Slave Planet
Chapter 21

Public Domain

Cadnan had learned much in a very short time. Everyone was hurried now, as the time of mating approached more and more quickly and as the days sped by: knowledge was thrown at Cadnan and at Dara in vast, indigestible lumps, and they were left to make what they could of it, while the others went about their normal assigned work.

He learned about the invasion, for instance—or as much about it as Marvor, the elders and a few other late arrivals could piece together. Their explanations made surprisingly good sense, in the main, though none of them, not even Marvor, could quite comprehend the notion of masters having masters above them: it appeared contrary to reason.

Cadnan learned, also, the new trees in this new place, which the elders had found. There were food trees nearby, and others whose leaves were meant for building, and there were also trees of mating like his own Bent Line Tree. No one could tell Cadnan where Bent Line Tree itself might be: and so he became resigned to his first mating with a new tree, which the elders had called Great Root Tree. It was not truly right, he told himself, but there was nothing to do about it.

The life in the jungle made Cadnan uncomfortable: he was nothing larger than himself, and he felt very small. When he had masters, he was a part of something great, of the chain of obedience. But here, in the jungle, there was no chain (and would the trees obey when their time came?) and each felt himself alone. It was not good to feel alone, Cadnan decided; yet, again, there was nothing he could do. It mattered for a time, and then it ceased to matter.

The time of mating came closer and closer, and Cadnan felt his own needs grow with the hours. The sun rose, and fell, and rose again.

Then the time came.

It was dark. There were others near them, but they were alone. Cadnan knew Dara was standing near him in the darkness, though he saw nothing. He heard her breath coming slowly at first, and then a little faster. He did not hear his own, but that was no matter. There was a sound from a small night-animal, but it did not come near. He stood with Dara near to Great Root Tree: if he put out his hand, he could touch it.

But he kept his hand at his side. Touching the tree, at that moment, was wrong. There were the old rules, the true rules, and to think of them made him feel better.

Dara said nothing: it was not necessary for her to speak. They knew each other, and the attraction was very strong. Cadnan had felt the attraction before, but until that moment he had not known how strong it was. And then it grew, and grew.

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