THE COMPANY OF ADVENTURERS

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Chapter Six: Passengers

“What do you think, Dita? Fifteen people too much for two weeks?”

“Life support’s no problem, but they’d be camping in the cargo bay. Restricts the other cargo we could carry, And meals would have to be in shifts.”

Owner Macharia interrupted. “They have special dietary needs, so they wouldn’t be needing your culinary skills.”

“So eight adults and and six children headed for Lazarus. Plus their personal luggage and homesteading equipment. Any animals?”

“None. And on the trip back you’ll carry fresh produce, mostly grain and root vegetables, potatoes and the like. So pretty straightforward.”

“Right. Anything we should know about these ‘dietary restrictions’?”

“No pork products, so no bacon for breakfast.”

“Like we could afford it!”

“And no alcohol.”

“Oh, Marco’s gonna be dee-lighted by that .”

“What about Mamie’s InterEngine distillery?”

“We don’t allow passengers in the engine room anyways. Worse comes to worst, we end up with some fine aged moonshine.”

Macharia chortled, “Aged two weeks!”

Rand grinned, “That’ll be the smoothest hooch Mamie has ever produced.”

The passengers brought several surprises. Most noticeable was that the adult women all wore burkhas and the men full beards. Even the children wore some form of religious dress, with the three girls in headscarves, even the toddler, and the two boys wearing skull caps.

More surprising, however, was the special agricultural cargo they brought - a dozen date palm trees and a dozen orange trees.

“Our ancestors are not actually from the parts of Earth-that-was where palms and oranges flourished,” explained the group leader, who had introduced himself as Imam Machmoud el-Said. “But there is a niche market for dates and anything that pulls us above subsistence farming will be a gift from Allah.”

Hope was beside herself. She had set up a kitchen garden when Michael had turned one of the passenger staterooms into a hydroponic garden for her after her biology studies exposed a talent for horticulture.


“Considering our family is shipborn for ten generations, it has to be a mutation.” her mother had commented.

“Imam el-Said, half my crew is women. If you’re gonna make any fuss about that, we can end this contract right now.” said Rand doubtfully.

The imam’s round face resolved itself in to laughlines. “Allah asks that men and women wear modest dress. Our womenfolk chose to cover, but there is nothing immodest about the demeanour of any member of your crew, I think. God be merciful, that we will all be fine.”

“You ain’t met Marco.”

The crew included their own three children since the passengers would include youngsters. At twelve Hope Aglukak was about matched with the oldest girl, Aysha, who was as quiet as Hope, although her silence seemed more shyness than Hope’s innate dignity. Her sister, Habon, was the three year old and as outgoing as her sister was shy.

The third girl was ages with Derrial Hudson, about seven, and came aboard completely dressed in pink including a pink suitcase which she opened to reveal several dolls and a plethora of pink playthings. Derry was appalled.

Two of the boys were older than Derry. Halid , son of the imam,was ten, as was Ahmed. They were cousins and Rand was amused to watch the jockeying for dominance among the young boys. Amhed’s mother was the sister of the imam’s wife, and his father Faoud was a wide bodied man apparently made entirely of muscle.

The third boy was a newborn. “We were lucky he was a little early or we would have had to wait for weeks,” his father, Sander, told Rand. “Allah blessed us with an easy birth and a healthy child. We have named him Mohammed for the Prophet, blessings be upon him.”

Rand looked a little uncomfortable. His own baby daughter was nearly a year old and still had not formally been named. She was referred to as The Baby or Baby Girl or occasionally as BG.

Mohammed’s father, Sander, a tall thin man, had African features and was almost plum black. Rahim, the father of the two girls, however, had blond hair and blue eyes, with the kind of features once common to Northern Europe on Earth-that-was.

The four families set to work raising tents in the cargo bay for privacy. The imam worked on some advanced calculation that required use of the CentraPro ansible net before setting out a beautifully woven carpet.

“For prayer. We will pray several times a day. We were instructed to face Mecca on Earth-that-was, but in these late times, we can only face the Sol System.”

