Vila and Corinne went back down to the open-air market that Lentar had shown them the previous day. It was just as bustling as before and equally as festive. The Tellarans seemed to have a zest for living and enjoyed each other's company.
As they took in the varied modes of dress around them, Corinne wasn't as wide-eyed as the day before. She had been particularly uncomfortable with some of the more revealing outfits some of the women wore. For her shoulders and legs were things to be covered up and not to be revealed in public.
The men she didn't have problems with. Chandaran society idolized their men and going around half-nude wasn't uncommon, especially if they were suitably endowed with appropriately large muscles. Not that the Tellaran men went around that exposed. They also didn't seem to share the obsession with musculature either which was quite a change.
She was more used to the different forms of dress now but her own taste, while tending to much more colourful and decorative clothing than her old ones, was still fairly conservative. Vila called it simple but elegant. She did love the variety of colours and the different textures and sheens of the materials. The creativity of styles was a marvel. Sometimes she would just admire the beauty of it.
The thing that amazed and affected her most was the feeling of being able to walk down a street and visit whatever shops she wanted. Pick up items, feel them in her hands, choose what tickled her fancy and take them away with her. The freedom of it overwhelmed her at times. She was glad that Vila was with her.
As she and Vila walked down a new avenue, Corinne still felt a bit self-conscious in her new white patterned blouse with the rounded collar. She had stared at herself in the reflecting surface that morning, not recognizing who was staring back at her in the beautiful clothes. It would take some getting used to.
She had a new life now. One where she didn't have to constantly be afraid of being found out. Of being branded as a wild woman and be sent to one of the Obedience Centres that her mother had been subjected to when she had first been captured.
Corinne shivered as she remembered her mother telling her about her experiences one day. She didn't often. It was something Marlena had not wanted her exposed to. She didn't want her daughter to learn to hate. But she had asked and her mother had relented one day when she was in a sad and despondent mood. Corinne knew that despite her mother's love for her father; sometimes she missed her own people terribly. She said that it was like being ripped from a place of love and drowned in a sea of hate.
Corinne had always dreamed of being able to go to Tellar and see this place where people were supposed to care about one another and valued each other no matter who they were. It seemed like an impossible paradise. She wanted to believe in it because of her mother.
It was hard to believe that she was really here.
Corinne glanced at Vila out of the corner of her eyes as they walked along and he told her a story from Earth, something about a woman whose primary characteristic seemed to be the buying and hoarding of clothing. It must have been a fanciful story because she couldn't believe that anyone would need a thousand pairs of shoes. He liked to tell her funny things to make her laugh.
She liked Vila a lot. He was very sweet and had said that she looked nice even in her old clothes. She knew that he couldn't have been telling her the truth. He was much too kind to her and she wished she could do something for him in return.
It seemed like all the giving was one way. Her mother had taught her that one should never take advantage of anyone. You must always give more than you receive. That way there would always be a surplus of caring in the world and that's what made it a better place. She had called it one of the Economics of Human Interaction. She said that it was something taught to all children on Tellar. It was what had saved their world from near self-extinction.
Corinne's attention turned back to what Vila was saying. She asked with an incredulous voice, "You mean this was a real woman?"
"She was. I mean she still is, last time I heard. That was a long time ago though. I haven't been back to Earth lately."
Corinne's forehead creased as she thought about this unbelievable woman. "I don't understand. Why would someone need that many shoes? Does footwear on Earth wear out quicker than elsewhere? Do they have a rougher terrain?"
Vila said, "She liked to have a different pair to go with all her clothes."
Corrine's eyes widened in further incredulity," You mean she has a thousand outfits of clothing too?"
"More than that."
Corinne said with a wry smile, "I think you must be joking with me again, Vila."
"No, really. It's the truth," he reassured her in his best serious face. "Some Alphas on Earth are like that. They have so much money that they don't know what to do with it. They have different values than the rest of us."
Corinne was mystified at the kind of values that would produce this kind of behaviour. "They must." She looked intently into his eyes. "Are you going to be like that too?"
Vila moved his head as if he had just been hit by a jolt of energy. "Me?"
Corinne asked, "Didn't you say that you're an Alpha now? And you're very rich?"
"Oh, that. I'd almost forgotten. I'm just an honorary Alpha. Avon made me one."
"I thought he said that you were always one. You seemed very happy about it."
"Well, yes. I’m one of the good Alphas."
The puzzled look on Corinne's face was for him now. "I don't understand. You said that there wasn't such a thing as a good Alpha. That they were all…"
Vila backtracked, "I didn't mean all of them." He realized that he would have to be more careful with his words around her. His prejudices about the higher grades didn't seem right under the atmosphere of the Tellaran sky somehow. He didn't want his attitudes about these things influencing her.
