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The Outcasts of Heaven Belt Part 7

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The captain caught his arm. "No."

"... I further urge again that all fusion-powered vessels be impressed into the pursuit of the alien s.h.i.+p; we must prevent it from reachin' our enemies. We must have that s.h.i.+p for ourselves!"

PROPOSITION flashed on the screen, BILL OF ATTAINDER AGAINST WADIE ABDHIAMAL, NEGOTIATOR. CHARGES: TREA-SON. PENALTY: DEATH. NEGATING PREVIOUS CHARGE: GOV-ERNMENT NEGLIGENCE.

He stepped back from the panel, his fingers twitching uselessly; his hand dropped. He went to his seat, sat down heavily, watching the ballots begin to register, approve, object, numbers tallying with the pa.s.sing seconds. Below them the percentage-of-voters band moved through red into orange into yellow. Five hundred seconds until it would reach full violet . . . five hundred seconds for the last votes to record from the outermost rocks of the trojans. An insignifi-cant time lag, by the standards of the prewar Belt, as one hundred and forty million kilometers was an insignificant distance. Their closeness had meant sur-vival for the trojans after the war; it meant death for him, now, letting men vote without hesitation, with-out reflection. He waited. The others waited with him, saying nothing. The s.h.i.+p's drive filled the silence with vibration, almost sound, almost intruding, the only constant in the sudden chaos of the universe.

proposition approved. They found him guilty, twenty to one, and sentenced him to die. He watched the death order repeat and merge, like a thing already forgotten, into a new cycle of debate over the use of fusion s.h.i.+ps. He raised his leaden hands, let them drop again, smiled, looking back at the others. "Now I fi-nally know how MacWong's kept his job for so long."



The captain cut off the debate, filling the screen with the void of his future.

"I guess I see the distinction between 'demarchy' and plain 'democracy,'" Welkin said quietly.

"Welkin, you don't have the right to make any moral judgments about Heaven Belt."

"He's got the right," Shadow Jack said. He sat up, pulling his feet forward. "The crew of this s.h.i.+p, they were . . ." He fumbled for words. "They were all married, they were a family; all of them together. And they all died in the Rings, except . . ." He glanced at Welkin and Betha Torgussen, back at Wadie, and down, twisting his fingers. "They all died."

Wadie watched the captain, her arm resting on the old man's shoulder. "I'm not married," he said, his voice flat. "And now I never will be." She looked back at him, not understanding, useless apology in her eyes, and a surprising sorrow. He got up, resenting the intrusion of her unexpected, and undesired, sym-pathy. "Well, Captain, you've ruined your final op-portunity for a constructive agreement with the Demarchy. For my sake, I hope you have better luck with the Ringers than you did the last time." He went out of the room and down the spiraling stairs. No one followed.

RANGER (IN TRANSIT, DEMARCHY TO DISCUS) + 2.40.

MEGASECONDS.

Betha sat alone at the control panel in the soothing semidarkness, gazing at the endless bright stream of Demarchy television traffic, soundless by her own choice, that still trailed after them, two hundred mil-lion kilometers out. Caught in a spell of hypnotic re-vulsion, she marveled at the perpetual motion of the Demarchy media machine, wondered how any cit-izen-demarch?-ever made a sane decision under the constant dinning of a hundred different distortions of the truth. And remembering the mediamen on the field at Mecca, she should have known enough to be-lieve Wadie Abdhiamal and let him speak....

She cut off the broadcasts abruptly and put the crescent of Discus on the screen. She saw the Ranger Ranger in her mind, an infinitesimal mote, alone in the five hundred million kilometers of barren darkness, tracing back along Discus's path around the sun from the iso-late swarm of rocks that was the Demarchy. She remembered then that they were not entirely alone. Expanding her mind's vision, she saw the Demarchy's grotesque, ponderous freighters loaded with ores or volatiles, crawling across the desolation; s.h.i.+ps that took a hundred days to cross what the in her mind, an infinitesimal mote, alone in the five hundred million kilometers of barren darkness, tracing back along Discus's path around the sun from the iso-late swarm of rocks that was the Demarchy. She remembered then that they were not entirely alone. Expanding her mind's vision, she saw the Demarchy's grotesque, ponderous freighters loaded with ores or volatiles, crawling across the desolation; s.h.i.+ps that took a hundred days to cross what the Ranger Ranger crossed in six. It was a barely bridgeable gap, now; and the survival of the Demarchy, and the Rings, depended on it. And someday there would be no s.h.i.+ps.... crossed in six. It was a barely bridgeable gap, now; and the survival of the Demarchy, and the Rings, depended on it. And someday there would be no s.h.i.+ps....

