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Chapter 1


 

"Blast it, boy! Get off my bridge!" Captain Brandt cursed, sidestepping to miss the four-year-old on a tricycle. He glared at the yeoman near the lift, as though it were his fault the child existed.

Another boy burst from the lift, his face ruddy and his fists flying. "Share! Leo turn!" he yelled, trying to catch the antique radio flyer.

The first boy's grin was a mile wide, as if he knew he could outrun his pursuer indefinitely. Captain Brandt stepped in front to block his escape. The boy looked at him with innocence and flipped him a passable salute. "Aye-aye, Cap'n!"

Brandt struggled not to smile. "You know you aren't supposed to be here."

"Door open," the juvenile delinquent replied.

"That is immaterial. We have rules, and you will obey them. Report to Mr. Pezik at once. Both of you." He took in the second boy with a pointed stare.

The boys paled. The joy from their game fled as they realized that they faced disciplinary action. Captain Brandt clenched his fists to keep from making the mistake of softening towards them. The future of the world was on his shoulders. He had one hundred fifty children on board - most not even born yet. It would take thirty years to reach their destination, New Hope, a planet believed to be rich in natural resources and devoid of intelligent life. It was his duty to see that these children grew to be mature, responsible young men, ready to fulfill their destiny, to save an entire planet. He would not fail!

Mr. Pezik was a bit of an oddball. Brandt wasn't sure how he came to be involved in this project at all. He had his suspicions. At first, he had thought Pezik was a member of The Peoples Alliance, one of the rebel groups intent on sabotaging this mission. But Pezik had earned his respect, if not his complete trust. Pezik knew children. He fed them, changed their tidies, rocked them when they couldn't sleep, read to them for hours and hours until he was hoarse, and he was the one to insist on disciplining them, contrary to earth's law.

Spanking was strictly prohibited, but Captain Brandt was the first to agree that sometimes, perhaps, it was necessary. The first group of hatchlings were rowdy, rambunctious youngsters. If a spanking or two would help to see him succeed, see this mission succeed, and save the billions of people back home, then he was all for it. Besides, he would be sixty years older before he saw Earth again. If they wanted to court-martial him then, he didn't really care. The mission was all that mattered. He would stake his life on it.

An hour later, he made a point to walk through the boys’ dormitory and seek out the young culprits. The boys were sound asleep, their faces still wet with tears. They were curled on their sides, thumbs in their mouths, long black lashes fanned out across smooth, pale skin. It was a hard lesson to learn, following rules. But these two were among the first hatchlings, they would be the leaders of the new colony. They, even more than the younger hatchlings, had to be able to lead, and to ensure that others followed their leadership. Anarchy would benefit no one. Not even those rebels who opposed these new settlements as a means of saving civilization.

"Cap'n?" One sleepy eye opened. The boy's shoulders trembled with the last vestige of tears as he fisted the moisture from his face.

"Yes, Io."

"Sorry."

"You are forgiven."

Io climbed into his lap, his sweaty little head snuggling into Captain Brandt's shoulder. Brandt stiffened at first, but he forced himself to relax. He had to be stern with his crew, he had to keep himself distant and unapproachable to maintain respect, but this small boy was not in the Navy.

"Io big, Io bridge?"

"No," Brandt said. "You may not go on the bridge even when you are older. The bridge is off limits to civilians. But one day this ship will land. We will take you to your new home, and there you will be able to go where you like. You will build a great nation. Generations will look up to you. It is imperative that you study hard and learn to obey the rules, that you may fulfill your destiny."

"Leo, too?"

"Yes, Leo, too." Brandt kissed the top of the golden curls, savoring the precious moment. He'd never had children of his own. It seemed wrong, somehow, to bring a new life into a crowded, frozen world, where it would know only hunger and hardship.

"Belly speaks," Io said around his thumb.

