Pairings : Kai/OFC  
Archive : Okay for Dark-Zone-Liaisons all others interested in archiving PLEASE ASK !  
Category:  NC-17 for sex, drugs and violence  
Rating: NC-17 for sex, drugs and violence  
Warnings: The content herein might not be to all readers' liking: includes  
sex, violence, drugs. Use your best judgement.  
Spoilers:  for "Stan's Trial"  
Summary: How Kai lost his virginity...and a more than a few illusions about life  
Feedback: Yes Send comments, fan mail, constructive criticism to:  
Notes: Kudos to Dr. Del for her advice regarding father/son psychology. Magna Cum Laude to Mel,  
my Brunnen-G scholar. Beta'd by the wonderful Mel, who gave me such encouragement on this project 
(as well as previous ones) that I dedicate this story to her.  
Status: Part Five of the "Memories" series. Copyright 2000, Dominique Modiano.
"Memories 5:"To Move Is To Die"
By Dominique Modiano


Part I. 

"To move is to die. Do you understand?" 

Looking at Grand Prosecutor Jihana, his words carried such anger -- and yet 
Kai felt nothing towards the woman herself, nor her actions.  Where did the 
memory of this anger come from? He could suddenly remember a terrible 
injustice being done to himself....and terrible cruelty... 

"You are not interested in justice, Jihana. Only cruelty." 

"You make the two sound incompatible!" 

Hazy images started to flash across the back of his mind as he stared at the 
instigator of these memories...  Not now, he told himself.  I cannot relive 
these memories now...I must be right here, right now, for my friends.  But 
the essence of the memory remained, paused, waiting for its opportunity, 
coloring his questioning of Stan. 

"Are you gonna to kill her?" Stan spitefully asked. 

"Do you *think* that I should?" Now that Kai had his memories back, and was 
able to examine them, he understood that he was capable of killing, but not 
of murder.  He had a strong sense of justice, and knew that he was resolute 
and impartial enough to be the enforcer of justice.  Many people did not 
have that power, but Kai's ancestors were brutal warriors, and the strength 
to kill was in his blood and genes. 

Kai knew he ultimately did not care if Jihana lived or died now that Stan 
was safe, and explained, "I have no motivation to kill anyone. However, I 
*will* kill her if you request that I be the enforcer of justice." The 
decision was up to Stan. 

After much sputtering, the ultimately kindhearted Stanley decided to let 
Jihana live by default.  The ungrateful wretch of a woman did not appreciate 
the gesture, calling Stan a weakling, but Kai and Xev knew otherwise.  It 
took much more strength to live than to die. 

With a final fierce glare, Kai warned Jihana that any future unjust behavior 
on her part would be met with extreme violence.  And only then did Kai allow 
the full force of his memories to flow.  While they returned to the bugship, 
Kai did not speak -- could not speak -- as his mind ran the images from his 

"To move is to die."  The phrase came to him over and over....and then the 
voice of the woman saying the words...but why?  Memories like playing cards 
fell as Kai pushed back to the origins of why that phrase was whispered into 
his *own* ear.   Finally, an origin point was grasped and the quick flashes 
of memories running in reverse slowed and stopped, only to begin again in 
forward temporal order, this time unfolding in real-time.... 


He remembered a swirl of colored scarves...ocean green and gray...blood red 
and sunset violet...midnight blue that was almost black...and frost white 
glimmering with creamy gold.  Or was that the woman's hair?  Long flaxen 
strands of silk waved and fluttered as she spun around the room.  Balanced 
delicately on the balls of her feet, Auda's dancing was music itself. 

The heavy beat of the music thrummed through Kai's bones, and his eyes were 
filled with the sight of his golden cousin.  Spinning and twirling around 
the room, she would stop now and then to articulate a moment, leaning 
backwards, her long hair trailing the floor, her hands gesturing wordlessly 
the story behind the song. Her body was covered in jewels, her toes and 
fingernails were painted gold, as were her eyelids and mouth. Every part of 
her was fluid, from the strong muscles of her long legs to the ripples of 
muscle in her stomach. Her breasts were free, held softly to her chest by a 
golden scarf, and Kai could see that the nipples had been colored darker so 
as to be seen.  Golden delicacies, they were begging to be touched... 

She paused in the center of the room, her hands crossing her face and chest 
in a series of intricate gestures.  Auda's eyes were closed...she had 
forgotten herself in the music, and the true sensual creature that she was 
appeared to all.  The ancient Brunnis passion showed through her, as always, 
Kai thought.  This passion was one of the reasons he found her almost 
irresistibly attractive -- for Kai, Auda was a divinity, an untouchable 
shrine of perfection -- and a exquisite example of all that he found missing 
in the stale, deathless Brunnen-G society. 

Kai had known Auda all his life (he imagined ironically for a moment that 
she had probably changed his diapers), but had only truly met her when he 
was 16.  She had kissed him, briefly but passionately, and had released 
something magical from his soul.  Since that time, Kai had held a secret 
lurking desire for his cousin, and hoped desperately that she would be the 
one to initiate him into the mysteries of physical love.  In these later 
years he suspected that he loved her -- perhaps he was in love with her -- 
but the feeling was not returned. Auda liked him -- he was sure of that. 
Did she love him?  He was not sure.  Was she in love with him? Only in his 
sweet daydreams and erotic fantasies. 

Part of his feelings for her included an element of fear. One of the 
prohibitions of his society was "Newborns Must Not Engage in Reproductive 
Sexual Activities."  Or Else. The punishment for such behavior had never 
been revealed to Kai, or to any other newborns that he had known.  As such, 
Kai doubted that those who had passed Newborn stage knew what the punishment 
was either -- he suspected that in a society like his, it was the threat 
alone that made the rule in to law.  Conformity and respect of tradition was 
the norm, and anything else was considered to be akin to a psychological 
disorder.  Most of the Brunnen-G did not worry about the prohibition since 
the Newborn stage of life was only for the first 30 years and, after all, 
there were so few Newborns to worry about nowadays. 

But to have a woman like Auda dancing so sensuously in front of Kai on his was like seating a starving man at a delicious feast and then 
forbidding him to eat.  Kai could look, but not touch.  He could dream of 
feasting upon her golden ripe body, but in reality he was emotionally 
starving.  As a result, his fantasies about sex often held a touch of 
violence to them -- images of tearing off a woman's clothes, falling upon 
her and thrusting into her body, devouring her mouth and breasts and 
pudenda.  His conscious mind was repelled by any act of violence upon a 
woman, but his dreams desperately were trying to overcome the restrictions 
placed upon him by his own mental control, and that of his family, and of 
his stifling Brunnen-G society. turned his head to look briefly for his parents.  His 
mother was sitting with a close friend, Ynne, and he and she were laughing 
softly.  Ynne passed her his cup, and she drank, smiling at him all the 
while.  It was good to see his mother happy, Kai thought.  Where was his 
father?  His eyes glanced around the room quickly, finally lighting on his 
father who was leaning against a far wall, away from the crowd collected 
around Auda's dancing.  Renii's arms were crossed in front of his chest, as 
if he did not want to be there at all, but his eyes... 

With few exceptions, no emotions that Renii was not in control of broke 
through the ice of his father's face.  This moment was one of the 
exceptions.  His father's mouth was parted slightly, his chest was rising 
and falling with heavy breath, and his eyes were the picture of a man 
enraptured by what he saw.  Not one of Auda's movements were lost as Renii's 
eyes drank in the sight of her lithe dancing body.  Kai had never seen the 
expression in his father's eyes, one of...perhaps...youthful desire? 
Appetite?  Hunger? 

Kai could not help but stare, and within seconds he could not help but catch 
his father's attention. His parent's face closed down abruptly, not unlike 
the sudden slam of a door.  Renii's face became expressionless and dark, and 
a moment later he left the room.  For Kai, the music and dancing grew 
distant. What was this emotion on his father's face? 

Later that evening, as all the folk went their ways, Kai's father 
reappeared, catching him in the hallway just before his bedroom.  For the 
first time that Kai could remember, Renii smelled like he had been drinking 
something much stronger than the family's brew.  Still in control despite 
the liquor, Renii opened his mouth as if to say something, and then appeared 
to think better of it.  An alternative was quickly found. 

"Stay away from her," Renii whispered. Her? Who? Auda? 

"Who?" If his father meant Auda, then he should say so, Kai thought 

Suddenly, Kai heard his mother's voice, "Kai, honey, ...bedtime 

Renii leaned forward and whispered in Kai's ear, "You know who and what I am 
talking about. You... Stay...Away!"  And with a hard brush of his shoulder, 
his father strode quickly down the hall, away from his mother's voice. 

An hour later, Kai lay in bed, thinking. What was that look on his father's 
face?  He did not have the words to name it, only the sense that something 
unpleasant was coming towards him: the chilly recognition of future trouble. 

Part II. 

It was not too long after his 23rd birthday when the elder Kyoo visited 
Kai's crèche for dinner with the family.  The dinner was quiet and polite, 
not strained, but it was obvious that Kyoo Sr. had something important he 
wanted to discuss with Renii.  After the dishes were cleared away, Kai's 
mother placed a large jug of amberberry ale on the table and bid the men 
goodnight, explaining that she was going to visit some friends, and that she 
would be back in a few hours.  Before she had a chance to tell Kai to go to 
his room, he caught her. 

"Mother, may I stay?" 

Eura looked at him, her eyes crinkling in a smile. "Ask your father." 

Kai expectantly looked at his father, who in turn looked at Kyoo Sr. with a 
questioning gaze.  The elder surveyed Kai carefully and sternly, and slowly 
nodded his assent. 

A wave of excitement swept over Kai, a feeling he adored because it always 
meant something would be different -- something was going to change.  Kai 
lived in a society governed by the very eldest, a society made up of people 
who were physically ageless but still subject to the perils of physical 
life.  The result was that personal safety was a huge issue, as well as an 
avoidance of anything that would change society.  One of the pitfalls of 
immortality (if an immortal lived in a changing society) is the sense that 
one becomes outdated, or antiqued by the ever progressing world.  In such a 
world an immortal would be challenged by the changes in history, society, 
and technology over their long lives, not to mention the smaller more 
annoying changes in fashion, language, and culture.  By eliminating or 
slowing change, Brunnen-G society avoided this discomfort.  While it was not 
possible to stop all progress, introducing it over decades or centuries in 
small amounts became the only acceptable way to allow change. 

All this was very, very interesting to Kai -- his culture held so many 
contradictions it was difficult for him as a newborn to make sense of it all 
sometimes.  But whatever business there was in this meeting, it held no 
interest whatsoever to his mother, being that she was over two millennia 
old.  She smiled her generous smile once again and kissed Kai on the cheek, 
tucking a few stray hairs back into his bun.  Kai watched her with love as 
she turned to his father to wish him goodnight as well. She bent close to 
Renii's face and then -- Kai saw her look deeply into his father's eyes. 
His father's back was to Kai and he could not see his father's face, but he 
could tell there was a moment of connection, of silent communication between 
the two adults. Then the moment passed, and Eura kissed her husband, 
reaching up in her special way to tuck a few stray hairs into Renii's bun as 
well.  With a brief nod to Kyoo Sr., she was gone. 

Renii poured Kyoo Sr. a drink and waited for the elder to speak.  After a 
moment, he began. 

"The observatory." 

"The observatory," repeated Renii. What observatory were they talking about? 
Kai wondered. 

"The council of elders," resumed Kyoo Sr., "have finally decided to have it 

"That was a quick decision," noted Renii. 

"Yes, it only took them 20 years.  Of course, the state of disrepair was 
quite convincing." 

"To them." Renii's mouth closed into a line. 

"Yes, to them." 

"How many votes to you need?" asked Renii. 

"Only yours." 

Renii shifted in his chair at this news.  Kai got the sudden impression that 
his father was uncomfortable, not physically, per se, but emotionally.  Kai 
listened with absolute attention -- it was not often that he saw his father 
upset at something occurring outside the clan. 

"You know I disapprove of this change," stated Renii. 

Reading his father's body and facial language, Kai could tell that what 
Renii had just said was not exactly true. 

Kyoo Sr. nodded.  "But we still need your vote." 

"Why should I be the one to make the decision?" 

"It must be unanimous." 

"I am only a minor elder," insisted Renii. 

"You are the eldest of the clan of Geroff." 

Kai's father nodded.  "I know.  But I still do not want to be the one to 
make the change." 

Kyoo Sr. moved forward earnestly.  "Renii, the council agreed because the 
change was necessary -- if the big lens within the observatory falls, it 
will fracture the rock around it -- and it could endanger...*lives.*  We 
must control the situation." 

Renii lowered his eyes in that way which Kai knew indicated deep thought. 
Kyoo Sr. was silent, respecting Renii's decision making. 

"I will..." began Renii, and then he paused. "I will give you my decision 
if -- If! You show me this observatory...tonight." 

Kyoo Sr. sat back with a gasp, shocked.  "Tonight? But it is dangerous to go 
outside!  Unfiltered air...something could happen." 

Kai's father looked at the elder with an intense glare.  "If there is a 
danger to our people, then the I should vote tonight.  And if I am the one 
to vote in the change, then I must see what I am changing."  Renii managed a 
deliberate shrug.  "The leaders of the clan of Geroff have always protected 
their members by being physically present when decisions much be made.  We 
do not make changes from afar." 

Kai was beside himself with delight.  So this is how changes were done!  He 
could barely conceal his fidgeting. 

Kyoo Sr. stood up as if to leave, his face racked with uncertainty.  Renii 
watched the elder with a cool gaze.  His father would be an excellent 
gambler, Kai thought. The elder crumbled under the resoluteness of Renii's 
gaze.  "Very well," sighed Kyoo Sr. "I will show you the observatory." 


The observatory was above ground at the top of a mountain., and the path 
from the city proper had not been used in years.  The path was wide enough 
for six men to walk abreast, and high enough for one man to stand on the 
shoulders of another.  The walls and floor were smooth, having been made by 
the tunneling machines used to create the city millennia ago. 

Most of the underground trails were kept free from dust by small mindless 
robots, but this trail had obviously not been a part of the community's 
master cleaning programming in several decades. Once they passed the massive 
air filters for this part of the community, the dust was quite deep.  At the 
filters, the elder paused and took a mask from the wall and placed it on his 
face.  He offered one to Renii, who shook his head no.  The offer was then 
made to Kai, who likewise refused the mask, following his father's actions. 
If his father refused the mask, what did Kai himself have to fear?  He had 
been, after all, outside before this.  And so, unfiltered, they passed 
through the gate, closing it behind them. 

The thick air tickled Kai's nose, and he sniffed and sneezed.  And again. 
And again.  In fact, his sneezing was the only noise besides the sound of 
their feet and breathing as the group climbed the trail inside the mountain. 
Trailing behind the two adults, it occurred to Kai that this would be a good 
time to ask what all this was about.  After all, his sneezing *did* get his 
father's undivided attention. 

"Father, may I ask a question?" His parent looked back at him and nodded. 

"Why must the observatory be torn down? Why didn't the clan responsible for 
the observatory repair it?  And if they couldn't do it, why don't we repair 
it?  Don't we need it to monitor the shield?" 

Renii looked back at him and said with a soft sigh, "Kai, we will discuss 
this later." 

Kai's hope for an answer began to fade when Kyoo Sr. spoke up. "Renii, if 
you please, I would like to hear your answer." 

A test? thought Kai.  My father is being tested?  This should be very 

Renii looked at Kyoo Sr. for a moment, thoughtfully.  Then, carefully 
modulating the annoyance out of his voice, he began to speak to Kai. "You 
know of the Insect Wars." 

"Yes, father. Of course." 

"And the devastation to the surface of Brunnen-2." 

