Authors: Janet Edwards
Table of Contents
This is the third book I’ve written. I wrote the first one for the norms, because I wanted to tell them what it’s like to be born Handicapped. How it feels to be among the despised one in a thousand with an immune system that keeps you trapped on Earth, while everyone else can portal casually between the twelve hundred worlds of humanity.
I wrote about what happened at the start of 2789. How I lied my way into a class of off-world pre-history students, who were on Earth for their compulsory year working in the ruins of the ancient cities. I convinced them I was a norm, fell in love, got caught up in the rescue of a crashed Military spacecraft during a solar super storm, and was awarded the Artemis medal.
I thought that was the end of my story, but then an alien probe was detected approaching Earth, and the Alien Contact programme was activated. Its commanding officer needed someone like me, someone who knew Earth and was Handicapped, and I was the only one he’d ever met. He called in me and my boyfriend to help, and we ended up being the ones who sent a signal to the probe to trigger its communication sequence. The Military kept a lot of the details about that secret, so I wrote a second book about it in the hope that one day some future historians would read it and learn the full truth.
Those first two books are locked away in a highly restricted section of Military records, and now I only have one day to write my third book. This is about what happened after we sent the signal to the alien probe, and it isn’t for the norms, or the historians, it’s for me.
If I’m reading this, then I’ve already read the first two books, so I know Fian is a totally zan person. He’ll tell me all about the things I didn’t have time to write, or was too embarrassed to put into words. I hope I like him again. I hope I love him again. I hope we are very happy together.
But mostly I hope I’m not reading this, because if I am then my memory and everything that made me a person is gone, and this me is dead.
According to Earth Rolling News, Jarra Tell Morrath’s favourite colour was green, she was a fan of the singer, Zen Arrath, and she was going to become a member of a Betan clan. My favourite colour was blue, and I didn’t think much of Zen Arrath’s legs, but they were right about the Betan clan.
There was the sound of a yawn from where two single beds had been wedged together. ‘What is it this time?’ asked Fian. ‘Another interview with your ex?’
‘No, I told Cathan he wouldn’t just be my ex-boyfriend, but my
ex-boyfriend, if he talked to the newzies again. Earth Rolling News has found out about me joining the Tell clan.’
The wall vid changed from showing a holo of me to showing one of Fian, and I shook my head. ‘I still can’t believe this. Only a few weeks ago, I could wake up in the morning and watch Earth Rolling News without seeing a single picture of either of us, but now …’
Fian sat up and brushed his long blond hair out of his eyes. ‘We’re famous now, Jarra. People on every world of humanity watched live vid coverage of us sending a signal to the alien probe in Earth orbit. Did you really think we could go back to join our pre-history class afterwards, and everyone would forget about us?’
‘I didn’t think we’d be going back to our pre-history class at all. I expected …’
I let my words trail off into a frustrated groan, remembering all the things I’d expected to happen. I’d thought everyone would be delighted Fian and I had sent the signal to the alien sphere. I’d assumed we’d stay with the Alien Contact programme, and be involved in all the exciting things they were doing.
I’d been a total idiot. Wherever I was, whatever I did, some people would never forget I was Handicapped. A week after we sent the signal, Joint Sector High Congress Committee ordered the Military to dump the throwback girl and her boyfriend.
‘Colonel Torrek is furious about the way we’ve been treated,’ said Fian. ‘He’s fighting to get us back in the Alien Contact programme.’
I’d been haunted by a secret fear for several days. I finally forced myself to put it into words. ‘Colonel Torrek may be able to get
back, but not me. If High Congress make the Military move the base for Alien Contact to another world, like Adonis or Academy, then …’
Fian looked startled. ‘That won’t happen, Jarra. The alien sphere is in Earth orbit, so moving the base to another star system would make no sense.’
‘It would make perfect sense to the prejudiced. They think the Handicapped are less evolved, subhuman, and hate the fact one of us helped send the signal to the alien sphere on behalf of humanity. They won’t be satisfied with just throwing me out of Alien Contact, they’ll want to get rid of the handful of other Handicapped who’ve been involved as well. Our faulty immune systems will kill us if we leave Earth, so they can neatly exclude all of us by moving Alien Contact to another planet.’
Fian shook his head. ‘Colonel Torrek said only a few members of Joint Sector High Congress Committee are prejudiced against the Handicapped. The rest of the committee would never agree to move the base.’
‘They agreed to order the two of us out of the Alien Contact programme, didn’t they?’
‘Yes, but there’s a huge difference between getting rid of two people, and moving the entire base. You don’t have to worry, Jarra. We just have to be patient and we’ll both rejoin Alien Contact.’
