Chapter Five
Sparta – Sinclair Estate

I

“I can see how my grandfathers loved this place,” I told my brother’s wife.  “It is truly beautiful.”  We were sitting on two magnificent paint horses from the Sinclair stables.  Elaine had suggested we take a ride out across the Estate and reacquaint me with the family property.  The view from the copse of trees where the horses were standing stretched out miles to the horizon over meadows, pasture and fenced cropland.

The estate where Emil made his home was the original ranch founded by our great grandfather.  It was just over six hundred thousand acres of farmland, forest, lakes, and streams.   Since it was roughly rectangular, on the long axis it was more than fifty miles across.   It was more like a plantation than an estate since it was a self-contained economic unit.

The farmed land provided grains and grasses.  Cattle, sheep, and goats grazed the meadows.  The streams and lakes were alive with salmon, various varieties of trout and bass.  The three villages on the homestead were owned lock stock and barrel by the estate which leased the land for their individual homes to the villagers who were all employees of the Sinclairs.

Every bee and butterfly, every deer and elk, every salmon egg in the rocky streambeds, literally everything that moved and breathed on the sprawling estate was property of Emil Sinclair.

The lovely willowy blonde sitting next to me was not his property, but she belonged to him as surely as if she had been.  This fact was becoming a problem.  I had been off Navy rations for a bit over two weeks.  I was beginning to feel the absence of the libido inhibiting chemicals.  The stirring in my loins and the erotic dreams I had been having of late were unsettling in the extreme.

Elaine had sidled her mount up next to mine to where our knees were touching.  It seemed an innocent enough move and she made no conscious notice of it, but I could not ignore it.  I felt an unaccustomed stirring just beneath my belt buckle.

“Oh look Walty, how beautiful!” she exclaimed and dropped her hand to my thigh pointing to a flock of butterflies dancing across the meadow.  It was like an electric shock ran up my leg.  I nudged my horse with my left knee and he took a step away from my sister-in-law’s animal.  This had to stop.  Elaine had been making overtures for the last three days and it was becoming too obvious to ignore.

“Elaine, you’re my brother’s wife.  I’m not going to dishonor my family name,” I told her brusquely.  I hadn’t meant for it to come out so rudely, but I wasn’t used to this type of sexual innuendo and the current surge of hormones was making me act like an adolescent.

To my surprise, Elaine was neither embarrassed nor angered.  She smiled at me as if I was a favorite nephew who had said something slightly off-color.

“It’s Emil’s idea, it’s what he wants.”

All of the pieces fell into place.  Emil was going to have an heir even if his brother had to provide the gamete.

“Why didn’t you just say so?  We can do this medically…”

“We could,” she said still smiling seductively.  “But I want a baby and I want the entire experience.”  Elaine paused studying me intently.  Her smile disappeared and she became pensive.  “Emil is gone most of the time.  His life is out there on that station and I hate it out there.  I want grass under my feet and blue sky over my head.  I cannot breathe inside that cage of steel and glass.  I feel like a prisoner from the time I step foot on it until I escape.”

I looked at her as if seeing her for the first time.  This was not the cold detached lady I remembered.  Elaine threw her leg up over her mount and stepped to the ground.  She led her horse to a waist-high shrub and tied the filly to it.  She stepped back to the saddle bag and retrieved a blanket that she then spread out on the grass beside the trail.

I sat watching her like some schoolboy whose teacher was acting out some scenario beyond his ken.  It was not beyond mine, but I was being torn apart as my honor battled my desire.  I knew where this was headed but seemed powerless to take control.

“Elaine, I cannot do…”

My sister-in-law ignored me.  She stepped to the middle of the blanket and looked me straight in the eye.  She then started unbuttoning the white silk blouse she was wearing, slowly one button at a time.

I discovered shortly thereafter that I had been wrong about what I could and could not do.

II

“May I join you?” Lyna asked.  She was standing in the open door waiting for an invitation.

I was sitting on the front porch of the ranch house my great-grandfather had built with his own two hands.  We had just finished an uncomfortable dinner where I knew my guilt was written across my forehead for Nana and Lyna to see.  They had been oblivious but the conversation seemed to lag.  Elaine could not stop looking at me like a star-struck teenager and I was extremely uncomfortable.  I had escaped to the porch with a large glass of Sinclair bourbon.