Brandt chuckled. The children's speech was odd, but then they had only Pezik with whom to speak. Standard English was not Pezik’s first language, nor his second, or even his fifth. Brandt wasn't sure what Pezik's ethnic background was, only that the way he put a sentence together was unusual and sometimes downright impossible to comprehend. There were fifteen Tutors onboard, electronic instructional cubicles to educate the boys on a variety of topics, from clearing land and installing prefabricated shelters, to setting up dehydrator plants and storage facilities for the massive amounts of food they would be expected to raise. They would be taught everything they needed to know to save Earth, but not a thing about Earth itself. The organizers of this great scheme believed it was pointless to teach them thousands of years of history for a planet they would never see. Brandt thought they were sadly mistaken on that score. Unless history was studied, it was destined to be repeated.

"Did Pezik send you to bed without supper?"

Io nodded.

"Well, then I guess your belly is going to speak all night. But if you are very brave, and you do as Pezik tells you to, you and Leo may join me at my table for breakfast."

Io sighed, rubbing his small belly with his free hand. Then he kneeled on Brandt's lap, pinching a nerve with a bony knee, as he planted a sloppy kiss on the Captain's cheek. "Love Cap'n," he said.

Brandt couldn't make a reply. He blinked back moisture, and laid the little body back on his cot, tugging a blanket over him. "Good night, Io."


Io recalled that long ago memory as he gazed at the rising sun barely peeking above the horizon’s blanket. Soft colors… mostly pink with some orange, yellow, and violet splashed across the sky in a spectacular display. Portents of another great harvest-part day. He stretched his arms, filling his chest with life’s wind as his mouth opened in a great yawn. He shuddered once, then fisted the last of night’s sleep from his eyes. He was Captain now. Brandt had spoken truth. It was time to get busy-busy. He grabbed the rope to swing down from his tree cave.

Panic struck! He nearly lost his grip. Io sent a scolding to the one whose panic he had felt. Jupiter again. Fie, onliest troublesome youngling! “Hold!” he commanded through their mind speak, as he quickly scrambled to the ground. He wiped his palms on the seat of his leather breeches and drew in a deep gulp of wind to still the rush of panic in his chest. “Speak,” he commanded gently. Jupiter was smallest among Neverlanders. A shepherd youngling with a sweet heart, if not a brave one.

“Christmas time,” the youngling answered reverently.

For a second time since day-turn, fear raced through him. Io scowled, shaking himself. He nudged Jupiter for more information, and was flooded with the images of what the other had witnessed. Another ship had fallen from the sky, ripped apart and scattered in the forest. Io dropped to his knees, fearing their long awaited presents were all copt. Then Jupiter sent more images, how he had actually seen one! And oh, was she lovely! A sight to behold – no wonder the boyling was acting all dingo. Io felt some dingo himself. Jupiter had hidden behind a tree, afraid to approach her.

That was as it should be. As Captain, it was Io’s duty to greet them, and he told the youngling so. “Meet up at Mermaid Lagoon,” he sent gravely. Then he closed his eyes and drew on his power to send the message to all of Neverland. Even while he still held the mind speak open, he saw his people leap on their bancou and head immediately to the meeting grounds without waiting to find out why. He swelled with pride.

It had not always been so. His brothers were a headstrong, independent bunch. They were quarrelsome. As younglings, Pezik gave them much bottom-warmers. Not until Atlas’s head broke did they learn. All fifteen names of the oldest hatchlings were put in drawing. Pezik drew one – Leo. Leo was chosen for first Neverland Captain. Io was chosen to help him, and replace him if he copt. All younglings swore obedience. Then Leo invented games for the younglings to release aggression without breaking heads! Too late to help Atlas, but all the younglings pitched in to help him after his head broke. Atlas was like the youngest among them then. His head never grew up. Only, now Atlas was copt, Leo had quit, and Io must be captain. Leo goody captain, he should not have quit.

“It be Christmas-turn,” he sent them through the mind speak he still maintained. “Wives come!”