I sighed. I wasn’t a patient person, I hated waiting around in suspense like this, and all the newzie interest in us was making everyday life really difficult. It wasn’t just that Fian and I daren’t go out in public. We couldn’t even get mail messages from friends, because our mail addresses were swamped with millions of messages from reporters. Military Command Support had tried giving us several secret mail addresses, but the newzies had somehow found out all of them within hours, so now everything was blocked except official Military mail.
The image on the wall vid changed to show the alien probe in Earth orbit, its central grey sphere almost invisible behind the thousands of constantly changing, multi-coloured strands of its glorious light sculpture. Hundreds of experts were trying to translate those light strands into words. I wondered how they …
A dreadful thought hit me. I shook off the spell of the mesmerizing light sculpture, and turned off the wall vid. ‘Fian, you haven’t told your parents about me joining my clan yet. You have to call them at once, before they see the story on the newzies.’
‘I’m afraid it’s already too late for that,’ said Fian. ‘Earth Rolling News have obviously been talking about that story all night, so the Delta sector newzies must be showing it too. It’s morning here, but it’s late evening on the inhabited continent of Hercules, and my father always watches the evening news on Delta Sector Vision.’
He shook his head. ‘It’s my own fault, Jarra. I should have told my parents weeks ago, but I kept delaying, waiting for a good moment. Stupid of me. There was never going to be a good moment to tell two prudish Deltans that their son’s girlfriend was joining a clan from Zeus, capital planet of sexually permissive Beta sector.’
He sounded surprisingly calm about it, but I still felt horribly guilty. Fian had worked so hard to get his parents to accept me despite my Handicap, and now I was causing yet more trouble by joining a Betan clan. Fian’s home planet, Hercules, was one of the strictest in conservative Delta sector. His parents were dubious about moral standards here on Earth, let alone those of notorious Beta sector.
‘Changing my mind about joining my clan would be awkward now it’s been reported on the newzies,’ I said, ‘but …’
‘I’m not letting you change your mind just because my parents won’t approve,’ said Fian. ‘You try and hide it, but I know you desperately want to have a family.’
I hated admitting it, even to myself, but that was perfectly true. I’d been portalled to Earth at birth to save my life, and my parents had handed me over to be raised as a ward of Hospital Earth. I’d grown up in their residences, hating the unknown parents who’d rejected me for being imperfect, but eventually I tried to contact them and was grazzed to find out they were Military. Moving to Earth would have meant abandoning their careers and wrecking the lives of my older brother and sister, so they had more excuse than most parents who abandoned their Handicapped babies, but …
Well, I still had a mess of conflicting powerful emotions about the parents who dumped me as a baby. The parents who I’d called months ago when I was on New York Dig Site and they were in far off Kappa sector. The parents who’d wanted to come to Earth to see me, but died before they could do it. I’d recorded my only call to them. One day, maybe, I’d be able to face replaying that conversation. One day, but not yet.
I thought I’d lost the chance of having a family forever when my parents died, but now their Betan clan was welcoming me as a member. I could never portal away from Earth, never visit the clan hall on Zeus, but I would still be part of one of the huge extended families of a Betan clan. I was staggeringly, unbelievably, bewilderingly lucky. Every kid in the residences run by Hospital Earth, whether they were in Nursery, Home or Next Step, dreamed of something amaz like this. It would have been incredibly hard to give up that dream, even for Fian.
‘I’d better call my parents now.’ Fian reached for his lookup.
By Deltan rules of behaviour, a couple of 18-year-olds on their second Twoing contract were barely allowed to hold hands, so Fian’s parents mustn’t see us together wearing only sleep suits. I pulled on a robe and headed for the door. ‘I’ll go and shower.’
Our pre-history class was spending the year excavating the ruins of the ancient cities of Earth, and staying in a series of basic dig site accommodation domes. That meant there were only three bathrooms for twenty-nine students, so I had to wait in a queue to shower. When I got back to our room, Fian was standing by the bed, his lookup discarded beside him. I didn’t like the grim expression on his face.
‘How bad was it?’ I asked.
‘Very bad.’ Fian hesitated for a moment before continuing. ‘My father ordered me to break our Twoing contract or he’ll disown me.’
I had a sick, nervous feeling in my stomach. ‘I could ask my clan to postpone the ceremony.’
‘He isn’t just angry about you joining the clan, Jarra,’ said Fian. ‘I’ve always been a bit … careful when talking to my parents about how we met. My parents thought I’d known you were Handicapped all along, but now my father’s somehow found out what really happened.’