But now, tracing the violet mist of the Ranger's Ranger's exhaust, she saw what might be three fusion craft, barely registering on the s.h.i.+p's most sensitive instru-ments. exhaust, she saw what might be three fusion craft, barely registering on the s.h.i.+p's most sensitive instru-ments.

She cursed the Demarchy, the obsessive veneer of sophistication, the artificial gaiety, the pointless waste of their media broadcasts. Fools, reveling in their fa-natical independence when they should all be working together; living on self-serving self-sufficiency, with no stable government to control them, no honest bonds of kins.h.i.+p, but only the equal selfishness of ev-ery other citizen...And their women; useless, frivolous, gaudy, the ultimate waste in a society that desperately needed every resource, including its hu-man resources.

Fragments of conversation drew together in her mind, and she remembered suddenly what Clewell had said about crippled Bird Alyn. Perhaps in a sense they were a resource, sound and fertile women who had to be protected, in a society where radiation levels were always abnormally high; women who had let the pro-tection grow into a way of life as artificial as every-thing else in their world...Perhaps the danger of genetic damage lay at the root of all the incomprehen-sible involutions of their s.e.xual mores. Desperate people did desperate things; even the people of Morningside, in the beginning....

She turned slightly in her seat, to glance at Shadow Jack lying asleep on the floor, lost in a peaceful dream, a book of Morningside landscapes open beside him. She wondered, if those were desperate measures for the Demarchy, what must be true for Lansing. Her hand met on the panel, caressing her rings, as Wadie Abdhiamal entered the room.

"Captain." He made the requisite bow. She nodded in return, watching him cross the room: the proper demarch, compulsively polite, compulsively immacu-late. And as awkward as a child taking his first steps, moving in one gravity. His face looked haggard, showing the effects of stress and fluid loss. She remembered seeing him use his drinking water to wash his face on the Lansing 04, Lansing 04, thinking that no one noticed...She brushed absently at her own hair. "Have you found everything you've needed, Abdhiamal? thinking that no one noticed...She brushed absently at her own hair. "Have you found everything you've needed, Abdhiamal?

Have you eaten?" He had not joined the rest of them when they ate together in the dining hall.

He sat down. "Yes...somethin'. I don't know what." He looked vaguely ill, remembering. "I'm afraid I don't get along well with meat."

"How-are you feeling?"

"Homesick." He laughed, self-deprecatingly, as if it were a lie. He gazed at the empty screen. Rusty materialized on his knee, settled into his lap, tail muf-fling her nose. He stroked her back with a dark, me-ticulous hand; Betha noticed the ma.s.sive silver ring on his thumb, inlaid with rubies.

"I'm sorry." She pulled her pipe out of the hip pocket of her jeans, quieting her hands with its carven familiarity.

"Don't be." He s.h.i.+fted and Rusty muttered queru-lously, tail flicking. "Because you were right, Captain; and I made the right choice in comin' with you. The Demarchy can't be allowed to take your s.h.i.+p; n.o.body in Heaven Belt can...I'm not saying that because of what happened to me-" Something in his voice told her that was not entirely true. "I've known all along, from the first time I heard about this s.h.i.+p, that it would make too many people want to play G.o.d." He looked up. "Even if it's not my right, I'd still turn your s.h.i.+p over to the Demarchy if I had the chance- if I thought it'd save them. But it wouldn't. The government is is too weak, they'd never be able to keep an equilibrium now." His fingers dug into the soft arms of the chair; his face was expressionless. "So I'll tell you this. I'll help you get out of here, however I can. Anythin' I can do, anythin' you want to know. As my final service to the Demarchy: to buy them a little more time and save them from themselves." His eyes went to Discus on the screen. "If I've got to be a trai-tor, I'll be a good one. I take pride in my work." too weak, they'd never be able to keep an equilibrium now." His fingers dug into the soft arms of the chair; his face was expressionless. "So I'll tell you this. I'll help you get out of here, however I can. Anythin' I can do, anythin' you want to know. As my final service to the Demarchy: to buy them a little more time and save them from themselves." His eyes went to Discus on the screen. "If I've got to be a trai-tor, I'll be a good one. I take pride in my work."