"Yes, that is why we live underground." 

Renii nodded. "The observatory is left over from the wars. It was not built 
to monitor the shield. And regarding the clan..." Renii shot a quick look at 
Kyoo Sr. "They have not been given the resources from the community to be 
able to repair the observatory." 

"Ah." Kai listened intently.  He swallowed, feeling his ears pop and adjust 
at the change in altitude.  They must be nearing the top of the mountain. 

"Because of our shield, some believe that we no longer need to worry about 
what is outside our planet.  Others think that we can never be too careful, 
and should still watch the stars." 

Renii looked back at his son, and Kai nodded. Renii continued, "However, in 
the millennia that have passed since the Wars, most of us Brunnen-G have 
decided not to worry, as we are certain that the Insects are annihilated, 
and the shield keeps us safe.  As a result, the observatories around our 
planet have fallen into disrepair." 

"Which do you believe, father?  Kai asked. 

In the pause before Renii's answer, Kai saw Kyoo Sr. sneak a look at his 
father, and Kai's parent pretend not to notice. 

"I believe we can never be too careful." 

Kyoo Sr. stopped in his tracks. "Are you telling me you have already 

Renii halted as well.  "I have not decided.  If the observatory can be 
repaired, I will suggest that we do so.  If it cannot, then I will agree 
with its destruction.  This particular observatory is of no consequence.  It 
is the idea of our lack of carefulness that concerns me." 

Kyoo Sr's face opened with understanding, and he nodded with agreement.  "I 
see.  Yes, of course.  Rightly so."  He continued his walk up the path. 

They walked on for a while in silence.  Then, Kyoo Sr. turned to Renii, 
slowing his pace to match Renii's stride.  "For centuries, I have wondered 
how a clan as small as the Geroffs have maintained their power and seat on 
the council.  Now I know." 

As they continued walking, Kai saw his father's shoulders tense, and noticed 
Renii subtly increase the pace of their walk. 


Kai began to discern something strange -- steel beams began to striate the 
rocks of the passage.  "Father, these must support the observatory." 

"Not exactly, Kai.  These just support the lens." 

"Just the lens?" 

"Just the actual lens.  The top of the mountain is the parabola.  The entire 
mountain is the observatory." 

It took a moment for Kai to digest this information.  He had imagined the 
observatory to be perched on top of the mountain -- He could not imagine it 
*being* the mountain itself.  The lens must be the size of a small city. 
But then, Kai reminded himself, you would need something that big to see the 
battles of the Insect Wars -- and to defend the planet from the Insects 
themselves.  In school he had learned that the Insects could grow to the 
size of small moons.  Kai mentally shook his head.  Nothing could really 
grow that big, could it? 

"The entire mountain," Kai repeated.  "How could anything that huge endanger 
our lives?" 

"When we built the observatory," Renii explained, "we reinforced the entire 
mountain with steel and other metals.  In the center is a plasma cannon -- 
kept hidden from the Insects by the lens -- and that means there is a 
fourteen thousand foot deep hole in the middle that is threatening to 
fracture the mountain apart.  If the telescope lens falls, it will cause the 
cannon housing to collapse, twisting the mountain in on itself and causing 
an earthquake to radiate out for a hundred miles. 

"Earthquake!" exhaled Kai. 

For people living underground, an earthquake was the ultimate nightmare.  It 
all made sense now.  It was not just a matter of repairing the 
observatory -- it was a matter of repairing the damage done to an entire 
mountain chain.  Very dangerous! Kai could not *wait* to see the thing. 

As they came closer to the top of the mountain, the trail started to pass 
through small rooms filled with odds and ends of decaying furniture. 
Ancient battle plans, chipped and fading, were painted on walls here and 
there.  The ramps were changed to stairs, and then finally, after they 
passed through what looked like a large conference room, they went down a 
tunnel with a bright light at the end. 

Kai could feel a cold breeze on his face two hundred feet before he reached 
the end of the tunnel.  It had been a while since he had breathed unfiltered 
air.  He tucked his forelock behind his ear to stop it from whipping his 
face in the wind.  White powdery stuff was filling one end of the tunnel. 

Snow.  He had read about this cold stuff in school. Kai stepped onto a 
balcony and found himself on the edge of an abyss.  His city boots crunched 
in the frozen powder and he could feel his ears and nose growing cold.  The 
back of his neck was especially sensitive to the temperature. 

Kai was inside a bowl at the top of a mountain -- a bowl of immense 
proportions.  Covered in snow, looking like a permanent silver cloud in the 
center of this bowl was a spider web of cables holding up a large lens like 
the cornea of a human eye.  Each of these cables were hooked into the walls 
around the mountain, looking like a delicate crocheted artwork -- except 
each of these cables were twice as thick around as Kai's waist.  Kai peered 
upwards, and saw himself as a tiny dot in the bottom of the lens, the light 
off the snow causing the underside of the lens to sparkle. 

The light came from a sliver of moon.  Kai mused that in bright daylight it 
would almost be impossible to stand under the lens, as the heat and light 
would reach immense levels. 

"What is it? How much does it weigh?" Kai asked the Elder. 

"Five billion tons of perfectly symmetrical volcanic crystal," whispered 
Kyoo Sr., himself looking up into the lens with an expression of absolute 

"Where is it falling apart? It looks perfect to me," said Kai. 

Kyoo Sr. pointed to one side and Kai could see the cables had dark rust 
stains underneath them.  The cable closest to them was connected to the wall 
by only three of what should have been twelve restraining bolts.  Kai turned 
around to look at the masterpiece of technology again, and saw it in a new 
light.  Broken cables dangled like cut threads.  The walls were red with 
rust, and the lens itself was no longer solid, but chipped at he edges. 

If the lens fell, it would impact on the mountain with the force of a 
nuclear explosion. 

It was terrible.  And wonderful.  Being this close to danger gave Kai a 
feeling of aliveness he had not felt in years.  He could not resist; he 
cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Veo-Ay-Oh!" 

He waited for the echo, counting.  "One, two, three..."  Sound traveled at 
720 feet per second at sea level, and he estimated that he was at least at 
the 10,000 foot level.  "Four, five, six..." He waited; where was his echo? 
"Seven, eight, nine..." The sound here should be travelling at 5000 feet per 
second, he calculated. "Ten..." Finally Kai heard a smaller echo, 

It had taken ten seconds to return.  Ten seconds!  That meant the parabola 
was over five miles from rim to rim! 

Suddenly, he heard a woman's voice: "Ohm-Va-Ray." 

It echoed around the parabola just as his did.  Kai peered over the edge of 
the balcony -- who was that?  A strong hand grabbed the collar of Kai's 
jacket, dragging him back from the edge. 

"Kai!" growled his father. "You could have fallen!" 

Kai was too interested in the woman's voice to argue.  "Whose echo was 
that?" he whispered. "Who else is here?" 

Kyoo Sr. spoke. "Verke and his daughter are the keepers of the observatory. 
I suspect you heard the daughter." 

"The Cident clan?" asked Renii. 

The elder nodded at Renii, but turned and glared at Kai.  "This is 
unfortunate -- I was hoping our visit here would be unnoticed.  Now we shall 
have to introduce ourselves." 

As the elder turned and proceeded back down the tunnel, Renii seized Kai by 
his upper arm in a bruising hold.  "Say nothing from now on.  Do you 
understand me? Nothing!" 

Kai nodded.  "Why?" 

"Why? Why!"  His father growled again at him.  "Because if I decide the 
observatory must be destroyed, then the Cident clan lose their crèche 
privileges in our community.  Until they can find another Cident or 
community to take them in, they will be socially homeless -- outcasts!" 

Kai was shocked by his father's intensity.  Renii continued, "This decision 
does not mean just the destruction of an interesting antique.  It means the 
loss of part of our people.  If I vote yes, it will be my personal 
responsibility to find the Cident a new home.  Do you understand me?" 

Renii's anger at the injustice and moral weight of the situation was felt by 
Kai to his very bones.  As his father's hazel eyes glared into his own, Kai 
could see the frustration his father felt at being handed this role.  Kai 
closed his mouth and looked at his feet, understanding the anger and yet not 
understanding the fear. 

Kyoo Sr.'s greeting echoed down the tunnel, and Kai and Renii began striding 
quickly to meet the astronomer...and his daughter, Kai hoped. 

Part III. 

After an hour of pleasantries and small talk, Kai finally got bored enough 
to sit down.  When you are veritably immortal, Kai mused, it could take you 
forever to get to the point.  His father and the elder were certainly taking 
their time, scratching and pinching out the tiniest of details about the 
observatory from the astronomer.  The daughter had not appeared after all. 

Kai could summarize the hour's worth of talk into three sentences, the facts 
of which he knew before he walked into this room.  One, the big thing was 
falling down.  Two, no one wanted to fix it.  And three, there were only 
*two* members of the Cident clan to worry about relocating. 

Kai put his chin on his fists and sighed.  Why were they taking so long? 
Chit-chat-chit-chat-chatter-chatter-chatter.  What was the big deal about 
allowing two more people into the community?  Two people couldn't possibly 
make that much of a difference, could it? But then 'change is bad'.  If he 
heard that expression one more time, Kai thought he would scream. 

If his mother saw him standing there bellowing his lungs out, she would 
probably just send him to his room, thinking that being *alone* would be 
suitable punishment for anti-social behavior.  He, of course, had been sent 
to his room so many times now that he didn't mind it any more as it gave him 
the peace and solitude to dream about Auda...and now that he had had that 
interesting experience with Busa last year, being alone also left his mind 
(and hands) to reminisce.  Ah, Busa. 

Kai felt his cheeks grow warm with the memory, and another body part grow 
attentive as well.  Mentally telling himself, "down, boy!" he could not help 
the flash of frustration.  Seven years to go.  For a horny 23-year old 
virgin, it might as well have been seven hundred. 

He was sitting on the edge of a pedestal supporting the equipment that 
collected the information from the telescope lens.  His father and the other 
men were to one side of the huge room, and the only place to sit was on the 
edge of the pedestal, quite a distance away from the conversation.  Kai, 
however, had given up on that effort. Old, tired equipment rested in the 
middle of the raised area, covered in dust.  During the Wars, Kai imagined 
that this room would have been the busy, frantic center of strategic 
planning activity, in constant communication with other observatories around 
the planet.  But now, it was just a pile of old machines.  Old machines and 
old men.  Kai's stomach gurgled.  He added 'hungry' to his list of 'bored' 
and 'horny'. 

Behind him he heard a whisper of clothing, and turned to look.  In the 
darkness of one corner he saw a human form -- a female form.  She stepped 
into the light, her features becoming clear and vaguely familiar at the same 

"I am Kai," he said softly after he stood up, bowing properly. 

"I know," she returned, her smile curving into a smirk. 

Kai felt his cheeks erupt into twin blossoms of red as he recognized her. 
It was Kalta!  She had seen him at the party with Auda and Busa! 
Embarrassment flooded his body from head to toe as he stood there, frozen, 
feeling his heart suddenly pounding in his ears. 

Kalta glided towards him and circled around him gracefully, looking him up 
and down before stopping in front of his face.  The smirk returned to her 
face, and yet Kai noticed that her arms were crossed in front of her chest, 
her fingers clutching the fabric of her sleeves. Kalta had dark hair and 
eyes, and a figure that was slim, almost boyish compared to Auda's.  Her 
mouth was slim as well, and she had eyebrows that shot out uncurved from an 
arching, aristocratic nose.  However, it was her eyes that caught Kai's 
attention -- they glittered like the night sky with an intensity of 
expression that was somehow feral...and yet very sexy. 

"We met at that party." Kalta whispered. 

Kai tried to speak, but could only smile.  He forced the corners of his 
mouth up and tilted his head in her direction, indicating assent. He could 
feel his ears growing hot. 

Kalta looked him up and down once again in a predatorial way.  "Your father 
is from the council, right?" 

Kai nodded. Until he managed to untie his tongue, he didn't dare speak to 
her.  From the look on her face he could imagine what was going on in her 
mind.  Like Auda, she was young, but she was not a newborn, and so he must 
seem like quite a distasteful creature -- perverse, even.  The sort of boy 
who was uncontrolled and undeserving of any sort of manhood ceremony at 
thirty.  His dread and embarrassment increased as he imagined her telling 
his father about his exploit with Busa.  Perverse, indeed.  And yet she was 
also a close friend of Auda's.  She could not be all that judgmental of him. 
Could she? 

"Your father is going to make the decision about the observatory, right?" 
Kalta's eyes looked back and forth from Kai's face to the men in the 

Remembering his father's command, Kai hesitated to answer.  Should she know 
what his father was doing here?  He didn't think he should tell her...but 
she appeared to know anyway.  His father had warned him...but Kalta was a 
friend of Auda's.  To whom did he owe more allegiance?  His father?  Or his 
one true friend in the world? 

His hesitation allowed Kalta to assume the negative.  "I didn't think so." 
Kalta said, her eyes narrowing dismissively.  "They wouldn't send anyone 
that young, even if he were a Geroff." 

Kai decided not to correct her, avoiding having to make the choice between 
kith and kin.  She would find out soon enough anyway -- and the problem was 
not really Kai's to begin with.  With a mental shrug, he switched mental 
tracks to the problem that concerned him more deeply -- his reputation. 
What did she think of him?  After all, if she thought he was a tart -- or a 
pervert -- there was no reason for him to tell her what he knew. 

"Kalta...I..." Kai began. 

Kalta's face suddenly changed to a very sweet look, her head dropping to one 
side and her eyes widening.  "Kai...don't worry about it.  Busa does that 
sort of thing all the time.  You never had a chance." 

Kai could breathe again.  He had been worried about nothing, then.  He saw 
Kalta watching his face carefully for his reaction, and decided that the 
entire time it was her concern for his feelings that gave her a strange look 
on her face. She was turning out to be quite a nice person -- and attractive 
as well.  Kai could not help but smile at her. 

Kalta smiled back.  "It will be our little secret, right?" 

Gratefully, Kai whispered, "Thank you." 

Kalta reached up and touched Kai on his left cheek, brushing his forelock 
out of the way.  Her sweet look changed to a shy smile, but her dark eyes 
flicked every now and then to the men in the distance.  Kai felt her hand 
fall from his cheek, tracing down his shoulder to his arm, where she grasped 
his hand tightly. "Follow me," she whispered. 

Kalta pulled him into the shadows, and then down a dark passage.  It became 
pitch black, and Kai blindly followed her in the dark. 

"How can you see?" Kai asked. 

"I grew up here.  I know every path by memory." Kalta explained, pulling him 
further and further away from the telescope equipment room. 

Soon, Kai felt that cold air again.  They turned a corner into moonlight, 
and snow.  They were at a second balcony below the first, covered lightly in 
frost.  Kai saw footprints in the snow of the balcony -- Kalta's footprints 
from earlier in the evening, when she had answered his call. 

Kalta released his hand and went out onto the balcony, crossing her arms in 
front of her chest.  Kai followed her, stepping closely behind her.  He 
could smell the sweet scent of her dark hair, and felt tiny tendrils brush 
his cheek in the wind.  For a moment, a pause, they both looked up at the 
giant lens hovering above them like a silver lake. 

"When there is a high wind," Kalta spoke softly, "The lens sings, like 
this..."  She made the sound, a deep "veoooooh" rising from her chest and 
out through lips pursed as if to be kissed.  The power of those words crept 
into Kai's heart.  Who was this attractive woman,  so unsettling and dark? 
"Kai, do you ever..." and Kalta caught herself, shaking her head, not 
looking at him. "No, you probably don't." 

"Don't what?" Kai wanted to know her question. 

"Oh, it's nothing."  She shook her head. "Never mind.  It's just my fancy." 

