“So, Mister Rowan, why do you wish to immigrate to space?” Mister Narayanan asks.
Because I keep having these nightmares where amorphous celestial whales are being pursued by giant mechanical squid in the blackness of space near Saturn—and they scream... And the Bear Spirit wants me to do something about it. He keeps looking at me: waiting. And my crazy Aunt Arianna prophesied on my naming day that my destiny lies with the Moon, and I must abandon the Mother to save Her, and I will never marry a representation of the Goddess, and I am one with the Bear. And I want to know what it all means because I’m tired of guessing.
Mister Narayanan is the Colony Placement Specialists counselor. He has a wide, pleasant smile that manages to look friendly despite the huge expanse of black glassteel desk between us. I haven’t met him before. He has very white teeth and a nutmeg complexion under the daysim office lighting of the interview room. The green of the data screen reflects in his dark eyes.
He won’t understand the screaming whales.
After two weeks of exams and background verifications, that screen holds almost every bit of data the human race has ever known about me—well, the civilized parts of it that maintain official records. I already gave a proper answer to his question on the application, in the psych interviews, and even the Gods-damned essay. Maybe this unexpected interview—to clarify a few bits of information--is just another test to see if my answers remain consistent. Or maybe there really is something wrong with my application and exam results. Narayanan is definitely assessing me: he doesn’t feel as nonchalant as his pose or expression are trying to indicate.
I paid these people for the privilege of being passively interrogated; paid them everything I managed to save over the last five and a half years of crappy, dangerous missions, and everything I could borrow from my military retirement. Only seventy-five percent of my money will be refunded if these bastards can’t facilitate my immigration to the colonies. And the money is nothing: I won’t get another shot at this.
Hovering in the limbo of that ironic conundrum—he is working for me; yet, he can deny me the thing I really want—I toss him an obtuse answer with a pleasant smile. “Well, sir, I don’t think a man should stay in his mother’s house once he’s grown.”
I suppress a sigh. “I’m a diasporist, sir. I believe mankind was meant to leave Mother Earth.”
He nods thoughtfully, apparently unconvinced.
“What’s this about, sir? I was told I passed everything and met all the requirements. Is this a placement interview?”
“Possibly.” He gives me a small smile and returns to the screen.
I grit my teeth and try not to grimace.
“You are in excellent physical condition,” he says as his gaze races over the slowly scrolling data. “You are thirty-eight years-of-age--one hundred and ninety-four centimeters--one hundred and two kilograms. Your body size index is one point four seven. You’re the closest to the one point five limit I’ve seen.” He looks up with a smile. “Don’t gain any weight in the next month.”
“Or grow any taller,” I say with a forced smile.
His gaze returns to the screen. “You score in the ninety-fourth percentile in overall athleticism. No dance or gymnastics training, but your agility and balance indices are high and indicate you’ll be able to adapt to low- and micro-gravity environments. You have no congenital or chronic health concerns. You’ve suffered wounds in military actions, but they seem to have healed without complication or disability. You’ve never been ill beyond common ailments, and you show no trace of them now.
“Your psych eval is quite positive. Despite an extensive military career, you score very high on the compassion, empathy, and bonding indices. You’re not a sociopath…” He tosses another brief smile. “You seem to be a well-adjusted individual with only one area of possible dysfunction: your relationship with your mother…” He frowns thoughtfully. “But our people feel this will not be reflected in your interaction with women in general, and you do not have difficulty with women in positions of authority.”
I grimace. That little issue affects everything I do with women, but these people aren’t trying to get me married, just employed.
“You do not possess any phobias, but your spatial phobic indices are higher than we like to see,” he says as if it really isn’t a matter for concern.
I defend myself anyway. “I don’t feel I’m really prone to claustrophobia or acrophobia, sir.”
He smiles reassuringly. “Many émigrés feel that way until they find themselves living in spaces the size of this desk for weeks at a time, or standing above the abyss of open space. You should be fine as long as you don’t immigrate to the outer colonies or become a construction worker.”
His gaze returns to the screen. “Your intellect is in the ninety-ninth percentile. You have had no formal education beyond public secondary—which you tested into…” He gives another thoughtful frown.
I frown. He hasn’t read my file. So what’s the problem if it isn’t in my file?
“However,” he’s saying, “you are self-educated to the extent you could easily qualify for tertiary certification with minimal coursework: primarily in the liberal arts. Your Egyptian is also excellent, despite it being a second language. You score in the eightieth percentile for Egyptian, and the ninety-fifth for your native language of English.”