He shut the link quickly, but not fast enough. A great cheer arose through Neverland, hurting his head muchly. He blinked away water that leaked from his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Then he laughed. His pisser hardened… finally, he would claim his wife! He would claim first, as the right of Captain.

Ice rain through his blood – he had no knowledge of the choosing! Pezik taught them many things. Pezik taught them to speak, to pass mind thoughts to each other, although they quickly became much better at it than he. Pezik taught them many, many things. He tried to teach them about wives, but they were yet younglings when he finally copt and they did not understand those lessons. Pezik was the last of the elders to go. Leo and Io were in charge, when they were still many cycles too young to grow face hair. Not all younglings had even hatched yet. Io remembered little on the topic of wives. Besides, not all of Pezik’s speak made sense. Pezik oft-turn spoke in puzzles. He spoke things like, “Women, you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.” Such speak was not useful. It be an impossible puzzle. Either you lived with your wife, or you did not. Ken?

Pezik also spoke, “Wives are a heap of work and a heap of trouble. Sometimes you’ll wonder if it’s worth all the effort to have a wife. Other times, you’ll wonder how you could have managed without one. Train your wife with a firm hand, love her completely, and protect her with your life.” Some of that he understood now. Bottom-warmer wife, like youngling. Love her like brother. Protect her, even as he had not managed to protect Atlas. Atlas should have life; Leo and Io both should be copt. He bowed his head and repeated his promise to Atlas. “Never again, do I let youngling be hurt while I live.”

Io summoned Tinkerbelle. He tossed the soft leather harness over her shoulders and tightened the straps. He did not always fly with a harness, but his new wife may not know about bancou. Bancou skin be much scratchy, like the body of belly-creepers. Ariel made this harness out of bequavine hide, and gave it to him at the last All-Thing. It was made pretty with silver shinies that Aries had traded away. It be prettiest harness in all Neverland.

He tossed a leg over Tinkerbelle’s shoulders and held the leather harness with his hands. He leaned forward and she spread her wings, broad, shiny wings with shades of pink and lavender mixed in the iridescent membrane. Her body was muchly the green of the forest, on head, back, and tail, but her underbelly was salmon pink, like all bancou females. Bancou males had bellies either green, brown, or sometimes black. Black be rare. Black bancou were biggest and meanest. When a black bancou babe be hatched, it was turned loose and not trained.

Io would be near last to reach Mermaid Lagoon. He held Tinkerbelle back. He needed to think about the claiming. Pezik had told him that he would recognize his wife when he saw her. But what if two men saw the same wife at once? Would there be much quarrelsome? No more broke heads! Not over wife, not over bancou, not over nothing! All Neverlanders be brothers, all be one family.

Perchance all wives were sisters of same family? Would it matter muchly, then, if he grabbed the wrong wife? He was closest to Leo – they were near brothers - the same age, but from different packs. There were fifteen packs, ten boys in each. Leo be pack leader of Leos, Io pack leader of Ios, and Mars be pack leader of all Marses. But Io was also top pack leader of all packs. If he had to choose one brother to live with, he would chose Leo. They looked the same, they thought the same. Their mind speak was closer than all others. But if he had to live with Mars, or Aries, or even Jupiter, it would be goody-goody. No worries. So he could swiftly study the wives and grab whichever one seemed to be Captain among them. It seemed best if both Captains be joined together. Then each man could claim the first woman he reached. He knew Leo would choose last, because Leo still blamed himself for Atlas. Leo already linked to him that he would not claim a wife unless there be one left over for him.

There should be enough wives to go around, and maybe one more, since Atlas copt. But what if some wives copt in the crash? Io blinked, hoping muchly that Leo would get a wife. Mars better chose second, so he could heal their wounded, if any had been hurt. Io encouraged Tinkerbelle to a burst of speed, landing at the lagoon just moments after the last of the last arrived. Another part of the plan to control quarrels – they lived far and away in all directions from one another.