“Sure, I was just enjoying the sunset.”

Lyna walked over and stood in front of my chair.  She reached down and stroked my cheek softly with one hand.  “I’ve missed you Walty,” she murmured.  “You have grown into a handsome accomplished man.  I’m proud of you.”

This was proving to be a day of surprises.

“Really Lyna? ‘miss?’ ‘proud?’ can an android have emotions?”  I wasn’t mocking; I was truly intrigued by the question.  Lyna had been like a person to me my entire life and the incongruity of her being a machine had bothered me as long as I could remember.

Lyna didn’t answer immediately.  She continued to stroke my cheek for a long moment, then dropped her hand and stepped to the rail and watched the setting sun with her back to me.  She was dressed in a flowery one-piece dress, half sleeved, buttoned up the front.  The top button was undone exposing an interesting cleavage.  I made a mental note that strangely I had never noticed it before.

I needed to get back on Navy food.

“I was…” she hesitated as if looking for the right word.  “…constructed with one purpose, to care for and protect the Sinclair family.  I’ve been doing that for generations.  When I look at you I see not just you, but the generations I’ve known before.  You remind me so much of the first of your line that I met over a thousand years ago.  We were close and I cared for him in a special way.”

“A thousand years?!!”

“Yes Walter,” she said, getting a bit more formal.  “I’ve been around for a long time.”

“Are you immortal?”

“No, everything in this continuum dies eventually but I am rebuilt and renewed every hundred years or so, this body I currently inhabit will eventually wear out and have to be replaced.  My memories and awareness will then be implanted in a new one.”

“I see, but the body you have now is the same one I’ve always known?”

“Yes, I’m good for at least another thirty years.”

“I’m curious about something, may I ask…”

“I’m fully functional, I have all the equipment a human female has other than reproductive organs.”

“How did you know what I was…”

“Every one of your ancestors eventually asked me the same question.  I knew it would come up sooner or later.  After your adventure with Elaine today, I knew you would ask me.”

“My God, does Nana know?”

“Of course, it has been part of the plan all along.”

“I feel used.”

“Oh piffle,” she used my grandmother’s dismissive phrase.  “You need to grow up.  Everything is not about you.  Keeping the Sinclair line unbroken is more important than any false sense of morality and honor you may feel you have offended.”

“Emil is going to know, how can I face him?”

“It was his idea.”

“We should have done it medically.”

“Look, mister snowflake, the fact is that your brother and sister-in-law have not been intimate in years.  She is a fully grown woman with needs and urges.  Let it go!”

“You don’t understand,” I told her reluctantly.  “I tried to keep it clinical, but in the end I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it a lot.”  I stared down at the deck to hide my shame.  I could not look at her directly.

I heard her move in my direction then felt her hand on my chin.  She pulled my face up and looked at me with unguarded affection.  “Walty, you’re such a baby in some ways.  You spent your adolescence in a protected shell.  The Navy provides you with your every need and shelters you from any trauma.  In your world everything is black and white, there are no difficult decisions.”  She paused for a long moment holding my face in her hand.  Then she knelt down and kissed me full on the lips.  It was warm and comforting, like being kissed by your sister.

“Sweetheart, the real world isn’t like that at all.  You need to trust me.  Let this thing play out, in the end, it will be okay.”

I tried to keep her words in mind that night when Elaine came into my room and slipped into bed with me.  I was no more successful in keeping things clinical than the first time.

I awoke the next morning to sunlight streaming through the window and birds singing outside the open window.  When I went down for coffee I discovered Lyna and Nana had departed for the Carlisle estate leaving me alone with Elaine.

The next two weeks were an education.  Elaine had been a married woman for ten years.  She was uninhibited and literally starved sexually.  She was voracious in her appetites and a wonderful teacher.  The sex was great; the attendant emotional trauma, not so much.

We went riding every day.  Elaine took me from one end of the estate to the other.  I met the villagers who provided the workforce for the various activities of the expansive agricultural enterprise.

The larger buildings in the center of the village were home to a plethora of manufacturing activities.   Three-dimensional printing devices from the size of a large trunk to the dimensions of a large garage turned out tools and materials needed to perform every function of the sprawling estate.

