Both men sat and looked at each other in silence. It was Ships night and the second jump had just taken place.
‘It did indeed, but do not ask me how. I have never experienced anything quite like that.’ The Channel admitted.
‘I feel like a weight has been lifted off me.’ Jason confessed.
‘You should have confided in me the first time it happened to you.’
‘I know. But what happened just now. I mean, what did you do?’
‘I’m not completely sure myself. However, once I am, I will write a report. You can read it before I send it to Jim Harris. He’ll know how to make best use of it.’
‘Fine, but do you have to use my real name? I hate the thought of being a scientific oddity.’
‘Don’t worry about it.’
Neither Vidal nor Jason saw Vicky again until a few hours before they were due to dock on the Moon.
Captain Zackary had invited the three of them to join himself and his Astrogator, for a meal in his quarters.
Vidal looked at Vicky and then zlinned her as she entered the Captain’s quarters. She had shadows under her eyes, and was perhaps a pound or so thinner, but apart from that, she was as lovely as ever.
‘You look tired.’ Jason observed, as he handed her a glass of wine.
‘Yes, but I’ve got a month’s leave due. Paul and I were going to go camping and climbing in the mountains near his home. I still intend to go.’
‘I envy you.’ Jason said at once. ‘We had one or two quite challenging climbs near where I was brought up, on Dunedin. Since then I’ve joined a couple of organised expeditions, but I much prefer climbing with just one or two friends. You can do what you like then, and not be tied to any fixed time schedule.’
‘Paul and I felt the same way, I’m going to miss him.’
‘You don’t intend to go on your own do you?’ Jason asked as they walked to the table and sat down.
‘I did, but Sheldon has offered to join me. I’ve taken him up on it too. I’ve never been climbing with a Sime before, should be interesting, I understand they have a totally different technique and approach.’ She informed him.
‘That’s not my cousin Sheldon you’re talking about is it?’ Vidal asked as he joined them.
‘And why shouldn’t it be me?’ The Astrogator enquired, as he took his place on the opposite side of the table.
‘Because I didn’t know you were that well acquainted.’ Vidal replied, his eyebrows raised.
‘Sheldon and I, with Captain Zackary’s permission of course.’ And she smiled across at the Captain. ‘Have been working together on correlating and analysing the information Paul and I obtained on Sanctuaire. It helped to pass the time.’
‘We’ve come to a few tentative conclusions that might interest both you and Jason.’ The Astrogator stated. ‘Of course the experts on Earth will have the final say, but I think we’re correct on one or two points at least.’
‘Which are?’ Vidal helped himself to a couple of lettuce leaves that were grown by the hydroponics department on board the Diligent itself, and a small pink tomato, whose bitter flavour suited the Sime pallet very well, but was not favoured by Gens.
‘Do you remember on Sanctuaire when you removed the spray skin from your arms, you felt irritated annoyed and even depressed? But you didn’t know why?’ Vicky asked, ‘and to a lesser extent so did Paul, but his aggravation soon settled down? Well, it appears you were correct when you said to pay particular attention to all aspects the planet, including the flora.
‘First we found that most of the rocks and minerals are more or less the same as those we find on Earth, with one notable exception. A metamorphic rock of a type that is not found on Earth, and which we cannot at the moment classify. It is found many thousands of feet down under the crust of Sanctuaire.’
‘The other discovery we’ve found is to do with the flora.’ Vicky went on. ‘There is a plant, Hesperyitin, it’s native to the planet, and it’s common name is Snoweed. The early settlers called it that because it grows everywhere, flowers all the year round, and does look like snow flakes lying on the ground. It spreads by shooting clouds of pollen up into the air, and it lets off a rather pleasant smell – reminiscent of lavender. In fact you can’t avoid the stuff, it’s everywhere. You may have noticed it.’
Vidal and Jason both nodded agreement.
As Sheldon added. ‘Vicky brought some specimens back with her, and I expect once they have analysed them, the botanists on Earth will come up with their own ideas. But we, Vicky and I, think it’s what affected both you and Paul. Paul got over the effect quickly because apparently prolonged exposure gives immunity, we think, but this is based on the fact that it does not appear to affect the Sanctuairians, so we could be wrong. And remember, Vicky and Jason were not affected at all.