She broke away from tracing his every movement, her face hot. "If you really mean that, Abdhiamal...I want your help, whatever your personal motives. I need to know anything you can tell me about the Ringers-especially I need the number and the loca-tions of their distilleries. No matter how primitive they are, it's going to take careful planning to steal anything from them with an unarmed stars.h.i.+p...And as you say, I haven't done very well so far at getting what I want. Strategy was always Eric's-was never my strong point."

"On the contrary. You out-negotiated us all, at Mecca." Irony acknowledged her with a smile. "I ex-pect I can give you reasonably accurate coordinates; I spent a lot of time in the Rings about two hundred and fifty megasecs ago, when we helped 'em enlarge their main distillery. As a matter of fact, I-" He broke off abruptly. "Tell me something about Morningside, Captain. Tell me about the way your people get things done. You don't seem to approve of our way."

She studied the words, trying to find the reason be-hind his change of subject; certain only that he didn't really want an, answer but simply a distraction. And so do I. And so do I. "No, I can't say that I do approve, Abdhia-mal. But that's the Demarchy's business, except when it gets in my way...I guess that you could say we emphasize our kins.h.i.+p-as fellow human beings, but especially as blood relatives. You already know about our multiple-marriage family unit." She glanced up, away; his eyes made no comment, but she sensed his uneasiness. "Above it is our 'clan'-not in the Old World technical sense, except that it tells you who you can't marry-your particular parent-family, your sibs, your own children. All your relations stretch out be-yond it... almost to infinity, sometimes. We all try to take care of our own; everybody on Morningside has relations somewhere...Except that a person who isn't willing to share the work finds that even his own relations aren't glad to share the rewards forever. "No, I can't say that I do approve, Abdhia-mal. But that's the Demarchy's business, except when it gets in my way...I guess that you could say we emphasize our kins.h.i.+p-as fellow human beings, but especially as blood relatives. You already know about our multiple-marriage family unit." She glanced up, away; his eyes made no comment, but she sensed his uneasiness. "Above it is our 'clan'-not in the Old World technical sense, except that it tells you who you can't marry-your particular parent-family, your sibs, your own children. All your relations stretch out be-yond it... almost to infinity, sometimes. We all try to take care of our own; everybody on Morningside has relations somewhere...Except that a person who isn't willing to share the work finds that even his own relations aren't glad to share the rewards forever.

"The only formalized social structure above the clan level is what we call a 'moiety'..." She lost the sound of her own voice, and even the aching awareness of Abdhiamal's presence, in vivid memories that filled the s.p.a.ces between her words with sudden yearning. Borealis moiety: an arbitrary economic unit for the distribution of goods and services. Borealis moiety: her home, her job, her family, her world...a laughing child-her daughter, or herself-falling back to make angel imprints in a bank of snow....

"Our industries are independently run, as yours are-but I suppose you'd call them 'monopolistic.' They cooperate, not for profits, but because they have to, or they'd fail. It works because we never have enough of anything, especially people. My parent family and a lot of my close relatives run a tree farm in the Borealis moiety...my wife Claire worked there too. Some families specialize in a trade, but Clewell and I and our spouses were a little of ev-erything..." She remembered day's end in the endless twilight, the family sitting down together at the long dark wood table, while their children served them dinner. The soothing warmth of the fire, the sunset that never faded from the skylight of a semi-subterranean house. The small talk of the day's small triumphs, the comfortable fatigue ... the wel-come homecoming of a spouse whose job had kept him or her away for days or sometimes weeks. Eric, re-turning from the arbitration of a long-drawn dispute- She saw Wadie Abdhiamal, sitting back in his chair in the control room of the Ranger. Ranger. A negotiator ... A negotiator ... I I settle disputes, work out trade agreements... settle disputes, work out trade agreements... Abdhiamal looked back at her with a faintly puzzled expression. She shook her head. Abdhiamal looked back at her with a faintly puzzled expression. She shook her head. Stop it. Stop being a fool! Stop it. Stop being a fool! "I... I almost forgot-we have a High Council, too. It's a kind of parliament, made up of ombudsmen from the various moieties, elected to terms of service. It deals with what little interplanetary trade we man-age and the emergency s.h.i.+pments. It originated the proposal for our trip to Heaven. It doesn't have much to do with our daily lives-" "I... I almost forgot-we have a High Council, too. It's a kind of parliament, made up of ombudsmen from the various moieties, elected to terms of service. It deals with what little interplanetary trade we man-age and the emergency s.h.i.+pments. It originated the proposal for our trip to Heaven. It doesn't have much to do with our daily lives-"