Almost all of the work in the orchards, vineyards, and fields was done by autonomous machines.  Crops were planted, tended and harvested without any human input or oversight.  Raw materials from the fields poured into warehouses and bins at the ranch headquarters then into the village shops and factories.  There cotton was spun into cloth and grains were ground, pounded, sifted and baked.  Breweries brewed and winemakers plied their craft.  Cloth, gadgets, beer, wine, bread, fruits, and vegetables flowed out of the village to be marketed across the land and into the cities.

The estate was a self-contained, well-managed, money generating machine.

My head was spinning with all I had learned.  Even though I had grown up on my grandmother’s estate and it was very similar, I had taken it all very much for granted and paid little attention to the actual working fabric of the enterprise.

Where the agriculture side of the Sinclair estate was primarily focused on horses, racing and breeding; the Carlisle estate had been a dairy operation with hundreds of cattle.  My memories of the farm were much different than the realities of the Sinclair estate.

The sun was just peeping up over the horizon and I was standing by the open window.  The country was waking up and a whippoorwill was calling in the woods across the field from the house.  I looked over at the bed where Elaine was sleeping seemingly innocent as a lamb.

She was lying on her right side facing me.  She had kicked the sheet off and it barely covered her feet.  One arm was tucked under her head and the other stretched across the top of her body one hand covering her navel.  Her breasts were firm as a school girl with nipples pink as a flower.  I knew every wrinkle of her body now, how it looked, how it felt and how it tasted.

I hated myself for that knowledge.

I pulled the sheet up over her against the morning chill, pulled a robe from the bedpost and walked down the long hall to the kitchen.  A servant girl was fixing the morning coffee.  She was young, perhaps seventeen or eighteen I guessed.  She glanced up as I came into the room and immediately averted her eyes as if looking directly at me was not allowed.  She said nothing but went about her chore as if trying to disappear into the woodwork.

“You don’t talk much, do you?”

She glanced up at me with a look that could not be described as anything but pure unadulterated fear, but then looked away suddenly and said nothing.  Her hands had suddenly started shaking.

“Are you afraid of me?” I asked in surprise.  There was no response but she had stopped what she was doing and was clutching the coffee maker as if it were a life ring and she was drowning.

“Okay, okay – sorry, look when the coffee is ready, bring me a cup out on the porch, will you please?  She didn’t utter a word but nodded her head.

This was really strange.  I hadn’t given much thought to the servants but this episode started me thinking.  I hadn’t seen Elaine talk to any of the servants other than giving them curt instructions.  By the time the young lady came out onto the porch, I really wanted some answers.

She was carrying a tray with a carafe and cup.  She knew I took my coffee black evidently; there were no additives on the tray.  She set the tray down on the table beside the chair where I was sitting, poured the cup full and started to walk away after she replaced the carafe.

“Please don’t go,” I whispered as gently as I knew how.

She stopped and risked a look in my direction.  I smiled as warmly as I could and tried to look as harmless as a butterfly.  I must have succeeded because she continued to look at me, but I could tell her lip was quivering.

This was just weird.

“Sweetheart, I would never hurt you.  There is no reason to be afraid of me.  Not only would I not hurt you, I wouldn’t let anyone else hurt you either.  I’m a naval officer, a Templar.  My job is to protect the innocent…”

“Really Sir!” she said in amazement.  “You are Navy?”

“Yes dear, I’m a Navy captain, I have a ship and everything,” I said this tongue in cheek, but the girl seemed to be suitably impressed.

“Do you know what goes on down here?” she asked looking to her left and right as if she might be overheard.

“Perhaps not, you can tell me, but first tell me your name so I don’t have to keep using endearments, the neighbors might talk.”  From the look she gave me I knew my poor attempt at humor had gone over her head.

“My name is Sophia, but we can’t talk now, the lady will be up any minute.  We cannot let her know I’ve talked to you.”  She started to turn away but then seem to work up her nerve.  “At the horse barn, tonight after the second moon comes up,” she said and hurried away.

III

“I need to go up to my ship,” I told Elaine over breakfast.  I was done with stud service.  I really didn’t even want to look at her anymore.  The angst I was suffering over our illicit relationship had overcome my desire, at least in the morning.

“There is a council meeting this evening and I have to attend it.  I need to meet with my staff prior to the meeting.”

