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So now he waited, motionless in the warm sunlight, and watched the sharp-topped stone living place the two-legs had built in the center of the clearing.
"I mean it, Stephanie!" Richard Harrington said. "I don't want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?"
"Oh, Daaaddy–" Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping the carpet lightly, and her heart sank. This wasn't going well at all, and she resented that reflection on her . . . negotiating skill almost as much as she resented the restriction she was trying to avoid. She was eleven T-years old, smart, an only child, a daughter, and cute as a button. That gave her certain advantages, and she'd become an expert at wrapping her father around her finger almost as soon as she could talk. She rather suspected that much of her success came from the fact that he was perfectly willing to be so wrapped, but that was all right as long as it worked. Unfortunately, her mother had always been a tougher customer . . . and even her father was unscrupulously willing to abandon his proper pliancy when he decided the situation justified it.
"We're not going to discuss this further," he said with ominous calm. "Just because you haven't seen any hexapumas or peak bears doesn't mean they aren't out there."
"But I've been stuck inside with nothing to do all winter," she said as reasonably as she could, easily suppressing a twinge of conscience as she neglected to mention snowball fights, cross-country skiing, sleds, and certain other diversions. "I want to go outside and see things!"
"I know you do, honey," her father said more gently, reaching out to tousle her curly brown hair. "But it's dangerous out there. This isn't Meyerdahl, you know." Stephanie rolled her eyes and looked martyred, and his expression showed a flash of regret at having let the last sentence slip out. "If you really want something to do, why don't you run into Twin Forks with Mom this afternoon?"
"Because Twin Forks is a complete null, Daddy." Exasperation colored Stephanie's reply, even though she knew it was a tactical error. Even above average parents like hers got stubborn if you disagreed with them too emphatically, but honestly! Twin Forks might be the closest "town" to the Harrington homestead, but it boasted a total of maybe fifty families most of whose handful of kids were zork brains. None of them were interested in xeno-botany or biosystem hierarchies. In fact, they were such nulls they spent most of their free time trying to catch anything small enough to keep as a pet, however much damage they might do to their intended "pets" in the process, and Stephanie was pretty sure any effort to enlist those zorks in her explorations would have led to words—or a fist or two in the eye—in fairly short order. Not, she thought darkly, that she was to blame for the situation. If Dad and Mom hadn't insisted on dragging her away from Meyerdahl just when she'd been accepted for the junior forestry program, she'd have been on her first internship field trip by now. It wasn't her fault she wasn't, and the least they could do to make up for it was let her explore their own property!
"Twin Forks is not a 'complete null,' " her father said firmly.
"Oh yes it is," she replied with a curled lip, and Richard Harrington drew a deep breath.
He made himself step back mentally, reaching for patience, that most vital of parental qualities. The edge of guilt he felt at Stephanie's expression made it a little easier. She hadn't wanted to leave everyone she'd ever known behind on Meyerdahl, and he knew how much she'd looked forward to becoming a forestry intern, but Meyerdahl had been settled for over a thousand years . . . and Sphinx hadn't. Not only had Meyerdahl's most dangerous predators been banished to the tracts of virgin wilderness reserved for them, but its Forestry Service rangers nursemaided their interns with care, and the nature parks where they ran their junior studies programs were thoroughly "wired" with satellite com interfaces, surveillance, and immediately available emergency services. Sphinx's endless forests were not only not wired or watched over, but home to predators like the fearsome, five-meter-long hexapuma (and scarcely less dangerous peak bear) and totally unexplored. Over two-thirds of their flora was evergreen, as well, even here in what passed for the semi-tropical zone, and the best aerial mapping could see very little through that dense green canopy. It would be generations before humanity even began to get a complete picture of the millions of other species which undoubtedly lived in the shade of those trees.
All of which put any repetition of yesterday's solo exploration trip completely out of the question. Stephanie swore she hadn't gone far, and he believed her. Headstrong and occasionally devious she might be, but she was an honest child. And she'd taken her wrist com, so she hadn't really been out of communication and they would have been able to home in on her beacon if she'd gotten into trouble. But that was beside the point. She was his daughter, and he loved her, and all the wrist coms in the world wouldn't get an air car there fast enough if she came face to face with a hexapuma.
"Look, Steph," he said finally, "I know Twin Forks isn't much compared to Hollister, but it's the best I can offer. And you know it's going to grow. They're even talking about putting in their own shuttle pad by next spring!"
Stephanie managed—somehow—not to roll her eyes again. Calling Twin Forks "not much" compared to the city of Hollister was like saying it snowed "a little" on Sphinx. And given the long, dragging, endless year of this stupid planet, she'd almost be seventeen T-years old by the time "next spring" got here! She hadn't quite been ten when they arrived . . . just in time for it to start snowing. And it hadn't stopped snowing for the next fifteen T-months!
"I'm sorry," her father said quietly, reading her thoughts. "I'm sorry Twin Forks isn't exciting, and I'm sorry you didn't want to leave Meyerdahl, and I'm sorry I can't let you wander around on your own. But that's the way it is, honey. And—" he gazed sternly into her brown eyes, trying not to see the tears which suddenly filled them "—I want your word that you'll do what your Mom and I tell you on this one."
Stephanie squelched glumly across the mud to the steep-roofed gazebo. Everything on Sphinx had a steep roof, and she allowed herself a deep, heartfelt groan as she plunked herself down on the gazebo steps and contemplated the reason that was true.
It was the snow, of course. Even here, close to Sphinx's equator, annual snowfall was measured in meters—lots of meters, she thought moodily—and houses needed steep roofs to shed all that frozen water, especially on a planet whose gravity was over a third higher than Old Earth's. Not that Stephanie had ever seen Old Earth . . . or any world which wasn't classified as "heavy grav" by the rest of humanity.
She sighed again, with an edge of wistful misery, and wished her great-great-great-great-whatever grandparents hadn't volunteered for the Meyerdahl First Wave. Her parents had sat her down to explain what that meant shortly after her eighth birthday. She'd already heard the word "genie," though she hadn't realized that, technically at least, it applied to her, but she'd only started her classroom studies four T-years before. Her history courses hadn't gotten to Old Earth's Final War yet, so she'd had no way to know why some people still reacted so violently to any notion of modifications to the human genotype . . . and why they considered "genie" the dirtiest word in Standard English.
Now she knew, though she still thought anyone who felt that way was silly. Of course the bioweapons and "super soldiers" whipped up for the Final War had been bad ideas, and the damage they'd done to Old Earth had been horrible. But that had all happened five hundred T-years ago, and it hadn't had a thing to do with people like the Meyerdahl or Quelhollow first waves. She supposed it was a good thing the original Manticoran settlers had left Sol before the Final War. Their old-fashioned cryo ships had taken over six T-centuries to make the trip, which meant they'd missed the entire thing . . . and the prejudices that went with it.