Rand looked less than pleased. “Let me know your schedule so’s I can make myself scarce.”

Rand and Marco had been helping to organize the tents and sort the luggage that would be needed immediately. Now Mamie appeared, pulling her coverall into place after nursing Baby. Her welcoming smile and one woman charm offensive brought a matching smile to the imam’s face.

“My wife, Mamie Dieudonné,”said Rand, “And the only other crew member you have to meet is our pilot Dita Aglukak, who is preparing to take us out of this world. “

“C’mon, bossman, we do have more crew,” Mamie reminded him.

“Well, yeah, they ain’t on this trip, We’ll pick ’em up on our way back. Michael’s a doctor and his husband David is a nurse and midwife. They’re part of the Flying Doctors and are holding a clinic on Muir. Buncha towns and villages there without permanent medical staff , so they gets paid to call in regular.”

Out of the corner of her eye Mamie noticed the blond man stiffen at “his husband” but let it slide. His opinion wouldn’t matter on this leg of their job.

A chime rang at the imam’s waist. “Well, as I mentioned, we pray several times a day and one of those times approaches. Any of the crew are welcome to join us….?”

“I have things to do.”Rand said and strode off stiffly.

“Capt’n’s not big on God and I’m a Blood,” said Mamie, “but you’re welcome to your own beliefs . And thanks for the invitation. “

After prayers, the passenger women joined Mamie in the kitchen. They had removed the enveloping burkhas, although they still wore hijabs.

“The Prophet, blessed be his name, tells us to be modest in our dress. The burkah keeps us sheltered from the general gaze, but the hijab is acceptable among friends,” explained Fatima, the imam’s wife.

“And saves us a fortune in hairdressing bills,” laughed Miriam, the mother of the newborn.

Mamie laughed too, although she noticed that the sisters Miriam and Fatima both wore heavy elaborate makeup. Golden eyeshadow and ruby lips enhanced the South Asian features of Miriam, while Fatima favoured kohl and black mascara on her long lashes.

Rehab, the mother of the two girls and wife of Rahim, was like Mamie with her skin scrubbed pink and clean. And Nasirah, wife to Sander, wore the kind of maquillage that looked totally natural and required hours of work to stay that way.

The women had brought foodstuffs into the kitchen.

“Most of this is pretty ordinary,” explained Fatima,”But these are meats that were slaughtered by our rules and there are some foods we do not touch.”

Mamie nodded,”No pork, no shellfish, don’t mix meat and dairy -- pretty much like Jews? But genfood and protein bars are okay?”

“Pretty much”, agreed Fatima, “The survival foods are made to match almost any diet. At any rate, they are vegetable based. If algae is a vegetable.”

“Show me what you can’t eat from our stores.” offered Mamie .”Then we can eat together, if you like. The capt’n likes us to eat together at least for dinner when we’re Out There”

“The Captain is your husband, I think?” murmured Rehab, “You show him great respect, I think, not like so many infidel women.”

“Oh, he was my capt’n ’fore he was my man. Kinda got used to it. Hardly never call him anythin else ’cept in bed.”

Rehab blushed. “The children…”

Mamie was amused. The ship children had a robust understanding of adult behaviour, although Rand had found it necessary to insist on “behind closed doors” when Michael and David were courting after an accidental PDA gave a six year old Hope the idea that when she was grown up she would have a penis.

Mamie made a mental note to speak to Marco about keeping all his clothes on. It was a pity they all still had to share the shower room.

The women passengers cooked dinner that “evening” after the rest of the cargo was stowed, some of it quietly and away from the ken of the passengers. Dita had set a course that had taken them well away from any asteroids or planetoids or other space junk and with Bluebell on autopilot, was able to join them for the first time. Slim and elegant in her black jumpsuit, she gazed curiously around the new comers. She smiled at the children, especially the girl toddler, who immediately decided Dita was going to be her best friend.

With so many at dinner, the children picnicked on the floor, while the twelve adults crowded around the table. The passenger women sat together flanked by their husbands, the Captain and the Imam took the ends of the table.