"No, tell me, please." 

Kalta turned to look at him, searching his eyes with a worried look. "Do 
you...I were born into a high clan and you probably 

Kai gently touched her shoulder, feeling her warmth beneath his hand.  His 
hand was almost large enough to cover her entire thin shoulder. "Go on." 

The words came spilling out. "Do you ever think about leaving this planet? 
All the rules, all the customs, leaving them behind?  Just being yourself, 
without all those years of tradition behind everything?" Kalta's eyes shone 
in the moonlight. 

Kai's heart went out to her -- here was a soul similar to his, and 
wonderfully so. He squeezed her shoulder. "Yes, I do.  All the time." 

Kalta exhaled in delight, "Oh!" and smiled for the first time since Kai had 
met her. "Auda said you were wonderful." 

Kai smiled at the compliment, but put it in place. "Auda is a good woman." 

"Yes, she is.  With a good choice of friends -- even though some of them 
might be a bit strange." 

"Like us?" Kai added. 

Although it wasn't much of a joke, Kalta and Kai nervously laughed together 
in newfound friendship.  This was sweet, Kai thought.  And then in the back 
of his mind a voice said -- almost too sweet.  A seed of distrust had been 
planted, though, with Kalta's earlier behavior.  Kai decided to dismiss 
it -- it was probably just his own anxieties that made him fear her. 

When they had stopped laughing, Kalta licked her lips quickly. "Can I ask 
you something?" 


"You and are cousins, right?" 


"Are you lovers?" 

The question caught Kai off-guard.  Didn't she know he was a newborn still? 
He looked away shyly. "No." 


"Of course.  I'm still Newborn." 

"Oh."  Kalta stepped back to look at him, and then stepped forward, reaching 
up and turning his face to hers. "It's okay." 

As his eyes met hers, the embarrassment of desire was too much for him.  To 
be this close to a woman who made him laugh, who understood who he was and 
what he dreamed of, who accepted him and the shortcomings of his young 
birth -- he had a tremendous urge to throw her down into the snow and ravage 
her right there.  And yet the fear was tremendous too -- of disobeying 
society's rules, of defying his father, of disappointing his clan -- the 
fear acted as a huge wall around his desire.  His face burned in the dark 
and cold as he searched her eyes for meanings and messages. 

One thing came to him for certain -- he needed to get away from her, or else 
he was going to do something rash.  She was not as beautiful as Auda, and 
not as well endowed as Busa, but there was a sort of fragile grace to her 
that was very attractive.  The snow was falling lightly on her dark hair 
like diamonds on coal, and her eyes had a glitter to them that was magnetic. 
That was enough for him to feel the wall rise between himself and his 
passions.  He could not do this to her -- and to himself -- again. 

Kai backed up out of her grasp, and off the balcony.  "Please, Kalta...take 
me back." 

She dropped her chin, looking up at him with that predatorial look he had 
first seen on her face.  But her voice was sweet. "If you like." 

She took his hand, her cold fingers wrapping around his palm, and led him 
into the darkness.  They went through passages and rooms, winding their way 
back up to the telescope room.  They went around a corner, and suddenly Kai 
could see the light of the room up ahead.  He started to walk towards it on 
his own when Kalta stopped him by not releasing his hand. 

"Kai..." she whispered. He turned to look at her, her face silver in the 
half-light.  Her eyes searched his, revealing a new look of concern that he 
had never seen before. "What am I to you?" 

Kai didn't know how to answer the question, and shook his head.  "A friend. 
My friend."  He did not know what else to say.  He could not tell the 
difference between what he thought she might become to him, and what she 
really was in truth. 

"Is that all?"  She stepped towards him, coming closer, not releasing his 
hand.  "Tell me," she asked bluntly, "In seven years, will you think of me?" 

How could he say no to such an innocent question? "I promise."  He raised 
her hand and kissed her fingertips. "I promise." 

His arms suddenly became full of woman. 

Kalta flung herself onto him, kissing his face and mouth with desperate 
desire, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her body against him with 
force.  Off balance, he fell backward, stopped by the wall, and her kisses 
grew more intense.  She stepped between his legs, crushing her pelvis to 
his -- he could feel her pubic bone as she undulated against his organ.  He 
opened his mouth to protest, but was silenced by her tongue slipping between 
his lips. 

To have a tender woman in his arms, pressing herself to his body -- the 
feeling was wonderful. Kai wrapped his arms around Kalta and kissed her like 
there was no tomorrow. He covered her tiny mouth with his, biting on her 
lips and thrusting his tongue into her mouth, tasting the sweetness of her 
breath. One hand tangled in her soft hair as he pressed her slender body to 
his, feeling the yielding cups of her breasts against his chest, while the 
other hand slid down her back to grab a firm handhold of her ass, crushing 
one of the globes in his hand in a wave of primal desire. 

Kai found Kalta sucking on his tongue as he covered her mouth with his, and 
his organ leapt to life, images of Busa's warm mouth on his cock flickering 
in his mind as he sought to cope with this new erotic barrage on his senses. 
Kalta's cool hands wrapped themselves around his shoulders, one slipping 
onto the soft skin of his exposed neck, finding the intimate place 
underneath his braid.  As an erogenous zone, there was nothing as sexy as 
that soft hidden place underneath his hair -- Kai began to shiver with 


It was his father's voice, and close by.  Hot passion immediately changed 
into ice-cold panic, and he thrust Kalta away from him. 

"Coming, father," he shouted. Ironically, he thought punning on the word 
wasn't far from the truth.  Breathing deeply, he recomposed himself, looking 
at Kalta with regret. 

"You won't forget me?" she asked, backing away into the dark. 

"I promise.  I truly promise." whispered Kai as he turned to go. 

"If you need to talk, I'm here," said Kalta in a small voice. "I'm always 

Kai adjusted himself before striding into the large room.  He hoped his 
father would be too concerned with the duties and decisions of the clan to 
notice his flushed cheeks and mussed hair.  With a quick bow to the 
astronomer, he followed his father and the elder into the passageway leading 
home. His father said nothing to him about his disappearance, and Kai hoped 
that the trip back to the crèche would not raise the subject. 

They walked for a half hour in silence, and Kai was soon breathing in 
relief.  Nothing must have been noticed of his behavior.  What to say, then? 
Something polite? Something neutral? 

" did it go?"  Kai asked in his most innocent and helpful voice. 

Renii's came to an immediate and frozen halt without turning around.  The 
elder slowed too, but did not turn around, choosing to give space between 
parent and child.  Kai stopped, slipping a step in order to not run into his 
father's back.  As Renii turned his head around slowly, his eyes glowed with 
twin fires. 

""  The order came out between clenched teeth. 

Cold dread raced down Kai's spine.  He had been caught -- again. 

Part IV. 
Kai had lost the poetry contest at school -- again.  As he trudged home the 
next day after his run-in with Kalta, he thought to himself that life could 
not get much worse.  Somehow, his father had chastised him by refusing to 
say anything at all that night or the next morning about Kai's misbehavior, 
leaving him in a heightened level of anticipation for the coming "talk." 
And since his mind had been elsewhere that day, his poetry had been less 
than stellar -- not that it was ever considered stellar.  He had perfected 
the rhyme and rhythm, the stanza and sonnet, and knew iambic pentameter from 
tetrameter instantly, yet somehow any accolades for poetry were always given 
to others. Kai had been told that the best poetry came from a poet writing 
what he knew, and yet for that same reason he suspected he was continually 
passed over.  Kai's poetry was tinged with loneliness, anger and deferred 
desire, and these were not subjects considered "proper" for his age. 

He closed the door quietly between the outer crèche and the inner family 
areas, preferring to enter with as little attention to himself as possible. 
Perhaps he could just escape to his room, he thought.  No noises came from 
his mother's reading area or the kitchen, so he assumed that she was 
probably at one of her friend's houses.  His father's area was dark as well, 
and Kai breathed a sigh of relief.  Father was at the council meeting, no 
doubt.  Poor Kalta and her father -- they would be out of a home by tonight. 
A wave of regret swept over Kai for Kalta's predicament, but then came a 
mental shrug; there was nothing he could do about it. 

He left his books on the dining-room table, and in the kitchen Kai cracked 
open some cold astacus-legs, sucking the sweet meat out with practiced ease. 
The Brunnen-G had bred most of the insects that were edible into mindless 
domestic food-animals, and the astacus had been enhanced from its original 
eight legs into having sixteen delicious members.  The guts were tasty as 
well, and Kai had just peeled open the underbelly when he heard a slight 
noise from the upstairs.  He paused, spoon in hand, and went to the kitchen 
door to listen.  Nothing....and then, a soft gasp...and a deeper moan. 

Was that his parents making love?  Kai rolled his eyes -- one never likes to 
think of one's parents doing the deed.  They probably didn't know he was 
home.  He went back to the table and managed a couple of bites when the 
noises suddenly grew louder.  Kai went back to the door of the kitchen, 
listening intently.  The man's voice was definitely his father's, but with a 
timbre of definite excitement.  And his mother's voice... 

...that wasn't his mother's voice. 

Kai's stomach churned. He went back into the kitchen, robotically putting 
the astacus back into the coldbox and the spoon into the cleaning area.  Who 
was upstairs with his father?  His mind was racing with shock.  Calm down! 
he told himself.  Brunnen-G are not, nor have ever been a monogamous 
people -- he had been taught that in school.  Even incest, after an 
appropriate waiting time, was acceptable, especially since his people had 
discovered immortality.  On the other hand, his parents had never given him 
any indication that they were *not* monogamous.  Suddenly, suggestions and 
hints that he had ignored fell into place.  His mother's long visits to 
"friends," his father's weekend "meetings," the silent communication that 
went on between them just before one of them went to "visit."  They were not 
monogamous, they were just...discreet. 

Well, as far as discretion goes, Kai thought, my father's cover has been 
blown.  The noises were getting rather obvious.  Feeling rather shy all of a 
sudden, he thought it would be best if he went to his room and ignored the 
whole thing. 

As he slowly went up the stairs, the sounds from the upstairs bedroom grew 
quiet.  Kai paused on the top step, wondering if they could have heard him, 
and then he thought he heard a slight noise again from his parent's bedroom. 
Kai's room was quite a bit down the hall from his parent's suite, but the 
sound in the hall sometimes traveled strangely because of the 
round-ceilinged acoustics of the crèche.  Oh well, thought Kai.  I'll just 
tiptoe into my room and pretend nothing was going on. 

He placed his hand on the door-handle of his room, swinging it quietly open 
as he had done thousands of times, when he heard a noise....not from down 
the hall, as he expected, but...from inside his room.  *Inside* his room? As 
his eyes raised up from his cautious opening of the handle, time somehow 
slowed and came to a stop.  The tableau of the room froze into a picture 
that Kai would never forget. 

His father...his back to Kai....naked...kneeling on Kai's rumpled bed.  And 
in his lap, her long legs wrapped around him was...Auda.  Her fingers were 
tangled in his father's jet-black hair, and her neck was arched backwards in 
ecstasy.  Long golden hair swept his pillow as she sat on his father's 
thighs.  His strong arms held her in place on his lap, one around her 
shoulders and the other around her waist as he thrust into her.  At the 
sound of the door opening, Renii had turned his head with infinite slowness 
towards the sound, and Kai met his father's surprised gaze.  The tableau 
slowly unfroze as Auda raised her head to look towards the door as well, but 
Kai did not want to see her eyes. 

...My goddess... defiled ...rutting bed...(hated virginal) bed! Why my bed? ...father's naked body...touching her... 
disgust...don't!...!... impure... corrupted...Don't touch her! 
Stay Away! Mine! Mine! Mine!! No! NO! 

The vision was a terrible defilement of everything he held sacred and holy 
in his life, and shattered all his illusions.  The urge to rip this picture 
out of his mind grew instantly to overwhelming proportions -- and a voice 
began to chant no, no, no no no no nononono....... 

It was his own voice.  His nerveless hand released the door-handle and he 
backed away from the desecration in front of him.  Back and back, he found 
himself down the hall, on his hands and knees, sobbing "no, no, no" again 
and again.  He wanted to tear the image from his mind, but was powerless to 
do so, and the tableau grew to infinite proportions, filling his 
consciousness with the force of a physical violation.  The defenselessness 
and pain slid quickly to anger...and then fury.  Fury at what the world had 
dealt him...fury at the unfairness of his situation...fury at the futility 
of trying to change the closeted prison of his family....and fury at 
himself, at his own helplessness. 

The fury rose, and with it came the contents of his stomach. 

Kai vomited his dinner, and then retched again, bringing up liquid.  Food 
spilled out of him onto the cold floor, and his senses were filled with the 
scent of stomach acid.  Repelled, he stumbled several feet down the hall, 
and then again his stomach erupted, forcing him onto his hands and knees 
again with the strength of dry heaves.  Instinct told him to leave the place 
of his pain.  He lurched down the stairs, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, 
feeling hot tears streaming down his face. 

Part V. 

Kai found himself in the most unlikely place -- at the dance hall that Auda 
had taken him to over a year ago.  Tonight the place was virtually 
abandoned -- the dance floor was empty, and the only inhabitants were those 
intent on drinking in the lounge.  The bartender was having an intense 
conversation with one of the other occupants, and after a nod indicating 
that the bar was open to Kai, ignored him.  Kai grabbed a full bottle of the 
strongest drink he could find, and flopped down onto the massive piles of 
cushions spread around the floor. 

The drink stopped his stomach from churning, and his eyes were now dry, but 
the feelings of helplessness and anger remained.  Why?  Why should he feel 
this way?  He had no right to consider Auda his own property.  His father, 
too, had not done anything society frowned upon.  Kai had simply made the 
mistake of walking in on his father and a lover, had sensibly not made a 
scene, and had left immediately.  Aside from the traces of his reaction in 
the hall, one might almost think Kai had been polite. 

No more.  Kai had felt this line of thought go around his head, and he 
suddenly felt tired of all the excuses he had come up with in the past.  Why 
should he excuse them?  They were, after all, fucking in his own bed.  How 
dare they!  Who the hell did his father think he was?  Who did he think he 
was fucking?  Auda?  Or Kai? There was more than one way to get screwed, Kai 
thought.  The anger that had been chasing the hurt resurfaced again, and Kai 
felt his eyes begin to water with tears.  He sniffed, wiped his nose and 
eyes on his sleeve, and downed several gulps of the liquor.  Stop crying, 
you idiot.  It's not like it's making you feel any better, he chastised. 
The sense of helplessness in the face of adversity reasserted itself, and 
the cycle of his emotions began again.  Disgusted with himself, he slugged 
down the rest of the bottle, feeling the burning liquid etch its way into 
his stomach. 

He felt a presence before him and looked up.  The face looked familiar, 
somehow, but he had not seen it in a long time.  Who was this young man with 
brown hair and a worried smile? 

"Kai?" said the face.  "It's me, Lett.  Do you remember me?" 

Lett. Yes, now he remembered him.  At Auda's party Lett had smiled at him, 
and Kai remembered Lett's almost-laugh, and wondering what Lett looked so 
pleased about.  This young man before him looked different somehow. 
Worried, alarmed, and anxious all rolled into one expression.  What for? 

"Kai...your father is looking for you.  And Auda, too.  Do you want me to 
tell them you're here? 

Revulsion crawled over Kai at the thought.  He grabbed Lett's jacket and 
dragged him close to whisper in his ear, "You tell no one I'm here!  No 
one!"  Lett reacted with shock, pushing Kai back onto the pillows, and 
himself away from Kai. 

"Kai!" Lett struggled to sit up.  "What happened to you?" 

"Forget it."  Kai turned his back to him. 

