Tristan and Arianne

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Chapter 17

Arianne sauntered into Alcofribas’s study. She had a breezy air about her, but it disguised the tightness in her chest. She hated confronting her father at the best of times, and as she was about to voice her rejection of the thing he held most dear, this was far from being the best of times. But, fired with the zeal of a convert, it was something she felt had to be done.

Alcofribas was wearing the thoughtscripter, a piece of headgear that converted his thoughts into text on an unseen computer. He was lost in concentration, staring into space.

“Father?”

Alcofribas suddenly became aware of his daughter’s presence. “Arianne?”

“Are you busy?”

“Always.”

“Then I won’t disturb you.” She felt her nerve failing and she began to retreat towards the door.

She had unwittingly touched a raw nerve. Alcofribas always felt a pang of guilt that between his studies and the administration of the abbey he never found enough time to share with her. He pulled the thoughtscripter off his head. “I am never too busy for you,” he lied. “What can I do for you?”

“I don’t know quite where to begin,” she said.

“The beginning is always a good place,” Alcofribas smiled encouragingly.

“Well,” she said, “I have been talking to Tristan, and...” She stopped short. The change of expression that came over Alcofribas’ face at the mention of Tristan’s name was quite electrifying in its abruptness.

“Go on,” he commanded.

“Well.” Arianne swallowed hard. “It seems to me that we have got it all wrong with our stance against nanotechnology. It is no more unnatural, I think, than many of the other technologies that we use and gain benefit from, less so, even, from what I understand from... I mean, Wen and Jerrold, two men whose expertise we will not easily replace, two men who died a horrible death just because they misread a map, would still be here with us, serving the abbey community and enjoying life, if they had had assembler technology to repair their bodies. I mean, look at those friends of Tristan’s. Blown to pieces, but repaired. They are mentally impaired...”

“Zombies,” Alcofribas interrupted.

“...But that can be fixed in time, and time is something these people have plenty of. Imagine it, father, imagine what we could achieve with such lifespans.”

She stopped short. She realised her father was staring at her intently, but only half listening to what she was saying.

“There’s something different about you,” Alcofribas muttered. “And I know what it is. You’re radiant, positively glowing. I’ve never seen you like this before. He’s had you, hasn’t he?”

“Father?”

“Hasn’t he?”

Arianne sucked the incense-laden air of the study into her lungs. It smelled musty. She longed to throw something through the window, to let the fresh spring breeze sweep through the room, tangy with life and the world outside.

“If you must put it that way,” she replied, her voice resonant with quiet defiance, “yes, he ‘had’ me. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“Did he get you drunk? Seduce you?”

“No. I went to his cell of my own volition, wanting, expecting him to make love to me.” It was a lie. She had been expecting rejection. “And he did. Beautifully. Now, if we can return to...”

“Arianne, how could you?”

“How could I what? Give myself to someone other than you?” She spat the words at him. “He’s right. You keep me chained to your side with emotional blackmail, because you can’t stand to see me live my own life. And there’s a whole galaxy out there.” The look on Alcofribas’ face was a mixture of anger and despair. “Mother has been dead,” Arianne continued, “for twenty-three years. It’s time to let her go. And it’s time to let me go too.”

Alcofribas answered softly, “I can’t.”

Arianne felt her heart hardening. “You’ll have to. That’s all there is to it.”

She began to turn towards the door.

“Arianne, wait.” She stopped. “There are dangers out there. Especially if you are travelling in the company of a wanted man.”

“I can deal with it, father,” she replied simply. “I’m a big girl now.”

Tristan found Arianne cramming clothes and equipment into a large holdall in her room.

“What’s happening?” he asked.

“We’re taking a short holiday,” said Arianne. “You might as well see a bit of this planet while you’re here. I mean, who knows when you’ll be back this way again?”

Tristan had already learned to trust Arianne’s judgement, so he said nothing, but merely shouldered the bag and followed her outside, where a pair of hippocybes were already saddled and waiting. Arianne produced a pair of leather straps from the pocket of her hooded riding coat and secured the bag behind her saddle. Already in position along her animal’s right flank was a long cylindrical case, a few centimetres in diameter. It reminded Tristan of something that might contain a weapon, but firearms seemed to be unknown on Thelema.

Without a word, Arianne vaulted lithely into the saddle and set off at a brisk trot.

Tristan hastened after her. “‘Proud Arianne’,” he muttered under his breath. “It fits.”

*****

They had left the rift valley, and had struck north, so far as Tristan could tell from the position of the ever-obscured sun. They were crossing a wild moorland, a place of peat bogs, rushing becks and, in sheltered depressions, thickets of stunted trees, their branches snaking out in the direction of the prevailing wind.