He taps to a new page. “You are a socially-detached individual, with no relatives or family.” He pauses and looks at me curiously.
“It’s true, sir,” I say with a shrug. “I don’t know if anyone I’m related to is alive. The ones I cared about are dead. Most of my friends have died over the years, and those that survived moved on with their lives. You know, married, kids: they don’t want an old war buddy hanging around reminding them of things they’d rather forget--or not have their spouses know.”
Narayanan nods, ignoring my attempt at humor. “Religion?” He doesn’t look at the screen to read my prior answers.
I try not to frown while wondering how my professed lack of religion can be a problem: it’s supposed to be in my favor. “I’m agnostic.”
He nods again—still unconvinced.
“Why are you concerned about that, sir?” I ask.
He sighs, flicks the screen away, and leans forward with interlocked fingers to regard me intensely. “Mister Rowan, one of the primary reasons for colonial immigrant failure is political or religious fanaticism. Nearly every batch of prospects contains at least one would-be revolutionary or missionary. Usually we catch them, but sometimes they lie their way through our tests and interviews. They are transported up well to their placement, and then they open their mouths… And the colonials send them back and dock us for the aggravation.”
I shake my head and lie. “I don’t have any politics or religion to proselytize, sir. I’m apolitical—it comes with the job: when you’re a mercenary you never know who’s going to pay you next or who they’re going to pay you to shoot. And I’m agnostic, but I’m not militant about it.”
He nods. “Yes, that appears to be the case. But… we’ve had three cases in the last decade of émigrés with strong convictions who didn’t attempt to rally for their cause or convert people. One attempted to sabotage the oceanic zoological colony, one attempted to assemble a bomb for unknown reasons, and one attempted to assassinate the United Colonies director of Terran Management.”
I haven’t heard about any of those incidents, but the colonials are pretty good at keeping their news to themselves. “For political and religious reasons, sir?”
He gives a compressed smile. “The first was once a Boat Person of the Pacific, the bomb builder was a Karami extremist, and the would-be assassin was a member of the United Celtic Tribes.”
“Oh fuck me,” I sigh in English. Of all things, that cannot screw this up. I switch back to Egyptian and glare at him. “That is really, really, depressing. That kind of shit is one of the reasons I left the Tribes when I was fifteen! The whole fucking, primativist, we-belong-on-the-Mother-and-nowhere-else, only we-can-interpret-the will-of---or care for—the Mother crap!”
He’s calm in the face of my anger. “Would you mind telling me the other reasons.” It isn’t a question, despite his phrasing.
I sigh and try to relax enough to be coherent. “My mother.” I rarely talk about that part of my life. I had been able to gloss over it with the placement psychs: they’d only been interested in how my experiences affected my behavior and attitudes, not the experiences themselves.
He’s still watching me intently. He probably thinks I’m rehearsing a big lie. I might as well tell him everything—within reason: he can’t possibly believe anyone would make up something as screwed up as the truth—though it does sound something like a fairy tale…
“My mother was the high priestess of the Ghost Wolf Clan,” I say. “She had been the favorite of the old high priestess, her aunt; and she made a lot of enemies making sure she stayed the favorite. My mother was great at everything a priestess is supposed to do, except having babies. It’s very important for a Tribal woman to go through the stages of life; like, in order to truly pass from Maiden to Mother--and assume a position of authority--a woman has to become a mother. Like any damn religion, if a woman can’t conceive, people begin to wonder if the Divine Power doesn’t wish it and why.
“My mother slept with every man she could in the local clans. She monopolized fertility rituals. She carried amulets and charms. She drank potions. She only ate certain foods. But the story goes that she never even missed a period or miscarried. She was barren for years; and we’ll never know why since she never saw an actual physician or had any tests. They don’t do that in the Tribes.”
Narayanan seems interested and not incredulous. He nods understanding. I’m relieved. Maybe he actually knows enough about the Tribes that I won’t have to explain every weird aspect of the culture and religion.
“So, everyone was really happy when she got pregnant with me--when she was… twenty-eight, I think. People thought the father was her favorite consort, but my father was actually this warrior from another tribe that she slept with at a huge, multi-tribal Beltane moot. So, anyway, I was the long-awaited golden child before I was even born. I was supposed to be a girl, and her successor. I was supposed to be named Rowena. She went into labor on the night of a lunar eclipse—a time of great power for births, and… And then I arrive. A boy. It was like I was an insult to her and everyone who divined my gender wrong. She was so angry she didn’t even want to hold me—or nurse me. One of her junior priestesses was my wet nurse.”