Tinkerbelle settled on a fallen tree, wrapping her long claws around the rough bark for a solid hold. Io remained upon her, so all could see him. The men in the front rows dropped down on their knees in consideration for the ones in back. They were excited, and took longer to quiet down. Aries bellowed to get their attention, but he only added to the noise. Io nodded to Comet, who had climbed onto the limb beside him.

Comet lifted his shiny horn and blew his life’s wind into it. A great, long note rang out, silencing all.

“Our wives are here,” Io began, using the mind speak and voicing only a few of the words aloud. They all communicated by thoughts, but not all spoke. The last group of hatchlings had never uttered a word. Io did not know why. Did they lack something inside to make words? Or were they just lazy? He didn’t think so, as Comet, Jupiter and Peter were all among the youngest hatchlings, yet very industrious. He didn’t know why he spoke words, as his mind thoughts were much clearer. It was just habit, much like gesturing or shaking one’s head. They spoke, because Pezik wanted them to.

A chorus rose up from the crowd, cheerful and expectant. He felt the need to say something profound, but nothing came to him. So he repeated Pezik’s speak. “Train your wife with a firm hand, love her completely, and protect her with your life.”

There was silence among his brothers as they pondered his words. With mind-speak, he interpreted it as best he could. “Spank wives like younglings, love them like brothers, and protect them always.” Then he moved swiftly into the claiming part of the plan, to prevent them from asking questions for which he didn’t know the answer.

“I will claim my wife first, taking the captain among them. Mars, you go next. Then each of you may claim a wife. Chose only one. Look for one close to you in cycles, don’t make our younglings pair up with an old one. Claim the first one that catches your eye, then take her to your cave. Plow her field with gentleness, and plant your seed in her. Let there be many babes among us by next All-Thing!”

There was an expectant quality about them. Io suspected they wanted to know more, but they all knew as much as he did. Pezik had copt too soon. He had not imparted all the knowledge they needed, and ship’s tutors had long since copt as well. They would all have to figure this out on their own. Then he made it official. “Let us have privacy for one pack turn to get to know our wives.”

He patted Tinkerbelle even as he pictured the location in his mind, which he had learned from Jupiter. All received the location at the same time, both man and beast. The wind grew thick with dust as many wings beat the ground before lifting into the heavens. It took much of the day-turn to reach the area. For some of them, they had flown in the wrong direction just to reach the lagoon, and now were doubling back. They would have a shorter trip to bring their new wives home. The rest of them would not reach home until next day-turn. Bancou did not like to fly after dark.

Io and Tinkerbelle hovered above the crash site. It looked like their wives were all gathered together, which would make the claiming that much easier. They had been busy-busy, building smoky fires – perchance to call their husbands to them! He could see that they all seemed to defer to the one who was giving orders. What luck that he should find his wife so quickly. He brought Tinkerbelle into a dive, leaping lightly from her back as she landed.

The wives let out a noise that was most bothersome. Their voices were high-pitched, like younglings. He hoped his wife would not be grating upon the nerves. He strode up to their leader. “Are you the captain?” he asked, with both mind speak and words.

Her face colored with a lovely flush, as her eyelashes blinked rapidly. She took in life’s wind with great swallows, her curves rising and falling in a way that was pisser pleasing. Then she started babbling and gesturing with her arms, although not one thought came through mind speak. She looked worried though, and pointed towards the wreckage.

Io whistled to silence her noise, then summoned Mars. At once the healer appeared by his side. “This one is mine,” he spoke. “You may select yours next, then go see to their wounded.”

“Aye, Captain,” he said aloud, his mind-thought conveying his total compliance.

Io saw him speak briefly to the woman carrying a babe, and wondered if he would select the damaged one, but then he saw him disappear inside. Too bad that one had been damaged. Pezik had been very firm about that. A wife should belong to one man, and one man only. Don’t ever plow another man’s field. Io just hoped that whoever had already claimed her, would provide for her now that they had arrived.

