THE WORLD WAS poised on a shadowy line between night and day. The back porch planking was rough and dusty beneath my bare feet, the breeze almost cool through Helen’s thin housedress as I bent over to slip the supple leather moccasins on my feet.
A sleeping hush whispered with the wind over the dirt yard. I passed the ring of rustling shade trees and Helen’s kitchen garden and wandered past the barn with its half-finished coat of new brown paint, the tool shed, and the five tall grain silos. I didn’t look into the lightening sky until I stood at the edge of the first field, pulling up my long skirt and cinching the fabric above my knees with the sash.
Then I raised my eyes to deep blue and the bright blaze of orange sun peering over low, distant hills. Sunlight flowed onto the fields and a sea of molten copper and silver lapped at my feet, hissing in the dawn. The wind tugged at my hair and eddied over the restless stalks, painting fast swirls of blue-green in shifting patterns before the froth of the ripening grain closed behind its path. A rich smell of dust and grasses rose into my nostrils and my eyes stung and watered. From the wind.
Past the first field, the closest of the high towers rose from the stirring wheat. Sunlight gleamed down its alloy spire. Its mylar sails swept past the dim footing of three straddled legs and up again into the light—vast, fluttering wings of silver blue dipping and soaring around the tower, above the fluid earth. Down the valley to the base of the far hills the towers strode among the fields, the last looking in the distance like a child’s spinning pinwheel. The wind murmured over it all.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes and it was summer, I was twelve, and we had just been released from a long spring term of village school. My rebellious legs free beneath my bound-up skirt, I opened the close kernel of my heart to the morning. All elbows, knees, and pigtails, I spun laughing, twirling into the head-high ripening wheat.
And now I was running again, laughing, into the windy surge of it, the stalks furrowing and closing about me. I ran with the firm kernels of grain striking my face, the tough stems whipping my legs, the smell of the grasses rich around me. A crazy exultation rose and spilled over me as I plunged on through the windy field, running to the sails of the closest tower.
Finally, gasping for breath, I fell against one leg of the tower and leaned into the cool kiss of metal on my back.
I closed my eyes and dug my toes into the dirt to search out the tremor radiating from the deep-sunk core of the tower. The vibration rose through the soles of my feet and hummed through me, the voice of Poindros itself, and that long-forgotten flush of well-being flowed up through my legs to each fingertip. Something held tight inside me eased and opened to the banished memory of the old harmony, the earth-tremor and the wind in the wheeling sails and eddying wheat.
“Breathe deep and slow, Ruth.” I could almost see the sharp blue eyes, the craggy, wind-seamed face. “There—feel it? The tower in tune with the wind and the earth-tremor . . .”
“Yes, Isaac, I feel it. Can we climb now?”
His slow, dry chuckle. “Simmer down now, young pup! We’ll get to your ‘air-dancing’ soon enough.”
I shook my head and broke away from the touch of the humming metal, squinting up at the glaring signals flashed by the sail tips as they rose and swept through sunlight. My toes found, through the thin leather, the knobbed projections of the tower’s leg. I scrambled up and sat where the broad slope of the leg flattened for the nearly horizontal sweep toward the central shaft. The thick ribbon of steel alloy curved to its intersection with the other two legs, where they joined and rose to enclose the generator-spinner. And the tremor-rod inside it, the rod that helped even out the seismic quiver to a frequency that nurtured the hybrid wheat, Poindros’s only export. My eyes followed the gleaming spire up to the ring that held the wind-spun wheel of the sails.
Sunlight slid over my face as I lay back on the still-cool slope of the leg and listened to the brisk snap of the sails. Their thin, tough mylar sheeting was clear if you held a piece and looked through it, but when it was stretched into the frame of the immense sail arms it came alive and flashed pearl and sapphire-silver in the sun. I lay and watched as the wheel spun its lights.
The wind shifted, and with a rush the sails were carried by the extension bar and the central gimballed mount to a position directly over my head. They swept by so close their breath tugged against my grip on the tower’s leg.
I closed my eyes and breathed with the rhythm of their cycle. The rushing arms counted off the days curving into another cycle before me, spinning out with a comforting sameness, drawing me back to the earth. The sails and the tremor whispered a song I had only to learn their harmony to share, drawing me close to the warm heart of Poindros, spilling generously like sun-ripe kernels of grain from Helen’s overflowing, cupped hands.
