by Jennifer R. Povey
Elaine had been to plenty of crazy planets, but this one took the cake.
For starters, it was in a binary system, and that always made for extra weirdness. Two suns overlapping each other in a way that kept night always short. The natives did not seem bothered by it, but she had found it necessary to sleep with blackout curtains so that a dawn or two did not wake her.
Natives. She tried not to think of them that way, but could not help it. They were as human as she was, at least in terms of being part of genus homo. They were human, but they were also adapted to this world.
Adapted physically. They were the only human descendants so far found with third eyelids…third eyelids they could see through perfectly well. Built-in glare protection. She slipped in the lenses she was using as an artificial substitute and left the hotel room.
Re-contact was always a risky matter. These people…these people treated their menfolk like nothing she had ever seen. The other way around, that was more common. There were worlds Elaine would never be assigned to. Here, though…
No men on the street. Only women, all of them the short, squat body type of Phylician natives. This was not a world on which it paid to be tall.
Basic equality under the law was a prerequisite to Federation membership. And a prerequisite to planetary aid. She was here to change these people.
She was here to free their men.
The breeding center was a sprawling complex. At first, they had refused her access. She was an offworlder, and her genes should not mingle with theirs. A sensible attitude for a people without genetic engineering techniques. Now, though, she had her permission.
“It’s still a bad idea,” the woman at the gate said to her. “They won’t be able to control themselves when they see you.”
Elaine rolled her eyes. Men could always control themselves. Although it might be that if they had not been properly socialized. “Our men do fine around other women.”
“Your men, I am told, don’t need the halat root.”
She shook her head. Halat root. Did that mean they were keeping the men drugged? “Well, how about we start with a gate or a door between us?”
The men moved, she noticed, as if they were in a dream. She saw two of them in the garden. One had grey hair (Phylicians did not appear to grow beards), the other seemed little more than a boy. Some kind of instruction was passing between them.
Then they saw her and moved towards the gate, as if drawn to her. She noticed both had erections under their thin trousers.
Halat root. They really could not control themselves. “The halat root…makes them like this?”
The woman nodded.
Elaine had her point of attack. Or at least a starting point for her research.
That research took her well into the night. They had brought down no male personnel, not trusting how the Phylician women would react to men who were not purdahed. It seemed the women were not the problem.
Halat root. Forbidden for women. Required for men. A testosterone enhancer, but why had they started using it in the first place?
It was all processed in one factory. For somebody with the resources of the galaxy behind her this would not be hard. She had the nanofactors ready within a week.
The Phylician sky was oppressive in glare even with her lenses, both suns high over the horizon. Double day, they called it, and it came at a regular, fairly short interval. It was their Sabbath. The day you did no work but only relaxed and played. The factory would be empty. The halat root, processed into pills, a supplement given to their men. To all the men in this city.
She would free the men. The nanofactor was in her hands, in a vial. She broke it at the factory’s waste pipe, watched it slither into the building as it was programmed. It would eat the halat product and replace it with something inert. With filler. She watched it go and her eyes darkened.
What she had just done was illegal and unethical, but it was right. Those men with their empty eyes, responding only to a female body and responding only sexually. Kept in the breeding center. The dark became a smile and she walked back through the brilliant streets with her head held high.
She knew she had done the right thing. Days passed. Then a week. A week with no halat root. She went back to the breeding center, stopping at the door.
Pleasant enough for a harem, she thought. They did look after them. Need the halat root, though? Whatever justification they had had for keeping them on it…
Then the commotion swept her up, the women, pushing their way inside. She barely understood their words, too much and too fast for her translator, but she heard the sounds of mourning.
Dead male bodies in the garden. That was what she saw. They needed the halat root to live? Her mistake slammed into her. The revolution she had planned, the rules she had broken…she had killed them all.
For her there was no escape. “What did you do, offworlder?”
“I…” She knew only guilt and fear in that moment, felt them flowing through her. Her heartbeat was irregular, uncertain.
“You did this.” The woman grabbed her by the arm, pulled her into a store room. Locked the door. “I will get you an escort back to your ship. You will leave. You and all of your kind.”
“I didn’t know. I wanted to free them.” In a way she had, but this world could never rejoin the galaxy. They would place it in a purdah of its own while they worked out. “Withdrawal?”
Slowly, the woman nodded. “Without it, they cannot…we cannot…breed. We have no choice. Now go. Tell your Federation we have only done what we need to survive. Some of them live. Enough.”
She had not condemned the city…but then, she wouldn’t have anyway. They could have imported more of their drugged, empty men. “No. There is another answer.”
“We have had enough of your answers. Go.”
Tears streaking her face, Elaine went.