Step Iv

by Rosel George Brown

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Steps 1, 2 and 3 went according to plan. Then she moved on to....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The first time Juba saw him, she couldn’t help recalling the description of Ariovistus in Julius Caesar: _Hominem esse barbarum, iracundum, temerarium._

She unpinned the delicate laesa from her hair, for Terran spacemen are educated, and if they have a choice, or seem to have, prefer seduction to rape.

Step. I. A soft answer turneth away wrath, leaving time for making plans.

He caught the flower, pleased with himself, Juba saw, for not fumbling, pleased with his manhood, pleased with his morality in deciding not to rape her.

Rule a--A man pleased with himself is off guard.

He was big, even for a Man, and all hair, and in his heavy arms the veins were knotted and very blue. He had taken off his shirt, letting the air blow shamelessly over him.

It was true he was wonderful to see. And Juba knew that such is the nature of our violences, if she had been born into such a body, she too, would be a thing of wars and cruelty, a burner of cities, a carrier of death and desolation.

His face softened, as though the hand of Juno had passed over it. Softly he gazed at the flower, softly at Juba.

Rule b--This is the only time they are tractable.

“Vene mecum,” she bade him, retreating into the glade--what was left of it after his ship burned a scar into it. She ran lightly, so as to give the impression that if he turned, only so far as to pick up the weapon on the ground by his shirt, she would disappear.

“I follow,” he said in her own language, and she stopped, surprise tangling her like a net. For she had been taught that Men speak only New-language in our time, all soft tongues having been scorned to death.

She should not have stopped. He looked back toward his gun. “Wait a moment,” he said. His “a”’s were flat and harsh, his words awkwardly sequenced.

“Come with me,” she said, and ran off again. She had been caught off guard.

Would he follow her? “Wait!” he cried, hesitated, and came after her again. “I want to get my gun.” He reached for Juba’s hand.

She shrank back from him. “Mulier enim sum.” Would he get the force of the particle? What could he fear from a mere woman?

When he had followed her far enough, when he had gone as far as he would, for fear of losing his way from his ship, she let him take her hand.

“Terran sum,” he said. And then, with meaning, “Homino sum.”

“Then you are, naturally, hungry,” Juba said. “You have no need to come armed. Let me take you to my home. There are only my sisters and I and the mother.”

“Yes,” he said, and took her other hand.

She blushed, because he was strangely attractive, and because the thought came to her that his ways were gentle, and that if he spoke a soft tongue, perhaps he was not like other Men.

Rule c--They are all alike.

“Come,” Juba said, turning, “We are not far from the cottages.”

She watched, during the meal, to see how he impressed the sisters and the mother. The little sisters--all bouncy blond curls and silly with laughter--their reaction to everything was excitement. And the mother--how could she seem so different from her daughters when they were so completely of her? They had no genes but her genes. And yet, there she sat, so dignified, offering a generous hospitality, but so cold Juba could feel it at the other end of the table. So cold--but the Man would not know, could not read the thin line of her taut lips and the faint lift at the edges of her eyes.

Juba brought him back to the ship that night, knowing he would not leave the planet.

“Mother,” Juba said, kneeling before the mother and clasping her knees in supplication. “Mother ... isn’t he ... different?”

“Juba,” the mother said, “there is blood on his hands. He has killed. Can’t you see it in his eyes?”

“Yes. He has a gun and he has used it. But mother--there is a gentleness in him. Could he not change? Perhaps I, myself...”

“Beware,” the mother said sternly, “that you do not fall into your own traps.”

“But you have never really known a man, have you? I mean, except for servants?”

“I have also,” she said, “never had an intimate conversation with a lion, nor shared my noonday thoughts with a spider.”

“But lions and spiders can’t talk. That’s the difference. They have no understanding.”

“Neither have men. They are like your baby sister, Diana, who is reasonable until it no longer suits her, and then the only difference between her and an animal is that she has more cunning.”

“Yes,” Juba said resignedly, getting to her feet. “If thus it is Written. Thank you, Mother. You are a wellspring of knowledge.”

“Juba,” Mother said with a smile, pulling the girl’s cloak, for she liked to please them, “would you like him for a pet? Or your personal servant?”

“No,” she said, and she could feel the breath sharp in her lungs. “I would rather ... He would make a good spectacle in the gladiatorial contests. He would look well with a sword through his heart.”

She would not picture him a corpse. She put the picture from her mind. But even less would she picture him unmanned.

He would rather die strong than live weak. And Juba--why should she have this pride for him? For she felt pride, pangs as real as the pangs of childbirth. There are different kinds of pride, but the worst kind of pride is pride in strength, pride in power. And she knew that was what she felt. She was sinning with full knowledge and she could not put her sin from her.

Juba ran straight to the altar of Juno, and made libation with her own tears. “Mother Juno,” she prayed, “take from me my pride. For pride is the wellspring whence flow all sins.”

But even as she prayed, her reason pricked at her. For she was taught from childhood to be reasonable above all things. And, having spoken with this Man, having found him courteous and educated, she could not believe he was beyond redemption simply because he was a Man. It was true that in many ways he was strange and different. But were they not more alike than different?

And as for his violences--were they much better, with their gladiatorial combats? Supposed to remind them, of course, of the bloodshed they had abhorred and renounced. But who did not secretly enjoy it? And whose thumbs ever went up when the Moment came? And this making of pets and servants out of Men--what was that but the worst pride of all? Glorying that a few incisions in the brain and elsewhere gave them the power to make forever absurd what came to them with the seeds at least of sublimity.