She had seemed quite distressed about his views on the Alphas when he had told her about them. He imagined that they ran counter to those Economics of Human Interaction that her mother had taught her. Those ideas may work in the safe environment of the Tellar Union where everyone seemed to care about and respect each other, but those kinds of values usually meant that you would be used and taken advantage of in the Federation. It was much safer to be like Avon and pretend that you didn't care. Then there would be no one to hold over you when they wanted something.
Corinne was right. This was a dream place. It was almost like it didn't fit in the real universe.
He kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but the more he saw of the Tellar Union, the more he liked it. It was the exact opposite reaction he had to the Chandar Alliance.
They entered the first shop. It had a furry four-legged animal on its holographic banner. Corinne looked around her with curiosity but didn't move to check out the merchandise. She seemed to be waiting for him to do something.
Vila asked, "You don't like what's in here? We can go to another shop."
Corinne smiled. "We spent all that time shopping for me yesterday. I thought we could spend today shopping for what you want."
Vila had never expected this. "I don't need anything."
Corinne's face fell in disappointment. She had really wanted to do something for him. "Nothing at all?"
Vila could see that she wasn't happy. "Well, maybe…a new..." He wracked his brain for a suitable item. "Wrist chronometer." He could always use one of those fancy ones that did almost everything.
Corinne's face brightened. She took his hand and said, "Let's go find you a nice one."
Avon was tired but he was not about to say anything. He had endured a lot worse. It was a condition that could be ignored by a strong enough mind. As long as it wasn't debilitating.
Dr. Tain's professional and reassuring voice echoed, "The examination is over now, Avon. We will open the chamber in a few moments."
The green glow of the scanner beams turned off. There was a brief moment of disorientation as his body readjusted to the absence of the faint energies that had bathed the cells of his body for the past…he wasn't sure how many hours.
There had been a time when he could always tell roughly how much time had passed. That was before the Centre interrogators had played havoc with his mind and kept him constantly disoriented.
Now that the exam was finished, it almost felt as if a struggle was over. Tiredness was making his eyes heavy. It was a struggle to stay awake but he couldn't sleep yet. There were things to do first.
He heard light sounds of something moving below him and turned his head to look. A padded platform rose up to contact his body as the positional field was turned off. He could feel the burden of gravity again. There was a swishing sound as the chamber unsealed and the outside air seemed to rush in to greet him.
The first person to enter was the one person he most wanted to see. * Cally. *
Having her as a mental presence had been reassuring but he needed to see her face. The man of the mind still required what only his senses could provide.
Cally placed her hand on his chest in a gesture that was familiar to them both. The warmth of the contact; the heat from the palm of her hand touching his centre in an almost symbolic gesture. She asked, "How are you feeling?"
He placed his hand to cover hers and told her what she must already know. "A bit tired."
"Just a bit?" she asked in a teasing challenge.
"All right. Very tired."
Dr. Kendric and the other medical specialists stood off to the side while they waited to talk to him. Avon acknowledged them by looking in their direction. "Did you find anything?"
They were all looking at him intently, making him feel like a laboratory experiment gone horribly wrong. Of course, it could have been his paranoia or even the discomfort at being nearly naked and being stared at by strangers.
Kendric began carefully, "You will be glad to know that there was no genetic manipulation done at the Federation Detention Centre."
Avon could almost hear the big 'BUT' that was coming. It could have been his suspicious nature again but he didn't think so. He waited for someone to tell him the rest.
Cally surprised him by being the one to break the news. "Avon, I know that you prefer to keep your personal life private but, were you part of a Federation eugenics program?"
Avon stared at her with surprise. His said guardedly, "Not that I'm aware of. Why would you ask that?"
Dr. Kendric said to him, "It is because of the results of the genetic profile that we just completed. Your genetic makeup registers within the top ten percent of all index levels. In almost all areas."
Avon said instantly, "That's not possible. Your readings must be wrong."
"It's not naturally possible," said Kendric. "We've double checked everything and run a diagnostic on the scanner. That's why it took longer than it should have. I'm sorry about that. You must be tired. The readings are accurate though."
This was hard for Avon to digest. "That's why the question about eugenics?"
"Yes. There are only two possible explanations. One is eugenics. The other is…"
"I was genetically created?" This was even harder to accept; the idea that he had been put together like a machine to meet someone's specifications. Avon's heart began to race and his mind rebelled at the thought.
To meet the Federation's requirements. A child of the Federation in more ways than one.
He had vague recollections of a childhood. But the faces had always been indistinct in his memories. It had never bothered him before. Obviously, his mind had not considered anyone from his past worth remembering. Except his brother and he was gone too, just like his past.
Now Avon wondered if there was a reason why he didn't clearer memories.