“What did your father say?” Tristan said at last.

“The predictable things,” Arianne responded huffily.

“You had a fight?”

“You could call it that,” Arianne conceded.

“I’m sorry if I’ve caused a rift between you,” said Tristan.

“Don’t be,” replied Arianne. “It was overdue. A much-needed catharsis.”

“Your father seems to be a very unhappy man.”

“He loved my mother passionately. When she died, he became very bitter, it seems. He’s never got over it, and I suppose he never will. He came here to Thelema not that long after her death, and shut himself off from the rest of society. Which is fine, but I don’t see why I should have to endure that too.”

“He doesn’t like the Nasty very much, does he?”

“Well, no. All the usual reasons, their oppression of intellectual freedom, their paranoid suppression of all criticism. But it seems somehow more of a personal thing with him. But he won’t talk about it, and I can’t figure it out.”

They rode on across the upland for half a day, sometimes riding hand in hand, talking, delving into each other’s past, becoming more familiar with each other, and ever more comfortable with their new-found identity as a couple.

In the early afternoon they crested a low ridge and descended onto a mournful, featureless plain formed by a vast lava flow aeons before. It stretched out before them to the horizon.

“Where exactly are we going?” asked Tristan.

“You’ll see,” Arianne grinned impishly. “Tomorrow.”

They pressed on.

“You are aware,” Tristan began tentatively, “that this planet is quite tectonically active?”

“Oh yes,” said Arianne cheerfully. “It would be pretty boring if it weren’t.”

“And that the abbey is situated on a fault line?”

“Yes. Father approves of the builders’ choice of location. “Shaking a defiant fist at God,” he calls it.”

“So your father has it in for God as well? Is there anyone he doesn’t have it in for?”

“Intellectuals. People who use their brains. People who want to work out how everything ticks. They’re father’s kind of people.”

“And yours?”

“Yes, I suppose mine too, though not so exclusively.”

“So there’s hope for the likes of me?”

Arianne laughed. “Oh yes, there’s definitely hope for the likes of you.”

When night fell, they stopped, and Arianne set up her trusty tent. Tristan fed some raw material into his molecular converter and produced a passable beef goulash. Arianne accepted a plateful with relish, and they ate in silence.

“I was just thinking of our first night together, camping out,” said Tristan.

Arianne nodded. “We’ve come a long way in a short time,” she said. She added sheepishly, “I wasn’t very nice.”

“You have to be careful,” said Tristan, “when you’re picking up strange men in the middle of nowhere.”

Arianne pointed to the molecular converter. “Tell me again how it works.” Sitting there in the lamplight, she wriggled comfortably into Tristan’s embrace. Beyond the soft glow of the lamp, strange basalt projections loomed like grotesque statues against the deepening gloom of twilight.

“The molly? Well, it simply takes a raw material and rearranges its molecular structure. In this instance it takes vegetable matter and reorganises it, atom by atom, into protein, just the same as an animal does when it eats grass and turns it into meat. The beauty of it is that planets suffering climatic extremes no longer have the threat of food shortages hanging over them. No one anywhere needs to go hungry.”

“But if there’s no hunger, and no disease, surely you have the problem of populations swelling out of control?”

“Well, there was that problem to begin with, but for one thing people have begun to adapt, realising that there was not the traditional urgency about raising a family. If there is something else you would rather be doing, you can put off making babies for a century or two, if you wish. For another, it has hastened the colonisation of uninhabited planets throughout the Dynasty. And part of that has been the development of new materials for spacecraft construction. We have engines made of diamond fibre, carbon sixty nanowires, that sort of thing. ’Cause when the first space pioneers tried to get off the homeworld, they had to deal with the gravity well, and their pre-nano ships were just too heavy to be efficient. And colonisation has raced ahead because nanotech stuff made terraforming easier than anyone had ever dreamed possible.”

“It all seems a bit unreal,” said Arianne, yawning sleepily.

“Well of course,” said Tristan. “That’s why there was so much trouble when it first came along. Computers, communications, biotechnology, they all paled into insignificance by comparison. And people found it hard: the changes to their lives were enormous, and they had trouble coping. It was something they were quite unprepared for. It was really the ultimate paradigm shift.”

“Pardon me?”

“The whole human race moved onto a new plane of existence. Like coming out of the ocean to live on the land. Or learning how to control fire. It set us apart from our immediate ancestors. But people became comfortable with it. Apart from you Naysayers of course.”

Arianne shifted in his lap. “Yes,” she said dreamily, ignoring the jibe. “It’s funny how fast you can become comfortable with something new. A new place to live, a new person to share your life, if it’s good, everything that went before seems almost like, well, a previous existence. Meeting you has been a - what did you call it? - a paradigm shift in my life.”

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