“Did she raise you?” Narayanan asked with sincere compassion.
“No, I was raised communally with the other priestess brats.”
“I see why you have issues concerning your mother,” he says.
I shake my head. “Yes, sir, but you still don’t understand why I left. On my naming day… My mother decided to call me Rowan--since people had already made some nice gifts with the letter R on them. And then the geasa were to be delivered.”
He raises an eyebrow.
I sigh. “A geis is a prophecy. In Celtic folklore and mythology it’s more like a curse: it’s a prohibition or an obligation: don’t eat this kind of food or you’ll offend the Gods; or you must always do a certain thing under a particular set of circumstances. In the Tribes, it—like many actual Celtic customs—has come to mean something a little different. It’s a divined pronouncement made at the naming ceremony of a child concerning that child’s fate. There are supposed to be three of them, but there can be more, and the mother’s relatives or the local priestesses get to divine them. The picking of the geis givers is a big deal because it’s a big honor, and many women take it really seriously. Some geasa are sincerely based on a divinatory vision the woman has, but mostly they’re just made up crap that someone saddles the poor baby with in the name of clan politics or to make some religious point.
“Anyway, people didn’t like my mother, and she held a high enough position that important women in the clan—woman she had pissed off--had to be given the honor of pronouncing my geasa.”
Narayanan grimaces sympathetically. “What were you not allowed to eat?”
I smile. “I wish it was that simple. The story goes that the first woman stood to speak and my Aunt Arianna stood up at the same time, staggered into the middle of the circle, made this huge pronouncement, and collapsed into her first epileptic seizure. I never heard what the other women planned to say. The only thing anyone ever remembered or told me is what my aunt said. She said, ‘this child who is one with the Bear Spirit will abandon the Mother to save Her. His destiny lies with the Moon, but he can never marry the Goddess’.”
“And what did all that mean?” Narayanan asks.
I sigh: this is the kill shot; everything else has been truthful maneuvering to get into position. “The naming of a spirit guide animal is pretty common. It was unintentionally ironic since my real father was killed by a bear when I was six—before I ever had a chance to meet him. He was apparently crazier than your average drunken Celt… The bit about abandoning my mother was… obvious maybe, under the circumstances: if you take the Mother to mean my actual mother and not the Goddess. A lot of people thought it had political overtones. And essentially everyone thought it meant I wasn’t going to stick around. My destiny lying with the Moon seemed to be a way of saying I might be a hunter or a warrior—since Artemis is the Moon Goddess and men who follow Her are hunters. But the last—when added to the rest--was the problem area.”
Narayanan seems mesmerized and not incredulous. “What did it mean?”
That the Gods hate me: or maybe just the Goddesses.
“At its simplest, it means I can never occupy a position of leadership within the Tribes. Clan chieftains ceremonially marry the Goddess as personified by the high priestess. And any man serving as priest has to do the same. But… it meant more than that. Every woman is considered to be a personification of the Goddess. So, essentially, it meant I would never marry—though except for ritual purposes, the Tribes never use that word and don’t have what most cultures call a marriage as a civil arrangement. Anyway, that’s how every girl in the clan viewed it, though: that I would never commit or settle down. Everyone assumed I would just go off and be some solitary hunter and never amount to anything politically or religiously—or romantically. It would have been easy if I was two-spirit—which is the other thing some people thought the prophecies might mean.”
His eyebrow rises at the term two-spirit.
I sigh again. “I believe two-spirit was originally the English translation of a word from the North American indigenous peoples. It meant a person of mixed gender. In the Tribes it means anything from Ramsberger triple N through triple M—anything outside the barbells.”
“Ah,” he says and flicks the desk screen over and switches the page. “You are definitely within the MMF male typical barbell--physical gender: masculine nine--gender identification: masculine eight point five--sexual preference: female five--ninety-five percent concurrence between objective testing and self-identification.” Amusement quirks his features as he continues reading. “Your female preference breakdown shows scores at seven for physical gender display and only five for psychological display.”
I consider being annoyed, but the distraction might play in my favor and I sense his interest is benign. “Yes, sir, I like my women to look like women but not necessarily act like women.”
