to.” Despite my casual words, I wanted out of the tent before he offered his name, which would oblige me to offer mine. Or worse, before I bought something, and "as used by the Gray family" appeared in their advertisements. I raised a hand, turned back to the tent entrance. Still contemplating the wisdom of someone with my last name stepping into a bladesmith’s tent, I stepped out into the aisle, watching my feet as I crossed the threshold.

Again, I barely avoided colliding with… breasts. Breasts with eyes where the nipples should be. I blinked, and they blinked back. After a moment, I realized I was looking at incredibly realistic holographic pasties. A step back, and I could look at the whole woman. Her skin was the color of vat-grown ivory, newly harvested and polished. She wore a black leather underbust corset and matching skirt that fell no more than halfway to her knees, with white tulle underskirting to puff it out.

Her breasts were magnificent, I thought. Smaller than mine, but perfectly shaped… and tipped with blue eyes. I forced myself to look up, into a blank porcelain oval covering her face, and a black, form-fitting hood and mantle which just covered her collarbones. I glanced down again, and one of the eyes winked at me. Could that possibly be a really odd genetweak? “Uh, sorry,” I managed. “Excuse me.”

“It’s okay, cutie,” came a synthetic-sounding soprano voice from within the cowl. “No one was injured.” Her right breast winked at me again, and she went on her way, adding a bit of wiggle to her butt because she knew I was watching. I blushed and turned away.

At last I cleared the flea market and saw my destination. Valentina bridge. The bridge was a stage for the best cosplayers in the greenbelt. Eleven steps rose up from the plaza, each made of Lunar granite more than a pace across. The bridge deck passed over the train tracks and into the facade of the Lunagrad vaclev station. How many stills and tri-d visualizations had I seen of costumed players on these steps?

I paused on the third step, looking around. Was I good enough to ascend the rest of the way? Would I be ignored? Mocked? Welcomed? I looked at the players already on the bridge deck, at the wide gamut of costumes. Gingerbread girls and kabuki fetishists, characters from popular dramas, historical figures -- each circled by viz drones recording their images, their snippets of performance.

I looked down at my own outfit. The linen shirt, the royal blue doublet with its hand-embroidered golden fleur-de-lis, the paned slops and white hose; even the thigh boots, hand dyed to match the color of the velvet. I had designed and realized it all. One more deep breath, forcing calm. I was ready for this; the Sankt Vladimir admission algorithm has selected me.

To avoid almost running into someone again, I looked back before I started moving. A group of young men in white hanten jackets with red half-diamonds at the sleeves and hem climbed toward me. “Shinsengumi?” I asked, but the samurai in front only glanced at me and then away.

As the man at the back of the group passed me, a handkerchief fluttered to the ground. I stooped, picked it up, noticed the beautiful strawberry embroidery in passing. “Excuse me,” I said, turning to look up-bridge. “I think this is something you would be sorry to lose.”

He turned back, and at once I realized my error. He was actually a she, with a beautiful heart-shaped face, perfect cupid’s bow lips, hair as black as my own, and the most amazing whiskey-colored eyes. She glanced at the handkerchief, turned away. “You are mistaken.” I noticed that the cloud of imaging drones following the samurai had shifted to include me.

“But... you dropped it?” I started uncertainly, indicating the spot, as if that would in some way prove my point.

One of the other Shinsengumi turned back, glanced from the handkerchief to the girl, then looked at the handkerchief more closely. “Isn’t that...?” he started uncertainly.

“It resembles the work of the lovely Desdemona, certainly,” the woman answered. “But it did not fall from my sleeve, and by proof of it, I show you... here is my own.” She reached into her sleeve and withdrew a square of fine linen with a kanji in one corner. I thought it read “Hana,” but it was gone again before I could be sure.

“Perhaps I was mistaken,” I said, taken aback by the refusal and evidence. “I did not actually see it fall from your sleeve...”

“You were mistaken,” the woman asserted again, her back to me. She glared at the man who had made the identification. “And as Desdemona’s husband is no less dear to you than to me, I know that it can’t have fallen from your sleeve, either.”

“One of you must have dropped it!” I protested.

“You are rude,” the woman said, turning to face me, “and slow.” She put her hand on the hilt of her katana. “I wonder if such a slow, rude person has any friends?”

