Vila entered the medical unit to check on his friends before his shift the next morning. He was deep in thought. The conversation with Corinne the previous night had been very interesting. He just wished that President Brent had not come looking for his daughter just as she was going to explain how a matriarchy worked.
The sight of Avon sitting on his bed, talking quietly to Cally, and Argus and Reya curled together, still asleep, filled him with warmth. It was good that they all had each other. He hoped that the possibilities that had opened up with Corinne would mean that he would have someone soon too. It was too early to tell though.
He went over to where Avon and Cally were. “How’s the patient?” he asked cheerfully.
Cally glanced at Avon and said, “In much less cheerful spirits than yours this morning.”
Saying that Avon was in 'less than cheerful spirits' was putting it mildly. He was very grumpy and was inclined to glare at everyone. Everything tended to irritate him and he felt that Vila's cheerful demeanour this morning was in very bad taste. On the other hand, Vila was feeling very good this morning.
Vila grinned, “Are you giving Cally a hard time again?”
Avon glared at him and asked, “How would you like one?”
“You are testy this morning, aren’t you? Did you get out of the wrong side of the bed?”
Avon said grumpily, “What possible relevance does that have to my current mood?”
Cally held a scanner in the direction of his head. “Avon, I need to take some readings.”
Avon said, “You won’t find anything.”
Vila mumbled, “You can say that again.”
Avon glared at him again and said in a warning tone, “Are you trying to say something?”
Vila spread his hands and said innocently, “Nooo. I wouldn’t dare.”
A grumbling voice said from the other side of the room, “Will you all be quiet? Reya is still sleeping.”
Vila said apologetically, “Sorry.”
Cally glared at both trouble makers and said, “We will endeavour to be quieter.”
Reya asked sleepily, “What’s all the noise?”
Argus glared at all of them and said, “It’s alright, nothing important. You can get some more rest.”
Reya said, “I’m awake now.” She tried to sit up and Argus helped her to lean against him.
Argus looked at Avon and Vila as if to say, “Now look what you’ve done.”
Avon said, “Vila apologizes.”
Vila looked offended, “Hey, I’m not the only one.”
Cally almost rolled her eyes and said, “They both apologize and myself as well.”
Sester opened his eyes and said, “This is highly entertaining but I missed the first part. I must have been sleeping. Can I get a recap?”
Argus said, “How would you like a black eye for enjoyment?”
Sester propped up on his elbows and managed a grimace and grin combination as the pain reminded him of his chest wound. “I see Avon is not the only one who got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Which reminds me, what are you doing here? I don’t remember you being injured.”
Argus grumbled, “Mind your own business.”
While the two bickered, Vila asked, “Avon, have you heard of any matriarchic societies before?”
Avon and Cally looked at him as if he had said something very strange, which given their conversation so far this morning, it was.
Avon said, “I have read of them. In banned historical records.”
Cally asked curiously, “Banned?”
Avon explained to her, “The Federation doesn’t like its citizens to have more knowledge than they want them to have.”
She asked, “And matriarchic societies qualify as such knowledge?”
“Almost anything that deals with politics or forms of government that compare more favourably than the Federation system.”
Vila said, “You mean anything that might show that there are better things than the Federation?”
“Of course,” said Avon.
"I don't think I'd ever say it but there might be places even worse than the Federation. Chandar being one of them.""
"For women, yes," agreed Avon.
Sester’s voice intruded on their conversation, “How is it that you had access to this banned information?”
They all fell quiet and everyone looked between Sester and Avon and back again. The silence was making them all uncomfortable.
Avon finally said, “You wish the knowledge for yourself.” It wasn’t a question.
Sester smiled, “Of course. I already have some knowledge of matriarchic societies if that’s of interest to you.”
Avon said coldly, “Your own banned sources?”
Sester said, “A psychostrategist's resources, which I believe is banned to most segments of the population.”
Reya asked, “What kinds of resources are these?”
Sester gave her an easy ingenuous smile, “Unfortunately, that information is also classified.”
Several people around the room had speculative or thoughtful looks on their faces. Avon wondered what this man was up to and why he had just told them this. Was it to make himself seem even more useful than he was?
Vila said, “Well this is all interesting but I’m still waiting for an answer.”
Avon turned back to him and asked, “Why this sudden interest?”
Vila for some reason felt uncomfortable. No one knew of his interest in Corinne yet. Or at least he didn’t think so. He said, “Well, I was just showing Corinne some interesting foods that we have. In the food dispensers.”
“And the topic of matriarchic societies came up?” asked Avon with a faintly amused and knowing look.
Sester decided to join in. “I would be interested in what food would provoke this kind of topic.”
Vila said, “It’s not that I’m interested in her or anything.”
There was a slight grin of amusement at the corner of Avon’s lips. “Of course not. You just developed a sudden burning interest in matriarchic societies. It must have been quite an inspired choice of food.”
Vila said defensively, “Well if you must know it was ice cream. Lots of ice cream.” He really had no idea why he said that.
Cally said, “That explains it.”
Argus said, “I had no idea that telling you to give Corinne a tour would lead to such a serious topic as ice cream. I’m not sure her parents would approve.”