The wheel shifted again with a sharp crack. I sat up, shaking my head as a jitter of misaligned tremor shook through me. The harmony of Poindros wasn’t meant for me. The fields and towers were Taboo for women.
I climbed down from the tower leg and edged through the wheat to the beaten-earth track that widened to a clearing beneath the tower, where the central shaft disappeared into the roof of the control room. I could really feel the tremor now through my feet, shivering up from the restless layers of rock beneath our fields.
There was a dusty, battered rollcart parked near the control room door, crouched at unloading level on its long, jointed legs. Its rear bed was half filled with tools and the odd bits of cord and sacking and crumpled gloves that always seemed to accumulate of their own will.
Damn. I hadn’t heard it drive up with its quiet electric motor. It was too early for the men to be working in the fields.
I was beating a hasty retreat back into the stalks when the figure crouched by the recharging receptacle straightened and turned toward me. The camouflage of his dusty beige coveralls and his own tawny colors had blended him into the background. It was the Monotone Man, Jason.
I hadn’t even been back a day yet, and already I was racking up violations. Jason stood rigid, his gaze traveling from my wild, wind-snarled hair to my bared legs, then hastily back to my eyes. His face slowly suffused with red, destroying his neutral palette. I sighed, dropped my hem modestly to my ankles, and walked over, yanking my hair back with a ribbon.
He lowered his face and turned quickly to the rollcart to reach into its bed for a tool box. He kept his back to me as he crouched to inspect its contents.
I leaned against the cart, feeling the vibration buzzing through it, speaking above the roar of the tower and the wind. “Jason, I’m sorry. I suppose Aaron’s told you all about my demonic nature, and what a Rule-breaker I’ve always been. I didn’t mean any harm, but don’t worry. I mean, I won’t hold it against you for reporting a violation.”
He only shook his head and didn’t look up.
He couldn’t really be afraid to look at me, like the Poindrans who thought all spacers were possessed of demons. He’d worked in the enclave. I looked over his shoulder. “Pretty interesting tool box you’ve got there.”
I was relieved to see a smile twitch at the comer of his mouth, but he got it under control. He carefully closed the box and stood, still blushing faintly but wearing a properly paternal expression of reproof. He didn’t meet my eyes. “Yes, Aaron told me about you. Why do you do it, Ruth? The Rules are for our good, you know.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Go ask Aaron, he’ll be glad to fill you in. He’s got it all nailed down.” I turned to go.
“Wait. I’d rather hear it from you.”
I turned back warily. “If you think this is your paternal duty or something, it’s all right. You don’t have to bother.” I started to turn away.
“Ruth, I’d really like to know.” He took a quick stride to grasp my hand, stopping me. I jerked around as a crackle of static prickled up my arm in the dry air and I met his eyes. He didn’t lower them this time.
Bright, oddly arresting. Amber. Like the timid Andurans? No, light brown, actually, with gold flecks, really quite striking, not at all monotone. Like Sethar’s ferial, with his tawny colors. Or the gentle gizu-doe it preyed on? A confusion of carefully buried memory broke loose and whirled inexplicably through me. Another pair of eyes, deep brown and warm in a dark face, his slow smile splitting all at once to a gleam of teeth. Jared’s deft fingers clasping mine . . . No. Amber eyes holding mine, seeing too much.
I jerked my hand free and looked down, clearing my throat. “I . . . it’s getting warm already, isn’t it? I forgot how hot the summers are. Have you got a water bottle?”
Jason had lowered his eyes, the blush glowing hot again beneath his tan. He glanced quickly at me, then turned to reach into the rollcart for a flask. I had already unstoppered it and was tilting the water down my throat when he reached again to politely hand me a cup. Swallowing, I shook my head.
He stood, holding the cup, blushing deeper. He looked down at it, then suddenly tossed it into the cart, spun on his heel, and strode toward the control room.
I stood with the flask in my hand, staring after him.
So maybe he really was worried about spacer germs. I shrugged and returned the flask to the cart.