"Then in a way you are like us," Abdhiamal said, "without a strong centralized government, with em-phasis on independence-"

"No." She shook her head again, denying more than the words. "We're like a family. We get things done through cooperation, not compet.i.tion, the way the Demarchy does. Your system is a paradox: the indi-vidual has absolute control, and yet no control at all, if they don't fit in with the majority. We cooperate and compromise because we know we all need each other just to survive...And considering the posi-tion the Demarchy is in right now, I'd say it can hardly afford to go on putting self-interest above ev-erything else, either."

Abdhiamal blinked, as if her words had struck him in the face. But he only shrugged. "Needless to say, we don't see ourselves in quite that light. I suppose your idea of cooperation is closer to the Ringers'

Grand Harmony." There was no sarcasm in it. "They emphasize cooperation above all too, because they have to; they weren't as fortunate as the Demar-chy, after the war. But they have a socialist state and a strong navy; they get cooperation at the point of a gun. And that's no cooperation at all, really; that's why they're anathema, as far as the Demarchy's concerned. They don't trust individual human nature, even it if is backed up by family ties."

Betha struggled against a sudden irrational resent-ment. "It's worked well enough so far. But then we don't kill any stranger who comes to us in need, ei-ther."

"Maybe you just never had a good enough reason, Captain."

She stiffened. Apology showed instantly on his face and behind it, she saw a reflection of her own disori-entation, the frustration of a stranger trapped in an alien universe. He was a man with no family...and now no friends, no world, no future. And she suspect-ed that he was not a man who was used to making mistakes-or used to sharing a burden, or sharing a life ...not Eric. ...not Eric.

"I'm sorry, Captain. Please accept my apologies." Abdhiamal hesitated. "And-let me apologize for my tactlessness after the general meeting, as well."

"I understand." She saw annoyance begin behind his eyes; stood up, not seeing it change into a kind of need. "If you'll excuse me..." She moved away, reaching for an excuse, an escape. "I-I have to see Clewell, down in the shop."

"You mind if I go with you?" His voice surprised her.

She hesitated, halfway across the room. "Well, I ... no, why should I?"

He rose, setting Rusty down. The cat leaped away, rumpled, moved across the room to where Shadow Jack still lay asleep, his face buried now in the pillow. Rusty settled on the softness beside his head, one speckled paw stretched protectively over his curled fingers.

"Poor Rusty." Betha glanced down. "She's been so lonely since... She was used to a lot of attention."

"She would have had all she wanted at Mecca."

"She would have been wors.h.i.+pped. It isn't the same."

She went down one level on the spiraling stairway, waited for him on the landing. He took each step with dignified deliberateness, his knees nearly buck-ling and his hand on the railing in a death grip. He stopped with studied nonchalance beside her, peering down over the polished wood banister; the well dropped four more stories, piercing the hollow needle of the s.h.i.+p's hull. The concentric circles of a service hatch lay pooled at the bottom.

"It's good exercise." Betha stood against the wall, avoiding the sight of the drop.

He drew back with an innocuous smile. The door-way in the wall behind him was sealed shut, the red light flas.h.i.+ng, throwing their shadows out into the pit. "What's behind this?" His hand brushed the door's icy surface.

"That was the dayroom. That's where everyone died when we took the damage to our hull. It's not pressurized; please don't touch anything." She turned away from him, looking down at her hands. She went on down the stairs, leaving him behind.

She reached the machine shop on the fourth level, heard the rasp of a handsaw. "Pappy!" She shouted, heard the echoes rattle around the hollow torus of the shop.

"Here, Betha!"

She traced the answering echoes, began to walk, the gum soles of her shoes squeaking faintly on the wood. The irregular clack of Abdhiamal's polished boots closed with her; she didn't look at him.

"Jesus, Pappy, why in the world don't you use the cutters to do that?" you use the cutters to do that?"

Clewell looked up as they approached, on up at the nest of lasers above the work table. "Because it's a hobby."

"Which means you stand there for hours, breaking your back to do something you could punch in and get done in a minute."