My adrenaline spiked as I realized her intent; recognized the scene we were playing. “I am newly arrived in town,” I countered. I made a show of tying the handkerchief around the hilt of my rapier, of speaking casually. “But I have friends enough.”

Her eyes flicked to the rapier, then around the square. A train pulled out of the station, and she waited for the noise to fade before speaking again. “Our friends should meet, and discuss the matter at leisure. Say... tomorrow at seven? At the cafe on the east of the square? They have a back patio where such meetings are known to occur.”

“Grass before breakfast?” I drawled. “Very well. Tomorrow, my friends should be pleased to meet with yours.” I turned and made my way down the stairs. I was pleased to note that my hands did not begin to tremble until I was well into the crowd.




When the Russians had come to Numerov crater to mine titanium and study the deepest, oldest rocks on Luna, they’d found lava tubes and set up their home within them. The oldest parts of the city, including Tereshkova square, were part of that system of natural caves, sealed with ceramaplas to hold atmosphere and sectioned for risk reduction. I made a beeline for the west side of the square, moving through the partition and pressure doors into a commercial district. Walking fast past diamoglass storefronts, I angrily brushed tears of frustration from my eyes.

I found the westbound slideway and stepped onto the moving carbon-carbon band. As it carried me down the tunnel, I fumbled my slate out of my belt wallet and unfolded it. “Call Ren,” I told it. My twin sister was on Earth, at Mom’s alma mater, Northern Arizona University. There was a two and a half second delay as the signal bounced from the Aitken basin to the satellite at L2, from there to the processing station at Baker Island High Port, and down to Flagstaff. Then the response traveled back and she appeared as a twenty-centimeter holographic projection of her head and shoulders floating above the slate.

“Hey, Womb-mate!” she greeted me, pushing a lock of red hair out of her eyes. “Great timing; I was just walking back from the dining hall. How’d your stroll on the bridge go?” She noticed the redness of my eyes and my fierce scowl. “Oh, no. What happened?”

“I got challenged to a stupid duel, is what happened!” I groused. “One thing, Ren! I came to the Moon for one thing, and I couldn’t even make it through my first day on the Bridge without being struck by the family curse!”

“One thing? To study fashion design?” Ren asked, her eyes holding a twinkle of teasing. “To play dress up with the other weirdoes on that bridge?”

“No!” I snapped. “To be myself. To be Ran Gray, student, instead of Ran-bloody-Gray.”

“I think that’s what I said.” Ren struck a thoughtful pose, one finger across her chin, thumb along cheek, looking up and right. Overall, her face was similar to mine, though not identical. We shared Mama’s retrousse nose and the epicanthic fold we’d inherited from Mom, along with the family’s tall, vase-shaped bodies. I’d received Mom’s straight, raven-wing black hair, and Ren had Mama’s burnished copper curls. I was jealous, but not enough to do the genetweak. Yet, anyway.

Her teasing succeeded in starting to calm my frustration. I stuck my tongue out at her, then asked, “anyway, how’s the Mountain Campus? Enjoying the fresh air?”

Ren looked embarrassed, dropped her hand out of view. “I’ve discovered that ‘fresh air’ smells like cattle droppings,” she admitted. “But I’m waiting for winter... I’m told that skiing is a blast.” She shook her head at me. “And you’re deflecting. Tell me about this duel. Are you scared?”

“You know what Ojii-kun would say.”

“Go ask your mother?” Ren teased, emulating our grandfather’s lingering Japanese accent.

I sighed, deflected for the moment. “I wish I could. It’s strange, not being able to just go up to the jungle and talk to the ‘rents.” I pictured my parents in the ship’s microgravity hub, drifting in the warm and humid atmosphere, among the fronds of ferns rooted in the growth medium on the aft bulkhead. Homesick, I tapped my slate, looking at the system map. Two weeks on, Gray Maru would not yet have passed the orbit of Mars on its Hohmann orbit out to the Jupiter Trojans. The time lag would be more than talking to Ren, but still short enough that an actual conversation could be held.

“You could call. But I know what you mean. It’s not the same.” Ren sighed, her face reflecting a moment of the same homesickness I was feeling. “Anyway, what would Ojii-kun say?”