‘However, you Vidal, were more effected than anyone else, probably because you are Sime. More importantly your nervous system too is Sime, and therefore totally different than either the Gens or the inhabitants of Sanctuaire. Not even counting the sensory input you get through your tentacles - and it is the nervous system that is affected by the plant. Which is why you felt worse when you took off the spray skin.’ His cousin explained.
‘We also think our conclusions in this respect will be upheld, once all the relevant tests have been conducted.’ Sheldon stated.
Vicky smiled. ‘Now going back to the metamorphic rock. More than half of Sanctuaire is covered by Oceans. These seas have a very high saline and mineral content, which renders the water totally undrinkable. Indeed, if all the saline was removed from the water, the minerals remaining in it, would still make it undrinkable. And all the water found on the surface of the planet, is exactly the same.’
‘So there’s no drinking water on the surface.’ Jason concluded.
‘That’s right. Their water comes from artesian type wells many thousands of feet down and comes to the surface through hydrostatic pressure or is pumped up. The rocks that contain the water, are in part made up of this metamorphic rock and various other rocks.’
Vidal leaned forward with interest, ‘Your conclusions?’
‘Our conclusions in this regard, are of necessity, very tentative cousin, but we really do feel we are on the right track.’ Sheldon replied.
Vicky nodded. ‘I agree. However, in your Report Vidal, you said that the three Sanctuairians you were able to zlin at close range, appeared to have very little or no selyn at all in their bodies?’
‘I believe my exact words were, two zlinned like children, the other like a Gen, who has only established a few hours ago.’
‘And your opinion is?’ She pressed.
Vidal shook his head regretfully. ‘I am still unsure what to make of it.’
The Captain suddenly joined in the conversation. ‘It would seem that anyone else who visits the planet should be fully suited, as Captain van Tacx was. At least until we know the long term effects of this plant.’
‘I agree Captain.’ Vicky said as she smiled around the table. ‘I also think we can, in part at least, answer your dilemma for you Vidal, including the question that you can’t answer. Analysis of the water shows that it is highly contaminated by close contact over hundreds of years with this unclassified metamorphic rock.’
‘Our main but very tentative conclusion is, and the computer analysis backs us up on this, that the people living on Sanctuaire are no different than we are!’ Sheldon stated quietly. ‘We believe that if they were taken out of their present environment, and were exposed to uncontaminated water, and a normal diet. Remember, all their fruit and vegetables are also grown using water from the artesian wells - then within a generation - they too will produce the same ratio of Gen and Sime children as we do on Earth.’
‘So they aren’t ancients at all.’ Jason murmured.
‘Afraid not. Before the original settlers left Earth, their genes had already mutated. Luckily or unluckily, according to ones point of view, only Sanctuaire itself held back their final development.’ Vicky grinned across at him. ‘Disappointed?’
‘A little I suppose, it would have been interesting, and have answered a lot of questions.’
‘And raised a whole lot more.’ Vidal added. ‘I’ll be interested to see what the experts make of it all. At least the historians will be happy, they now know for certain that there was a Eugenics War.’
‘However, either way I can’t see Earth declaring Sanctuaire an open planet.’ Sheldon stated. ‘First because of the long term effects of the water. We know already that for some reason it stops the Sanctuairians from producing Sime children. The scientists will have to determine how and why. But, we don’t know how it will effect people who are already Sime do we? Luckily you were only on the planet for a short period of time Vidal.
‘Second, exposure to the irritant produced by Snoweed could also cause any number of emotional problems especially to Simes, and not least to their zlinning abilities too.’
‘And third, there are all the problems regarding the SB System and the Tarlexian-Vey to be sorted out.’
Jason grinned. ‘The only people interested in going there will be the Church of Purity folk, they’ll be queuing up in droves, once they get to hear about it. I must admit that that’s the best reason I know for leaking the information to the media. And good riddance too – perhaps we should organise a whip-round to help pay their fares!’
They all began to work out ways of raising the necessary credits. Each trying to outdo the others. Including Jason’s suggestion that they import some of the water from Sanctuaire, bottle it, and sell it at Church of Purity bazaars – all proceeds to go to the Great Exodus Fund, as they decided to call it!
Sheldon, who was laughing at Jason’s latest idea, glanced across at his cousin who was not joining in.
‘Anything wrong Vidal?’ He asked softly in an aside.
‘My Companion’s sense of humour sometimes leaves much to be desired.’ He retorted.