"The impatience of youth." He leaned on the saw and the end split off the wooden block and dropped.

"Finished." His hand rose to his chest; seeing her watching, he lifted it further to rub his neck.

"Smarta.s.s." She looked pained, hands on hips. "I- uh, I thought you were going to check over my esti-mates on patching that hole in our hull?"

"I did that too. They look good to me. But we can't do anything about it now, while we're at one gee."

He looked at her oddly.

Abdhiamal stooped to pick up the splintered end of the block, rubbed its roughness, oblivious. "Say, what is this stuff? It's fibrous."

"It's wood. Organic. From the trunk of trees," Clewell said. "False-oak, to be exact. It's hard, but it whittles well."

"The floor, too? All plant fibers-wood?"

He nodded. "It's easier than turning it into plastic. False-oak grows two centimeters a day out by the Boreal Sea."

Abdhiamal's hand caressed the etched metal of the tabletop; he glanced up at the cutters and the suspend-ed protective s.h.i.+eld. "Lasers?" His hand closed, empty, as he searched the room, loosened to point at the wide doors cut into the hull, opening directly onto s.p.a.ce ... at the electromagnets set into the ceil-ing. She saw him answering his own unspoken ques-tions. "And what's this equipment for, over here?"

Betha followed his hand, seeing in her mind red-haired Sean at work, dauntlessly clumsy; Nikolai pa-tiently guiding. She looked away. "Repairing microcircuits on our electronics equipment."

"You have your own fusion power plant... you really could reproduce any part of this s.h.i.+p right here, couldn't you?"

"Theoretically. There are some I wouldn't want to try. This was a long trip; we had to be prepared for anything." Except this. Except this.

"G.o.d! If Park and Osuna could only see this place."

"Who?" Clewell removed the wood from a clamp.

"They're 'engineers.'" Scorn lacerated the word.

"And what's wrong with engineers?" Bethe folded her arms tightly against her stomach, raising her eye-brows.

"What's right with 'em?" Abdhiamal made an odd gesture. "They're a bunch of cannibals. They put patches on patches, tear one thing apart and use the pieces to hold three more together, and then they tear apart one of those-"

"That sounds resourceful to me."

"But they gloat about it! They think it's creation, but it's destruction. If they'd only read read something, if only they had any imagination at all, they'd know what real creation is. The thing we could do, once ... n.o.body did them better. But that's like askin' for life in a vacuum." something, if only they had any imagination at all, they'd know what real creation is. The thing we could do, once ... n.o.body did them better. But that's like askin' for life in a vacuum."

"Or maybe you've just got your priorities wrong, Abdhiamal! What should they do, torture themselves over the past because relics are all they have left to work with? At least they're doing something for their people, not living at the expense of everyone else like some d.a.m.ned fop!" Betha jerked the piece of wood out of his hands, felt splinters cut her palm. She turned her back on his surprise, strode away through her echoing anger toward the door.

Clewell smiled at Abdhiamal's astonished face. "Abdhiamal, you just told it all to an engineer."

Abdhiamal winced. "I should never have gotten out of bed ... two megaseconds ago." He stared out into the vastness of the empty room. "I always seem to say the wrong thing to ... your wife. I thought she was a pilot"

Clewell listened to Betha's footsteps fade as she climbed the stairs. He wondered what fresh burden she had brought with her from Mecca-that showed in her eyes and her every action, and that she could not share even with him. "She was an engineer on Morningside, before she was chosen to captain the Ranger. Ranger. Parts of this s.h.i.+p are her design; she worked on its drive unit." He saw surprise again in Abdhiamal's tawny eyes. "It's the first stars.h.i.+p we've had the resources to build since before the Low." Parts of this s.h.i.+p are her design; she worked on its drive unit." He saw surprise again in Abdhiamal's tawny eyes. "It's the first stars.h.i.+p we've had the resources to build since before the Low."

"Low?"

