The station AI was being pressured by James to make a medical dummy for me to practice on. I swear he is absolutely paranoid that some or all of our systems will fail. I suppose he has a point. Being able to practice first aid may be a good idea and with barely 18 adults in our community it isn't a good idea for us to not know each others' jobs. In fact one of the first orders James gave was that we should be retested at least annually to determine our CAP score. I don't like that of course, after all I do not want the responsibility of being a sponsor. Not even if every other person on Heinlein Station wins the rank of sponsor ... No I want to stay with James. I really would prefer to have at least a couple of the other women stay too ... Not that that is unlikely to happen. The female to male ratio is above six to one and that counts Liam, who is nearly an adult, and my son Kevin who is less just barely a year old. Liam is going to be a concubine for a while, but James is really pushing self defense courses and confidence building exercises. That is what he is calling what he wants the station AI to do if it will create a body for me to work on.
Even if it had never been alive I was balking at working on a cadaver. I just didn't think that I needed to learn advanced medical practices when we had med-tubes available. Sure we'd gotten a design from Ishtar for birthing beds or life support beds if we had enough injuries to merit them. I did ask James to have one birthing bed made up, there would be a few concubines giving birth after all. However unless we started to have a real population explosion it wouldn't be used much and could double as a life support bed. James had said there was very little reason to expect that we would need it. We had six med-tubes since James insisted that we should have that many at least. The fact that they sat mostly empty seemed to irritate the station AI. But what reason was there to essentially hoard resources when we were so few? The med-tubes didn't take a lot of power, nor did they create a lot of heat unless they were seeing heavy use. Yet it wouldn't take much of a disaster for all of them to be needed.
I put down my journal and headed out to the barnyard. In the distance I could hear the happy shouts of children at play. James had worked with the AI to create a place where they could learn and be challenged physically. He even made the AI not tell us about minor scrapes including pushing so long as injury didn't happen. His theory was that if we became helicopter parents there would be very little chance that our children would become sponsors. He thought that they needed to be challenged and that they needed to learn to work out their interpersonal differences without us interfering unless there was some evidence of damage being done. I didn't like it entirely but I had to admit that Mandy and Missy seemed to be thriving on the various challenges the play place offered. That they were learning and having fun at the same time seemed a little unreal considering my own experience with school.
I looked around as I walked. I could barely see the far side of the open area that defined our living space. The ground, everywhere that we didn't walk (which was defined by slightly raised stone paths) seemed to be bursting out with plant life. There was lawn grass around our houses and fields planted with wheat and barley nearby. Further away were fields of clover and corn. All were planted with the view of making our lives more comfortable. James intended that we should have a place that made us not feel so confined that we suffered insanity.
Armies of robots roamed the fields looking for invasive plants. There would be no weeds in any of our fields. If we were supposed to have barley or oats for animal feed, that was all that would grow inside the area that had been designated as the field. The activity as well as the hum from a half dozen bee hives made it easy to forget that we were just barely more than three dozen people alone in the middle of the cold dark. I didn't want to concentrate on that so I continued through the airlock into the barnyard. Really the area was nearly as large as a small field with pens and enclosures that let us work with our charges individually or as a group. One large area where I was headed specifically today was where we kept the chickens. James told me that it was necessary that we make sure that we hatched more chicks. Therefore I was looking to see if any of the hens had yet hatched a brood. There were none that I could see so I moved on to one of the tables that were situated throughout the area. I knew if I sat still for very long I'd attract the attention of one of the cats.
I hadn't been sitting more than a moment when Randi poked her head out of one of the walled enclosures where we kept the sheep. Currently each ewe had her own separate pen but eventually there should be a section of the area where we were farming that they could be taken to graze. "Hi Frances," Randi said, "I heard the airlock chime so I knew someone would be here pretty soon. I was hoping it would be you."
"'Cause I want to try kissing you."
"Not happening!" I told her with a grin.
"How are you doing on your veterinary courses?" I asked, to distract the excitable girl.
"Good! Did you know that I'm actually taking them from an Earth based school?"
"Which school? And how is that being worked?" I asked.
"It is actually a course from Texas A & M. And the way it works is that they have recorded all of the lectures in the course along with the texts having been scanned. The station AI is creating tests for me and grading them. Anyway, I'll actually have a real doctorate if I want to go that far."
"Are you writing letters to home to go with the drone that we'll be sending soon?" I asked.