“That makes perfect sense considering what you just told me,” he says and finally tears his gaze from the screen to meet mine again. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly when he sees my expression. “I was just curious given your history.”
I shrug. “It’s not like everything known about me isn’t there for you to read.”
“True, and we’re here for what isn’t in this file,” he says and frowns with thought. “So, this prophecy, geis--do you believe it now?”
I lie some more. “When I was young, yeah; but not by the time I was a teenager. Though I haven’t married--by any definition of the word--and I’ve abandoned my mother…” I shrug and smile offhandedly.
“So you left the Tribes because of the interpretation of the geis?”
I shake my head. “Yes and no. Everyone assuming I was never going to amount to anything was a problem, yeah, but more because I wasn’t a happy kid and I thought they were full of crap for believing the geis when it was so obviously...” I shrug and shift my tack. “My mother not accepting me was viewed as her disavowal of the will of the Goddess; and she was voted out of the position of high priestess by the time I was two. She’s never forgiven me. I’ve never forgiven her. I could give a crap about the will of the Goddess and my mother’s relationship to it, all I knew as a kid was that my mother hated me because I wasn’t a girl and she wasn’t a priestess anymore. Yet, she and all the other women kept doing their magic and making pronouncements and… staging things, so that people got what they wanted from the rituals. I probably would have been a happy kid if I was stupid; but I’m not. I saw and heard too much, and the answers people gave me didn’t add up. I understood hypocrisy before I knew there was a word for it.
“I honestly don’t think I ever developed a faith in the Tribal religion that I later lost. I just never believed in the Tribal version of things. After I hit puberty and went through my rite of manhood I was granted the right to ask who my father was. That was…” I sigh with the unexpected weight of the words. “That conversation was the last time I spoke to my mother. We fought: she finally surrendered to duty and gave me what little she knew of my father’s name. I left to go find him. He was dead, but two of his brothers weren’t. One of them had been exiled for heresy, and the other one was close to it.”
“What heresy?” Narayanan asks.
“The Tribes want to believe—and have other people believe—they are practicing a religion passed down through the ages since the Neolithic. That’s what I was taught as a child. But the religion they’re practicing was invented in the Twentieth Century. The real indigenous pre-monotheistic pagan faiths were not matriarchal, and generally didn’t believe in everyone practicing magic. There were Goddesses, but there wasn’t one all-world Goddess.”
“Oh,” he says. “I didn’t know that.” He appears thoughtful, but he doesn’t frown. “So you left the Tribes and went to live with the exiled uncle?”
I nod. I miss Uncle Beowulf. He taught me more about the world and my place in it in three years than I learned in the prior fifteen. He had loved me.
Narayanan looks at the screen again. “And then you attended a Canadian public high school; and then joined the United Nations Armed Forces at eighteen.”
“Yes, sir,” I say. “I would have gone to college, but I didn’t have any money and I didn’t qualify for Canadian national sponsorship.”
“I changed my name, too,” I add and regret it. Now he’ll think I’ve been trying to hide my identity—which I had been trying to do when I changed my name at sixteen… “I didn’t put that in the application because I didn’t think there was any harm in omitting it since the Tribes don’t keep records that they share with other nations. The first name there’s any record of is Arthur Rowan. Outside of the Tribes, it’s the only name I’ve ever used.”
“Oh. What was your birth name?” He thankfully doesn’t seem upset about my admission, merely curious.
“Rowan Aurora-son Ghost Wolf.” I sigh. “I sure as shit wasn’t going to go through life as Aurora-son, and Ghost Wolf would have marked me as a Tribal.” I shrug. “I was used to being called Rowan, and I thought people in the rest of the world called one another by their surnames all the time—which, of course, in the military they do, but I didn’t know I was going to enter the military when… Never mind. So I used Rowan as my surname, and I picked Arthur out of a baby-name database because it means bear or bear-like or something; and I was being ironic at sixteen.”
I sigh. “Mister Narayanan, if I’m going to blow something up it’ll be in the wilds of North America and not in space.”
He smiles and nods thoughtfully. “I believe you. And it matches everything in your psych evaluations.”
I let out a cautious sigh of relief: I did it: passed another test. “Thank you, sir. Now what? Do I go back to my room and wait and see if Voro Security is interested in me?”
He shakes his head and smiles. “Voro has already seen your file and tendered an offer-- provided we clear you—which I am doing.”