"Forget what?"  Lett reached forward to wrap a tender hand around Kai's 
wrist -- and Kai ripped his arm out of Lett's grasp almost as soon as he 
felt Lett's touch. 

"Go away.  You don't want to know."  The misery of the last couple of hours 
threatened to return as Kai was overwhelmed by Lett's compassion. 

"I do want to know.  I really do, Kai.  You're my brother -- I can help, 
somehow, I know I can," said Lett, trying to reach Kai's eyes with his own. 

"What are you talking about?  We barely know each other."  Kai turned his 
head further away. 

"Well, yes, I admit we don't have much in common," Lett gave up his search 
for Kai's gaze, "But that's because we've never really talked.  I mean, at 
first I barely could look at you after the Naming ceremony -- I kept looking 
at the mark on your face and remembering how painful the whole thing was -- 
I tried *not* to remember how painful it all was -- and then after 
that...well...I kept finding excuses not to talk to you."  Lett chattily 
continued. "And you didn't try to talk to me, and so we never talked, and 

"Lett," interrupted Kai.  Lett was right -- their separation was both their 


"Shut up and get us something to drink." 

Lett smiled.  "Sure, brother." 

When Lett returned, he brought two strong drinks...and Kyoo Jr.  Wreathed in 
smoke, Kyoo slid like mercury into a puddle on the cushions near Kai, 
lighting up yet another of his fragrant smokesticks.  Lett passed a drink to 
Kai, who took it gratefully. Kai realized that it was Kyoo who had been 
arguing with the bartender when Kai had first walked in.  Kyoo and Kai sized 
each other up, Kyoo with his usual dreamy acceptance of the reality around 
him, and Kai with feelings of great reluctance. 

"Who the hell are you?" 

"I'm Kyoo, man."  The young man handed Kai two of his unlit smokesticks from 
a small leather bag.  Kai looked down at the sticks, and then back at Lett, 
uncomprehendingly.  Lett shrugged. 

"He's Kyoo.  He's a friend of Auda." 

Kai regarded the placid, smoke-ringed soul to his right, and tried to find 
some reason as to why he didn't want him near -- but he couldn't think of 
any.  Kyoo seemed as solid as smoke and yet as immobile as a mountain, and 
Kai did not have any more energy to be rude.  He tucked the sticks into his 
pocket.  However, one question remained.  Kai turned back to Lett. 

"How did you know I was here?" 

"Auda told me you might be here." 

That wasn't enough of an answer.  "When did you talk to Auda?" 

"Just before I came here." Lett's deliberately focused answers were 
beginning to frustrate Kai. 

"What Were You Doing At My Home?" The question was iron-edged with 

"I wasn't at your home -- I only made it to the door of your home." 

"Why?"  Kai sighed.  He was learning that Lett was in the habit of saying 
either too little -- or too much. 

"Well..." Lett opened up, finally, "I wanted to tell you that I liked your 
poetry today, that's all.  You should have won the prize, 'cause the other 
stuff was so...plain...and then when I showed up thinking you and I could 
have a little talk, it seemed like something terrible had happened -- there 
was lots of yelling and stuff crashing around -- and I heard Auda screaming 
at your father, and him yelling at her, and then she came running outside, 
all crying and stuff, and she saw me and started yelling at me and I said 
hey, what did I do, and she started crying again for real, and I said hey 
what's going on, and she said that I needed to find you, Kai, pronto, and I 
said, oh right, like I know where that stuck up asshole is -- well, that's 
what I said at the time 'cause I thought you'd made her cry -- and she said 
that something terrible had happened, and that it wasn't your fault, and 
that you were probably here.  So here I am."  Lett shut his mouth, 

"Whoah," said Kyoo. 

Lett's silence did not last long.  "So what happened at your crèche?" 

Taking a long gulp of his drink, Kai narrated the events of the last few 
days, prefacing his father's mysterious words during Kai's 23rd birthday. 
As he told the story, he felt his reasons for anger slowly being clarified, 
but his talk did not mute the agony of his feelings.  In fact, the depth of 
this misery had been conveyed to his audience -- there were tears in Lett's 
eyes, and the placid Kyoo was chewing on his nails. 

Kyoo spoke first. "Oh man...are you fucked up...or what?" 

"Yeah," echoed Lett.  The three sat in silence, drinking for several 
minutes. Kyoo thoughtfully lit up a smokestick, offered it to Kai, who 
declined the strange thing.  Finally, Lett spoke again, softly. 

"I don't get it. What is it with you and Auda?"  Lett looked truly puzzled. 
"I mean, she's nice and all..." 

"Real nice," added Kyoo. 

"And pretty," continued Lett. 

"Nope," interrupted Kyoo.  "She's not pretty. Uh-uh." 

"What?" said Kai. 

"She isn't?" said Lett. 

"Nah."  Kyoo grinned, exhaling smoke.  "She's un-fucking-believably 
gorgeous.  I don't blame your father -- man, I'd bang her in a minute." 

Lett whacked Kyoo's shoulder.  "I don't think he needed to hear that." 

Kai looked at his drink, saying nothing.  Kyoo's remark did not make him 
feel any better, but it did give him a sense of perspective.  He wasn't the 
only one who wanted Auda -- wanted to have all her beauty and passion to 
himself, even if for only a short while. 

"Maybe he did need to hear that."  Kai felt Kyoo's red-rimmed eyes looking 
at him carefully.  "Hey, man, you gotta talk to us.  There isn't anyone 
else, you know. There's like, a hundred newborns on this entire planet right 
now, and we're, like, three of them.  We're all you got.  So what's the 

"Haven't you been listening to me?" asked Kai. 

"I heard it all," Kyoo shook his head.  "Your old man banged your flame in 
your own bed.  That's kind of kinky -- or gross, depending on whether they 
changed the sheets afterwards -- but, like, what can you do?  Go home, 
accept their apologies, jack off, and go to sleep.  Finito."  Kyoo finished 
by waggling his eyebrows at Kai. 

"You're right -- I should do that," said Kai, a little irritated with Kyoo's 
complacence. "But I'm not going to."  Where did that voice come from? Kai 
thought.  It was a new voice, arriving at the surface of his thoughts with a 
quiet strength he had never felt before.  Before now, the voice he had heard 
when he needed strength had been the sound of his father's, or his teacher's 
or even his mother's when he needed to comfort himself.  Now -- it was only 
his own voice -- his own deep baritone ringing in his mind's ear.  All his 
years of saying, "Yes, father," and "Yes, mother," and "Yes, teacher," were 
met with a final, resounding...NO. "I'm not going to do that at all." 

'You're not?" Lett sounded shocked. 


"What are you going to do?" Lett asked again. 

"I don't know.  All I know is that I am tired of telling myself no -- you 
can't, you shouldn't, you mustn't -- all the time. 

"What do you want?" Kyoo was caught up in this mystery. 

The answer came easily. "I want a woman." 

"You can't!" They chimed in unison. 

"It's all I think of -- making love to women all the time.  Don't you?"  Kai 
regarded them with serious eyes. 

Lett considered Kai's question carefully.  "Actually, no." 

"You don't?" 

"No, I don't.  I don't feel that urge at all."  He looked at Kyoo for 

"Don't look at me, man.  I'd love to, but hey...I'm stoned, man, not stupid. 
I only have two years to go.  I can wait." 

"See?" said Lett. "Kai -- maybe there's something wrong with you." 

"There's nothing wrong with me -- it's our society that's screwed up." 

"What's wrong with us?" Lett and Kyoo looked at each other and then back at 
Kai.  "We live in a perfect society," said Lett. "No wars." 

"Yeah," agreed Kyoo. 

"No one's hungry, or is homeless." 


"Everyone reaches their potential." 


"And we guys get to be immortal when we turn 30." 

"Yeah, man. And the girls get to be 21 forever." 

Kai looked at them, shaking his head, exasperated.  "If this is all so 
great, then why are you wasting your time with me?" 

Lett and Kyoo looked at each other, then the ground.  Kai suspected they 
hadn't believed a word of what they were saying, either. 

"No wars?" Kai ripped into their propaganda. "Then why do we live 
underground on a planet that has supposedly recovered from a war, and is now 
a paradise on the surface? Why do we breathe filtered air, drink cleansed 
water, and eat manufactured food?  The only thing we still eat that is real 
are the insects, and even those have been genetically altered.  Nothing 
around us is real." 

Kai continued breathlessly. "No one's homeless?  I know someone who is going 
to be homeless, and soon.  No one will give them a place to live, just 
because their clan status is too low.  And this is on a planet with plenty 
of space -- thousands and thousands of underground caverns are empty." 

"But our population is balanced," recited Lett. "We have to maintain the 
balance, and avoid changes." 

"Balanced?" Kai shook his head. "You know what that means?  It means no one 
is allowed to be born unless someone dies." 

"Dies?" whispered Kyoo. 

"Yes, dies.  We three are here because three someones, somewhere, died." 

"An accident, maybe?" said Lett. 

"Accident, hell...they probably slit their own throat."  Kai grinned 
devilishly.  "So much for reaching their potential." 

"Kai!" Kyoo and Lett were now completely scandalized. 

"And as for immortality -- I think that is probably our biggest problem.  We 
of Brunnis were warriors -- are warriors -- we're not meant to be immortal." 

"Immortality is a gift our ancestors gave us," recited Lett, "We should be 
grateful for their sacrifice." 

Kai did not doubt that his ancestors had sacrificed for their future -- he 
knew the Brunnis history too well.  Even if the stories of the Insect Wars 
had been cleaned up in the millennia since the final victory, they were 
still horrendous tales of slaughter, bravery, and great sacrifices.  "Yes, 
immortality is a gift...but I think we've taken it for granted, somehow.  We 
use it as an excuse not to live, instead of as a gift for a little longer 

Kai's statement settled like a lead blanket over their discussion. 

"You're a philosopher, man." Kyoo smiled. 

"Yeah," agreed Lett.  "And he's a pretty good poet, too." 

Kai managed a small smile at Lett's compliment.  Encouraged, Lett continued, 
"So, Kai, who don't you just find a nice woman -- don't tell her you're 
Newborn -- and do it?  You're from a high clan.  You could get away with it, 
even if you got caught.  I mean, what are they going to do to you? What 
*could* they do to you?" 

"They could banish him," said Auda. 

The three looked up on surprise, not having seen her come in.  Kai felt the 
beginnings of his good humor fade away as he looked up into Auda's face. 
Her golden eyes were red from crying, and her locks had been hastily 
arranged, leaving fuzzy bits of wayward hairs escaping.  Her normally 
spotless dress was wrinkled, and she was missing an earring. 

She was still beautiful, a topaz of a woman.  Kai looked away. 

It wasn't fair.  Images of her in his father's arms flickered into his mind, 
and with the vision returned the feelings of helplessness and rage.  Why? 
Why did he feel this way, trapped in an unbreakable cycle of emotions.  He 
wanted those feelings to go away -- their twistings were creating 
claustrophobia inside his own mind.  The impulse to escape suddenly overrode 
all other feelings, and he felt himself rise, his fingers nervelessly 
dropping his cup to the ground.  The door... the door.... He heard voices 
behind him as he left the room, and fingers plucking at his sleeve, but he 
ignored them. 

He could not breathe....he needed air... 

He felt like another person was guiding his body as he crossed the empty 
dance floor and ascended the stairs to the exit.  A tiny voice behind him 
kept pursuing him but he did not listen.  He did not want to hear it anyway. 

Somewhere in the corridor leading from the dance hall he felt a hand on his 
arm, and then suddenly two hands on his chest, slowing him to a stop.  He 
looked down to see what he had run into -- it was Auda.  As he looked down 
into her frightened face, he felt the hot tears held in his eyes and lashes 
spill down his cheeks. 

"Kai...please...."Auda begged. 

To see Auda beg -- to see her lower herself to pleading to him -- that was 
the final touch.  His goddess had fallen from her throne.  To have his 
illusions removed so cruelly hurt to the deepest part of his psyche, and to 
have them shredded so callously led to feelings of righteous fury rise to 
the very heights of his spirit. He forgave the goddess, for he himself had 
created her.  But the woman in front of him deserved punishment.  He opened 
his mouth to speak, but nothing appeared in the air before him.  No sounds. 
No words. His own saliva tasted like venom. 

Auda stood before him and wept.  "Please...please... please... I am so 
sorry, Kai....Please forgive me... please...." 

Deceitful bitch, Kai thought.  Her words were garbage, worth less than the 
refuse flushed into the sewer.  "Answer me one thing," Kai demanded, finding 
his voice at last.  "Why you and my father?" Auda's hands flew to her face, 
covering her mouth, and her weeping turned to gasps. 

"Tell me!" Kai grabbed her shoulders and gave her a shake. Her hands pressed 
into her face as if to keep her mouth closed, and whatever inside it from 
coming out, but that was exactly the information that Kai wanted.  He peeled 
her hands away from her face and held her tightly by her wrists. 

"Kai," She begged, her voice breaking like a little girl's. 

"Tell me," he growled inches from her face. 

"Because," she choked into a whimper, "He looks like you." 

Her words turned the heated blood in his veins into ice.   The fury fled 
behind that icy dam, leaving only the despair and hopelessness behind.  He 
felt his own self-pity rise in his throat to choke him. He looks like me. 
Looks like me.  Like me.  Again, the sensation of a lack of air threatened 
to engulf him. 

"Oh're so pale.  Please...breathe."  Auda held his fallen hands 
tightly. Self-preservation caused him to gulp in air, fighting off the dizzy 
feeling fluttering around him.  Nevertheless, his knees gave way, and Auda 
followed him to the ground, kneeling in front of him.  Tears streaming down 
her face, Auda touched his cheek with tear-damp hands. 

"Kai, my darling Kai, please forgive me," She wept. "I haven't done anything 
that anyone else hasn't done." 

Somehow, from those words Kai gathered the strength to force away his own 
self-pity.  Auda was by far worse off, he thought.  She had created her own 
misery by selling herself for a dream.  Kai was miserable because he had 
been living in a dream of his own creation.  "You're right Auda, beautiful 
Auda," Kai held her face in his own hands, mirroring her affection.  "You 
haven't done anything to me that anyone else hasn't done, including myself." 

Auda's eyes and mouth opened in shock at Kai's words, and Kai chose to 
gently kiss her mouth closed, first a soft press on her top lip, and then an 
equally chaste touch on her bottom lip.  We are more honest and intimate now 
than we have ever been, Auda and I, Kai thought.  And so I should tell her 
the truth. 

'I love you, Auda..." He whispered, touching her forehead to hers, "...but 
right now I don't like you very much."  He could feel her body convulse at 
his words, bringing the tears like a flood from the depths of her soul. 

Releasing her, Kai stood and looked down the hall, away from all that had 
happened before him.  The desire for clean, fresh, pure air rose again, and 
along with this desire came the instinct to find it.  His feet moved 
forward, his mind forcing all the pain to one side as he focused on 
fulfilling his desire.  He began to walk away. 

Behind him, he heard someone weeping. 

Part VI. 

Kai found himself on the balcony at the top of the mountain.  The icy fresh 
air whipped his hair and took all the water from his eyes and mouth.  How 
did he get here?  It did not matter.  All that was important was that here, 
at the top of the world, he could breathe.  Again and again he took in 
lungfuls of air, feeling the cold penetrate the ice in his heart. 

The sun had just set, making the shadows of the lens above him long and 
dark.  His attention, though, was not on the lens but on the parabola 
itself.  The bottom of the bowl was at least a thousand feet down, and Kai 
could see the black circle at the center.  It looked like nothing, that 
black circle.  To the uninitiated, it might have been another shadow.  But 
Kai knew that the circle was the opening of the plasma cannon barrel, a hole 
with a fourteen-thousand foot deep drop. 