“Cozy and right friendly for our first dinner but I reckon shift will work better ,” said Mamie with her trademark smile.

“Yes, said Rahim. ”The men should eat first and the women and children later.”

“We prefer to be all together each day. Gives us a chance to talk abut anything that might have come up.” Mamie chirped.

The tall blond frowned. “Surely your husband should make that decision.

Rand interrupted, “Mamie is our engineer. She know more about what Bluebell needs mechanically than any of us. Same with Dita. She and I both can pilot, but she’s far and away the better. Only ever met one who could have beat her skills.”

“Now Rahim,” the imam intervened .”Did not the Prophet. blessed be his name, encourage his womenfolk to be independent and to be the best they could be? My own wife will be our agricultural technologist when we reach Lazarus,” the imam went on. “Our wives are accomplished women. Our daughters will also make us proud. We are particularly delighted with the proficiency Aysha shows with languages. Perhaps some day she will rise high in government service- an ambassador or diplomat.”

“An obedient wife and good mother.” Her father said.

Dita frowned at the word obedient. But Mamie jumped in with a change of subject.

“Ms. Rehab, didn’t you make that green salad thing? What is in it? It was delicious.”

“Tabuleh-- It’s mostly cracked wheat and parsley, with lemon juice, olive oil, some other herbs. I can write you the recipe. “ Rehab gave Mamie her worried smile.

“Parsley? That’s something. I see at the side of the plate in fancy restaurants. Who knew it was so tasty. ?”

“Could I have that recipe too, Ms. Rehab?” asked Hope. ” I grow a lot of parsley but nobody ever uses it.”

As the families took their children off the bed, Dita and Marco cleared the dishes companionably. “Them kids is better behaved than I was feart,“ said Marco.


“Mmm. But that Rahim seems pretty stiff-necked especially about the women . You’re gonna behave right?”


“Did you hear me talkin’? And you know I don’t need to bother any married women. I got charm enough to pull any free woman I want.”


Dita was silent. It was true enough . Marco had been on his best behaviour.


“Good. I figger that any trouble would land on the women and not on you”



“I don’t like that Rahim. Got a big head on him. Too much schoolin’ not enough livin’.”


“The imam?”


“Naw. He’s okay. Gonna have a talk with him before they leave. This prophet sounds innerestin.”

They were four days out from Freya when the children started falling sick. What had been thought to be diaper rash on the babies, spread to their siblings and all the children, passenger or crew, had raw, weepy patches on their buttocks and bellies.


Nasirah, the mother of Ahmed, was a certified midwife with training in early childhood diseases. She identified the rash as coxsackie enterovirus. “I’m puzzled,” she said, “Usually this does not show up in children who have been vaccinated. It is an opportunistic disease that comes when the immune system is weakened by other diseases.”

Rehab looked scared. Fatima snapped, “Your children have been vaccinated, Rehab? We were all told to have our shots to prevent carrying diseases from world to world . And once we are settled, we will be on our own. Only occasional visits from the Alliance medics and Flying Doctors.”

“My husband does not believe in vaccinations. He says illness is the will of Allah and that if we live according to His will we would not get sick.”


“Then Rahim is a boob,” said Dita

“Dita!” Mamie exclaimed. “How rude!”

“She’s not wrong though.” said Nasirah. “The children are protected because the pool of immunes makes it difficult for germs and viruses to survive. But if the percentage of non-immune children rises, all the children are at risk.”

“My Muhammed has not been immunized either,’ exclaimed Miriam, mother of the newborn.

“Nor my Babygirl, she’s too young to have completed the series,” added Mamie .

“I’ll check the infirmary for antibiotics and the webdoctor for dosage,” said Nasirah. “And Fatima, perhaps your husband should have a talk with Rahim. He needs some education on the interpretation of the scripture. We all know he’ll ignore anything we say.”

Rehab’s tears spilled over. “I am so sorry to have caused all this trouble. And to make the children sick too. Please try to forgive me.”

“Not your fault,” said Dita.”You need to stand up to that husband of yours more. Men need respect from their womenfolk, not fear.”