Juba stood up. Who was she to decide what is right and what is wrong?

She faced the world and its ways were too dark for her, so she faced away.

There was a sound in the brush near her, and she wished the stars would wink out, for the sound had the rhythm of her Mother’s approach, and Juba wanted to hide her face from her mother.

The mother frowned at Juba, a little wearily. “You have decided to forsake the world and become a Watcher of the Holy Flame. Am I not right?”

“You are right, mother.”

“You think that way you avoid decision, is that not right?”

“That is right,” Juba answered.

She motioned the girl to the edge of the raised, round stone and sat. “It is impossible to avoid decision. The decision is already made. What you will not do, someone else will do, and all you will have accomplished is your own failure.”

“It is true,” Juba said. “But why must this be done, Mother? This is a silly ceremony, a thing for children, this symbolic trial. Can we not just say, ‘Now Juba is a woman,’ without having to humiliate this poor Man, who after all doesn’t...”

“Look into your heart, Juba,” the mother interrupted. “Are your feelings silly? Is this the play of children?”

“No,” she admitted. For never before had she been thus tormented within herself.

“You think that this Man is different, do you not? Or perhaps that all men are not so savage of soul as you have been taught. Well, I tell you that a Man’s nature is built into his very chromosomes, and you should know that.”

“I know, mother.” For Juba was educated.

“There was a reason once, why men should be as they are. Nature is not gentle and if nature is left to herself, the timid do not survive. But if bloodlust was once a virtue, it is no longer a virtue, and if men will end up killing each other off, let us not also be killed.”

“No,” Juba said. For who would mind the hearths?

“All that,” the mother said, rising and dusting off her robe, “is theory, and ideas touch not the heart. Let me but remind you that the choice is yours, and when the choice is made I shall not yea or nay you, but think on this--a woman, too, must have her quiet strength, and you spring of a race of queens. How shall the people look to the Tanaids for strength in times of doubt and trouble, if a Tanaid cannot meet the Trial? The choice is yours. But think on who you are.”

The mother slipped away and left Juba alone in the quiet precinct of Juno, watching how the little fire caught at the silver backs of turned leaves when the wind blew.

Yes, Juba knew who she was, though they had never made it an important thing to be a ruler. But ruler or not, she loved her land and her home and her people, and even this ringed space of quiet where the spirit of Juno burned safely. Life somehow had chosen for her to be born and had made room for her in this particular place. Now she must choose it, freely. Otherwise she would never have in her hands the threads of her own life, and there would be no life for her. Only the complete loss of self that comes to the Watchers of the Holy Flame. And that is a holy thing, and an honor to one’s house, if it is chosen from the heart. But if it is chosen from fear of crossing the passageways of life--then it is no honor but a shame.

And Juba knew she could not bear such a shame, either for her house or within the depths of her soul.

“Mother Juno,” she prayed, “make clear the vision of my soul, and let me not, in my vanity, think I find good what the goddesses see to be evil.”

So she rose with a strong and grateful heart, as though she had already faced her trial and had been equal to it.

The rest of the night she slept warmly, so unaware are we of the forces within us.

The first fingers of the sun pulled Juba from her cot, as they pull the dew from the green things of the earth, and she pinned in her hair the first Laesa she saw that the sun’s fingers had forced.

The Man was standing beside his space ship again. It was a small ship--indeed, from the angle of Juba’s approach, and from the glancings of the sun, it looked smaller than the Man.

Juba’s decision held firm within her, for she saw there was no humility in him. He stood there laughing at the dawn, as though he were a very god, and were allowing the earth and sky to draw off their shadows for him, instead of standing in awe and full gratitude for the gift of life, and feeling, as one should, the smallness of a person and the weakness of a person’s power, compared with the mighty forces that roll earth and sky into another day.

It is in this way, Juba thought, that men seem strong, because they have no knowledge of their own weaknesses. But it is only a seeming strength, since it stems from ignorance, and the flower of it falls early from the bush.

Juba did not, however, say all this.

Rule d--A man’s ego is his most precious possession.

“You are very strong,” Juba said, her eyes downcast, for he was bare again to the waist, and it had come to her that she would like to string her fingers through the hair on his chest.

“Runs in the family,” he said carelessly. “But come, I had dinner with you yesterday. Let’s have breakfast in my ship today.”

“I...” What was she afraid of? If he’d meant to do her any violence, he’d have done it already. And this would provide Juba’s opportunity--”Yes,” she said. “I would be delighted.”

There had to be some talk, and perhaps something else, before she could make her request of him. They had to be friends of some sort before he was at all likely to agree.

It is difficult to make conversation with a man.

Finally Juba gave up trying to think of something interesting to say and asked, “What is your way of life, that you should be going around by yourself in a space ship?”

“My way of life?” He laughed. “It becomes a way of life, doesn’t it? Whatever we do ends up enveloping us, doesn’t it?”

For a man he was thoughtful.

“I’m a scout,” he said. “I don’t know that I chose it as a way of life. I was born into the Solar Federation and I was born male and I grew up healthy and stable and as patriotic as any reasonable person can be expected to be. When war came I was drafted. I volunteered for scouting because the rest of it is dull. War is dull. It is unimaginably dull.”

“Then why,” Juba asked, for she was amazed at this, “do you fight wars?”

Again he laughed. Is there anything these men don’t laugh at? “That’s the riddle of the sphinx.”

That is not the riddle of the sphinx, but Juba did not correct him.

“When you’re attacked,” he went on, “you fight back.”

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.