Raymund Eich

Iphigenia of Khufu

Ebook

The kind of man she’d been taught to fear. Her only chance to flee her home asteroid colony and choose a life for herself.

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“”

The kind of man she’d been taught to fear.

Her only chance to choose a life for herself.

Hiding behind a tank of molten uranium salts, Iphigenia’s chewed fingernails gripped the radiation shielding and her dark eyes watched the man she both craved and feared to talk to.

Inside the dock of her asteroid colony, the spacejock did maintenance work on his ship. His oval face clashed with his haircut, buzzed on the sides and long enough on top for his brown hair to float like seaweed. Wiry mustache and beard. Cargo pants and multi-pocket vest over a threadbare T-shirt. Not handsome, not at all.

But she didn’t care about his looks. The way he would care about hers, if he saw her.

The spacejock was about to round the curve of his hull out of her sight when her fingers lost their grip on the shielding. She shifted her grip to her other hand. Soundlessly. She thought.

Without turning his gaze away from his ship, the spacejock said across the echoing space, “Are you going to show yourself?”

Sample of “Iphigenia of Khufu”

1

She wanted with all her heart and mind and soul to be someone else right then. Someone pretty, with straight teeth and a smooth voice. But instead, she was plain Iphigenia.

Iffy, indeed. Her booty too flat, her hair too nappy, especially here in the free-fall airdock where it floated around her head like a black dandelion. Hiding behind a tank of molten uranium salts, her chewed fingernails gripped the radiation shielding and her dark eyes watched the man she both craved and feared to talk to.

A white man. Iphigenia’s father and the other leaders of Khufu had debated loudly enough for their shouts to leak through the closed door of Papa’s study and reach her room. But no other spacejock with a big enough ship answered their bid, and the time had come.

His ship, a cylinder with Lady of the Lake painted on the side nearest her, looked big enough. The cavernous airdock was the biggest space in the colony, big enough that she felt the air pressure drop and the environmental pumps chug harder when they filled it for him. Cradle arms locked the front of it in place near the wall to her right, but the nozzles of the maneuvering and main rockets at the back end nearly brushed the airtight gate between the dock and hard vacuum.

Big enough to carry human cargo.

Iphigenia eyed him again. She knew all the stories, of Kentucky colonels with whips in hand and imperious blue eyes. The spacejock looked nothing like a slave master of legend. In the harsh work lights inside the airdock, he had an oval face that didn’t go well with his haircut, buzzed on the sides and long enough on top for his brown hair to float like seaweed. He had a wiry growth of mustache and beard over the lower half of his face. Cargo pants and multi-pocket vest over a threadbare T-shirt. Not handsome, not at all.

She didn’t care about his looks. The way he would care about hers, if he saw her.

But how could she ask without showing herself?

He stroked his facial hair with one hand while his other, clad in a thick glove, pulled himself along the outer hull of his ship. He stopped, ran a scanner over the seamless-looking gray metal, and moved on. From time to time he muttered something too low to hear. From his body language, a curse. Each time, he scritched a paint pen off its hook-and-loop home on his cargo pants, painted a circle around something she couldn’t see, and kept going.

The spacejock was about to round the curve of his hull out of her sight when her fingers lost their grip on the shielding. She shifted her grip to her other hand. Soundlessly. She thought.

Without turning his gaze away from his ship, the spacejock said across the echoing space, “Are you going to show yourself?”

Iphigenia caught her breath. If she froze and made no sound, he would decide he’d heard something that wasn’t there.

“It’s normal for an asteroid colonist to want to look at an inbound ship,” he said.

Her back stiffened. From his voice, he wasn’t much older than her, and he condescended her like a child? Or was this the arrogance of his type coming out?

She pulled her head and shoulders into his view and steadied herself with a hand raised to a coolant pipe. Brow scrunched, she called out, “What do you know about asteroid colonists?”

He blinked, took in her figure. His blue eyes met hers. “I was one.”

His tone made her tense up. Not how this was supposed to go. She would say what she wanted, not pleading for a yes and not shouting at a no. Instead she couldn’t speak.

The spacejock filled the silence. He craned his neck up and down and said in a raised voice, “Be it known that this young woman entered the dock without my knowledge and I’m asking her to leave right now.”

Iphigenia drew in a breath. He was scared too. “Don’t you worry about cameras and microphones. I took care of them before I came in. I’m worried about­my—the elders—too.”