"Not yet. I haven't figured out how to tell my family about how I've changed."
"Sometimes I wish I had someone to write to... ," I said, a bit sadly.
"I think everyone who has read part of your story thinks that your family was about as dysfunctional as it is possible to be."
I nodded agreement with Randi's assessment. I'd been studying dysfunctional psychology as a sideline to my medical studies. Randi sensed my need for quiet and let me sit for a while. Then she climbed out of the sheep pen and came to hug me. We sat for a long time like that before Randi asked, "What do you think is an appropriate reward for getting an A on an examination?"
"Oh no you don't! I'm not setting an award for you. You probably have a whole ton of 'A's and want something I don't want to pay."
"I know you won't want to pay. I have a dozen 'A's. I'd like you to spank me, and well ... I'd like to have you strap this on and use it on me," Randi showed me a fairly thick dildo and a strap-on rig.
"How is spanking you a reward?" I asked.
Randi blushed deeply and all the way to her A cup breasts. She looked down and said, "Actually I need something. I'm feeling like breaking things so that it will irritate my mistress. But I don't like doing that. Still there must be something that I deserve to be spanked for. But I've seen a couple of the scenes where James spanks you and fucks you. You cum so hard it looks like it must hurt!"
Now I was blushing. I didn't know that James had let anyone see what he termed my play sessions. About a week after we'd arrived on Heinlein Station I'd started being a royal bitch to everyone. James had paddled me and refused to have sex with me or even cuddle me afterward. That calmed me down but it was Su Mi who I tried to tear into the next day when the itch that I couldn't understand was back. No one could do anything to please me. I picked at Lenny and the other women in the family until I ran into her. She went and got the paddle and asked if she had to get James in order to spank me.
I answered that she didn't. She paddled me fairly soundly, though not as much as James had, then she pulled me into her arms and held me. Then she kissed me all over. I came hard. After that when I began to recognize the itch I would simply bring the paddle to James and say I needed to be spanked. Then he would make love to me afterward. I always came like a bomb then. If the other women and especially Lenny got involved in kissing me after a spanking I usually passed out within a few minutes. I don't understand why I'm wired the way I am but that's the way I am. If I'm not paddled a couple of times a week I get bitchy. If James or someone doesn't make love to me afterward I don't come down from the bitchiness. Thinking about that and what Randi'd just told me let me know that she must be wired similarly. The problem was that if possible I liked paddling someone even less than James did.
"Does Margaret know you need to be spanked the way I need to be spanked?" I asked my blushing companion.
"Yeah. But she really feels that it is something she can't do, 'cause I was such a prick before. So she's apt to take that out on me rather than just warm me up and then either fuck me or continue the spanking while I make love to Tori or Helga."
Something in what Randi'd told me at other times made me ask, "What about spanking someone. How do you feel about that?"
"Even now I don't think I'd dare," Randi said, looking a little ill. "I liked having power, I liked being able to push Margaret around. I'm afraid that I liked seeing her afraid of me..." Randi threw herself away from me and started to vomit.
I ordered a cold, wet towel from the limited service replicator that we were using to create food and care items for the animals. When Randi stopped heaving I moved to her and began to wash her face. "What happened? I asked the distraught girl when she could breathe again.
"Margaret made it so that if I thought of doing violence to someone I'd be sick. I thought I was past that. But you asking about it, and me telling you a little about how I used to be was enough to get my mind going back down those old channels again. When I envisioned hurting you it made me sick."
I pulled Randi to me. I started rocking our bodies almost as if she were a young child I was trying to comfort. The problem was I'm not sure that I wasn't comforting myself as well. There were days when the Cold Black was much too close for comfort.
"That has to stop!" I growled.
"No? Why not?" I asked.
"'C ... c ... ca ... cause I'd want to hurt people if it didn't make me sick to do it. Look at me now," Randi wept, "I wanted to hurt you. I could feel the arousal starting. Then my stomach turned inside out. I'm glad it did. I know you were trying to ease the burden on everyone else by seeing if I could spank you. Knowing that I still feel that way about hurting someone as precious as you is good. Or rather that I'm forced to be sick if I think about hurting you is good."
I kissed Randi then. A soft easy loverly kiss. Not that I doubted that we could find passion together but because, even though I'd have not believed it the day before I was picked up, I'd found a very good friend in Randi Staunton. "Try to explain what you mean, Randi. Do you mean that when you started to think about having power you were ill or do you mean that when you started to get aroused at the thought of hurting me it made you ill?"