Io spoke again to his wife’s mind. “You are mine, wife. We must go, for the journey will take two turns.”

That bitty youthling ignored him! In front of everyone – all the wives and his brothers of Neverland! He was embarrassed more than he had ever been before in all his time as Captain. No one had ever defied him. When Leo be captain, no one had ever defied him, either! Captain received absolute respect and obedience! He had half a mind to bottom-warmer her right here. Io took her and tossed her over his shoulder, carrying her off to Tinkerbelle.

She made more noise, squealing and speaking, but her words flowed too fast, like rushing water over stones. He knew not what she said, and her mind remained silent. She would have her bottom warmed, but not here. Io would take her off a little way and deal with her in private. He mounted Tinkerbelle and directed the beast to a clearing he had seen not far off. In his wake, all his brothers on all their bancou landed to claim their wives.

Io grinned, feeling his pisser harden and leap for joy. They had waited so long for this day! And now it was here. Many ballads and stories must be made to commemorate such a special day.

His wife was not happy. She made much noise. Tinkerbelle was not happy with the noise. Io soothed the beast, reassuring her that this would be a short flight. Wife wiggled, swinging arms and legs, until she nearly tumbled from the beast’s back. Then she be muchly scared, for she wrapped arms around Io and clung tight. He wanted to ask what name she be called – and more. So much more! But he must maintain silence in flight. Tinkerbelle flew by thought. If his thoughts be dingo, Tinkerbelle would not know where to go.

The clearing appeared, and Tinkerbelle brought them down without further instruction. Io leaped off, then reached for his wife. She let out a scream and jumped off the other side, running towards the woods. Dingo woman! Woods were not safe to run through reckless-like! The woods be filled with wild bequavine, tarc, and belly-creepers with sickness in their teeth. Io lunged for her, knocking her to the ground.

She was soft and bitty-bitty, all but for her mouth. There she make big noise, hurting his ears. Maybe she would scare all belly-creepers for many arcs in all winds! Io clamped his hand over her mouth, trying to give her calming thoughts, but the bitty-bitty youthling bit him hard. Io had had enough insult. He rolled off her, and swung her down across his thighs for her muchly needed bottom warming.

She made more noise, he warmed her bottom more. More noise, more warmer. On and on. For such a bitty-bitty, she made more noise than an entire durosteel cave filled with hungry bequavine! Pezik’s wisdom, given many turns ago, finally made sense. “Train your wife with a firm hand…” Io would be certain that her first bottom-warmers would be most thorough indeed!

His hand was throbbing before he decided his new wife had had enough. Her face was nearly as scarlet as her bottom. He let her stand and rearrange her clothing, before he brought her back to Tinkerbelle. Then he pressed a finger to her lips, and gestured to the beast, communicating as best he could, given the fact she refused to mind-speak with him. He lifted her to the beast’s shoulders, then leaped easily behind her. She leaned back against him, closing her eyes. Her shoulders trembled and moisture still leaked down her face. Io felt a lump lodge in his throat.

He recalled the memory he’d awakened with that morning, riding his tricycle onto the bridge and being bottom-warmed for it. There had been many rules onboard, and many consequences. If they did not eat all their food, then they went hungry. If they did not settle down at naptime, then they had to get up and wash walls or mop floors. Often they were so tired by the end of the day-turn, that they fell asleep before supper. They learned to sleep at naptime.

Pezik was the only one ever to warm their bottoms. When they were younglings, he just used his hand. Later he used a paddle or switch, depending on the crime. And since Pezik could mind-speak with them, they didn’t get away with much! But after a bottom-warming, he always comforted them with hugs and kisses.

Captain Brandt had come to him that night, as well. Io felt mush-mush inside, thinking about Captain, and Pezik, and the ago-days when they lived onboard ship. Tenderly, he kissed his wife’s forehead and voiced his feelings. “Love wife.”

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