He jerked his right hand to his chest above his heart. Where most people wore their patch computers. “I’m going to record everything.” He blinked owlishly. She couldn’t see tiny patch cameras stuck to the top of his eye sockets, but they had to be there, along with microphones stuck to his dangling earlobes.

Her heart jumped into her throat. “Don’t tell the elders I was here.”

He showed her the palm of his right hand, fingers spread, and she realized the thick glove on the other hand was magnetized to hold him to the hull. “Don’t give me a reason to.”

She wrinkled her nose. “What do you mean?”

His body language eased. “Most colonies get twitchy about male spacejocks chasing their young women. Some young women know that, entrap a spacejock, and then lie that he forced himself on them.”

Iphigenia raised an eyebrow. Most colonies? There were thousands around the solar system and he looked too young to see more than ten of them. “You’ve run into a woman like that in your many years of piloting?”

He jutted up his chin. “There are a thousand spacejocks around the solar system. We share what we’ve seen. It’s a brotherhood.” He angled his head, narrowed his eyes at her. “You want a ride away from here.”

She rolled her lips in on themselves. How did he know? “What makes you say that?”

“That’s the second most common reason colonial women approach spacejocks on the sly.” He scratched his scraggly beard. “You know why I’m here, don’t you?”

She hesitated over the words, as if saying them aloud made them a good thing. “Your ship’s the orange blossom special.”

Her father and the other elders, men and women alike, said it was a tradition that couldn’t be broken. Colonies were small, their founders went through a genetic bottleneck, and cosmic radiation damaged genes no matter how deep colonists burrowed into their asteroids and moonlets. Long term health required periodic influxes of genetic variation.

Some colonies used genetic engineering techniques for that genetic variation, but Khufu couldn’t. Mad Scientist Yaqub had used genetic engineering to create white people on Earth ten thousand years ago, and look what came out of that. Khufu had to get genetic variation the old-fashioned way. But the elders were choosy about how they let in, especially when most people off Earth were as white as this spacejock.

3362 Khufu and two other asteroid colonies founded by African-Americans, 500027 Nkrumah and 62201 Marcusgarvey, worked out a solution. About every twenty years, ten young women from one colony went to the next in the chain. Women from Khufu went to Nkrumah. There they became wives of men they’d never met or even seen. There they lived out their days.

It sounded tolerable, when talked about in a classroom or around the dinner table as a child. Especially when her own grandmother, Ruth, got a faraway look in her yellow eyes and talked about overcoming her fears as a young woman on her trip here from Marcusgarvey.

But as the day grew closer, and it sank in that girls she’d grown up with would be packed off, never to be seen again, the wrongness of it crawled down Iphigenia’s back and made her want to escape this place more than ever.

“It could be your ticket out,” said the spacejock. Do you get to volunteer?”

Not all volunteers were accepted. Especially the daughter of Supreme Elder Robinson, who should know better than to make her father look bad by wanting to leave. “I could.”

“Is Nkrumah a bad place?”

“Is it any better than here?”

He angled his head like he checked notes sent by his patch computer through eye socket projectors onto his eyeballs. “Beats me.”

“Even if it is,” Iphigenia said, “it doesn’t matter. I want to leave on my terms, not the elders.”

“I respect that. I shared the same sentiment when I left my home.”

Iphigenia’s heart swelled. A smile opened her mouth. “You’ll take me?”

“Do you have permission from the elders to leave but not get off at Nkrumah?”

“Permission? To leave? Why would I—”

His blue eyes crinkled. “Sorry, but no.”

A pit opened in Iphigenia’s stomach. Dreams smashed a hundred different ways. No? “That’s not right.”

“If you’re on the passenger list and you don’t get off at Nkrumah, they’ll force their way on board to look for you. When they find you, the best case is they drag you off and only damage my reputation, not me or my ship.”

She could only blink.

He went on. “The hit to my reputation would be bad enough. Most colonies mistrust outsiders to begin with. If I flout one colony’s leaders, a bunch of other colonies will refuse to let me dock or refuel. I can’t risk that.”

Iphigenia found some words. “What if I’m not on the passenger list?”

He extended his fingers, ticking off points. “I won’t knowingly let you stowaway. You can’t sneak on board. The airlocks are keyed to my biometrics and a password. And even if you did, we’ll be weeks in transit to Nkrumah. You can’t hide onboard from me and the listed passengers that long. You can’t hide your disappearance from the elders

“”

Additional information

Format

Ebook

Writer

Raymund Eich

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