Kai felt the air swirl past him, making his forelock flutter.  The air was 
clear and free from snow, but it was still breathtakingly cold.  The last 
time I was here, he thought, the snow made it warmer, somehow.  He leaned 
over the railing to see if there was any snow left on the bottom of the huge 

He could remember his father's hands pulling him back from the edge -- but 
no hands reached for him now.  He was completely alone. 

The wind swirled around him in another gust, buffeting him.  He heard a high 
sharp cry and, startled, looked for its source -- a lone bird circling up 
and out of the bowl.  What would it be like to fly, he wondered.  Just to 
let go, and fly -- free? 

All that was keeping him back was the metal balcony.  Without thought he 
clambered over the railing, tucking his heels into the edge and holding onto 
the railings with his hands.  His back was to the railing, and he leaned 
forward into the wind. 

The bird came closer, crying out.  It would not take much for me to fly, Kai 
thought.  He looked down, dispassionately noting that his body would have a 
thousand feet of flight before it hit the bottom.  Even then, he might roll 
to the center -- and enjoy fourteen thousand feet of flight again before he 
hit bottom.  Either way, it would be a pleasant and painless death. 

He let one hand go, reaching out.  The wind wrapped itself tenderly around 
his fingers.  Come with me, it said in his ear.  Come with me... 

Kai released his thumb from the railing, holding on with curled fingers. 
All he would have to do now would be to straighten out his fingers, and he 
would fly... 

And fly... 

And fly... 

And fly...He felt two cold hands grasp his wrist tightly.  Before he could 
turn around, one let go, only to bury itself in the fabric of his jacket. 

"If you go, I go too," Kalta shouted over the wind. 

Kai turned, grasping the railing with two hands.  He didn't want to hurt 
Kalta.  He wasn't even sure he wanted to die.  All he wanted was to be free 
from the pain of living.  Kalta kept her hand locked around his wrist and 
switched her grasp to the front of his jacket. 

"Come back.  Come back over." 

Kai hesitated.  Kalta's face was pale, her lips pressed together tightly, 
her eyes intense and flashing with determination.  Of all the people most 
recently in his life, she was the only one who had not hurt him.  She had 
given herself to him fully, and had obeyed his wishes.  She had understood 
his fears.  Yet there was something within him that did not understand 
her -- did not trust her. 

Fool, he said to himself.  He trusted the people who hurt him and was 
suspicious of the one person who helped him.  As the moment of his 
hesitation went on, Kalta's fingers tightened on his jacket. 

"Kai," she licked her lips quickly, "There are easier ways to die." 

Yes, but this was a beautiful way to die, Kai thought.  "All I want is my 
freedom."  His breath was like smoke in the cold air. 

"Freedom won by death is not worth having." 

Kalta's statement was very poetic, and yet absolutely true.  Kai climbed 
back over the railing, turning to see Kalta sag and close her eyes in 

Part VII. 

Kalta took his hand and brought him slowly through the passages to the old 
telescope machinery platform.  She led him up and through the ancient 
decrepit computer banks to the center.  The place had once served as a 
command center for the entire region, and at its height could have seated a 
hundred workers, each with his or her own computer station.  Now the seats 
were empty, the computers cannibalized millennia ago for parts.  Kalta drew 
him up to the center to a glass-enclosed command booth, and led him inside. 

She had made a nest here, Kai thought.  Scraps of pillows and fabric layered 
the corners of the room.  Kalta did not have a proper bed as Kai did, but 
had to piece together fragments from whatever she could find in the 
observatory.  Kai heard soft music playing from a machine which looked like 
it had been made from seven different computers, and over in the corner was 
a food manufacturer, its corners ripped and its front door dented, 
suggesting that it had been discarded -- or stolen -- from a wealthier clan. 

He turned and faced her. "Thank you." 

She shrugged.  "I've often thought of going flying myself."  Kalta pushed 
Kai down on the cushions and crossed the room.  She was gone for several 
minutes, and Kai looked more closely at the room. 

On a high stack of pillows was a dress, one seam taken apart and pinned. 
Kalta made her own clothes?  Kai was surprised; clothes-making was the hobby 
of women from only the highest clans, hence the higher the clan rank one was 
born into, the more elaborate the woman of the clan made the clothes.  Kai's 
own clothes were incredibly complicated and intricate, compete with jewels 
glued to the fabric. Everyone else wore ready-made clothes to some degree. 
Or -- and Kai suspected this guess was closer to the truth -- Kalta could 
not afford ready-made clothes, and was forced to make her own. 

Kai gained a new respect for Kalta.  She was a woman who, despite being born 
into a fading clan, was in control of her life. Kalta finally returned with 
two tiny glasses of amberberry ale. 

"How can I repay you?" 

Kalta paused, the corner of one mouth turning up into a smirk.  She shook 
her head at him  before drinking her glass of ale.  "What do you have?" 

Have?  Kai didn't understand her. "Have?" 

"I've given you two things -- your life, and a drink.  What do you have to 
give me in return?" 

Ah, Kai thought, and the memory of the smokesticks came to mind.  He patted 
his pockets and found them.  Kalta's eyes sparkled suddenly at the sight. 

'That's fair trade for a drink.  I can't wait to see what you give me for 
your life." Her face was graced by a brief smile at her own humor. 

Not knowing exactly what to do, he handed both the sticks to her.  She 
reached over to a small ledge to grab an automatic lighter, placed one stick 
in her mouth, lit it, and inhaled.  Then she passed the stick to Kai.  He 
sucked in the smoke and held it, copying Kalta, for a few moments, then 
released the smoke. 

Kai felt like someone had suddenly ripped his lungs out.  Eyes watering, he 
coughed with a force that threw his entire body forward.  How did Kyoo 
manage this trick?  When the fit was over, Kai looked up to see Kalta 
smiling her predatorial smile. 

"You have to keep trying -- it gets easier." 

"Are you kidding?  I'll never do that again."  Kai shook his head. 

"Sure you will.  Just take a smaller drag."  Kalta handed the smokestick 
back to Kai, and he took it, feeling foolish.  This time he took a smaller 
drag and held it for a shorter time, releasing the smoke before it burned 
his lungs.  He passed it back to Kalta, who delicately inhaled, and she 
passed it back to him for a third time. 

"How do you feel?"  Kalta looked at him, her chin lowered, peeking through 
her eyelashes.. 

"I feel fine.  I'm..." Kai realized that he didn't feel fine -- he actually 
felt a little strange.  Lightheaded and relaxed at the same time.  It was 
sort of like being drunk, but without the sleepiness and numbness.  No 
wonder Kyoo always looked so calm and happy.  My father ought to smoke this 
stuff, Kai mentally continued.  It would make that prick a lot less uptight. 

They smoked the second stick together, and Kalta carefully kept the tiny 
end-bits.  "You don't need to keep them," Kai said, "I can get more." 

"Must be nice," Kalta murmured. 

"Ah."  It never occurred to Kai just how privileged he was. He looked up 
into Kalta's face, seeing her gazing at him. Her eyes were dark and soft, 
without a hint of envy.  I wonder how old she is, Kai thought.  I wonder if 
she thinks I'm just another rich boy.  I wonder if she's the one... 

"But then, if I wanted more, I'd find a way to get some.  It was very nice, 
though, for you to offer yours."  Kalta said almost suavely.  "I always 
thought clans like yours could get a hold of anything they wanted, and...." 
She edged closer, reaching out her long, graceful fingers to touch his knee, 
"...get away with anything they wanted to." 

Kai's rebuttal was lost as her hand began to caress his leg, slowly, running 
her fingertips up to his mid-thigh, and then back down to his knee. "I'm 
sure you've been told this before,'re very handsome." 

Kai shyly looked down.  Her fingertips on his leg were causing the most 
erotic sensations. She thought he was handsome?  Hardly. "My mouth is too 

Kalta leaned forward slowly, trailing her fingertips up his chest, and then 
delicately, slowly, touched his lower lip.  "I think your mouth is perfect." 
She smiled sensuously, her dark eyes alight. 

Kai basked in the warm tones of Kalta's voice, and watched, fascinated, 
feeling the soft strokes she gave his mouth.  Why was he so relaxed?  Was it 
the smokesticks?  He felt delicious.  An attractive woman was 
touching him, sitting close to him, and there was no one around for miles to 
tell him what he was doing was wrong.  Even that voice he had heard for 
years was finally silent tonight. He answered her compliment with a smile. 

"I've desired you from the first moment I saw you," Kalta whispered. "You're 
the most handsome man I've ever seen.  I will not flirt with you for another 
moment -- I want you for myself." 

Kai was shaken.  What was he to say? The truth. "You covet a Newborn." 

Kalta did not react to that statement, but kept caressing his cheek. The 
relaxation he felt went down deep, making a warm glow where all the ice had 
been earlier, but there was a small point of intensity still within him 
which needed to tell her the truth about his social situation.  "I find you 
most...beautiful. I have felt strongly for you since the moment we met, and 
... I appreciate the way you have befriended me." 

Kalta started making small kisses along his cheek and jaw, featherweight 
touches with her lips. 

"However..." Kai felt the sigh rise with regret.  "...I understand the 
consequences of our actions would not the best interest..."  Kalta's 
kisses were soft and warm and distracting.  "... are against who we are as 
Brunnen-G..."  Her lips were moist and tender.  "...and violate the laws of 
our community..."  He could feel her warm breath against his skin, sending 
shivers down his spine. "...the sacrifices of our ancestors."  Kai stopped 
there.  He wasn't making any sense, even to himself, and none of the reasons 
he had stated meant anything to him any more. 

"Do you believe any of what you just said?" Kalta edged closer on the 
pillows, rubbing her cheek against his. 


"Then what are you waiting for?" She ran her fingers down his chest, and 
placed a soft kiss on his cheek, planting kisses up his jaw towards his 
right ear. 

What am I waiting for? Kai wondered. "When I am ready..." Kalta softly 
kissed the lobe of his ear, then gave it a quick love nip before smoothing 
the skin with her tongue. The tiny pain was an aphrodisiac that spread like 
lightning through his body.  "Kalta..." Kai turned and looked into her eyes, 
noticing them growing hot and wanton.  Her face was so close to his, he 
could feel her sweet breath. 

"I wouldn't want to rush you into any decision you were unable to carry 
out." Her voice was soft and sensuous as she rose, only to fling one leg 
across his body and settle firmly in his lap.  He could feel the heat 
between her legs scorch his pelvis, and his heart whipped in his chest for a 
moment as he gazed into her smoldering, dark eyes.  What was wrong with him? 
Why did he feel so delicious and ...abandoned?  He smiled to himself.  Kalta 
smiled back and leaned forward to kiss his mouth, wrapping her arms around 
him.  Kai felt himself hold her tightly as he kissed her back without 
reservation, plundering her mouth with his tongue.  Ah, she tasted so 

His vision seemed blurred and a strange feeling was engulfing him.  Kalta 
broke away from his mouth and kissed his ear, tracing the outer shell before 
softly plunging the tip of her tongue into the sensitive inner area.  Hot 
breath...wet slickness...the sexy sounds of her tongue echoing the sounds of 
sexual joining.  His member grew hard, uncomfortably constrained by his 
trousers, and he could feel the heat of her crotch against his own. 
Suddenly he wanted to rip the clothes from his body and hers.   Would she 
like his body? he wondered. 

Kai felt soft murmurings in his ear and warm breath on his neck. Soft, cool 
hands caressed the sensitive spot at the base of his hair.  He had to get 
these clothes off.  He tried to focus his eyes, but he could only see vague 
shadows in the semi-darkened room. 

He dreamily felt his jacket being removed.  His own hands fumbled with the 
clasps on his boots, and then his trousers, and within moments he was naked. 
Kalta...or was it Auda... pressed him back on the cushions and immediately 
was on top of him.  Her cool hands caressed his body, dragging her nails 
down his torso, causing his nipples to become firm. Her kisses became 
demanding and hard, as did her touch, grasping his member tightly with her 
fist and pumping it, holding the blood in the glans until it was 
plum-colored, and then releasing it.  He cried out as he felt her slender 
body on top of his own -- her top was open, revealing the small buds of her 
breasts, and her skirt was tucked around her midsection.  Her urgent 
caresses were unleashing some wild, clamorous passion so far held in 
abeyance, and Kai became mindless...a hungry animal at a feast. 

As she writhed on top of him, instinct took over, and he rolled her 
underneath him. She offered her mouth up for his kisses, her hands were in 
his hair, holding him to her burning skin.  His hands explored her body, 
mapping the roundness of her breasts, the long slope of the small of her 
back, rising again to the firm hillocks of her bottom.  Suckling her 
nipples, his hands wandered south to her hips, then thighs, then into her 
slightly parted center.  He felt the folds of her sex open under his gentle 
touch.  Kalta moaned, and swiftly grasped his hand, roughly forcing two 
fingers into her opening.  The sensation of being inside a woman, feeling 
his fingers wet with her juices, her heat, and her indescribable softness... 
his passion rose to a fever pitch.  He wanted her, needed her as he was sure 
no man had ever desired a woman. 

There was no escape for him now.  His senses whirled and soared, making him 
dizzy with passion.  He was at the borders of lust.  His resolve was gone. 

Kai answered her kisses with sensuous ones of his own, learning how erotic 
his mouth could actually be.  How could I have ever been self-conscious of 
my mouth, Kai wondered, when I can use my lips to give a woman such 
pleasure?  His mouth covered her breasts, her stomach, her thighs, and 
lower, sucking on the bud of her sex.  He felt his excitement moisten his 
thighs with fluid from his own phallus.  Kalta moaned with joy as she turned 
her body this way and that, pliant to his demands, and Kai himself relished 
the newfound sensuality she had awakened in him. 

There was no sound between them except for their breathing and the moans 
coming from Kai's throat.  Oh, God!  Kai thought dazedly, I can't believe 
this is finally happening to me.    The thought gave him pause, and he 
looked down at the gasping woman beneath him.  Kalta opened her eyes and 
looked up, smiling her predatorial smile.  "It's time," she whispered. 

Kai suddenly became conscious of everything around him.  His desire was hard 
and almost painful, and he moved to mount her when Kalta stopped him. 
"No..." she whispered.  Kalta turned him on his back, his sex rising into 
the air, and lifted her dress, sliding one leg across him.  Grasping his 
cock in her hand, she raised herself up, positioned herself, and then 
slowly...slowly,  slowly impaled herself upon him.  If Kai had felt her 
tightness and wetness before with his fingertips, it was nothing compared to 
having his cock immersed in the heat of Kalta's body.  The sheath of her 
pussy contracted around his member, pulsating with satisfaction, and she 
began to move her hips.  Kai realized that he was going to lose his struggle 

"Please...slower...or else..." Kai begged. 

His thighs became slick with their juices, and his body ached from the 
tension of passion.  Her movements  became swifter and wilder as she rode 
Kai's body.  He felt her become tighter and tighter, and she threw her head 
back with pleasure.  His senses were aflame, nerve endings creating 
sensations he had never known existed.   Giving in, he felt himself caught 
up in a vortex of emotion that made him arch up against her fiercely.  A 
deep voice churned up from within him to make an animal sound of lust. 

Kai felt his face and chest hot from blood and excitement as he pumped into 
her, matching her strokes.  He felt himself reaching his peak, and was 
helpless to stop.  Kalta looked down at him and smiled, her eyes lidded with 

"Yes...have me!  Have me now!" 

Kai drove into her, feeling himself explode with pleasure, his back arched 
so rigidly that he lifted Kalta's weight with him.  His body was drenched 
with delight as she returned his thrusts with her hips, trembling with her 
own moment of pleasure.  The feeling was nothing Kai had ever imagined -- 
sharing the peak of pleasure with another in the most intimate way possible. 
Feeling himself erupt into her center was a moment of ecstasy that went to 
his soul, washing it clean of his self-doubt and hate, opening him up for 
forgiveness of anyone who had ever done him wrong. 