Randi gulped a bit and said, "When I started to feel my penis prepare to become erect while thinking of hurting you it was like it connected to the eject button in my stomach."
Just as I was about to ask Randi about her penis the AI announced, "Frances Parker, you're needed at the med-tubes immediately!"
I dropped Randi like a hot rock. The AI had never previously called me personally. It might 'forward' a call from James or Margaret but unless I was interacting with it, it seemed to reserve its communications to sponsors. I was running for the airlock before I even realized that I had nearly thrown my friend on the ground.
Going through the airlock seemed to take forever even though I was sure that the AI expedited the process. Then I was running again. James had set the med-tubes in a building that was as nearly central to all of our activities as possible. Still the barnyard was a long third of a mile from there. I was breathing hard by the time I arrived and only barely registered a child crying before Mandy's voice reached my ears, "Mommy! Mommy! I want my mommy!" she was saying between sobs.
I focused my eyes on Mandy. She was being carefully carried by Lisabet Schmidt, who was built along the same lines as Helga, the oldest of the girls who had come along as dependents of the two privates who made up the other sponsors aboard Heinlein Station. I could see that Lisabet wanted to cry but was trying to be brave. At nearly 12 years old, and having reached puberty early she had sprouted to nearly 6 feet tall. She was starting to look around and try to attract the eyes of the sponsors, though she seemed a bit shy about the fact that she would be joining other women with whatever family she joined when that auspicious event occurred.
The frightening thing was that I could see Mandy's leg was bent at an unnatural angle. I really wanted to run and hide. I hadn't expected to be working on my own children when I accepted James' recommendation that I learn to operate the med-tubes on board Heinlein Station. I gathered the tatters of my courage and said, "Mandy, honey, I'm here. In a bit you'll be better." I signaled Lisabet to place Mandy into the med-tube that I'd popped open.
Laying my broken daughter in that med-tube brought home the reality that James was correct. That there might come a time when I would need to know more than how to operate the med-tubes that the Confederacy had provided us. Mandy smiled at me and said, "I got it mommy!" and held up one of the brass rings marked with points according to the difficulty that obtaining them represented that James had the AI place in the play area. The kids could get various rewards for them depending on how difficult they were to get. Mandy was good enough at getting them that James had told her that she got no reward for any ring marked as worth less than 50 points.
I looked at the ring before I closed the lid on the med-tube. It had '250 points' etched on it. It had to have been the hardest ring to get. "I'm proud of you," I told my daughter as I closed the lid over her. I looked at Lisabet and said, "Get James here now!"
Lisabet left the medical area at a run. When I had time to think about it I supposed that I'd wonder if I'd scared her. The med-tube pinged and I read what it had to tell me about Mandy's condition. I remembered the bright light of accomplishment that had been in Mandy's eyes. I thought of the courage it had taken her to get to wherever that ring had been placed. That she'd fallen was obvious as the med-tube told me she had slight twist of her knee, which I guessed was what I saw so far as her leg looking askew, and a green-stick fracture of her fibula.
The med-tube said that it would take about thirty minutes for Mandy to heal under its care. I sat there with tears running down my face. I realized that if the med-tube had not been available I wouldn't have had any idea of how to deal with Mandy. Her injuries were not life threatening, but if a med-tube had not been available she would have been crippled because no one on board Heinlein Station knew how to treat her injuries. James walked in as I was sitting there contemplating how badly I had failed my daughter and the rest of the crew who made up my community by refusing to learn how to do more than operate the med-tubes.
I felt James put his arms around me and nearly fainted. Then I turned to face him. "James, I'll start learning medicine from a human perspective as soon as possible," I told him.
"Computer," James said, "do we have enough people trained that Frances can stop taking instrument watch shifts?
"Then as of now, until such time as the AI and any other instructors we can obtain for you say you cannot go any further, your job is to study medicine."
I looked at James again and said, "I hope those rings you've put around here are worth while. Mandy broke her leg getting a 250 point ring today."
"Since Mandy was injured in the play area do, you want to unseal the recording of the accident so that we can see what happened or do you just want the AI to summarize what occurred?"
I was torn. I wanted to know what had happened. But even I as a worried mother knew that having a helicopter parent with the assistance of the station all seeing AI would be very bad for our children. The most likely result of such stringent supervision would be to teach them to be couch potatoes. After all if everything they dared was reported to an authority figure, eventually they would stop taking any risk at all. "Let's ask Mandy if she remembers what happened after she gets out of the med-tube," I said.
James smiled at me and said, "I'm proud of you too."
"Why? It took Mandy getting a broken leg for me to get off the spot about learning medicine."
"Because, when you really understood what the ramifications of not learning were you made a decision to learn. Just like I expect that someday you'll look around and see that you'd be doing everyone a disfavor by not being the Civil Service Officer."
I'd actually been thinking about that. I didn't want it, and I really thought that if the concubines especially saw me as an authority figure they would stop confiding in me. "James, who does the Civil Service Officer work with the most?"
"Concubines, I guess."
"I'd say that is true in the main, though in larger installations I'd guess that the Civil Service Officer can also help facilitate understanding in the command structure that the troops and sailors were issued a wife and children and that keeping domestic harmony is important. No, even then, I think the Civil Service Officer really works on behalf of the concubines unless there is a problem that a child is causing...
"I think I can do better work with them if they don't see me as an authority figure. Therefore I respectfully refuse to be named the Civil Service Officer."
"I'll continue to monitor the situation," the AI intoned. "It is still my belief that you are qualified to be a sponsor and are therefore entitled to the rank of Signifer if James names you as the Civil Service Officer for Heinlein Station."
"I don't want that. And I'm fairly well convinced that I will be less effective at learning what sorts of problems and conflicts are going on if people feel like I have authority. Sometimes I think other concubines take my advice because they see it as a way to thwart authority. I know that they seek my counsel and confide their angst to me because they are sure that I can do nothing to them for their petty disobedience."
"Disobedience?" James asked, with a frown.
"Okay not all the concubines are as glib as Lenny when it comes to expressing their discontent with the way the living conditions are affecting them. They feel that they can talk to me about that because they don't see me as part of the command structure of the station. Maybe if the community was larger having me be the Civil Service Officer would work. But I wonder how many of them are missing problems because the concubines think that they work for the commander or governor?"
"I will be analyzing what other AIs have to say about this subject and forwarding your observations to the other colonies. In my limited experience with humans it seems that you may be correct," the AI said, "From now on I will consider you provisionally acting as the Civil Service Officer and make that notation permanent."
"What!?" I nearly shouted, "You can't do that!"
"I'm sorry Frances, but I agree," James said, "I may not tell anyone else that you are acting in that capacity but I second that appointment. If you feel that wearing a shift and continuing to act as a concubine will be the most effective way to carry out your duties then that is how it will be."
"How am I supposed to study medicine if I'm doing that?"
"Computer, how much of human medicine has been turned into sleep study courses?" James asked.
"Currently there are twenty courses that have any bearing on human medicine."
James seemed to be disappointed by what the AI told him, because he said, "In the next batch of messages that we send I want you to include a plea to all extracted universities that they form an organization that commits human knowledge of human medicine to sleep study courses. There may come a time or place where med-tubes are not available."
"It will be done."
Combat first responder
On and on the list went of various courses that dealt with combat or the injuries that resulted from combat. I took a sleep study course on basic first aid and then spent an hour with a body that looked eerily like Mandy learning the muscle memory that would make the knowledge that had been stuffed into my head into something practical.
When that hour was up the AI said, "Frances, you need to go exercise."
I would have groaned except I knew the machine was correct. "Is there anyone available to spar with?" I asked. I wasn't terribly good at martial arts but I really felt the need to hit something or someone.
A negative answer from the AI had me headed toward the exercise circuit that James had set up around the play area. He had used plans for an exercise circuit similar to what many parks had, the winding trail went around and through the play equipment as well as near the climbing wall where Mandy had fallen. Every hundred yards or so there was a station set up where a person could do exercise. I walked and stretched. One thing that I had learned in the self defense classes, that James set up, was that I needed to warm up and loosen up before I started any exercise. A couple of kids were dashing through a climbing maze made of tubes, ladders and slides. I heard Missy's voice from somewhere inside it and although I couldn't spot her she had evidently spotted me.
"Mommy! Mommy!" she shouted before popping out of the end of a slide near where I'd started stretching before attempting the first exercise on the loop. Missy bounced to her feet and rushed to give me a hug. Her actions reminded me that since being picked up by James I seemed to be spending less and less time with my children.
I noticed a brass ring in Missy's hand and asked, "Where did you get that?"
"I solved a puzzle to find it," she answered.