“Will you be coming back?” She asked me with a wistful glance.  She knew the string had run out.

“I doubt it,” I replied curtly.  “This council meeting is the last official business I have here.  I need to return to the fleet.”

“Well, you do what you have to do!” she exclaimed angrily as she jumped to her feet pulled her robe around her and flounced out of the room.

“I’ll take a robo out to the landing strip…” I called after her, but she ignored me and disappeared from the room.  I guess she wasn’t much on long goodbyes.

Good to my word, an hour later, I was standing by the half-acre landing pad watching the shuttle coming in from the west.  I was dressed in my dress blues taking nothing with me but my omni.  I had a permanent room at the ranch and a complete wardrobe hanging in the closet.  I would never be comfortable staying there again.  The shuttle made a pass around the strip before making a short field approach and touching down on the hard surface in front of me.

The shuttle was a hybrid space/airship.  It had wings to provide lift in the air and fusion ion propulsion to propel it through space.  The one the Hadrian had dispatched for me was the smallest; it carried eight passengers and two tons of freight.  It was long and sleek, streamlined to optimize its operation in the atmosphere.  Its two ion engines were tucked into nacelles at the base of its short wings.  As the shuttle approached to land, doors slip open at the base of each engine to allow it to vector thrust straight down for landing.

As it settled to the ground and shut its motors down a door opened on its silver side and a stairway extended itself to the ground.  I trotted up the stairs and into an empty cabin.

“Good morning captain,” the AI that piloted the shuttle greeted me in a young female’s voice.  “Are we going back to the Hadrian?”

“No I want you to take me to the Carlisle estate.”

“That would be the one where I dropped your grandmother.” The AI replied in a statement meant as a question.

“That would be the one,” I agreed and found a chair by a large window.  They were arranged around the spacious cabin in facing pairs with a portable table between each set.  This was an executive shuttle used only by senior officers and in this case was the captain’s gig.

“Priority or routine?”

“Routine Milly,” I told the AI using her nickname.  For some reason, the three different sized shuttles had different nicknames, ostensibly derived from the original programmers who had written the source code for the AI’s subroutines.  Priority would have us blast into space, great circle to the ranch and blast back down.  It was fast but uncomfortable; there were no g-chairs in a shuttle.  “In fact, just go up to a thousand meters and cruise subsonic, I want to look at the country.”

“Two hours and twenty minutes to touchdown,” Milly informed me with a tone that implied she was not in favor of dawdling along below the speed of sound.

“That will be fine, Milly.  We’re in no hurry.”

Inside the insulated and airtight cabin other than a slight high-frequency vibration when the engines were at max for the vertical ascent, the takeoff was quiet.  As lift transferred to the wings Milly became a magic carpet, flowing silently along a little less than a mile above the ground providing a panorama of my home planet flowing along beneath me.

I pulled up an interactive map on my omni and projected it out the window to give some political perspective to the unmarked country below.  The map I selected showed borough and territory lines with names of each.  It also showed the property boundaries of each of the estates we were crossing.

At five hundred miles an hour, it took a solid five minutes to leave Sinclair property.  I was beginning to get some idea of the unbelievable scale of my great grandfather’s holdings.  Emil’s plea of poverty was beginning to ring a bit hollow.

After we crossed the property line the ground below turned to forest.  On my map, it was shaded light green showing it to be public land, protected wildlife habitat, and wilderness designated area.  It was several million acres of buffer between the Sinclair estate and the freeholders on the other side of the forest.

The land below had been climbing slightly so when the forest cleared out revealing a wide river.  The herd of elk grazing in the marsh beside the river was so close, I could distinctly see the eyes on each animal.

The river was milky white carrying rock flour from the glaciers in the mountains where it had originated.  Along its edges, clear water streams flowed into the main river forming long fingers of clean water at each juncture, until the rock particles overwhelmed the fresh water, and flowed on a little less white.

Coming right up to the river on the opposite bank, the property map showed smaller blocks of mile square holdings.  These were the family farms of the freeholders.  The farmers and ranchers that worked these properties were the descendants of the pioneers who had crossed the dark void on a one-way trip, to start a better life.

In my mind when I thought of a typical Spartan, these were the people who came to mind.  They were independent, self-sufficient, hardworking and loyal.  These folks were 10th to 12th generation Spartans.  This was their home and had been the home of their forefathers for long enough they identified only with this world.