Minutes later, Kai became conscious of the dampness beneath him, and his 
disordered hair and clothes, not to mention the exhausted woman who had 
collapsed on top of him.   He nuzzled at the soft, sensitive spot between 
her neck and shoulder.  Kalta slowly raised herself up and smiled.  "Any 
minute now," she whispered. 

"What's going to happen?" Kai asked, kissing her neck. 

"You'll see."  Another enigmatic smile came from her lips.  Softly, Kai 
heard rustlings outside Kalta's chamber.  There was a pause of silence, and 
Kai strained to listen for more sounds. 

Kalta bent to give him a kiss. She had been kissing him like a woman who was 
used to getting her own way, a woman who decided that she wanted him, and 
showed it. But this one was different. Kalta kissed him as if she hated him. 
Her eyes were suddenly cold and disdainful, and her mouth was hard, like she 
was being forced to kiss something unpleasant.  Yet he still felt himself 
hard inside her... 

The room exploded with sound and light. 

Kalta screamed.  Hands dragged Kalta off Kai's body, exposing his nakedness, 
and he rolled to cover himself.  Panic boiled into Kai's mind at the shock 
of his sudden nakedness in front of so many people.  What was happening? 
How is this possible?  Who would have known about his whereabouts? 

Then the realization hit him..."Oh, my ancestors..." He whispered to 
himself.  They'd caught him.  He did not know how, but they had caught him, 
and there was no way he could deny it. 

He looked around the room, seeing only high level council members.  Their 
faces were full of pity and disgust, their eyes cold and unforgiving.  They 
only looked a few years older than he did, but he knew that most of them 
were thousands of years old.  He could not run away -- where would he go? 
And he could not fight them -- they were biologically only seven years older 
than he was, and all high councils were trained in defense methods.  He was 
caught... and trapped. 

The council members, male and female, stepped to one side, letting in one of 
the Elders into the small room.  She looked Kai and Kalta up and down, her 
face cold as stone. 

"Get them dressed. And then bring them to me."  As she left the room, Kalta 
was taken with her by two of the council members.  One of the closer 
members, a man, kicked Kai's clothes at him. 

"Get dressed, Newborn." 

His heart and head pounding, Kai dressed as quickly as possible.  He tried 
to fix his unkempt hair, but the councilman grabbed him by the shoulder and 
pushed him towards the door. 

"Don't bother, insect." 

Part VIII. 

The council chamber was full of the eldest of the Elders.  It was a circular 
room, carved in stone, with the entrance at the highest quarters, and the 
Inner Circle at the bottom, with concentric rings of seats around the 
circle. Kai was drawn into the center of this bullseye, not resisting the 
hands that were pulling his body towards the Elders.  The very Eldest was 
the daughter of a Brunnen-G who had actually fought in the Insect Wars 
thousands of years ago.  White haired, ice-blue eyed, and with a lined face, 
she stood proud and tall.  She had been one of the first to be given the 
immortality serum, risking her life on a new science that might have killed 
her on the spot.  Yet here she was, looking at Kai with a dispassionate 
wisdom that Kai found quite intimidating. 

As Kai reached the center, he saw two commotions break out at the top.  The 
first was the arrival of Kalta, who was also brought to the center.  And the 
second was the arrival of his mother and father, still pulling on their 
council robes.  His mother, having achieved 2000 years, was automatically a 
part of the council.  His father should not have been allowed just yet, but 
since he was the eldest male of his clan, his age was overridden and his 
presence was allowed. 

They rushed to the edge of the lowest quarter, but not onto the floor, 
following tradition.  Only the highest members could walk the floor.  The 
only exception was made in the case of the accused -- those who had somehow 
defied what the Brunnen-G considered to be the simplest of laws: Honor your 
ancestors.  Do not murder. Do not covet Newborns.  Do not steal.  Do not lie 
before your Elders.  Share your plenty with all. 

The accused were held on the floor, not physically, but by the gaze of the 
group.  In the face of scrutiny by his clan or family, a Brunnen-G would 
often become immobile and silent, seeking to avoid any shame.  Physical 
violence was abhorred, since it could lead to injury or death.  Kai held 
himself still, knowing the council members who had brought him here were 
behind him, and could seize him at any moment.  But his mind...he could not 
help but rehearse escape plan after escape plan, feeling his muscles tremble 
with adrenaline as he kept himself from running -- or fighting.  Kai felt 
the scrutiny of the Elder on him, her blue eyes seeking facts and truth. 

Kalta was brought to the floor as well.  Her face was full of shock and 
innocence, her eyes wide and teary, her breath coming in short gasps.  She 
looked at Kai with a gaze that sought sympathy. 


Kai had other, less charitable thoughts, ranging from simply descriptive to 
downright clinically vulgar.  As he was dragged down the mountain his mind 
went through the stages of shock, denial, pleading, and finally to anger at 
his treatment.  He had been tempted, and had failed at the test, miserably. 
But he had also been betrayed.  Someone had called the council to tell them 
of the violation -- and that call had happened before he and Kalta had begun 
to have sex.  Who could have done it?  Who knew where he was?  Who had the 
motive to destroy a Newborn of the Geroff clan? 

All his answers led back to one person -- Kalta. 

The feeling of washing his soul of self-doubt and hate was gone, replaced by 
the blackest hatred he had ever felt, or ever thought he could feel.  Even 
pity was not a part of this emotion. If he ever got his hands on her.... 

The Elder held up her hand, and the room slowly settled into silence. "What 
is the accusation?" she asked. Kai thought she knew damn well what the 
accusation was, but tradition had to be followed. 

"The violation of a Newborn."  Kyoo Sr. stepped up, his gruff voice echoing 
in the hall before a soft murmur of reaction spread through the room.  The 
Elder waited until the reaction became silent.  The epitome of the 
Brunnen-G, she had lifetimes of patience. 

"Who are the accused?" 

"I am one."  Kalta spoke softly, wetting her lips. 

"Do you admit your crime?"  The Elder looked at her, surprised. 

"I do. I would never dishonor my ancestors by telling a lie in front of my 
elders. However, my honored Elder..."  Kalta paused, licking her lips again, 
and looking at Kai, "I confess the action, but not the knowledge of my 

Murmurs again went through the room, and the Elder paused again until they 
were silenced.  "Explain," she said. 

"I confess my carnal knowledge of the man before me -- Kai.  But..." 

"He is not a man," the Elder interrupted.  "...he is a Newborn.  He has 
achieved the Moko, but his blood has not yet been Sung.  He has not yet 
achieved the status of being called fully human." 

"Yes, my Elder.  I know that now. But..." Kalta's eyes flicked from Kai's 
face to the Elder, and back again, measuring the reactions to her words. 
"...I did not know it then.  He swore..." 

"LIAR!"  The words sprang from Kai's mouth even before his mind could grasp 
the full extent of her falseness. 

"...he swore he was not a Newborn.  And since he was of the Clan of Geroff, 
I believed him." 

"You LIE!"  Kai sprang towards her, wanting only to grasp her mouth and 
silence it.  The councilmen behind him caught him, twisting his arms behind 
his back, and pulled him to his original place. 

"I believed him!  I confess it!  I believed him!"  Kalta protested. 

"I told her I was Newborn!" Kai protested.  The Elder turned her steely gaze 
on him. 

"You admit your crime as well?" The surprise on the Elder's face grew 
greater, bordering on amazement. 

"I confess to carnal...I confess..." Kai could not say the words, they were 
so cold. Kai realized that he had been manipulated into all this.  Her 
kisses were not those of passion, but those of anger -- raging, hurtful 
kisses on his mouth, and Kai had been too innocent to know the difference. 
A woman's body cannot lie...can it? Kai wondered.  He knew a man's body 
could not lie... "I confess I thought we were making two people 
who can only express the depth of their feelings through touch..."  He 
turned to the Elder.  "But I was wrong...I was deceived.  I was seduced, and 
yet...I am responsible for my actions.  I know that." 

The Elder shook her head at Kai slowly.  "Do you not know that Newborns must 
not engage in reproductive sexual activities until their blood has been 

"Blood...Sung?"  Kai had never heard these two words in this context.  "I 
only know that sex is forbidden to Newborns.  I have heard guesses, but 
never a concrete explanation." 

"Tradition," Kyoo Sr. broke in, "is the only explanation you need, Newborn." 

Kai turned to him, "Tradition be damned." 

The reaction from the council was quite loud.  The shockwave of his words 
rippled around the room.  Kai could see his father react, horrified at his 
words.  Renii's eyes grew wide, and he covered his mouth with two hands, as 
if he could hold the words flying around the room from entering his own 
mouth. Kai then turned to his mother, expecting an equal amount of shock and 
horror but saw -- nothing.  He met her eyes, and she was the picture of 
calm.  A small smile began curling at the corners of her mouth, slowly 
lifting the apples of her cheeks into a closed mouth grin. 

Smiling?  His mother was smiling at him?  Kai's breath caught in his chest, 
held by the ludicrousness of the situation.  His world was falling apart 
around him, and his mother was grinning...yes, him like they 
were sharing a private joke.  Her eyes were crinkled at the edges with her 
smile now, and they were pouring out pure love. 

Eura held onto Kai's gaze, stepped out from the council seats onto the 
chamber floor, and slowly made her way over to Kai.  She reached out with 
two fingers and stroked his cheek, whispering, "That's my baby." 

Who was this woman in front of him?  This was not the mother Kai had known, 
the silly, giggly creature, full of frivolous fun and little games, always 
ready to laugh and sing.  Eura knew a thousand bedtime stories, and hundreds 
of nonsense songs, all which were guaranteed to make Kai laugh.  Her soft 
voice had sung him to sleep with lullabies, and she was an eager audience 
for with Kai's own childish stories and poems.  He had come to assume that 
immortality was the trick that made a mother patient.  He now knew he was 
wrong about that, too.  There was something underneath it all, something 
within her made of the hardest steel.  The patience and playfulness did not 
come from her own childishness, but from a love of all things young. 

"Eura," said the Elder.  The council chambers went silent. 

Kai's mother turned, the smile fading from her cheeks but remaining in her 
eyes.  "Yes, Sena?"  Her tone was familiar. 

Sena, the Eldest of Elders sniffed.  "Did I just hear an echo?" 

Eura turned to Kai, placing her back to the Elder. "Yes, Sena," Eura sighed, 
and shook her head as if to remark on an unbelievable irony.  "I believe you 

"He presumes too much," said the Elder.  It was a little strange, Kai 
thought, to be talked about in the third person. 

"Yes he does," said Eura.  She turned and faced Sena, the humor fluttering 
away from her face.  "But he is also honoring his ancestors." 

This remark was not unnoticed by the council, and another round of murmurs 
filled the chamber.  Kai was puzzled.  How am I, he thought, a total fuck-up 
of a Brunnen-G, possibly honoring my ancestors?  The Elder digested Eura's 
statement for a long moment, even after the room had quieted. 

"Then, Eura of the Geroff clan, do you plead mercy for his actions?" 

"I do not." 


Eura turned to him.  "I was not given mercy.  I would not presume on my 
ancestors' wisdom to do the same for you. child...I know you are 
human. You are my blood and bone...and you are human." She turned back to 
the Elder.  "Let his blood be Sung, and let the punishment follow."  Kai, 
shocked, stared at his mother openmouthed. 

"Very well."  The Elder nodded to her, and then inclined her head towards 
Kalta.  "You, Kalta of the Cident clan, are guilty of carnal knowledge of a 
Newborn. are guilty of lying to the Elder of Elders, and the 
entire council of Elders." 

"But..." Kalta protested. 

"But nothing.  There are eighty-nine Newborns on this entire planet right 
now, thirty-five of which have passed the Naming ceremony.  Seven of these 
Newborns live in our community, three of which have passed the Naming 
ceremony.  Two of these are male, and are from the same crèche.  These 
numbers are well known to any child of our community, much less for someone 
of your age.  Shame on you!  Shame on your ancestors for breeding a creature 
such as you!"  The Elder's gaze was pure focused lightning, surrounding and 
crushing Kalta with the power of her personality.  But Kalta did not wither. 

"I sentence you the traditional and full sentence of the unquestionably 
guilty.  Four hundred months of isolation, or four hundred months of 
banishment.  You choose."  And all eyes in the room went to Kalta. 

"I choose....isolation." 

Kalta was still fierce, her eyes now burning into Kai's.  "However, my 
Elder, if I am..." 

The Elder interrupted Kalta, knowing what she was asking. "Test her blood." 
A council member stepped up and pressed a silver rod with strange square 
buttons to Kalta's throat.  Kalta hissed with sudden pain, yet her eyes 
never left Kai's face. 

The elder taking the blood sample looked at the rod for a few moments, 
nodding, then spoke.  "She is not with child." 

"Then lead her away. She has accomplished nothing." The Elder of Elders 
voice was deep and full of warning, but Kalta was defiant to the end.  As 
she was led away, she passed Renii, and came to a halt, resisting her 

"You, Geroff, You thief!  You took away my home -- and so I took your son 
from you! We are shared, you and I. Shared! Kalta has her revenge! Kalta 
took him from you! She took him..." but her captors were swift, pulling her 
forward.  As she was brought to the top of the chambers, a black hood was 
slipped over her head.  Kalta froze, turning her head one way and another 
under the hood.  And then a soft cackle of laughter bubbled from under the 
hood, working its way into shrieks.  As she was led away from the chambers, 
she was still roaring from under the black hood. 

Part IX. 

The attention of the full council soon returned to Kai's sentencing. 
Disquieted by Kalta's rabid laughter, it took a while for the room to settle 
down, but under the gaze of the Elder of Elders, it gradually grew silent. 
Then, she addressed him. 

"Kai of the Geroff clan, your crime strikes at the weakest part of who we 
are as Brunnen-G.  This weakness is not your fault, but it does affect your 
sentencing.  We Elders do not punish Newborn, for they are children in our 
eyes.  This is the letter of the law."  Her eyes searched his, showing a new 
side to her, that of compassion, Kai thought. 

"Yet within the spirit of the law, you are not a child.  You do not behave 
as a child, nor do you honor your ancestors as a child should.  You do not 
even honor your mother as a child should.  You are fully aware of your guilt 
in this crime, even though you do not understand the reasons for your 
punishment.  You willingly engaged in carnal knowledge even though you knew 
it was a crime, but the circumstances of this action were...suspect."  She 
turned to Kyoo, Sr. "You say you received a call from Kalta, and she said 
that she was afraid of what Kai might do to her?  And that you should come 
to the observatory at once?" 

"Yes, my Elder.  That is what she said." 

The Elder of Elders addressed the council floor. "Yet we heard her 
confession to Renii that she deliberately planned and seduced a Newborn, for 
revenge, did we not?"  A murmur went around the council floor, agreeing with 
the Elder. 

"Then I am faced with a difficulty.  If I relieve Kai of his punishment on 
account of his age, then I place all blame on Kalta.  That violates the 
spirit of the law.  On the other hand, if I punish Kai, I relieve Kalta of 
some of her blame.   That violates the letter of our law."  The Elder spoke 
this out loud, and the council nodded with her as she went through the logic 
of the situation. 

"I would rather break the letter of the law than its spirit.  My decision is 
then, this: we will Sing Kai's blood, and the proper punishment will reveal 
itself.  Prepare the test according to the wisdom of our ancestors." 