“Only a fool doesn’t fear an opponent she’s never seen fight,” I answered, also mimicking his accent.

Ren nodded. I looked up, saw that I was coming to the end of the slideway. “I need to pay attention to where I’m going.”

“I’m almost back to the dorm, anyway,” she answered. “Love you, Orchid. Miss you.”

“Love you bigger, Lotus. Talk again soon.” She flashed me a smile and the thumb-up mudra of agreement, and the link closed.




When I got home, Natasha’s neo-skizzle playlist was on. Fortunately, she cut the shrill screaming of piccolos and nose flutes as I walked in. My roommates were both at the common table, and the pungent aroma of basderma simmering was coming from Helena’s hotplate. Helena looked up as I entered and asked, “Have you eaten?”

Before I could answer, Natasha said, “You’ve gone viral.”

I sighed. “Let’s see it?”

Natasha touched a control on her slate, and there I was in three glorious dimensions. As the scene played out, I shook my head. “What’s the comment thread like?”

“Nothing special,” Helena reassured me. “Discussion of your appearance, comments on the clothes you’re both wearing, comments on your rapier....”

I nodded. I pulled my own slate out of my belt wallet again, opened it up. “Flip me the site?” Natasha complied and I pulled it up. I glanced through the comments. I’d initially been misidentified as my older sister Winter, which made my stomach tighten in dread, but I saw my own name in several places. I did a search in the thread for Moore’s Farm. It didn’t return any results, and I was relieved. Maybe no one would connect me with the incident. “Well,” I said, and then shrugged.

“Are you kidding me?” Natasha asked. “Your first semester at Sankt Vladimir, and you’ve already got people talking about your clothes designs? Someone’s even posted a hyperlink to your Krafty page.”

I glanced at the hit counter. “That’s not even everyone on Luna.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “What? You want all gazillion people in the greenbelt to view it? I think two million views is a substantial chunk of fame!”

I shrugged. “It’s not bad, but I’d rather it translated into sales!”

“You checked your Krafty account balance?” Helena suggested, stirring the smelly mess in the skillet.

I frowned, pulled up the site. “Wow.” I’d posted fab-friendly versions of my slops and doublet, as well as a couple of princess gowns months ago, before coming to the Moon. At the time, they hadn’t attracted much interest. Now... “Okay,” I said. “I’m convinced. I’ve gone viral!”

Natasha laughed and shook her head. She predicted, “It won’t last the week, so don’t spend it all in one place!”

I grinned. It might not last, but the amount it had brought in was creeping up on enough to pay next semester’s tuition. I pulled up my mail program and sent the visualization URL to Ren, to my nieces Maddisyn and Makayla at Princeton, and to the ‘rents. Fame, I thought... and not for something that my family did when I was a little kid!




By morning, someone had made the Moore’s Farm connection and the celebrity gossip sites had picked up the story. The number of views on the viz had exceeded the population of Luna. I sighed, then I checked my Krafty account, which was some comfort. Even if the income didn’t last longer than the week Natasha had predicted, I would no longer need parental support this year at all. I sent half of the balance to Ren, sent another note to the nieces and the ‘rents, got dressed.

I carefully chose clothes I could move in: a bleached lawn blouse; a velvet waistcoat, bumble-bee striped in International Klein blue and black; loose denim slacks; black sneakers with blue knit socks. At six thirty I made my way through the pressure doors into Tereshkova square, my rapier cased and carried over my shoulder. The cafe was named “Sweet Nothings.” Inside, the hostess smiled at me. “Ran Gray?” she asked, and when I nodded, she said, “Hana Tsuchiya is out on the patio.” I nodded again. My mouth was too dry to speak as I walked through the restaurant. It was surprisingly crowded for so early in the morning, I thought, and then I noticed the profusion of lenses following me.

The patio created a nice illusion of being outdoors, colored brickrete surrounded by planters full of roses trimmed into a hedge, and beyond, a simulated view out over a traditional English country garden. This morning, it was empty except for one table. She was waiting there, wearing a tailored singlet of golden silk and high-waisted, bias-cut tartan trousers. She had her feet on one of the metal chairs -- feet wearing cute, flat-soled ankle boots with silver buttons. A glass pot on the table had a tea bloom inside, and there were two cups standing beside it. Her katana was lying across the table, the hilt away from her.