The sense of speed was palpable since the ground had come up to within five hundred feet of our altitude.  Milly evidently thought my desire to observe the country was better served closer to the ground.  We streaked over a landscape turned yellow horizon to horizon.  Then we passed over a dozen machines harvesting the grain below.

“Milly, slow down, take me back there.  I want to touch down where those folks are harvesting.”

“Aye aye Sir,” Milly replied obediently.  She made a sharp turn and I was staring directly at the ground.  I could feel the speed coming off the ship as my stomach tried to turn over.  She slowed dramatically as the engines reacquired lift duties.

“Sir there is a group of men on that far hill managing the harvest.  Is that where you want to land?”

“Yes Milly, I want to talk to them.”

Milly brought us around and landed on a flat portion of field that had already been harvested.  There were seven men standing around four skimmers a hundred yards away.  They looked our way unconcernedly as if a starship shuttle landed in their fields every day.  I saw a man climb into a skimmer where another was sitting and it started in our direction as I walked down the stairway.  By the time I got to the bottom of the steps, they were pulling up.

“Good morning Captain Sinclair, welcome home,” the oldest of the pair told me.  Both men were pulling at their hats in a gesture of respect.  “I am Carlton Can Norton, this is my grandson Jeremy.   Is everything okay?  Do you need some assistance?”

“No, everything is fine.  I just wanted to chat with you for a bit.  I was flying over on my way to my grandmother’s estate when I saw you harvesting.  If you don’t mind, I would like a word.”

“Certainly Sir, we are at your service,” the old man said obviously willing and happy to help any way he could.

“How did you know who I am?”

“Oh Sir, everyone knows you.  You’re a hero here in the country.  You’re the local boy made good.  There are features on you on the media at least once a week.  Every time you get a promotion there is a big feature.  When you got command of the Caligula, a holiday was declared!”

“Really!” I exclaimed in surprise.  I had no idea.

“Yes Sir, we are very proud of you,” he said.  “The people revere the Navy, in all the corruption and evil there is in this continuum, the Navy stands apart and above.  God bless you, Sir!”

“Thank you Mister Can Norton, I appreciate it, I really do,” I told him sincerely, touched by his innocent loyalty.  “I would like to ask you a political question, strictly between you and me with my word as a naval officer it will go no further.  Can I do that?”

“Certainly Sire, I’ll do my best to answer honestly.”

“Where do the farmers come down on Spartan independence?”

“Oh Sir, that is easy!  We are ag’in it!  Sparta needs those markets.  The estates provide most of the products that are consumed locally, but we export almost all of what we produce.  Where would the Spartan economy get foreign exchange if we went on our own?  No Sir!  Independence is foolish talk!”

His argument was flawed since there would be no need for foreign exchange if interplanetary commerce was cut off, but I appreciated his position.  Sparta cut off from foreign markets would be a financial disaster for the independent farmers.

“You’re not telling me that because you think it’s what I want to hear?”

“Oh no Sir, that is the freeholder position, nationwide.  We let our senators know that, believe me!”

The boy reached up and pulled at his grandfather’s jumpsuit.  He looked to be about twelve years old.  He whispered in his grandfather’s ear.  The old man looked at him with obvious affection.

“Captain, Sir, I hate to ask, but my grandson would like a picture with you, could you do that?”

“Sure, Mister Can Norton, no problem,” I smiled.  “Son, come up here and stand on the step so your grandfather can get a shot of the ship in the background.”  The boy hopped out of the skimmer and jogged over to jump on the step.  When he turned to face his grandfather I put my hand on his shoulder and looked down at him with as sincere a smile as I could conjure up.

His grandfather whipped out his omni and clicked a few shots.

The boy turned to me and held out his hand.  “Sir, I’ll never forget this.  When I grow up I want to be a Navy man just like you.”

“When that time comes, you have your grandfather send a message to me directly.  I’ll see that it happens.”  The boy looked up at me as if I were some minor god.  “Mister Can Norton, if you will hand me your omni I’ll give you my personal contact information.”  I thought the old man’s face was going to break from his exaggerated smile when he handed me his omni.