"Famine...emergency." Memories of past hard-s.h.i.+p and suffering rose in him too easily, drawn by the fresh memory of loss. A bruising weariness made him settle against the table's edge. He set aside the wood; morbidly picturing his own body as ancient wood, storm-battered, decaying. He sighed. "On Morningside small changes in solar activity, perturbations in our orbit, can mean disaster. When I was a boy-in the last quarter of my tenth year-we went into a 'hot spell'..." He saw the darkside ice sheet with-drawing, shattered bergs clogging the waters of the Boreal Sea. The sea itself had risen half a meter, flood-ing vital coastal industries; the crops had rotted in the fields from too much rainfall. He had watched one of his fathers kill a litter of kittens because they had nothing to feed them. And he had cried, even though his own empty stomach ached with need. Still, after all these years... Still, after all these years..."It took years for the climate to stabilize, most of my lifetime before our own lives got back to 'normal.' We've entered a High, right now, and Uhuru's stabilized-they're our closest neighbor; this flight was planned to send them aid, originally. That's why we took a chance on risking the Ranger Ranger to come here to Heaven." He felt the cutting edge of wind over snow on the darkside glacier, where the sky glittered with stars like splintered ice. "That's why we can't afford to stay here. Even if we go back to Morningside empty-handed, at least they'll have the s.h.i.+p." to come here to Heaven." He felt the cutting edge of wind over snow on the darkside glacier, where the sky glittered with stars like splintered ice. "That's why we can't afford to stay here. Even if we go back to Morningside empty-handed, at least they'll have the s.h.i.+p."

Abdhiamal nodded. "I see. I told-your wife, Cap-tain Torgussen, that I'm willing to do all I can to help you get back to Morningside-for Heaven's own good. The way things seem to be goin', your remain-ing here is goin' to tear Heaven apart, not pull it back together again..." For a moment Clewell was re-minded of someone, but the image slipped away.

He considered Abdhiamal's words, surprised-more surprised to find that he believed them. Have we Have we found an honest man? found an honest man?

"Together we find courage, Our song will never cease..."

"What's that?" Abdhiamal said.

"Bird Alyn." Clewell heard the faint, halting music rise from the hydroponics lab. "Betha taught her some chords on the guitar; I taught her a few more songs, while we were-waiting." He heard Bird Alyn strike a sour note as she strummed. "I don't know if Claire would have approved, but the plants seem to appreci-ate her sincerity." He smiled. "It's not what you sing, or how, but how the singing makes you feel."

Abdhiamal smiled politely. His glance touched the scarred surface of the table, the floor, searched the room again; the smile grew taut. "You know, I some-times have the strange feeling that I'm livin' in a dream; that somehow I've forgotten how to wake myself up." A trace of desperation edged into his voice.

"Bird Alyn said the same thing to me. Except that I think she meant it."

"Comin' from the Main Belt, she probably did.... Maybe I do too." Abdhiamal cleared his throat, and oddly embarra.s.sed sound. "Welkin, I'd like to ask you a personal question. If you don't mind."

Clewell laughed. "At my age I don't have much to hide. Go ahead."

Abdhiamal paused. "Do you find it-hard to take orders from your wife?"

Clewell straightened away from the table. "Why should that make a difference to me?"

Abdhiamal looked at him strangely. "Frankly I never met a woman I'd trust to make my decisions for me."

Clewell remembered what he had seen on the moni-tors of Demarchy society, saw why it might make a difference to Abdhiamal. "Betha Torgussen was chosen to command the Ranger Ranger because she was the best qualified, and the best at making fast decisions. We all agreed to the choice." He tightened the jaws of a table clamp, not sure whether he was amused or annoyed. "Answer a personal question for me: What exactly do you think of my wife?" He watched an in-stinctive reaction rise up and die away before it reached Abdhiamal's lips. because she was the best qualified, and the best at making fast decisions. We all agreed to the choice." He tightened the jaws of a table clamp, not sure whether he was amused or annoyed. "Answer a personal question for me: What exactly do you think of my wife?" He watched an in-stinctive reaction rise up and die away before it reached Abdhiamal's lips. An honest man An honest man...

"I don't know." Abdhiamal frowned slightly, at nothing, at himself. "But I have to admit, she's made better decisions since I've known her than I have." He laughed once, looking away. "But then she chose s.p.a.ce, instead of ..." His eyes came back to Clewell; the frown and confusion filled them again.

"Why doesn't the Demarchy have women in s.p.a.ce? My My impression of Belter life was always that everyone did as they d.a.m.n well pleased. Men and women." impression of Belter life was always that everyone did as they d.a.m.n well pleased. Men and women."

"Before the war, maybe. But now we have to pro-tect our women."

"From what? Living?" Clewell picked up the piece of wood, s.h.i.+fted it from hand to hand, annoyance overriding amus.e.m.e.nt now.

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