The great weight I’ve carried for years lifts, and I feel staggered by the loss of it. He cleared me and I’ve been accepted by Voro. I’ve crossed all the passes. Not that Voro Security Corporation acceptance was a high one--they take ninety-nine percent of the immigrants with a military background--but there had been the chance they hadn’t been hiring at all.
By the Gods, I’m actually going to go.
“I believe you are familiar with their contract,” Narayanan says and flips a screen showing a Voro contract toward me. “They will pay for your transport up well and provide for your food, environment fees, housing, colony immigration qualification training, and specialized colonial combat training in exchange for a binding and resalable seven year contract. If you sign with them, they will have the right to sell your contract to any suitable employer. They do not have to give you any say in the matter, but from what I understand, they usually try and meet their contractee’s personal preferences.
“A suitable employer must be able to maintain you in living conditions at or exceeding those stipulated in the Colonial Contract-Immigrant Rights Law—the CCIRL-- and in all ways conform to that law in their dealings with you, including only employing you to perform duties within your job code. That code will be H S one hundred, Hazardous Security, and can include your employment as anything from an unarmed, patron-compliance-agent to an armed, private security soldier. It is expected that your employment will involve life-threatening duties and situations. This employment can take place anywhere within Colonial Federation Space—including Earth, even though Earth governments are not participating members of the Colonial Federation.
“Voro has tendered your offer as an initial no-mod contract. This means they do not wish for you to undergo depilation or any other augmentation, or receive any implants; however, your future employers might, and your compliance to their demands of that nature are guaranteed by your acceptance of the contract. Always remember, the limits of what can be expected in terms of physical modification are clearly detailed in the Colonial Contract-Immigrant Rights Law.”
He takes a deep breath and regards me speculatively.
I shrug. “It sounds like I’m joining the military, sir. At least I get to keep my hair for now.” That is actually a bigger relief than I want to admit: I’ve been dreading depilation. The beard makes a man: an odd holdover from my youth.
He nods. “Then if you have no questions and you accept, please sign the contract and confirm it with a swab.”
I don’t have any questions. I went over the contract and every clause of the CCIRL with an independent lawyer before I began the application to the placement agency—and it really is just like any military service agreement I’ve entered. I’m a soldier by trade: I’ve spent twenty years with people thinking they own my ass and they have the right to expect me to sacrifice it for theirs. Maybe one day I will. It isn’t a thing I choose to dwell on, though.
I sign the screen and he provides a swab for the DNA sample.
Once he’s sealed the swab vial, he smiles sincerely. “Well congratulations Mister Rowan, you are now an off-world immigrant.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m looking forward to seeing things I’ve always dreamed about.”
“Well, don’t be disappointed if you don’t see much in the first seven years,” he says. “Once your contract is up, you will be free to travel anywhere you can afford, of course.”
He reminds me of Uncle Beowulf’s cautious words when I told him the UN Armed Forces were going to show me the world. I grin. “I don’t suppose I’ll see much of the Moon.”
Narayanan smiles. “Yes, whether it is your destiny or not, the Lunans don’t trust us Terrans. We’re all filthy, diseased apes in their opinion.”
While the Lunans and other First are exotic space aliens in most Terran’s opinions: people aren’t sure whether to revile or revere them. I want to meet them even if they don’t want to meet me. “I hear they’re quite arrogant. Have you ever met one?”
He shakes his head sadly. “No. I’ve met a few Colonials, but no First.”
“Have you ever been up well, sir?” I ask.
“No,” he says with another regretful shake and then he shrugs. “I never wanted to immigrate, but sometimes I wish I made enough money to at least be a tourist.”
“Why didn’t you want to immigrate?”
“I’ve always wanted children,” he says happily.
I shrug. “I haven’t really wanted kids. There was a time when I was young, but… No. So do you have a child?”
“I have four,” he says proudly.
I manage not to grimace. That kind of thinking is the reason Earth is once again over-crowded and… I should probably leave before I screw everything up by saying something stupid.
“So, when do I report for decontamination and quarantine, sir?”
“Tomorrow? Or it can be postponed a week if you have something you need to do,” he says.
I shake my head. “No, sir. I’m ready.”
“Excellent then.” He stands and offers his hand. “Then I wish you well, Mister Rowan.”
“Thank you, sir.” I shake his hand a little too enthusiastically, but he bears it well.
I’m finally going to leave the nest. With or without spirit bears and screaming whales I’m looking forward to it.