“He would divorce me,” whispered Rehab, “and take the girls. What use am I, except as an obedient wife?”

“Don’t you have a profession, sweetie, like the other women?” asked Mamie .

“No. I married quite young. My parents were killed and my uncle arranged my marriage. Then when Aysha came, I could no longer go to school…”

“You were still in school when she was born? How old are you?” demanded Fatima.

“Twenty five”

“The other women stared.

“And Aysha is twelve?”

“I mean, is that even legal?”

Rand considered. “Depends on the world, even the part of the world.”

“Still. How old were you when…?”

“When I got someone pregnant? About thirty four. As far as I know.”

“Ass! C’mon Rand! When was your first … experience?”

“I was sixteen. And yeah, she was younger. About fourteen , I reckon.”

“Dirty old man!”

“So you?”

“Fourteen. And he was about sixteen. But he was smart enough to use a condom! More’n I knew about.”


“My maw said. ’If you love her , you’ll use a condom. If you respect her, she won’t have to ask.”

“Huh, That makes Dolph seem a better guy lookin’ back.”

“Dolph like Randolph?”

“Yeah. Seriously. Weird.”

“Was he any….?”

“C’mon, sweetie, he was sixteen. He was an idiot. Let’s go with enthusiastic. But a nice boy and… well, I bet his wife is a happy woman.”

“That big?”

“Pfft. Men. No … just sweet and wanting it to be good for me. But no idea how to get a girl started.”

“How do I get you started, darlin?”

“Lover, you just have to look at me. Or just ask me about Bluebell’s engine problems. Ain’t that our sweet talk?”

“Do you really love me, or just my boat?”

“Like you have to ask! Rand, I’ve liked you since you showed me Bluebell’s engine room. I wanted you when you accepted my opinion about Bluebell’s grav boot. I loved you when you asked me to be crew.”

“You are so black/white. No maybes. No grey areas.”

“Mechanic. It works or it don’t . On. Off.”

“Works for me with your clothes off.”

“Turn about, sweetie. Fair play.” 



Mamie unbuttoned his shirt, kissing his broad chest as it was revealed. She stood on tiptoes to kiss his mouth and he responded tenderly. His big hands clasped her bottom and pulled her stomach into his hips breathing deeply and steadily.

He picked up his wife and laid her on the bunk, gazing into her hazel eyes, unbuttoning the dress she had worn to dinner, pulling off the high heeled sandals that she wore even when working in the engine room. He ran his hands along her slim legs and kissed her thighs.

Mamie pulled her dress off. 
“Hey,’ Rand objected softly, “I wanted t’ do that.”



“You c’d make it even by takin off your pants,”

“Still. She was only about twelve when she got knocked up. That can’t be right. And how did the rest of the group not know?” sighed Mamie about twenty minutes later.

“Seems Rahim was a late addition. With the baby not being expected for another month, he was going to replace Miriam and Faoud. Miriam is a water tech. It was her skills that got her the placement with Faoud tagging along. He’s a builder by trade, but she is the value added. Rahim is trained as a small engine mechanic which is always a good skill on a homestead planet and he has a background in farming. Rahim’s family were riding on his skills alone. “

“You don’t usually get this interested in passengers, Rand.”

“Got talkin’ horses with the imam. He’s a horse trader and breeder. One of them cryoboxes is full of embryos. Horses, cattle, sheep, camels, goats.′

“Camels?”

“Hey, doncha remember that world where they was breedin’ mammoths? Did some backbreedin’ from elephants.”


“You were with Dita on that trip. Stinky things too. Glad I missed out.”

“We could have shared a romantic mammoth back ride across the plains of... wherever it was. All wrapped up in our thick quilted suits. “

“I like being wrapped up in our birthday suits better. You still of a mind for a ranch one day?”

“Worth considerin’. We’re getting’ to havin’ some assets. We could branch out a bit.”

“Mmmm. Twelve. That’s just wrong. Babies havin’ babies.“

“He’s older though. Near forty.”

“So he was twenty five when he married a twelve year old.”


“Yeah. Sounds pretty sick don’t it?”