She smiled as she saw me, and stood. “Good morning.” The small part of my mind which wasn’t on edge at being this close to a potentially violent encounter noticed that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

It was not the greeting I’d been expecting, and I was stunned by that smile. “Morning,” I responded, a little uncertainly.

She laughed, her eyes going to the rapier case over my shoulder. “We got off on the wrong foot yesterday; sorry about that.” She offered her hand. “I’m Hana. You’re Ran?”

I took her hand, suddenly self-conscious of the calluses I’d earned by sword drill and sewing. Her hand, though, was not as soft as I’d expected; she had her own calluses. “Ran Gray.”

She ran her thumb lightly over the back of my hand as she... shook it isn’t quite right. She held it for a moment, and that moment seemed unbearably intimate. There was something in her eyes as she looked at me, but I couldn’t quite identify it. “Hello, Ran Gray,” she said at last, and released my hand. “Would honor be satisfied by first blood?”

“Er,” I said, wrong-footed, and then, “yes; I believe it would be.”

“I would skip this part,” Hana said with a smile, “but there are dozens of people with imagers in the cafe. If one of us doesn’t leave here wearing a bandage….”

I nodded, setting down my weapons bag. “I shall endeavor not to get blood on your clothes.” I winced internally at how stiff and formal I sounded. Then again, she had spoken in an archaic mode yesterday; where had that gone?

I grabbed the orchid netsuke attached to the bag’s zipper pull and opened the main pocket up, drawing out my sheathed rapier. I glanced at Hana. “I’m not certain… would you prefer to start from the draw?”

Her expression turned serious and she picked up her katana. “I think three paces apart with bare blades is fine,” she answered. The smallest hint of a smile crossed her face, and in a confidential voice, she added, “This is my first duel as well.”

Nervously, I answered the smile. I drew my rapier and took a couple of paces to the side, clearing the table and chairs, standing in the center of the cheerfully colored and patterned brickrete.

She drew her sword, and I saw her drop all social consciousness and become a competitor. She took up middle guard, and I dropped to guard as well, right shoulder toward her, left hand raised behind me, Olympic style. I could tell she was trained, but I’d had swords in my hands since I was a toddler; my Ojii-kun was all-Japan kendo champion before the Upheavals, and Mom… well, everyone knows who Mom is.

Quickly, I ran the odds in my head. I probably had more experience, and teachers with more practical knowledge. She would be more accustomed to lunar gravity, though Mom had made us practice in everything from microgravity to almost two gees. Her sword was heavier; mine was both longer and faster. I needed to win quickly, I thought. A protracted bout would favor her, and I wasn’t eager to spend as much time in a regen vat as a severed arm would require.

Hana took a step forward, raising her blade to high guard and bringing it down fast. I took a half-step to the side, raised my wrist, let her strike slide down my blade. As she disengaged, I rotated my wrist, bringing my point up and sinking it a precise centimeter and a half into her left bicep.

She muffled a cry of pain and smiled tightly. “A hit. A very palpable hit.”

“I have some wound ointment in my bag,” I lowered my weapon. I had accepted the ointment from Mama before I left the ship, though I’d not expected to need it. Certainly not so soon.

“I have a bandage,” she said, her lips stiff. Moving carefully, she returned her sword to its scabbard, picked up a roll of smart gauze.

“Here,” I brought the pot of ointment over. I laid my rapier on the table, unscrewed the lid of the container, dipped a finger in, dabbed it lightly on her wound. I could see the bleeding stop immediately as the torn edges started drawing in. I turned away, resealing the pot, wiping excess ointment from fingers starting to go numb.

“Thanks.” She raised the roll of gauze. “I didn’t think this through very clearly. In the version that happened in my head, I was putting it on you, and had both hands.”

I grinned. “Let me help,” I said, taking the gauze. There was enough blood on her skin to stain the bandage picturesquely. She was starting to relax; I could tell that either the ointment or the bandage had gotten a painkiller to her. “Have a seat,” I said; she did. I cleaned my rapier and stuck it back in the sheath, leaned it against the chair she’d had her feet on earlier.

“Thank you,” she said, picking up the teapot with her unbandaged right hand. “Tea?”