The room erupted into voices, and the council members on the lower chamber 
moved the chairs to one side.  Two female elders behind Kai firmly grabbed 
his arms and shoulders, moving him back and out of the way.  Kai turned to 
see his father, but his parent was nowhere to be seen.  He turned back to 
see his mother's face.  She was looking up at him with a curious mixture of 
fear and resignation, a look he had never seen on her before.  "What is 
this, mother?" 

"Kai, this is the ceremony that you would have gone through when you turned 
thirty.  You would have been prepared for an entire year for this, and all 
your questions about sex...erm...biology would have been answered in detail. 
But..."  She paused as they brought forth a large wooden table into the 
middle of the council chambers. 

She continued, not looking at Kai. "We do not have time for that now." 

"What did you do?  What was your crime?" 

Eura turned back to him with a look of wonder. "You are very perceptive," 
she chuckled. "It's a long story." 

"I have the time." 

"No, you don't." 

"What did you do, then?" 

Eura sighed.  "I dishonored my ancestors.  Badly."  She shrugged.  In front 
of them, the Elder of Elders placed a veil-covered pointed object in the 
center of the table, and her assistants used bolts to tighten the object to 
the table. 

"Were you a Newborn?" 

"No, I was not.  But I was not that long an adult." 

"What was your punishment?" 

Eura took a deep breath before answering.  "I chose banishment." 

"You...chose..." The idea of his mother wandering in the Unsafe Lands 
boggled Kai's mind.  "Truly?" 

She nodded at him. "It was not easy, but it taught me the true meaning of 
what it means to be a Brunnen-G.  I never dishonored my ancestors after 

The Eldest of Elders stepped away from the table, and looked at Eura, then 
nodded slowly.  The room again settled into silence.  "Eura of the Geroff 
clan, speak to your son, tell him what he needs to know to honor his 

Eura turned to him.  "Kai..." 

"Where is he?" Kai interrupted her, one thought suddenly blazing through his 
mind.  This was all going so fast, and he needed to know one thing.  "Where 
is my father?" 

"He is too young.  He is not permitted." 

"He is a member of the council!" 

"Only to make decisions.  Not to Sing blood."  Eura shook her head and 
smiled slightly. "Kai, he would not be allowed to be here anyway.  He's a 
male.  Males can only Name.  Males can't Sing blood." Kai looked around the 
council chambers.  All the male members were gone, or in the process of 
leaving the room.  Soon, none were left. 

"What is Singing blood?" 

"That is what I must tell you, before you interrupted me.  Can we have no 
more interruptions, please?"  Eura's tone was definitely motherly in the 
last sentence, making this entire event a little surreal.  Was this still 
the same day of the poetry competition?  Was his dirty spoon still in the 
cleaning area?  Were his books still on the dining-room table?  Where did 
that boy go? 

"My beloved son," Kai's mother began, her sharp tone fading into a softer 
one.  "My best beloved son..."  She took a deep breath and looked away. "The 
Insect Wars are not over.  They are a part of us, and we are a part of them. 
Every decision we take, every tradition we hold, is haunted by the Insects. 
We have taken them into ourselves, becoming one with more ways 
than you know." 

Eura looked back at him, apologetically.  "I cannot tell you the science of 
it -- only that our ancestors went as far as they could go to secure victory 
over the Insects.  Their sacrifices were vast. of their 
sacrifices are still with us, haunting a part of us." Eura 
swallowed. "The Insects are a part of us.  Do you understand?" 

Holding her eyes, Kai shook his head.  The Brunnen-G were part Insect?  This 
could not be true. "No, Mother, I do not." 

"If I had more time, I could explain it, but your actions have caused me 

"Are we Insects?" Kai interrupted. 


"Are we part Insect?" 


At those words, the room went silent.  Not just the ordinary sort of quiet 
of a large crowd of people trying to be silent, but an eerie absence of 
sound made its presence known.  It occurred to Kai that the room itself was 
holding its breath. 

So they were all part Insect.  Kai searched his feelings for a response, but 
found none.  It seemed irrelevant.  Why was this so shocking?  He needed 
more information. 

"How much?" 

"One percent of your DNA is Insect." 

"Such a tiny amount?  What does that matter?" 

"Kai, the difference between you, and the astacus in our freezer is only 5 
percent of your DNA." 

Kai suddenly had an image of himself in a freezer, and a giant astacus 
pulling off one of his legs for dinner.  That's silly, he told himself. 
"Again, I ask, what does it matter?" 

"It matters if you want to be human. Do you?" 

"Yes.  I mean...I don't want to be an Insect." 

"I don't want you to be an Insect either, my son.  But the human DNA is made 
of 3.1 billion chemical letters.  The building of protein is the direct 
result of the instructions from the DNA, and most of the 2 million proteins 
built by the DNA are just variations on a handful of themes.  Most of the 
instructions from the Insect DNA are benign, or seen by our bodies as 
unsequenceable or irrelevant.  But there is one area of instruction that 
builds proteins which are ... hostile." 


"The instructions are to build proteins that...welcome...the Insect essence. 
We needed this ability at one time, for our survival.  But now we do not. 
We would have eradicated these instructions, except for the fact that the 
instructions lie in unpredictable places on each individual's DNA, like a 

"So they cannot be removed?" Kai was filled with wonder. 

"No, but they can be neutralized.  We can't prohibit the proteins from being 
made, but we can, that can..." Eura stopped speaking. She suddenly 
stepped back, and looked around the room, as if seeking assistance in her 

"Yes?" Why was she suddenly afraid? Kai thought. 

She turned back to him. "You can...look into...I cannot explain it. I only 
know that I myself have done it. The Insect essence allows us to recognize 
the home of the essence in our DNA, and to turn it off.  We simply make it 
*not* build those proteins.  But everyone's sequence is different, and so 
everyone must find the Song within our blood...the signature Song of our 
DNA, follow the Song to its end, and remove the false notes." 

"Ah." Kai nodded.  It was partly clear to him now. "And you will help me?" 

"We all will." The Elder of Elders spoke. "We will Sing our own blood for 
you, and you will hear the patterns we all share, compare them to your own, 
and find the true Song." 

"This isn't very scientific," Kai could not help but pointing out the truth. 
"How can a person look at their own DNA?" 

"It is scientific, and it is possible for the Brunnen-G to look within. 
This test is from a different side of science than mathematics and the 
testing of physical endurance," the Elder said. "It is a test of spiritual 
calculation and mental endurance.  But..." 

"My son..." Eura broke in.  "This test you must not fail." 

His mother's face was open, her belief and sincerity blossoming from her 
eyes. Yet behind it was the same fear that he had seen long ago in his 
father's eyes. He had not failed his parents then, and he would not now, 
despite the fact that he believed they had failed him. He would not dishonor 
them.  "Tell me what I need to do." Kai was confident that he could do 
whatever they required of him.  He had, after all, passed the Moko.  How 
much worse could this ceremony be? 

The Elder slowly paced to the far side of the table, paused, nodded at Eura, 
and removed the veil from the sharp object in the middle of the table. It 
was a sheath for a huge Insect stinger. Light glimmered on its casing, 
casting rainbow hues on the robes of the council members nearest it.  Kai 
could hear a dozen or more of the women around him gasp at the sight of the 
sheath, and several of them stepped back in fear. 

Kai looked at his mother for a moment, and saw that she was waiting for him 
to make the move. "Go ahead.  Look at it." Kai stepped forward to look at 
the monstrous sheath, kept alive by some biological means from the box at 
its base. He could not imagine the size of the Insect that this thing once 
belonged to. 

"Is the stinger inside... sharp?" he asked. 

"Yes," said the Elder. 

"Is it poisonous?" 

"Only to Insects." 

"What do you want me to do?" Kai was curious, as this did not seem to be a 
ceremony at all. 

"Put the palm of your hand on the tip, the sharpest part, and wait until you 
are stung. The stinger will go through your hand and come out the other 
side," the Elder spoke softly. 


"Kai, this is a ceremony, but not at all like the Moko.  We don't have any 
special format or words.  There are no prayers or incantations or chants. 
Only the Song.  And each of our Songs is different. Because this is an 
individual's journey, the words belong to you alone." With infinite 
patience, she explained to him his path. "The stinger will react to your 
presence, and will pierce your hand, and you will be poisoned. The poison 
will help you focus, and find the Song within your blood." 

"I'm not an Insect!" 

"You will have to prove that to yourself. And to us." 

"And if I don't..." 

"Then you will die. The poison will kill you if you do not remove the false 
notes in your Song. It will take some time, several hours, but it will kill 
you. There is no antidote.  And if you refuse the ceremony..." She took a 
deep breath. "You might, by default, be declared an Insect.  The most 
lenient decision of the council is castration, the most harsh is death." 

"This is insane!" Kai could not believe her words. 

"This is not insane.  This is the only way we Brunnen-G have stayed human, 
and will remain human.  We will not allow the roll of genetic dice to 
eradicate our humanity, especially after we have fought so hard to preserve 
our human lives, our existence.  This is beyond tradition.  It is the 
survival of our species." 

Kai bowed under the weight of her words.  He walked up to the table and 
looked at the stinger, less than foot from his face.  Eura stepped beside 
him.  "Kai, you can do it.  I have faith in you." 

He looked within himself, and saw...Fear. Doubt. Anger. Pain. Pity. 
Curiosity.  But no faith. His self-doubt and hatred returned full force. 
How was it at the height of his ecstasy in Kalta's arms that he thought his 
soul had been washed clean?  He could have loved the whole world, and 
forgiven anyone of anything, had they asked.  Even Kalta, had she asked. 
But to be betrayed by his father, his adored Auda, his friends, his lover, 
and to some extent, even his mother... he was not able to forget, to forgive 

But most of all, he could not forgive himself.  He was responsible for all 
that had happened today.  It was his own stupidity, and ignorance, and 
unwillingness to be firm and self-controlled.  He deserved everything that 
happened to him.  He would no longer make excuses for himself, and along 
with that came the deep belief that he would no longer make excuses for 
others.  Let others suffer for their actions.  They deserved it. 

The anger that had been simmering inside rose to the surface, and it felt 
good to be righteous, in at least the face of what others had done to him. 
He had been wronged, and would not forgive that dishonor.  Nevertheless, 
like a final black pearl at the end of the rope of his angry thoughts, his 
old sense of helplessness swept into his mind.  He was helpless in all of 
this.  He had been betrayed, and was helpless to fight this betrayal. 
Helplessness slid into self-pity, and pity into despair.  It was all so 
unfair.  So unfair! he thought.  His confidence crumbled into dust. 

"I can't." 

His mother was appalled at his words. "You must!"  Her voice dropped to a 
harsh whisper. "Listen to me! Two things separate us from the Insects -- the 
first is their appetite for uncontrolled breeding.  You've already shown us 
that you cannot control yourself, regardless of the circumstances, Kai." 

This truly was not fair. "I was seduced!" Kai protested. 

"They don't care."  Eura shook her head at him.  "You did it, and that is 
enough to sow suspicion.  The second is the Insect's inability to inflict 
pain upon themselves." 

"I passed the Moko!"  How much more pain did they expect him to endure? 

"That was pain inflicted upon you, not you hurting yourself.  This is very 
different, Kai."  She put her hand upon his shoulder. "We all go through 
this.  It is what unites us as Brunnen-G.  If it was so dangerous, would I 
be here?" 

That was true, Kai thought.  His father and mother had passed this ceremony, 
and their fathers and mothers before them, and all his ancestors before 
them.  Who was he to refuse?  In all the long line of Brunnen-G, who was he? 
He wasn't anyone special. 

He would do it. He made himself lift his hand, and place it near the 
stinger.  He could see his hand tremble, and the paleness of his fingers. 
How could this hand be anything but human? 

"Closer," his mother whispered in his ear. 

Her voice made him flinch, and he almost drew his hand back.  With 
determination, he overcame the feeling and placed his hand above the 

"Closer. Touch the palm of your hand to the point." 

He knew the point was sharp...and suddenly had a vision of the rough 
impalement his tender hand would receive.  As soon as the thought cleared 
his eyes, he felt his hand flinch back again.  This time it was more 
difficult to overcome the feeling of dread. 


Like a tidal wave, the dread built and rolled towards him from the depths of 
his psyche.  Helpless in the face of such fear, he began to draw back -- and 
then he saw the tip of the stinger twitch, and a tiny needle began to peep 

"Do not move, Kai!" 

"I must!" he whispered, feeling the words catch in his throat. 

"To move is to die!" 

He tried.  He really tried.  But he was so afraid! The motion of the stinger 
became his focus, slowing down space and time...he saw it move, and then 
pause, and he could feel it readying itself for its attack on his hand.  The 
next action was out of his control.  The stinger shot forth... 

...but his hand was not there. 

The muscles of his arm had reacted automatically, removing his hand out of 
the danger.  He could feel his entire body tremble from fear, and realized 
that his heart was pounding in his ears, and sweat was pouring down his back 
and face.  He had the sudden urge to urinate as well, but he quickly 
suppressed it. 

The foot-long stinger remained out of its sheath, tiny pale green drops of 
poison slipping down its sides.  Had his hand remained where it was over the 
tip, Kai would now have a hole in the palm of his hand the diameter of his 
thumb.  Slowly, the stinger retracted, taking the poison with it.  Only a 
single drop remained on the edge of the sheath. 

As if from a distance, Kai heard the room react to his cowardice.  The sound 
growled around the room, scratching its way down Kai's spine with its 
disgust.  He stepped back, and slowly turned his head to look at his mother. 

"I couldn't... I am so sorry, Mommy." 

The next instant he felt a startling, blinding instant of pain and blackness 
and dancing lights -- realizing only some moments after that his mother had 
slapped him open-handed across his face, snapping his head sideways. 

Part X. 

"What do you mean, he can't pack? He can't take anything with him?" said 

"Only what is on his back. And he must be out of the city in two hours." 
Eura answered.  The three of them were walking quickly towards their crèche, 
accompanied by four of the brawnier council-members. "Or else he will be 
isolated, as I am going to be." 

Renii had remained outside the council chambers, waiting to see the outcome 
of the ceremony.  The outcome was not what he had expected -- was not what 
any of them had expected.  Kai's willingness to participate in the Blood 
Sing ceremony encouraged the council's lenience towards his cowardice in the 
face of the actual event.  His youth also added to the council's decision. 
Thus, Kai had received a tenth of the punishment that Kalta had been 
given -- he had been banished for 40 months, and in this the council showed 
mercy towards him.  They were also firm -- Kai had to be outside the city in 
120 minutes, or else he would be isolated for the duration of his 

"I don't believe this!  I lose my son, and my wife!  How can this be?  How 
did you let this happen, Eura!"  Renii was frantic. 

"I didn't let this happen, bugbrain."  Eura was not pleased with the turn of 
events, either. "I suggested this whole thing, and it exploded in my face. 
Kai was too young -- I should have known that.  He's a baby!  And then I 
lost my temper..." 

Eura's slapping of Kai was in very bad form.  It was one thing to discipline 
a child, but the Brunnen-G forbade physical violence against children.  If 
parents did not honor their children, then how would the children ever learn 
to honor their parents?  Most often, a little physical discipline was 
usually done in the privacy of a family's crèche, and not spoken about 

But to slap one's child in the face -- and Eura had not given Kai a little 
smack, but a full-body blow -- on the floor of the Inner Circle in full view 
of the Elder of Elders?  This was definitely not done.  It was not a 
complete dishonoring of one's ancestors, but it was certainly close. 
Although the circumstances were taken into account, Eura was reprimanded 
with 12 months isolation. 

"...I should not have lost my temper." Eura's natural personality bid her 
look for the lighter side, and she shrugged. "At least this way, I will 
catch up on my reading." 

