I wrote this sci-fi romance short story for the RWAustralia© Little Gems competition several years ago.
I was intrigued with the "mail-order bride" idea and decide to place it in a sci-fi setting. It was fun developing the idea and the characters.
I mean, what sort of person would willingly contract or bond themselves to a person they've never met? What would motivate them to leave everything familiar and head off into the unknown? To chose an uncertain future?
And what about the person who advertised for a partner? Were they so desperate for company they'd take the drastic step of marrying a stranger? Or just lonely?
These were the 'what if' questions that prompted me to throw Rylan and Kaylee together. This story will be posted in three installments over the month of December. I hope you enjoy it.
A NEW BEGINNING
© Kylie Griffin 2013
What had I signed up for? Certainly not the situation I found myself in, that’s for sure, but anxiety prodded the nerves dancing in my stomach anyway. I fiddled with a long strand of blonde hair then tucked it behind my ear. Oh, I’d anticipated some of the variables I’d need to adjust to P-171, frontier colonial planet; issues like uncertainty about the future, deep-space cryo-sleep for a year, a Bonding contract with terms yet to be negotiated, and a life vastly different than the crowded, overpopulated existence I’d had back on Earth, but nothing had prepared me for this.
Heat rippled off the dry, dusty hills and ravines of a land so desolate it made the dirty, rowdy, ram-shackled spaceport-town four hours behind me look like a High-class metropolis rather than a haven for the desperate.
I wiped at the sweat on my face and squinted against the bright sunlight out over a cream and tan landscape rippling in the afternoon heat. The hum of the skimmer as it made its way over yet another undulating, rock strewn hill was the only sound of civilisation present in a terrain so unforgiving I wondered how any of the Terra-farmers could ever make a living from dirt and stone. Water was scarce, as I quickly learnt, more precious than credit, and everything was bartered or sold by the litre.
“We’re nearly there, Ms.Una.”
My travelling companion, Rylan Tann, broke the silence, his voice rich and deep; only the second time I’d heard him speak other than the initial awkward meeting at the Bond-Office when he’d picked me up and we’d thumb-printed the contract. I was his Bondwoman for six months, either as a Terra-labourer or companion or both. Final terms were still negotiable.
“Please, call me Kaylee, Mr.Tann.” He grunted and I glanced over at him, wondering what he was thinking. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to talk about our situation. His lean, angular, clean-shaven face gave nothing away yet there was a quiet strength beneath the stoic facade.
I’d expected Rylan to be well into his fifties. The brief info-sheet on him said he’d been in the Federation military, a retired veteran turned Terra-farmer, but he seemed to be in his mid-thirties, a few years older than me.
His large, broad shoulder frame barely fit in the skimmer seat. He handled the skimmer with skill that came from years of experience. Underneath the worn but clean coverall he had a hard, thick-muscled body, one of the first things I’d noticed when he’d helped me into the skimmer; a man well used to physical labour. Something I could definitely appreciate.
“Your settlement block is a long way from port, Mr.Tann,” I said, softly. “Do you have any neighbours?”
His dark brown eyes, the colour of chocolate I’d once seen in a store window but never tasted, met mine a moment before returning to the horizon. “The Neelan family’s only an hour away on the eastern border. Open plains, unclaimed, on the others.”
An hour and nothing but isolation? I swallowed dryly and smoothed a hand over the practical coveralls issued to me when I’d disembarked the sleeper-ship. It would take getting used to but the remoteness had a certain peacefulness I could learn to like, especially after living in a multi-celled, dorm-styled apartment with four other families.
“The pre-fab cabin has a comm. Bought a disk-player last wet-season. I like music. No vid-feed though. Couldn’t afford the uplink to the satellite. Dust also distorts the reception.”
I smiled. “Can’t miss what you never had, Mr.Tann. My family couldn’t afford one either. We had ten mouths to feed.”
His rugged, tanned face lit up with surprise. “Is that why you Bonded to a Colony world?”
“Partly.” I cleared my throat and swallowed dryly. The dust and residual effects of cryo-sleep made my voice hoarse.
Rylan glanced at me, then leant across the console, flipped open a small compartment and offered me a hydro-pouch.
I took it, impressed that he’d noticed my thirst. “Thank you.” I broke the seal and sipped the cool liquid, aware that he was waiting for an answer. Fiddling with the corner of the package, I took a fortifying breath. “My family’s financial situation limited my formal education, Mr.Tann. Not a lot of employment for those with basic-education but I got by hiring on as a general labourer. I learnt enough on the street to know hand to mouth subsistence held no future and my family needed the space, so I signed up.”
He grunted. “Difficult choice for a woman coming out here.”
“I’m not afraid of hard work. Bonding gave me more options than I had on Earth.”
An embellishment of the truth, but I was unwilling to admit it’d been my only option. I’d barely been able to pay the application fee so this was a one-way trip for me. I had no credit to break our contract if he turned out to be a less than desirable employer. It was doubtful the short-staffed Peacekeepers would be able to enforce bonding regulations this far away from the port, they’d had enough trouble enforcing the law within town limits from what I’d seen. P-171 was my future and the man beside me would decide a large part of it.
His blunt question was quiet but terse. “Are you looking for a husband?”
“Depends.” I bit my lip. “Are you looking for a wife?”
“Can’t say I thought any woman would want to live out here. I did wonder what type would accept an application such as mine.” He paused, and his large hands tightened on the skimmer controls. “I’d consider marriage. I’ve been here five years, Ms.Una. Company of any sort, but especially a woman’s, would ease the hours of loneliness.”
An honest answer, one that deserved a response.
“Mr.Tann, I can’t commit to someone I barely know.”
He nodded, the tension around his eyes and mouth easing. “That I can understand. Not expecting an answer today.”
© Kylie Griffin 2013
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Part 2 will be posted this time next week...