“Please.” I paused a moment. “You’re taking this very calmly. Yesterday….”

“I have two things to say about that,” she interrupted, pouring tea into the waiting cup. “Sugar?”

“Two lumps,” I agreed.

She added the sugar, handed me the cup. “The first is that I couldn’t admit to having had that handkerchief... did you bring it, by the way?”

Wordlessly, I took it from the pocket of my rapier case and handed it over. For a second, I thought I should have used it to clean her blood off the point of my sword; I spent the next second feeling petty for the first thought. She accepted the cloth, smoothing it out and looking at the embroidery with a slight smile. The stitches were tiny and even, but despite their almost mechanical precision, I believed them to have been done by hand, not realized on a fabricator. “Thank you,” Hana said. “It’s a keepsake of something that’s over; something that should never have started.”

“Your friend’s wife?” I asked.

She laughed. “It sounds strange to call her that. So... possessive. And it’s not like that, not really... but... yes.” She folded the handkerchief, stuck it in a trouser pocket. She poured herself a cup of tea.

I nodded. “And the other thing?”

She laughed. “The other thing is that it’s Valentina Bridge, and the desire for drama there is always high.”

I grinned. “So I’ve seen.”

“So...” She studied my face. “You’ll forgive me?”

It was my turn to laugh. “Forgive you? I should be thanking you. The viz went viral, and people Searching me bought my clothing designs in surprising numbers.”

She grinned and lounged back in her chair. “Sounds like you owe me dinner, then.”

“At least,” I agreed, and then hesitated. “Um. I grew up on a mining ship. Everyone onboard was related to me. And Mama always said to ask if I wasn’t sure. So... I’m not sure. Did you just ask me out on a date?”

She tilted her head, considering me. “You know,” she said, “I think I did.”

“Okay.” I took a sip of my tea, controlling my expression. Inside, I was doing a little victory dance, complete with butt-wiggles and fist-pumps. Distracted, I found myself echoing one of my sister Winter’s favorite phrases, “Good to know.”

She smiled and sipped her tea as well. There was silence for a moment, then she laughed. “I told myself I wasn’t going to ask,” she started hesitantly, “but you mentioned a mining ship....”

I sighed. “Yes, Gray Maru. I’m one of those Grays. Yes; we really did respond to a distress call. Yes; my family did kill forty-seven pirates. No; the drama isn’t very accurate. I was very young when it happened, so mainly what I remember is the ‘rents locking down the hab rings while we were at constant acceleration, and then being pent up in the storm shelter with Ojii-kun and the other kids while the olders fought the pirates.”

Hana nodded, studying me. “You get asked a lot.”

“Every time we make port call, someone wants to hear the story,” I agreed with a sigh.

“And you don’t like it.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“It isn’t really anything to do with me,” I explained. “Captain Gray is Mom, not me. Lady Jane is Mama, not me. I’m proud of what they did, but it was them... and my older sisters; my sister- and brother-in-law.

“I hate the drama series they made about it. What my family did caused a change in the UNSPACE policies about health and welfare inspections at non-signatory habs, and that’s great. But if UNSPACE hadn’t needed to gain popular support for the policy change? If they hadn’t financed and promoted the production of that series?” I shrugged. “The whole thing would have been history and forgotten within a quarter-year.”

Hana nodded. “You’ll never again hear about it from me,” she promised. She finished her tea, set the cup aside. “Alright.” She stood, picked up her sheathed katana. “As the loser, I’ll take the walk of shame.”

“Let’s do it together,” I offered, standing and putting my rapier back in the weapons case. I slung the bag over my shoulder and was a step behind her getting to the door. Lenses followed us as we crossed through the cafe.

At the outer door, she paused. “Friday?” She pointed at the statue in the middle of the square. “Over there? Say seven of the evening?”

“Friday,” I agreed. I watched her walk away, then shook my head and started back toward my first class. As I walked through the halls, whispers followed me. Doomed, I thought. So very doomed by the name Gray.




That afternoon I was supposed to be doing research for a paper I’d been assigned on the twelve female body archetypes and how they’d been derived. I found myself thinking about Hana instead; about her eyes, about the way her singlet moved over her small breasts when she laughed. I watched the visualization of our encounter at the bridge, which led to some reading about the actual Shinsengumi, the Shogun’s last loyal corps in the days before the Meiji restoration. The reading was interesting, but I spotted a dozen inaccuracies in Hana’s group’s costumes.