‘Oh come on now, loosen up.’
‘But he takes nothing seriously Sheldon – nothing at all.’
‘It’s about time you started counting your blessings cousin. Come down to Earth and try seeing how we lesser mortals live! Imagine what your life would be like if Jason was just like you! Which is what you’re really advocating. He’s easy going and. ’
‘Too easy going!’
‘Perhaps, but you admitted yourself he’s a fantastic Companion. Just think back, if you can remember those days, when you had to take what you were offered from the Tecton pool of donors. Then you joined the TIB, and were lucky enough to get Gavin, and now you’ve hit the jackpot with Jason. Shen it Vidal, I’d be jumping up and down with delight if I had your luck. But I’m never likely to, because I’m only a Second.’
‘Well I suppose looked at from that angle, I have been quite lucky.’ Vidal conceded grudgingly.
‘You can say that again!’ His cousin agreed at once. ‘Life isn’t all doom and gloom you know, and you’ve just come back from a really dangerous assignment. You both need to unwind. You’ve got quite a bit of R and R due to you, why not take it together, and try to work out some of your problems?’ Sheldon shrugged. ‘And from my totally unbiased view point – you do have a few problems – mostly of your own making.’
‘Totally unbiased?’ Vidal’s eyebrow rose in query.
‘Okay, maybe not totally unbiased. But you get my drift?’
‘Yes I suppose I do, but we don’t have that many problems now.’
‘And what are you two so engrossed in?’ Jason demanded, as he broke into their conversation.
‘I was just suggesting to my dear cousin here that as you both have some R & R due to you, you should take advantage of it.’ Sheldon grinned.
‘You could come with us,’ Vicky offered, ‘it’s good climbing weather at this time of the year.’
‘I think not, but thank you anyway.’ Vidal declined at once, knowing Sheldon would not appreciate competition from Jason.
‘As a matter of fact I’ve been thinking of visiting my family on Dunedin. I haven’t been home for years. My parents want to see me I know that, although they never harass me.’ Jason admitted. ‘But I do feel guilty for staying away so long.’
A short time later they were both collecting their things, and packing them away.
‘I didn’t realise you were thinking of returning home.’ Vidal ventured.
‘I’ve been considering it for some time. I could never afford it before, but now with the salary I get from the TIB.’ He shrugged. ‘Why not?’
‘A few months ago about the time you decided not to trade your flitter in for the new model you wanted. I did wonder if you were saving for a reason.’
‘Well, I suppose I did start thinking that I might pay a visit home, around that time, but I didn’t forego the flitter because of it.’ He tried to push his boots into his already over stuffed bag. Vidal took them off him and without a word, placed them on top of his own immaculately packed case, where he still had plenty of room.
‘You didn’t?’ Vidal asked in surprise.
‘No. As a matter of fact I usually send half my salary home. I come from a large family, and the farm doesn’t pay all that well, it never has, and Dad needs every credit to just get by. Mike helps out too, when he can.’ He shrugged expressively. ‘I’ve tried time and again to get him to sell up and buy a farm on the mainland, or even move nearer to me and Mike, but he wont. He’s so damn stubborn!’
‘Well I did wonder where you got it from.’ Vidal stated with a brief smile. ‘Is Dunedin no good for farming?’
‘The short answer is no. The soil isn’t fertile, and needs hundreds of credits spent on it each year, just to replace what the wind and rain leech away! The weather on the islands all the year round, is not good, and in the winter months they can lose up to a quarter of their sheep in snow drifts. They usually starve to death if we can’t get to them.’ He tried to close the zip on his bag without success. Vidal took it from him and began to repack it.
‘Thanks. Hey fancy your cousin Sheldon going off with Vicky, do you think there’s anything in it?’
‘Not on her side no. At the moment it’s just a platonic friendship. Sheldon is not a fool, he realises she still feels Paul’s loss too much, for him to expect anything more from the relationship for some time.’
‘But you think he lives in hope?’
‘Perhaps, who knows? It would be good for both of them. Sheldon too has suffered a loss.’ Vidal didn’t say what the loss was, and Jason decided not to ask. He would probably find out in time.
‘If I do decide to go to Dunedin, what will you do?’ Jason asked, sitting down on the couch.
‘I haven’t even thought about it.’ His partner conceded, fastening the bag and straightening up.