Vila looked at each of them in turn. They were all grinning now. “Oh, I see.” He could swear that he could feel his face turning red. “I mean, we haven’t really done anything yet.”
Avon said, “Given your reputation, that’s surprising.”
“She’s not like anyone else.”
Argus said wryly, “We all say that.”
The look in Avon’s eyes indicated that he agreed with that statement, even though he didn’t say it.
Cally’s voice came into his mind, * Do you really think that, Avon? *
He turned slightly and thought to her, * Of course. You’re unique. * Then with a light ripple of amusement he added, * You would have to be to put up with my moods. *
Cally projected to him, * Is that what you call this morning? *
* Perhaps you should let me know which side of the bed is the right side? *
Cally sent to him, * Oh, I don’t think that any side of the bed would have been the right side for you this morning. *
Avon sent a mischievous, * Perhaps it’s not the bed which is the problem. *
Cally picked up on his suddenly playful mood, * Is this your attempt at an apology? *
Since Avon seemed to have paused for far too long, Vila asked, “Avon?”
Avon tore his attentions away from his mental communications and said, “Matriarchic societies.”
Vila said, “You still haven't told me what it is yet.”
Avon asked, “And you've also not answered my question. What provoked this fascinating topic of discussion?”
Vila said, “Corinne said that the Tellar Union is a matriarchy.”
Avon mused, “Does she now?”
Sester said, “That’s very interesting. Are you certain you heard correctly? She said a matriarchic society?”
“Yes, that’s what she said. What’s wrong with it?”
Sester said, “Nothing’s wrong. It’s just that truly matriarchic societies are almost unheard of. There are none currently.”
"They are a myth," said Avon. "A fantasy of an ideal society. Humanity is not capable of such a thing."
Sester said, "You're just a cynic, Avon. There have been successful matriarchies in the ancient past. Not many but there have been."
Avon had a bare half-smile, "Let me guess, they were destroyed?"
Vila said, “Well, there’s one now."
Avon said, “Corinne may be mistaken. It depends on whether she knows what one is.”
Sester added, “Or whether her definition of one is the same as ours.”
Vila said, “Well, I thought it was like a patriarchy but in reverse. With women running things.”
Sester said, “That’s an easy mistake to make.”
Vila said, “That’s what Corinne said.” He tried to recall her words from the previous night. “She said that men and women are different. We’re more dominant and competitive.”
Avon said, “And that determines the style of leadership in a patriarchy.”
Vila said excitedly, “That’s exactly what she said.”
Avon asked, “Did she say anything else?”
“Well, she was about to explain about a matriarchy but her father came in and took her away.”
Avon said, “Hence your question this morning?” He looked at Sester.
Sester realized that Avon wanted him to reveal what knowledge he did possess; he took the cue. "Corinne is correct that the nature of men is what determines the form of government in a male-dominant society. We are generally aggressive and competitive by nature. That is reflected in our forms of leadership and how our society is run. War is one of the natural expressions of such a competitive and aggressive state. We dominate and possess. There are greater and lesser states. We split into classes, with each having different privilege levels and each higher group thinking less of each lower group.”
Vila said, “That’s the Federation.”
Cally remarked with dry sarcasm, "That's also the dynamic that's been displayed in this room this morning."
The men looked at her and then they looked at each other. Avon's single comment was, "Quite."
Someone cleared his throat. It was unclear who it was but the men were still looking at one another, each one aware that establishing position was a dominant part of how they interacted with each other.
Reya leaned forward a bit and asked, "I would like to know what a matriarchic society is like."
Avon responded, "From the historical records, matriarchic societies are supposedly truly egalitarian. They are balanced and peaceful societies that practice reciprocal equality in which every individual, irrespective of gender and age is treated with respect. They recognize that males and females have different strengths but all strengths are equally valued and roles are not gender dependent. They are non-violent and do not have class systems."
Sester added, "Yes. That tallies with my knowledge. Domination is unknown in matriarchic societies. They operate on cooperation and respect."
Vila said, "I agree with Avon. It sounds too good to be true. What's the catch? There has to be one."
Avon said cynically, "Supposedly there is none. Which is why it must be a myth."
Cally said, "But Corinne said that the Tellar Union is one."
Vila hovered between wanting to believe Corinne but finding it hard to because of his own none too stellar experiences with people. "Well…yes, she did. I really want to believe her."
Avon remarked, "But you don't believe in humanity."
Vila said, "I mean, it sounds wonderful. If there really was a place like that, I'd never want to leave."
Sester said, "Avon is wrong. There have been matriarchic or semi-matriarchic cultures in Earth's past. But because they were not aggressive or dominating, they tended to be overshadowed and did not survive much beyond the end of the old calendar."
Vila said, "I knew there was a catch."
Reya said, "Does that mean that Marlena's world is a world under siege? I can't imagine that it would do well in this region of space, not with most worlds being like Chandar."
Vila said, "Didn't they say that the Chandarans deliberately set traps to capture the Tellarians?" Now he was worried for Corinne and the people they were to be delivering to the supposedly safe haven of the Tellar Union.
Argus said, "I think we need to have a talk with Marlena."