“Momma, Aysha’s throwing up.” Hope reported.

Dita paused in her inventory of foodstuffs. “Did you tell her mother?”

“I found you first.”

Dita ran cool water over a clean dishtowel an grabbed a mug. “Where is she?”

“In the toilet.”

One of the shared toilets had been identified for the exclusive use of the women passengers. Dita and Hope found Aysha, ashen faced, sitting on the commode.

While Dita washed the child’s face and gave her some cool water to rinse her mouth, she asked “Did you eat anything yesterday that doesn’t usually agree with you? Do you feel hot? Or cold?”

The girl shook her head. She was quite pale, even considering that she had inherited her Father’s Nordic blondness. She whispered, “Thank you.”

“Take a minute til you feel better. Then go back home and lie down. Prolly just a passin’ thing.” She looked at the youngster again. “Might be your period comin’. Have you started your monthlies yet?”

“What’s that?”

“Bout time you talked to your mamma bout that. But basically, when you become a woman and not a little girl, you’ll have a flow pret’well every month. It can make you vomitous and crampy, but there are meds. Ask Nasirah bout that when you start.”

“I was eleven,” said Hope.”We had a nice ceremony for me at the Goddess House.”

“Goddess worship! My father says they are the lecherous spawn of Shaitan!”

Dita grimaced. , “Some don’t hold with the religion, but I never met a priestess who wasn’t the picture of gentility and kindness. Mebbee all an act, but they can sure make a person feel special. And safe.”

“Safe,” said Aysha.

Dita asked Nasirah about Aysha later when they met in the galley.

“I gave her some calcium tablets to settle her stomach. I don’t think it’s anything infectious. The impetigo was bad enough.”

“You don’t know that family well?”

“They were a last minute addition. We thought that Mohammed would arrive too late for his parents to ship with us. We needed at least six adults to make the trip and the homestead community affordable and Rahim had joined our mosque several months before. The teachers at the local school knew Aysha, but her mother we had rarely met. She was always very quiet―well, you’ve seen how she is.”


“Really under her husband’s thumb. Think he’s violent?”

“Somehow…no. Too proud. But he’s got her pretty cowed.”

“Married at twelve? Not a surprise.”

“You understand, that is not the norm in our community? We are traditional in many ways, but our traditions tell us women stand beside their men, not behind them.”

“Mmmmph. As long as the girl ain’t spreading sickness on the ship. Capt’n would not take that pleasantly..”

“She should be fine later”

Aysha and Hope spun out of the bridge and raced over catwalks and down companionways. No apparent reason, just joy of movement and play.

As they whirled across the cargo bay, Hope, her head turned to check Aysha’s position, slammed into the Captain’s solid bulk.

“Hey!” he complained, swinging the girl easily over his shoulder, “There are too many people around for this horseplay! You’re gonna squash a munchkin or ram into a tent.” He swatted Hope’s bottom.

“C’mon, time for your lesson anyways” and carried her off.

Crouching back in her family’s tent door, Aysha’s eyes filled with tears.

When Rand was satisfied with Hope’s understanding of her lesson, he assigned her an essay on their current novel and sent her on her way with another fond slap to her bottom.

Aysha saw them emerging from the stateroom they had pressed into use as a classroom and cringed back into the passage wall at the tap. The Captain nodded as he passed her, then Hope approached more slowly, reading her assignment and thinking about her work. She was startled to be hugged by Aysha, who whispered, “I know, I know.” Then with a frightened glanced at the retreating Captain, she dashed in the opposite direction.

Hope gaped at her upset friend.

After lunch the next day, Aysha vomited again. Nashirah again gave her a stomach remedy. But this time she gave Aysha a cursory examination.

She called to the imam’s wife, her sister. The two women took the young girl to an unused stateroom and quiet voices questioned the child. Then tears .

The Captain was confused by all the comings and goings among the women on board. They were talking in low voices, and going silent when any of the men or children approached.

“What’s goin’ on, darlin?” he asked his wife.

“Right now, woman stuff. We’ll tell you soon enough. “ she said grimly. “Keep the kids out of our hair for a couple of hours, kay?”