‘I don’t suppose you’d fancy coming with me?’ Jason asked tentatively. ‘You’d be more than welcome.’ Now what had possessed him to suggest that? Of course Vidal wouldn’t want to go, not to a godforsaken place like Dunedin, especially not for a vacation! Who in their right mind would? After all, he couldn’t wait to get away from it himself could he?
‘Is there a hotel I could stay in?’ Vidal asked, not wishing to impose on his partner’s family.
Jason laughed. ‘No, there’s nothing like that on the island. The nearest thing we’ve got is a tavern, and they don’t take visitors. There’s a few families who take in summer visitors, but the people who normally come to Dunedin usually stay on board their boats or just camp out. But even if there was somewhere you could go, my parents would never agree to you staying anywhere but with us.
‘Just don’t expect too much. It’s only an old stone farmhouse, at least hundred years old now, with a few more modern outbuildings. But we can go tramping over the hills, climbing, sailing, and even swimming, if the water’s warm enough for you. After all, we mustn’t neglect your lessons, and you haven’t done very much swimming in the sea have you? That’s something we can rectify.’
Vidal smiled as he listened to Jason’s recitation of things to do. ‘I’ve heard you talk about Mike, but how many other siblings do you have?’ He asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
‘Well let me see.’ Jason hid a smile as he began. ‘Mike is the oldest. He’s also my half brother – same father different mother. Next there’s Stephen, another half brother, he’s married and still lives on the island. Their mother died giving birth to Clarrie, my half sister. She’s not married and teaches at the local school, and lives close by.
‘Dad then married my mother, she’s quite a few years younger than him. I’m their oldest. By the way Mum is fairly old fashioned in her views, she didn’t agree with Rosina and I being contracted, and not properly married, as she calls it. I just thought I’d warn you.
‘After me there’s Sharon she’s 27 she married a fisherman, but is now widowed. I understand she’s getting married again next year, another fisherman I suppose. Aaron is 24, he’s helping out on the farm and I think he’ll take over from him at some time in the future.
‘Dad was disappointed when I left home, he hoped to split the farm between the two of us. But once I’d made my decision, no one tried to talk me out of it. They were very supportive, and because of that - I felt very guilty for a while.’ He admitted.
‘Niall is 22 and James is 19 both of them have signed up to work for a local holiday company taking tourists around the islands in the summer, and whatever work they can get in the winter. Gail is 17, Rachel 15 and Ian he’s only just coming up for 13. They’re still at school. Gail takes the ferry to the high school on the mainland each day. The other two go to the same school I did on Dunedin. We’re all Gen except Ian, and we don’t know what he’s going to be yet.
‘Mum did think there was another one on the way a few years back, but it was a false alarm.’ He saw that Vidal looked thoughtful. ‘I’ve not put you off coming have I?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Vidal replied. ‘However, have you considered, that after so many Gens. The odds on your younger brother being Sime, are stacked very much in his favour?’
‘Of course. But don’t tell my Dad that. He always has a bet on the outcome with my Uncle, and so far he’s never lost.’
‘Are you sure your family will feel at ease having a Sime to stay?’ Vidal asked, because he knew that even today there were still some pockets of prejudice in the more rural areas.
‘Hardly. At the last count there were five Simes living and working on Dunedin. And I have three Uncles, an Aunt and a few cousins, on both sides of the family who are Sime. They’ve all been to stay with us at some time.
‘We have a Sime Centre just across the strait on the mainland, and their Channels visit Dunedin at least two or three times a month. Collecting donations from those who are too old or unwell to travel, keeping an eye on the changeover classes in the school, and giving certificates to those who’ve recently established.
‘Everyone is well used to seeing Simes strolling around Dunedin, no one is going to stand and stare at you! Unless some of the local lasses take a fancy to your good looks of course, but you’ll have to take care of that yourself.’ He said with a wink.
‘Can you never be serious?’ The Channel demanded, and hoped that this blushes didn’t show.
Jason smiled to himself as he wondered how Vidal would react to his family’s rather rustic way of life, especially in this so called technological age. More especially because, according to his partner’s cousin, Vidal’s own family were extremely wealthy.
Truth to tell he was rather looking forward to finding out how the Channel would cope with the Devere clan, en masse!
He smiled briefly to himself as he also conceded, that equally as important of course, was how they, would deal with Vidal?
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