“Gentlemen, have a good day,” I said in farewell as I turned and mounted the stairs.  I hesitated at the top of the stairs and turned.  “Math son, study your math.  You will have to pass a battery of tests to get in.  Math skills are the most important.”

As the door closed I saw the young man’s head bobbing in acknowledgment of my advice and the old man with his hand on the boy’s shoulder in a subconsciously possessive gesture.

This was turning out to be an educational trip.

IV

The second moon had cleared the horizon when I pulled the skimmer up to the barn.  With two moons in the sky and no overcast, it was almost daylight bright, but I kept the barn between myself and the house and I had the Sinclair codes broadcasting from my omni that disabled all the automatic security around the homestead.

I slipped in a stable door and brushed carefully by the gelding in the stall; I patted his neck and nose to reassure him as I left his stall.  The barn was lit by a few night lights but there were dark shadows everywhere in the long hall between the stalls.

Sophia stepped out of the shadows.  She was wearing a one-piece shift and cowboy boots.  She had brushed out her shoulder-length hair and was wearing it down around her ears.  She had always worn it up when working in the house.  In the dim light, it seemed she had also applied some makeup.

In a vulnerable post-adolescent way she was attractive.

“Sir we will have to hurry, I can only be gone from the house for a short time,” she said as she started to unbutton the shift.

“Wait, stop!” I whispered urgently.  “What are you doing?”

“Doing Sir?” she asked in confusion, stopping halfway to her bellybutton.  “I’m getting undressed… do you want to do it with my clothes on?”

“Do what?”  It was pretty clear what she had in mind, but I wanted to make sure.

“Sex Sir, don’t you want to have sex with me?”

“No Sophia that is the last thing on my mind.  I came out here to hear you tell me something you said was ‘going on’ here.  That is all.”

“Oh…” Sophia whispered and collapsed sitting down on a hay bale.  She looked up at me quite evidently at a loss.

“Are you really a Navy officer?”

I stepped into the light so she could see my uniform.

“Oh…” she repeated and stared at me for a long moment and then said accusingly, “you were sleeping with your brother’s wife.  Is that what a Navy officer does?”

I felt myself blushing.  She had me there alright.

“My brother is sterile, the family wants an heir.”

“Hmmm…” she thought about the ramification of that statement for a moment.

“I thought you wanted to have sex with me.  I couldn’t imagine why a Sinclair man would talk to me otherwise,” she paused for a moment then continued.  “…and I wanted to have sex with you,” she said finally and I realized she was crying.  “I’ve never done it before and I wanted the first time to be special.  How much more special could it have been than to do it with an actual Sinclair?”

I walked over and sat down next to her on the hay bale.  I put my arm around her waist and let her put her head on my chest.  I cradled her head in my other hand.  I could feel her wet tears against my chest.

“Look, sweetheart, it doesn’t work that way,” I whispered.  “The first time for a girl can be painful and is not the best.  It’s something you need to get used to and your body needs to adjust to, and that is just the physical side.  There is an emotional side as well, girls bond with the man who is their first.  Would you want to bond with me and then never see me again?  Believe me, you don’t want that.”

“We could do it two or three times so I could get used to it,” she suggested innocently.

“You might get pregnant.”

“It would be a Sinclair baby, you would take care of it,” she said reasonably.

“Is that why you wanted to do it?” I asked, suddenly on my guard.

“Not really, but it made it risk-free, don’t you see?”  Actually, I did see.  It made a twisted sort of sense.  “If I get pregnant by a local boy I would be shunned and kicked out of the church.  My life would be ruined.”

“Look, sweetheart, you need to wait until you find a man to marry, someone to give your life to…”

“I’ll never marry one of these losers!”

“What do you mean?”

“Who could I marry?  Some farmer?  Some artisan in town?  They shuffle around down here, work, eat, go to church, rinse repeat.  They have no ambition and no future.  Most of them have never been anywhere off the estate their entire lives.  They live in constant fear of losing their jobs – it’s just awful!”  She started crying again after looking ahead at her life and seeing nothing but hopelessness.

“It can’t be that bad…” I said pointlessly.

“How can I do that now?  I’ve seen you Sinclairs up close and personal.  I see how you live flitting about the stars, living lives of glamor and excitement and I have nothing…  I’m just going to kill myself!”