The imam had been equally unsuccessful in getting information from the passenger wives. His wife and sister-in-law were stonefaced and had sequestered Aysha, her mother and her tiny sister in a stateroom.

Finally, the two leaders were invited in to the women’s council. Miriam told the men to sit down.

“Aysha is pregnant,” she said.

The men gaped. “She’s just a little girl. She’s what? Eleven?” said Rand.

“We can assume this was not a consensual relationship? That she was…. coerced?” said the imam.

“Yes. And it gets worse. It looks like the creep who did this is Rahim.” said Dita.

Rand shot to his feet and started out the door, only to be stopped by Mamie .

“No Rand. Stay cool.”

“I’m cool. I’m ice.”

“Yeah? Your plan include a trip out the airlock for Rahim?”

“Gorram right.”

“There are others to consider here. His widow. Two children without a father.”

“That last part sounds like a benefit to them.” The captain raged in a quiet voice that was more terrifying than any shouting. “And widow? You agree with me about the penalty for this…filth.”

“Where is Rehab?” asked the imam.

“She went to her tent. She has rejected what Aysha has told us. Apparently the attacks started during her last pregnancy.” said Miriam “When Aysha was eight or nine. Aysha … her father told her this was normal and her duty.”

Aysha and Hope were sitting together, arms entwined. The men looked over at the youngsters.

“It ain’t.” said Rand. “It ain’t and he was wrong to hurt you.”

“Mama called me a whore. She said I was lying. She said I was spreading for …. I don’t even know who she meant!”

The imam reached out for her. She cringed back. He stopped and said, “No one should ever touch you without your permission. You have done nothing wrong. No one will punish you. we are here to protect and comfort you.”

Mamie started to weep and Rand embraced her. ’We’ll do all we can to stop the hurtin, sweets.”

“But her mother called her out. Her mother is trashin her and makin her out a slut.”

Rand took a deep breath. “Ms. Miriam, would you take the girls away? Help Aysha understand that we are going to do everything we can to help her?”

After the children left, the imam said, “Thank you. I don’t think our discussions are going to be fit for young ears.”

“It will make our decisions harder.” The imam considered.

“The first decision ain’t. He’s off my boat. Now.”

There was a murmur of agreement from the women.

“I’ll take care of that. Want Marco’s help?” said Dita, rising.

The imam looked horrified.

“They say the worst punishment is to turn the criminal over to the women.” said Rand.

“No. There is law on Lazarus. We should take him there and have a trial”

“We’ll get the same decision. Airlock is cleaner than hangin’.”

“Then what happens to the girls? Can Rehab understand the innocence of her daughter? More practically, with no husband and no skills, how can she support the family?”

Dita stood by the stateroom door, at parade rest. Mamie and the imam sat on the bed: the imam cross-legged; she leaning against her husband, who had taken the only chair and sat with one arm around his wife and the other on his knee. The three passenger women sat on the floor, their robes flowing around them.

Nasirah said grimly, “ I hate this but.... it would be dangerous for a child as young as Aysha to give birth. She seems to have been pregnant before her first menses. “

The women nodded.

“That does seem the first step. Sooner the better,” said Mamie . “Can you do it?”

“Yes. This was not a part of my training that I ever wanted to use, but I can. The infirmary should have everything I need.”

“I can help you.” said Dita.

The men took a few moments to understand the women’s discussion.

“But...” said the imam. Rand just looked grimmer.

“You don’t get a say in this,” said Mamie .”We’ll explain it to Aysha and she can have the final word. But it is her body and her decision.”

The imam started to say something. 
“No.” said his wife. “Incest, rape and pederasty. That is not something any child should have to learn of his parentage. If Aysha agrees, her pregnancy can be over today.”

“So, what about Rehab?” asked Fatima.

“Let’s give her time to get over her shock.” Mamie suggested.”She ain’t got a lot of choices here. She ain’t been given a lot of choices in her whole entire life, seems like. She gotta be scared.”

“She’s taking it out on her child.”