He’d left the door to the control room open, so I figured I might as well make some of those observations, since I was already pegged for violations. The metal frame vibrated beneath my hand as I peered down the stairs into the dimness. A light went on then, and I moved down the steps into the tangible shock of the tremor and the loud, humming roar.
Jason looked up, startled, from some gauges across the room, moving almost protectively in front of them. He shouted above the roar. “This is Taboo for you, Ruth. You know that.”
“I know.” I raised my voice. “Look, Jason. I’ve already committed my violation, and I just want to see it again. Don’t worry.” I probably knew our towers better than he did, anyway.
His lips tightened, and he turned back to the generator controls. It looked like they’d done some modifications since my last childhood visit here. There was a new synchrometer unit, and one of the panel readouts had been replaced with a different configuration. I gave Jason a wide berth, letting him ignore me, and wandered around the circular room, running a hand along the smooth lucite water pipes and the routing valves. A lighted board indicated the positions of the main valves beneath the fields. Field Three was on trickle right now. I walked on past the seismic scales, the readouts on wind flux to the tremor-rod and counterbalance thrust. I quickly pressed a test button on one of the seismic scales, and the needle jumped and wavered in the satisfactory range.
I glanced over at Jason’s back and whistled casually, wandering over to the thick rod running down from the ceiling through the center of the chamber. Fingers hooked into the protective mesh enclosure, I watched light from the ceiling bulbs flicker across the shiny steel alloy.
The tremor-hum pulsed through my hands and the soles of my feet, overwhelming now. Here at the heart, I could feel its power surge from my toes to my fingertips, stronger than my breathing, stronger than my heartbeat, coursing through me, filling me. I could feel each eddy of the narrow, solid tremor-enhancement and dispersal rod that ran deep into the buried rock through and beyond the hollow generator-spinner whose metal surface flickered its fast lights.
I pressed closer against the screen, drawn into the spinning pattern of light.
It was the tower wing slashing across hot blue sky in a dazzle of sun down snapping mylar, as the ground and the tawny gleam of wheat spun around and past, the wind catching us up for the lift. Isaac’s voice, a calm center in the whirling maelstrom of earth and sky: “Go with it. Ruth. Let it take you, feel the tremor in the sail arm—that’s your base. Let the sun twirl around you. You’re the center when you’re riding the spinner bar. Now, feel how it all moves together.”
And for a centa that could have been eternity I was part of it again, part of the cycles within cycles, the smooth roll of the world and the spin of the sails, the twirling rod and the smoothed-out tremor singing beneath the soil and nurturing the rich fruit of the wheat, the energy humming through the wires and dials of the tower, responding to the touch of fingers.
But there was something else. Something wrong.
The imbalance I’d sensed when I lay on the tower leg. It was there, a physical jolt, a quiver not aligned with the power flux and the tremor-rod. I could feel the jarring eddy out of synch with the wheel and the rod, like a wheel spinning the wrong direction against the cycle. There was something wrong with the field flow. It was—
“Ruth!” A strong grip closed over my wrist and wrenched my fingers from the screen. Jason dragged me back from it, his face angry and worried and paternal.
“Are you out of your mind?” His hand tightened painfully around my wrist as he dragged me toward the stairs. I caught a last confused glimpse of the dials, then I tripped in the long skirts as he yanked me up the stairs, and my shoulder twisted in his grasp.
I was blinking in the hot, bright sun as he stood blocking the door. I jerked my arm free from his hand, my shoulder shooting out a little stab of pain. “What in hell was that for? I was only looking!”
He flinched as I swore, glaring at a point somewhere near my shoulder, not meeting my eyes. “Look. I don’t know what you’re trying to prove, but you’ve seen enough. That machinery can be dangerous. You’re a woman, you belong back at the house.”
I rubbed my shoulder. “Okay, I’ll go. But there’s something out of synch with the power flow. Check it out.”
He looked even angrier. “That’s crazy! Aaron was just out here yesterday, calibrating the synchrometers. Maybe he’s right, maybe you think you know better than the Way, but you don’t. Go back to the house and leave our work to us.” The door slammed behind him.
Wonderful. I’d managed to antagonize my gentle new father into an un-Poindran display of anger in record time, even for me.
“You watching out there, cybers? Is this what you wanted? Damn you!” The wind swallowed my words and whirled past me.
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