My slate chimed the family tone and I answered it. “Hey,” I said, as Mom’s avatar took shape on the desk. She was wearing a pair of shapeless coveralls; I was flattered that she’d bothered to put on clothes to call. “Checking up on your student?” Mom and I didn’t always get along very well; Mama said that we were too much alike. Physically, certainly, that was true... but I didn’t think we were at all alike in personality.

There was a three-minute pause while the signal traveled out to Gray Maru and back. I went on looking up references on Shinsengumi and samurai clothing in general. “Hey yourself,” Mom said. “Checking up on my daughter. You don’t seem to be in a regen tank, so I’m guessing the duel went well?”

“It was to first blood, no regen tank,” I answered. “And I won, so yay.” I pulled up my design program and opened a new file, started sketching in a pair of hakama trousers while I waited for the response.

Mom smiled briefly at my enthusiasm, her eyes scanning me slowly. “Very well,” she said. “You have fought your duel, and that is well; Jane and I raised you girls to stand your ground. I hope that in the future, you will seek understanding and peace; that is better.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s all smoothed over now. Hana is actually very nice. We’re going to dinner on Friday.” The pleats on the hakama were a tiny bit tricky, and I had to redo them to make sure they were folding in the right sequence and direction.

Mom nodded, frowning. “Are you sure that’s wise? Going out with someone who called you stupid and rude doesn’t seem like a good start.”

I felt annoyed, shook my head. “It’s fine, Mom. It was just drama. She apologized; I’ve forgiven her.”

Before my signal could reach her, Mom went on, “Honey, you’ll find that the solar system is full of people who want to tear you down. We tried to make our girls strong and kind, but not everyone will respect that.” As my answer arrived, Mom listened, then nodded. “Alright,” she said, and she smiled. “Have a great time on Friday night.” And then, proving that she did know me, she asked, “What are you going to wear? Making your own outfit?”

We talked about that for a few minutes, then said our farewells. After we disconnected, I sat, staring at my desk, lost in thought. Then I perked up. A pretty girl had asked me out, even after I poked a hole in her arm!


Chapter the Second

In which, our heroine meets a boy; goes on a date; discusses panchira; and encounters a tight squeeze.


Female Body Archetype Two:

Wide shoulders, undefined waist, narrow hips with substantial legs. Average torso and leg length.




The week passed in a haze of classes, homework, and obsessive fiddling. I designed myself a new date night outfit every day and rejected each one by the next morning. Wednesday, I was sitting in the dining hall, designing yet another. I refuse to confirm whether I was also having daydreams about things I would like to do to Hana; things I would like her to do to me.

“Ran Gray?” a male voice asked, and I looked up. He was slender, blond, and foppish, dressed in a rococo modern asymmetrical waistcoat and pale blue tights with low boots. He had the calves for it, I must admit.

“Yeah,” I answered cautiously. I was still feeling a little defensive about my family history being exposed.

“George Butusov.” He set his plate on the table.

“Charmed, I’m sure.” I turned my attention back to my slate. I have been known to be single-minded.

“I’m in Historical Fashions with you,” he amplified, taking a seat.

“Ah.” I didn’t look up.

“I don’t mean to complain,” he said, sounding as if he were about to complain.

“Then don’t,” I suggested. Then I sighed and looked up. “It’s nothing personal, Butusov. I’m just not really looking to make friends. I don’t have time for friends today.”

“That may be the saddest thing I’ve heard... all week, perhaps. I feel like there’s a lovely epigram waiting to be discovered there. Something about how, when one has no time for friends, one has no time for life.” He waved his fork, vaguely. “I’ll work on it,” he promised.

Despite myself, I laughed. I shook my head, ruefully. “Why me, George? There must be plenty of girls in class who aren’t rude to strangers.”

“Ah,” he said, smiling like a fox. “But how many of them carry a Pappenheimer rapier, and know how not to trip over it?”

“You’re a fencer?”

“I have,” he waved his fork vaguely again, “dabbled.” He took a bite of his dinner, and I followed suit. “But really what I’m doing is looking ahead.”