“We’ll keep ’em apart for a few days.Let her cool down.”

Dita interjected, “ Whatever happens to that filthy bastard, she ain’t gonna have a husband no more. Somethin’ will have to be worked out about that.”

Dita and Nasirah left to talk to Aysha. Fatima and Mamie went to Rehab, to comfort and counsel her. Miriam had rounded up the children and was keeping them occupied with snacks and vids.

The men looked at each other. “Seems like the women got most of this sitchashun under control. Mebbee we should be talkin’ to the men about what to do with this piece of crap.” suggested Rand.

Rand had shoved Rahim into an empty bunk, and stationed Faoud, the builder, to guard the door, a flimsy structure of thin metal struts and bamboo. In spite of his anger, he was cool enough to realize that Rahim would not survive the wrath of his usual choice for such work. Marco was better at action than careful consideration.

Rand called Sander and Marco on the intercom to join them at the bunk door. He stood between Marco and the bunk, while Machmoud spoke.

“Rahim is being held prisoner while we decide what to do about a terrible crime he has committed. Most of you are fathers, and will be angered and disgusted by his actions. But we are here to discuss not our feelings nor to exact revenge but to find justice. Justice for all.”

Faoud, like the other men, had not been told why he was keeping Rahim captive. “He has brought harm to one of the children? Which one?”

“His daughter, Aysha. She is pregnant.”

Rand had been wise to stay near Marco, who surged towards the door. The other men took a moment to grasp what the imam was implying. Marco had seen more of the underside of life than these honest family men. Rand needed all the control he possessed to restrain the furious crewman.

A babble of cursing rose from all three men in a powerful mixture of English, Spanish and Arabic.

“She’s a child herself, a baby! How could he think to touch his own daughter like that!” cried Faoud.

“She is ruined,” howled Sander, “Who will think of her as a suitable wife after this?”

Marco growled. “She’s a kid. And the victim. Not guilty of anything. Git that inta your head right now.”

The imam waited until the men quietened, although Rand could hear Marco growling sotto voce like a bear.

“Our thoughts now must be how to handle the situation. The women are taking care of Aysha and will be helping her mother.” he reasoned. “The Captain’s first thought was to throw Rahim off the ship. Immediately and without a suit.”

Marco’s growl became louder. Faoud nodded in agreement.

Sander looked confused. “Has he admitted to this crime? Are we only taking the word of the child?”

“We have only spoken to the child and her mother so far.” admitted the imam. “The mother accuses the child of seducing her father.”

Sander looked disgusted.

“You are right, however.” added the imam. ’We must have Rahim’s story too, before we make such life changing decisions.”

“Then can we chuck him out the airlock?” demanded Marco.

“Well, here it is,” said Rand “The child is pregnant. She says her father has been abusing her for near four years, from since her mother got pregnant with the little one. Her mother is frantic and accusing the girl of whorin.”

“What does Rahim say?” asked Faoud. “He was just yelling when I was guarding him. It was not too clear what about.”

“We haven’t asked his story yet,” admitted Rand. “My first thought was to put him off my boat. I got kids too.”

“We’ll all be getting off at Lazarus.”

“Wasn’t plannin on waitin till we hit dirt.”

The imam interrupted. “We must not allow revenge to become our guide. We must find justice for this child, for her family and for Rahim.”

“The airlock is justice.” said Rand grimly.

“He was rapin Hope’s little friend,” said Marco. “Airlock’s too good for ’m. It’s fast.”

The passengers looked horrified at the attitude of the spacers.

“That is anger speaking.” Said the imam. “We must seek justice not revenge.”

“What will happen to Aysha?

“Well the women are taking care of her… medical needs. She is too young to undergo a pregnancy. And they are offering counsel to her mother. They hope to reconcile them as soon as Rehab calms down.”

“What happens when we get to Lazarus? We turn Rahim over to the authorities there?” Sander looked nervous. “This sounds like it would reflect on the rest of us as we settle in to the community.”

The spacers stared at him.