"I still don't believe this!  Kai?"  Renii struggled to look at his son, who 
was also being escorted to the crèche for the traditional Last Bath and 

Kai could hear the words, but their meanings were unclear.  Banished?  40 
months?  Unsafe Lands?  He felt himself moving through the streets, but his 
head was spinning with the suddenness of the events -- living in an immortal 
society, he was not used to things moving quickly.  He had to leave the city 
for 40 months.  And go where?  What was he supposed to do when he got there? 
He understood the facts, but the implications of all of this were very 
confusing to him. And to add to this confusion, his parents were in an 
argument that was getting worse -- and getting louder -- with every minute. 

Renii changed his pace of walk and moved next to Kai.  "Son, speak to me. 
Are you all right?"  Kai knew his father was worried, but it was as if a 
stranger were speaking to him.  He had nothing to say to the man, and kept 


"Leave him alone, Renii.  And shut up, for the Crossing's Sake, until we get 
home." Eura's voice did not leave room for refusal. 

A few moments later, they entered the gate to their crèche.  One of the 
council warned them before they went in, "You know the tradition.  You have 
95 minutes until Kai has to be outside the city filters.  After that, Eura 
of the Geroff clan, you must surrender yourself." 

"I understand and obey," said Eura.  Then she shut the door.  Finally, the 
three of them were alone.  Kai looked at a spot on the floor, saying 
nothing, feeling so much emotion that he almost felt he was feeling nothing 
at all.  His parents looked at each other, and then at him. 

The silence stretched uncomfortably. 

Renii spoke at last. "Eura, how can you be so calm?" 

Eura gasped in shock. "You Son-of-a-Bitch!  Calm!  Nothus!" 

"Don't you dare insult my ancestors!" 

"Yeah? Well, I met your mother, remember?" 

Renii was at least smart enough not to reply to that.  He turned and flung 
his council robes down on the kitchen table. "I still don't believe this is 
happening! Kai!  What were you thinking?  What in the world were you 

Eura stepped in.  "Don't you start with him.  He's just a baby -- all this 
isn't his fault. If I'd found you popping Auda in his bed, I would have been 
upset, too!  What were you thinking? Tell me that!" 

"That's my business!" 

"It was your business to screw that tart in Kai's bed?" 

"He wasn't supposed to have been home?" 

"Oh, and that makes it all better?" 

"It wasn't my intention for him to know.  Besides, that was private.  Where 
did you get off slapping the poor kid on the floor of the Inner Council? 
Whose bright idea was that? 

Eura sighed and shook her head. "That was my fault.  Mine, and mine alone. 
I formally apologized to Kai, and I formally apologized to the council, and 
I accepted the punishment.  There's nothing more I can do about it now.  And 
as for Kai..."  Kai felt both his parent's eyes on him. "He is being 
punished for his fault as well."  His mother shook her head again, with a 
deeper sigh. 

"Kai..." began Renii. 

"Shut up, Renii."  Eura cut him off. "Actions speak louder than words, 
right?  In that case, you've said enough for one day." 

"He needs to be spoken to." 

"The council has spoken.  They have said all that needs to be said.  Leave 
the boy alone!" 

Eura went to Kai, and stroked his face.  "I truly am sorry, Kai."  She tried 
to catch his eyes, and Kai finally let her.  She was angry with herself and 
miserable, and truly sorry, he could see that for certain.  "Did you mean 
what you said to the council?  I mean, you don't have to forgive me if you 
don't want to.  I will understand." 

How could he not forgive his mother?  He wrapped his arms around her and 
squeezed her tight to him, feeling her bury her face in his neck and her 
arms go around him as well.  They held each other for a long while before 
Kai spoke. "Of course I forgive you.  You're my mother."  He looked down 
into her eyes, seeing them sparkle with tears.  A tiny smile curled the 
corners of her mouth, a mouth that looked so much like his own. 

"And you're my little bumblebee."  She sniffed and blinked her tears away. 

"Yes, I am." And Kai smiled, a tiny, tentative smile. He could not help 
it -- looking into her face always made him smile.  Eura broke away, and 
squeezed Kai's hands before turning around to look at her husband.  She 
cleared her throat, and then spoke, carefully and calmly. 

"If, Renii, dearest, I hear so much as a whisper about you and Auda when I 
get out of isolation..." She regally strode across the room and up into 
Renii's face, "...I will cut your balls off and bake them in a soufflé.  Is 
that clear?" 

Renii opened his mouth to make a reply, and then thought better of it.  He 
closed his mouth and looked away. 

"Is that clear...dearest?" 

Renii nodded. 

"Good.  Now go fix Kai something to eat, two day's worth, plus vitamins and 
a water filter, and pack it to go." 

A sudden knock at the door made them all jump.  "Sixty minutes!" spoke the 
muffled voice from the other side of the door. 

"Now, Renii!"  Eura turned around and looked at Kai.  "The Unsafe Lands are 
exactly that -- and you will need something to defend yourself.  Follow me." 

Forty-five minutes later, the three of them were at the southern air filter. 
Eura chose that exit because it was the one she had taken a little under 
2000 years ago.  In one hand Kai had a pack full of food and water, and on 
his back was the knife his mother had given him.  She had pulled it out of a 
hidden place in her reading room, explaining to him that her grandmother had 
given it to her when she had been banished.  "Be careful," she had warned 
him. "It is made from an Insect's claw, and is harder and sharper than 
anything made of metal.  Keep it clean, and it will stay sharp no matter 
what you cut with it."  It was as long as his forearm, and tucked into a 
scabbard that looked like lizard skin. 

"Is it sharp enough to..."  Kai could not say the word. 

"To kill?"  Eura looked at the blade, and then back at Kai.  She swallowed 
nervously at a sudden memory, and then whispered. "Yes. To kill." 

"But it is against the laws to kill." 

"To murder," Eura corrected him quietly.  "To kill to save your life -- that 
is a virtue.  Every life has the right to preserve its existence."  Kai 
nodded at her, understanding her completely. 

At the gate, Kai looked at his father one last time before he left.  Renii 
was filled with guilt, and sorrow was deeply written into his eyes.  Kai 
bowed formally to his father, speaking the traditional words of parting, "In 
your wisdom and bravery I will walk, my father."  Kai deliberately avoided 
any tinge of sarcasm in his voice, hoping that he would sound sincere.  His 
father responded with the traditional reply. 

"May our ancestors follow you and keep you from harm,"  Renii's voice began 
to quaver, and he choked out, "My son." 

Eura looked at the both of them, and tsked.  "All right.  Enough of that. 
Kai, listen to me."  Kai turned his attention to his mother.  "It's almost 
dawn upside.  Wait outside the gates until you see the sun, and then follow 
it all day until it sets.  By sunset you should find yourself at a beach -- 
do you know what a beach is?"  Kai nodded. "Good. Spend the night on the 
beach, and then at dawn, start to walk south along the beach.  South means 
keeping the sun on your left side.  When the sun sets again, you will find 
yourself at a small town -- do you know what that is?  It's like where we 
live, but they live on top of the ground.  Yes?" Kai kept nodding. "When you 
get there, ask for...oh, what was his name...I hope he's still alive... ah, 
Basileus.  He is the chief of the Phrigians, the outcasts.  They call 
themselves the Liberi, the free, so don't call them Phrigians to their faces 
unless you want a bloody fight.  Yes?  Tell Basileus that you are my son, 
and he will protect you."  Eura paused, and touched Kai's knife.  "He owes 
me, do you understand?  He owes me." 

"It's time," said one of the council. 

"Go." Eura spoke, and then held her breath, forcing back tears. "Go, and be 

"I will, Mother.  I will return to you."  An afterthought occurred to Kai. 
"And when I return, I will make you proud.  I swear."  Kai turned and walked 
through the gate, hearing it close behind him.  He did not look back, but 
placed one foot in front of the other, following the tunnel up. 

Close to the end of the tunnel, he saw a pre-dawn light outside, and warmer 
air rustled his forelock.  He could see trees, but it was still quite dark, 
and he felt something strange as well in the air -- humidity.  He paused 
just inside the tunnel, following his mother's directions.  He would wait 
for dawn. 

He heard a soft rustle to his left, and spun, looking around. 


It was Auda.  She stepped into the tunnel, holding a small gray bag to her 
chest.  Behind her came the figure of Lett, who was carrying a knapsack on 
his back. 

"What are you doing here?" asked Kai. 

"Waiting for you." 

Kai shook his head in astonishment.  "I don't...what...why?" 

Auda and Lett quickly looked at each other, and Auda then looked at Kai and 
stepped up to him, holding out the bag.  She looked lovely in the silvery 
light, and her earlier tears and disarray had been tidied back into 

"Auda." Kai was certain they had much to say to each other, and yet he was 
reluctant to begin talking to her at all. He was very tired, and he really 
did not want all those feelings to start cascading over him again. "We 

"...We don't have much time, I know," she interrupted. 

"That wasn't what I was going to say." 

"Oh."  She looked into his eyes, and he saw regret, great regret, and a new 
somberness that he had not seen before.  But behind that, behind his own 
sight of her, was a new vision -- a vision of a very human woman.  He still 
loved her, he was sure of it.  But he was no longer in love with her -- he 
was also sure of that as well. 

"Oh, Kai."  Many words were needing to be said, and yet none were 
forthcoming.  She tilted her head, and tried to speak, but she could find 
only a soft sigh.  Then, she looked down at the bag.  "Take this." 

"What is it?"  She pressed the bag into his hands. What would she be giving 
him?  He took it, and found it to be heavy, quite heavy.  He peeled open the 
top and looked inside.  "Auda!"  Inside was a treasure trove of gold and 
silver jewelry, and silver nuggets. 

"Wait..."  Auda reached up and took off her earrings, placing them in the 
bag as well.  "Now it is full."  She reached over and closed the top of the 
bag. "I think there are about thirty silver nuggets in there.  I only hope 
they are enough." 

"I'm sure they will be, Auda," said Lett, stepping up.  "But you'd better 
go, before you are missed." 

"Yes," and she looked at Kai as she said this, "You will be missed, too." 
She stepped up, a tiny step, and stood on her tiptoes to softly kiss his 
cheek.  Then, in a flurry of skirts and golden hair, she darted back down 
the tunnel, her delicate footsteps fading quickly. 

Lett turned to Kai and grinned.  "Let's go." 

"Oh, I don't think so. You're staying right here. I'm the one that's 

"You can't stop me.  I'll follow you." 


"You're my brother." 

"You're..." Kai caught himself.  It would be good to have company -- he 
understood now why the Brunnen-G hated to be alone.  But to have company 
under these circumstances? "Are you sure?" 


"Can I talk you out of it?" 

"Nope. Why should you get to have all the fun?" 

Then that was that. "You're crazy."  Kai chuckled. 

"No more than you." 

Behind them, they heard soft, quick footsteps running up the tunnel.  They 
weren't a woman's footsteps.  Who was this?  They turned, only to see Kyoo 
Jr. speeding their way. 

"!  I am so up to see you guys." 

Kyoo came to a bouncing stop in front of them.  He was carrying a small bag, 
and his hair was a mess -- but the most disturbing part about seeing him was 
the bloody stain on the front of his shirt. 

"Not you too?" said Kai. This was almost as unbelievable as the preceding 
hours. "What happened to you?" 

"Oh, this?"  Kyoo looked down at the blood.  "My father happened to me, man. 
Caught me in his private stash. Then I ran into his fist a couple of times, 
one being a sweet right cross."  He sniffed. "Damn.  Am I still bleeding?" 
He put his fingers up to his nose, touching his nostrils, and then looking 
at his fingertips for blood. 

"Not any more," said Lett.  A soft trickle proved Lett incorrect. "Uh..." 

"Yeah, man, I can feel it."  He wiped his nose on his hand and sniffed, and 
then looked at them both.  "So, where are we going?"  He was obviously very 
sober -- it occurred to Kai that Kyoo was almost a different person when he 
wasn't stoned. 

Kai looked at them both, his shock and amusement turning into annoyance. 
"Let me use small words, okay?"  They looked at each other, and then back at 
Kai. "You guys are crazy. Me banished. You not banished.  Yes?  So this is 
all very sweet and brotherly, and I appreciate it, I really do, but...go 
home.  Go to sleep.  Get the fuck out of here.  Understand?" 

Lett looked at Kyoo.  "Are you going to let him boss you around?" 

Kyoo grinned, and sniffed.  "Only when he makes sense, man." 

"Good point."  Lett turned and started to walk to the entrance.  Kyoo 
bounced up and after him, and then turned to look at the amazed Kai.  "Hey 
man, you coming?  It's almost dawn." 

What could he do?  They were intent on going with him, and he wasn't about 
to use physical force on them to make them stay.  Kai sighed and shrugged, 
and walked after them.  Despite the circumstances, it was good not to be 
alone, and he was content to let his friends follow their own path, even if 
that path meant following him.  Something new, something different was going 
to happen to him, and it would all be on his own terms.  Was this freedom? 

His annoyance faded, replaced by a sense of wholesomeness and completeness 
that he had not felt in a long time.  The anger simmering in the back of his 
emotions died down to a bare ember, and his sense of helplessness and 
despair softened into the thinnest tissue over his heart.  They were not 
gone, and he knew they would return, but not now.  Not today. 

The three of them stepped out into the dawn light. 


"Kai?" asked Stan. 

"Hrmmmm?" was the only noise Kai could manage as the intensity of the memory 
flow ceased. 

"Would you have killed Jihana if I had said so?" 

It was best to tell him the truth, Kai thought.  Stanley had been lied to 
all his life, and since the man had now unburdened himself of the lie he 
himself had been living, it would be unworthy of their friendship to cover 
up the experience with a new falsehood. 

"I asked you if you wanted me to be the enforcer of justice. I would have 
killed the Grand Prosecutor -- and then I would have killed *you,* Stanley." 
Kai paused, thinking of exactly how he would have achieved their deaths. 
Any way he could imagine killing them, it would *still* have been less 
painful than the nerve worms. Kai explained this line of thought, "But in 
both cases, it would have been quick and painless." 

"Do you really mean that?"  Stanley sounded shocked that Kai had told him 
the truth. 

Had Stanley expected him to lie after all?  In his life, Kai had faced many 
forms of  ethical corruption, but he had never come to the point where he 
expected the people around him to lie to him.  Had Stan grown up on a world 
where the truth was avoided, and lies were a matter of course?  It was 
possible, but still, Stanley should have known Kai better by now.  Kai had 
made many mistakes in his live-life, and had been made to do many evil 
things as an assassin, but he had never, *ever* been a liar. 

If he had been alive, Kai would have been insulted. Instead, he quietly 
corrected Stan with a sharp, "I have no motivation to lie." 

Especially to his friends, Kai added in his own mind.  Especially to his... 


Friends have asked me where the inspiration came from for this series.  It 
was triggered by two visions.  The first was the opening of IWHS, and me 
asking myself, "Who *were* these brave young people taking their little 
mosquito ships up against this huge monstrosity? Just who were these six 
warriors? How did they get to be where they were? What decisions did they 
make in their lives that led them up against the Divine Shadow?"  The second 
was by the vision Michael McManus had of Kai, described in an interview in 
Cult Times: "When we did the musical and the ideas for what the Brunnen-G 
culture was were being generated, I was lobbying to add the fact - which is 
sort of there by implication - that at the time of the destruction of the 
Brunnen planet, he's a real ideological type. He could have, to me, been 
anything. He could have been a really messed up human on a personal level, 
but with big ideals. But the romantic part, I think other people do that. I 
don't really see him that way." 

7/14/00 12:29 AM 
If you liked this, PLEASE send me a word or two.  Don't read it and then 
forget it -- fanfic is a labor of love, and I aim to please you.  Yes, you! 
Send comments, fan mail, and constructive criticism to: