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"How are you feeling, Frances?" James asked, then, without pausing so that I could answer, he continued, "Did your week off help?"
I nodded before saying, "I think it did. I had time to think about things."
"Is writing more about your life before you met me going to cause you more emotional pain?" he asked, watching me carefully.
"Probably, but I think maybe I should do it," I answered after a moment of contemplation.
Later that day I sat reading Randi's story. She hadn't written much yet so I didn't have much to learn about her past. But what I was learning was as disturbing as revisiting my own past had been to me lately. In fact, as the other people on Heinlein Station shared pieces of their stories with me, I was finding that I was not nearly as alone in my pain as I'd imagined. James had suggested that we all write our various life stories so that we could all remember where we came from and also to help us differentiate between one day and the next since we'd all come to live inside a station set deep in space.
The reason we were here, so we'd been told, was to study Sa'arm communication. Sgt Staunton had been the second marine stationed here, but the first one had gone insane from being alone. At least that was what James, my sponsor, thought. From my reading of psychology, I couldn't disagree with that diagnosis. Corporal Winter had tortured his concubines to death before Sgt Staunton had arrived. If some of the video that I'd seen was any indication, he had intended to do the same thing to Sgt Staunton. The only reason he had not was that she too was a sponsor. And even that wouldn't have slowed him down much if Sgt Staunton hadn't been enhanced in size and strength to the standard that most marines took. The fact that he started his assaults on Sgt Staunton's concubine, Helga, was also a mistake. That was because Sgt Staunton regarded her concubines -- even her ex-husband whom she'd dubbed wimpy -- as members of her family rather than as disposable property. If the man had been in control of his impulses and waited to get a hold on Sgt Staunton, he might well have succeeded in catching the woman unaware. However, for some reason Corporal Winter had chosen to damage Helga, who was no shrinking violet even without Confederacy technology helping to augment her strength and size.
I felt sick to my stomach as I read Randi's recollection of seeing the large woman with a broken arm. That sort of damage was impossible under normal circumstances in the small space that had been Heinlein Station at the time. To put it mildly the facility had been cramped and cumbered about with Confederacy safety measures that were nearly the equivalent of wrapping the residents in cotton wool.
What was nearly as heartrending as anything else though was my beautiful friend's confession that she had contemplated asking her mistress to give her to Corporal Winter because she felt that she deserved to be hurt. She told about all of her life growing up as a boy and being so terribly sensitive to any slight of her manhood that she'd become a veritable tyrant to those around her. Actually thinking about Brandon, as Randi had been named then, growing up as a man and boy was difficult. Now Randi was a gentle happy woman, well mostly a woman; then Brandon had been an unhappy and mean man.
I put Randi's story down so that I could get up and go for a walk. It had given me much to think about. Certainly she had told me that she'd had trouble and been the cause of much pain. I hadn't believed her though. Now, I had questions, some for Randi, but more for myself. I headed out to the walking path. On the way I made a short detour through the women's barracks. I didn't really want to talk to anyone, but knew that the only way the women who hadn't been chosen yet as concubines would become members of our community was if they were encouraged to see us in a way that wasn't adversarial.
As I walked through our small community, I mulled over what I had learned so far. I asked myself if I wanted to continue to write about my past. I knew I didn't want to do that. Yet as I thought about it I knew that I needed to do it in order to get past some of the hurts; to properly salve and heal my wounds. I paused to stretch and pulled the first horrid thing from my memory. I realized that my father could have killed me or at least permanently injured me on several occasions. How he had managed not to do so was a question I hadn't really examined. I would need to consider that. I might even ask James to help me set up a sleep-trainer to see if it could do something on the order of a CAP test with my memories and help me observe what had happened from a point of not being the recipient of the blows.
Not quite as horrible, but still a sore point, was whether or not Mr. Jacob had molested me that day? I wasn't sure if that was when the molestation that he did to me began or if it was later. My reading on psychology suggested that if he had not molested me that day, he had certainly begun to groom me to accept his molestation as normal even earlier than when he'd tended my wounds. That thought made me think, had my father wounded me? I decided that, no, he had not broken my skin but he had definitely left me bruised. So bruised, in fact, that I'd been limping. I had been wounded.
Acknowledging that my father had intended to wound me, had wounded me, and had evidently had enough control to not wound me worse than he intended, sparked rage in me for a few moments. Then I asked myself: what can I do about this now? Nothing, was the answer. Therefore dwelling on it and allowing it to rule my life now was foolish. I knew that a momentary decision like the one I'd just made wouldn't keep the hurt I'd felt from resurfacing, but I could look at James and the rest of my family and understand that whatever my father had intended to accomplish had not entirely worked out. Or it had worked in a way that left me with wonderful people who cared for me and who made it obvious in many ways that they wanted the best for me, including for me to grow as a person. And they didn't use pain and intimidation to get there!
At least I thought that my parents' torment and harsh treatment had been to force me to move out. Then I thought to ask one other question of myself: what if they had been grooming me as a specific sort of sex toy? That question rang in my mind like an overwhelming bell. It caused my stomach to churn and I sat down on a bench beside the path. I wasn't sure that the facts as I knew them fit that scenario either. Still I had just found one more thing to think about. In the meantime, I sat and quietly wept at a fresh new hurt.
I'm not sure how long I'd been sitting and weeping before a small hand touched my cheek and a small voice asked, "Are you okay, Mommy?" Trust Missy to think of me before anything else, I thought. Already she was beginning to show every sign of a tendency to be a caregiver, to mother even Serena or me. Serena, who had since James picked us up, become almost more her mother than I'd been as I'd taken up the task of being the official med-tube operator for the colony. Certainly Sgt Staunton could operate the med-tubes, but she needed to be available for other tasks. The same couldn't be said of me. The only thing I had to do other than operate the med-tubes was care for my children. And to be honest, Serena was doing a wonderful job at that task, especially considering that she was barely six months past her fourteenth birthday.
"Yes dear, I'm okay," I told my daughter.
"Why are you crying if you're okay?" Missy persisted.
"I'm crying because I remembered something that made me sad," I explained.
"Did you have to remember what made you sad?" Missy asked.
"No," I admitted.
"Then don't remember what makes you sad!" she said with as much authority as a five-year-old could muster.
"Do you get scared when you remember Mandy falling?" I asked.
Missy nodded solemnly.
"Do you sometimes remember Mandy falling when you don't want to remember it?"
Again, Missy nodded.
"Do you even remember Mandy falling if no one reminds you of it?"
Missy nodded as tears appeared in the corners of her eyes.
"So, while I might not want to remember past hurts, I cannot just not remember them," I explained to my daughter. Again she nodded.
Then she hugged me and said, "I love you Mommy!"
I smiled at her. "I love you too darling, even if you see more of Auntie Serena than you do of me anymore."
"I know you love us Mommy, but everyone is happier since they think you're our doctor. I know that Mandy is glad you were there for her," my daughter told me as she patted my hand.
I spent a little more time visiting with Missy, then I moved on. I had exercise to complete, and thinking that still needed to be done. I had told Missy that I couldn't control the memories I had. And I expected that I hadn't told her a lie. But I also knew that I could control, at least in part, my reaction to those memories. I didn't have to be debilitated every time I remembered my home life before Mandy had been conceived. My father, mother, or anyone else in my past had no power to hurt or haunt me here if I didn't give them that power.
I realized that that particular thought was something that Mr. Jacob had been trying to teach me. There lay a snarl of the worst order I thought as I contemplated my relationship with my neighbor. I would have to replay it day by day as I recalled it. But nothing that I lived through at that time could be separated from my home life, so I would have to recall and deal with it. One good thing that I did recall was that the beating that I'd endured due to bringing my grades up had been the last time that had happened. I kept on making good, but not spectacular grades. When everyone (including my parents) wanted to know what the new problem was I just said that I did understand the concepts but the work was becoming too demanding. That however was some time in the future from when I was beaten and Mr. Jacob had tended the wounds that my father had given me.
I began a slow trot along the path. It wouldn't help me think, at least not directly, as I needed to concentrate on where I was placing my feet and on continuing to run when my lack of fitness caught up with me. Unfortunately my body began complaining about exercise long before I had worked out anything except the fact that I should be doing the exercise course more often. Still I made sure that I walked the complete circuit twice including at least one repetition of each exercise on the course. I would probably be a little stiff and sore after I slept for a while, but that was just something that I'd have to deal with.
I made my way through the women's dorm on my way back to my workstation. I still didn't see much activity there but a few women were sitting around a tabletop that had been converted to an e-reader of sorts. Seeing those women I headed toward them to see what they were doing. I perused the page that all of them seemed to have on display. It was an announcement of my suggestion that we hold a contest to determine what sort of features to put into an amusement park.
I listened and watched for a few moments before I asked what they thought of the idea. The oldest looking of the women there, a blonde with hair that looked both unhealthy and unkempt said, "How are we gonna pay for something like that?"
"Work, the same way you did on Earth, the only difference here is that the AI in charge of the station will not let us completely shut off your food if you don't work."
"That wouldn't be fair!" one of the other women said, she was a redhead with a rather frizzy attempt at dreadlocks.
"And why wouldn't it be fair? You're eating without working. Someone has to provide a place for you to live and air for you to breathe on top of that. What is fair about expecting that someone else will work so that you don't have to?" I asked with some amount of heat.
"Why should we do anything? The replicator provides all our food and clothes," the redhead snarled.
"Do you want anything better than a basic shift and bread and water?" I asked, with some heat as well.
"Sure, and I'll get it when I finally get a sponsor," the blonde with the bad hair said.
"Do you eat pussy?" popped out of my mouth before I had a chance to censor myself.
"Not unless you're a sponsor," dreadlocks said with a sneer, "And since you're wearing a shift, you ain't a sponsor."
"I can see why you are still in the dorm," I said, a bit harshly to dreadlocks.
"Why haven't we had marines here every day?" a mousy woman who I'd missed until she spoke up asked.
"Because there are only four sponsors on the station," I told the room at large.
"NO!" Exclaimed the blonde.
I nodded seriously. I didn't need to 'cause Addie stuck his nose in at that point. "Ladies, if you won't believe Frances, believe me, I cannot lie. There are only four sponsors on Heinlein Station."
"Then why are there so many of us?" Dreadlocks asked indicating the room that contained about 15 women.
"The number of sponsors is expected to increase by at least one person in the immediate future," Addie said, resorting to some unknown-to-me AI logic to talk to nonsponsors.
"I like to eat pussy," the mousy woman said quietly, sidling up to me, incorrectly thinking that I might be the one who was going to be a sponsor.
"I can say this with some authority," I said to the room at large. "Women outnumber men here by about six or more to one. So if you like sex you better get used to the idea that you won't be sharing with just one other woman. Entertaining your fellow concubines and learning to work together as a team will make you much more desirable to a sponsor than trying to be the top bitch in the pack."
"If you're not a sponsor you ought to be," the mousy woman next to me said in a near whisper as she indicated the room. I looked around, before I had started the conversation with the women using the table as a reader none of the other occupants had appeared at all interested in what was going on. Now however, their rapt attention was focused on me.
"I'm not even close to being a sponsor," I said to the mousy woman.
"Hah! Then you're the top concubine in your master's harem and he sent you here to evaluate the talent. Like I said I know how to eat pussy, I like eating pussy, but I'm not going to become the cuntlicker for this bunch of layabouts so that they don't have to at least play with themselves. By the way my name is Hannah," the mousy woman managed to whisper in my ear in one breath.
"Hannah, do you want to take a walk with me?" I asked.
"If I do, the others here will about kill me. It'll look like I'm interviewing to join someone's harem," she told me while licking my ear.
"If you don't mind being slapped a little when we get back I'll do that to make it look like you failed. So far though you haven't failed at all," I whispered back. I had in mind to go find Brandy and to introduce her to this firecracker hiding behind an unassuming exterior. I liked Brandy and wanted her to have the best family that she could. Hannah had just managed to vault herself to the top of the list of possible choices Brandy would have for concubines.
After a couple more minutes of small talk to concubine candidates with slightly better possibilities than dreadlocks or bad blonde I took Hannah's hand and led her out of the dorm. It was obvious that she hadn't taken time to really familiarize herself with the station as her eyes widened in wonder at the open space that surrounded our small enclave. "How big is this place?" she asked. I told her that the main area where we were walking comprised just over one and a half square miles. "How many people are on the station?" she asked. I had to pause and consider that myself. Counting children I made the number somewhat over forty, but hadn't really sat down and added all of us up. I started naming people to myself. There were James and his seven concubines for a total of eight adults in our house. My three children brought that total to eleven. Margaret Staunton had four in her house counting herself. Each of the privates had started out with a household of three. That alone already had the count at twenty-one. James had been advised to take an additional eighteen concubines, which brought the number to 39; I tried to think of how many children I'd met besides my own and that generated a vague number somewhere between four and ten. Finally I admitted to Hannah, "I'm not sure of the number of children, but I'm pretty sure that the adults, including all of you in the dorm is 36."
"How is everything getting done?" Hannah asked, displaying an intelligence that none of the other women in the dorm had yet shown.
"Mostly all of the claimed concubines are taking watches on the instruments, or have some other task. I run the medical center and Randi has taken on the veterinary needs of the station. Right now we can both take an occasional shift on instrument watch. That keeps everyone else from doing back-to-back shifts. I honestly thought that James had put everyone in the dorm to watching the instruments to be sure that no Sa'arm ship sneaks up on us," I said as I led Hannah into our house.
"What would we do if a Sa'arm ship did appear in our space?" Hannah asked, with big eyes.
"Mostly what we do anyway," I said, "be very quiet and pretend to be part of the debris field that surrounds an uninteresting brown dwarf that barely meets the qualification of a star."
"Then why do we need to watch the instruments at all," Hannah asked insightfully.
"Because Sergeant Staunton has created quite an array of devices to listen to and even attach to any Sa'arm ship that happens to come through our neck of the woods. Also to find out if the Sa'arm are in this area regularly or if they only come when a Confederate ship exits hyperspace."
"Are we learning anything?" Hannah asked.