“Whatever happens to Rahim on Lazarus: jail, execution, even release, the story will stick to us and, unfortunately, to Aysha.” Sander said, his jaw set. “We have not only to protect an innocent child, and her even more innocent sister, because you all know that this kind of dirty gossip will spread, but we need to protect our own families, parents and children.”

The imam sighed. “Your words are cold, but yes, we must consider the whole community. I’m sorry, Captain, this is not the simple crime and punishment that you may have envisioned.”

“Nothin ever goes smooth, Machmoud. Nothin never.”

“Well. We know the girl’s story. I suppose we should hear Rahim out too. Should we all speak with him or shall we have just one person take his confession.”

“I’ll do it. I kin get anyone to talk.”

“No, Marco. We need somethin that can stand up in court if necessary. He don’t need scarin.”

“He does Rand. He needs scarin bad.”

The imam said, “As the leader of our little group, I will take his story. I would like another person as witness. Sander, you have indicated that you have a wider view of this than the rest of us. Will you?”

While Machmoud and Sander were talking with Rahim, the other men waited silently in the galley.

Mamie and Fatima were with Rehab, who was sobbing uncontrollably.

“How can I forgive her bringing such shame on us? And accusing her own father to cover her own whorish behaviour. I will kill her and her bastard!”

“She was eight when the abuse started. Eight. The child is innocent of any wrongdoing. The sin is Rahim’s and no one else. Unless refusing to see that sin is a sin iin tself.”

Rehab began wailing.

Nasira and Dita finished their work with Aysha and gave her a sedative to make her sleep.

They joined the other women in the kitchen. Miriam made mint tea and found sweet biscuits. A chime sounded. ‘It is time for prayers,” she said. “We should join our husbands in the cargo bay.’

Adults and children, all but Rahim, Rehab and the sleeping Aysha, gathered at the prayer rug.

The imam said the traditional comforting words and the passengers made their well –known responses.

After prayer the adults gathered in the common area. Rehab was sleeping.

“That stateroom ain’t much cop as a brig,” muttered Marco.

“There’s nowheres he kin go, Marco.”

“True enough, but he could get out, cause all kinds of fuss.”

Rand grunted. “What did he have to say, imam?”

“He’s denying everything. And his accusations against the child are worse than those of her mother. He seems to have a great hatred for women in general. He also accuses his wife of infidelity and claims that the smaller girl is not his. He has whores and promiscuity on the brain. Short of a DNA test, which we can’t do here, we have no way of proving that he is lying. He may even believe his stories.”

“I gotta nidea. We could try to scare it out of him.”

“Marco, you been told. Nuthin that won’t stand up.”

“Put him in the airlock,” repeated Marco.

“That time has passed. Do it immediate-like, hot blood, no repercussions. Do it now? Looks bad on all of us.”

“I didn’t mean put him out the airlock, Rand. I meant just put him in there. We’re just a day out of the Heinlein system. Give him time to think and not enough comfort for him ta think we’re believin him.”

The imam nodded slowly. “That’s not a bad idea. We would still be turning him over to the authorities on Lazarus? No accidental opening of the airlock before we land?”

“And there’s an alarm on both airlock doors, shipside and outside. Could work.”

“Are we in agreement then?” Imam el-Said looked over at the women who looked back at him stonefaced.

Dita’s gaze circled the women’s faces. “He’s gettin off light.”

Miriam agreed, “This is a terrible crime. A crime against a defenceless child.”

Mamie said, “Can we protect the kids from what is happening to him? And what happened to Aysha?”

“We’ll have to leave explanations up to parents, sweets. They know how much each child can understand.” Rand stood. “If we’re agreed, we’ll move him to the airlock at dinnertime, when the kids are distracted. And when we hit dirt, we turn him over to the local authorities.”

Everyone nodded, some more slowly than others.

Rand awoke, missing his wife’s warmth next to him.

“Where is she,” he muttered when Mamie did not return swiftly. He thought she might have felt something wrong with Bluebell’s engines. “First people problems, then engines. Nothin ever goes right.”

The airlock alarm went off. Briefly. And stopped.

Mamie returned, kissed her sleeping daughter and slipped into their bunk.

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