“No, you’re not!”  I told her emphatically and pushed her away holding her shoulders in either hand I shook her gently.  “I’ll take you away with me; I’ll make a place for you on my ship.  If you want to see the stars, I’ll show you.”  What possessed me to tell her that?  I could not say.

“Then we are going to have sex?!!” she brightened magnificently.

“No, but I’m going to take you where you can meet some young men who have ambition and a future, how is that?”

“Hmmm,” she repeated but seemed unsatisfied.

“Now that we have that settled,” I told her, hopefully changing the embarrassing subject.  “What is going on down here?”

“Some of the families are raising Ycat,” she pronounced it why cat.  “…and they are selling it to the raiders.”  This was a serious charge.  Ycat was a dangerous hyper-addictive drug banned throughout the Empire.  Selling it was a capital offense.  “…and you need to ask Mrs. Sinclair why there are no old people in the villages.”

“How many of the families are involved?”  She had to be talking about the ruling families of Sparta.  There were fifteen original founding families that had put up the money and resources to start the initial colony.

“I don’t know — some.

“Are the Sinclairs involved?” I asked with foreboding, while a sudden pit formed where my stomach should have been.

“Yes, they didn’t start it, but they are involved now.”

“What about the Carlisle’s?”

“No, the dairy farmers and the estates up north are not involved as far as I know.”  That was a relief.

“Do you have proof?”

“I’ll show you where they are growing it here on the estate if you will pull up a map on your omni.”

I was impressed that she would be that savvy on omni technology.  I selected a map application and sifted through finding a map of roughly the bounds of the estate.  I projected a 2D rendering onto the space between us.

“Right here, see this forest tucked in the hills between these two streams.  Beneath the trees, there is a field of five or six acres ready for harvest.”

“How do you know?”

“My uncle works the Y-cat; he got drunk and let it slip.  My aunt pushed him and got the details.  She reported it to the local constable.”

“What did he do?”

“He did nothing, a few days later my aunt had an accident and was killed.  I think they killed her.”

“Who are they?”

“Whoever is doing the Y-cat business.”

“Sophia this is a serious charge and it puts me in a terribly compromised position.  If it’s true and my family is knowingly involved…”  I was thinking out loud and didn’t like the sound of my own thoughts.  “You silly girl, you don’t know what you have done.”  I snapped and instantly regretted my words because she deflated like a pricked balloon and tears started again.

“Now you’re not going to take me…” she whimpered.

“There, there,” I comforted her quickly.  “It’s not your fault.  I keep my promises.  I told you I would take you and I will.”  I slipped my academy ring off and handed it to her.  “Take this as a token of my promise.  You can give it back to me when I come to get you.”

She took the ring and looked at it in wonder as if she had been given the keys to a kingdom.  In a way she had.  The ring was her passport to a new life.

“Now, you get back to the house,” I told her.  “Tell no one, absolutely no one, about our conversation.  Keep the ring well hidden; you could be in a world of hurt if someone finds it on you.”

“Oh yes Sir,” she replied, a bright conspiratorial smile replacing the tears.  She turned to obey but then hesitated.  “Sir, would you at least kiss me?” she whispered.

“Sure, come here.”  I opened my arms and she flowed into them.  I kissed her on her forehead and both cheeks, but she was having none of it.  She grasped the back of my head and pulled my mouth to hers kissing me hungrily, desperately like a wounded animal seeking shelter in my kiss.  When she finally released me she was trembling and I had a painful erection.

I was beginning to appreciate why the Navy spiked our grog.

I stood there for a long moment looking at the shadows where Sophia had disappeared letting the pressure beneath my belt buckle subside.  I walked back to the stall where I had entered and took the gelding’s head in my arm petting his nose.  I had ridden him every day for two weeks and we had become friends.  I had brushed him down after every ride, fed him and gave him treats.  It was obvious he didn’t get enough attention because we had bonded quickly.

I could see how my ancestor had come to love this life.  I certainly could get into it myself.  I shook myself back into the present reality and slipped out of the stable.  I climbed onto the skimmer and sat for a moment, unsure of how to proceed.  In the end, I drove around to the house and slipped into my old room.

I kicked off my boots and lay down across the comforter fully dressed.  I laid there staring at the ceiling wondering why there were no old people in the villages.  When I surrendered to sleep I had nightmares of faceless monsters pursuing adolescent girls.

 

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