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Chapter One

Dayton, Ohio

November 1, 3012

Pearly wanted to throw a tantrum worthy of a child, but she had more respect for herself than to indulge the tendency that had plagued her since she was a child!  “Father, why would you sign me up for a vacation without consulting me as to my wishes?”  Pearly kept her tone neutral, willing to give her parent the chance to explain himself, if he would.  It was not Willard Baker’s wont to explain himself to anyone, much less to his youngest child, a female at that! He sat behind his antique desk of polished granite in a chair made of pallon leaves that he refused to throw away in spite of its ugliness, or the fact that it was starting to smell like swamp weeds.

“I have despaired of your ability to find a mate if left to your own devices, daughter.  I would have you settled before I meet my maker and be accused of not fulfilling my duties as the father of a female.”  Once again Pearly was reminded that she was not the fifth son that her parent desired.

“Not that again!” Pearly was even closer to losing her temper. “I have no desire to pair off with a man!  Why must I repeat myself over and over, Father?  I do not wish to give any man priority over me.  I wish to come and go as I please, choose what I wear, and I wish to feel productive and continue to work at a position I truly love.  You know as well as I do that most men will not permit their mate the freedom to work, no matter how much it means to them.  Men are too selfish, and I have no desire to accept one as my guardall.”

“Which is why I must go to such extremes to put you forth.  The unit will pick you up this afternoon at fourteen ten hours.  There is no need to pack clothing, just such personal items as you may need for the next thirty days.  Appropriate clothing will be provided.”

“Father, please!  Do not insist upon this trial; I do not wish to go!”

“I suggest you pack, Pearly.  Once the Thanksgiving program accepted you, it became a matter of record.  You will go and participate or face public incarceration for the same amount of time and another period of time as a consequence.  This is a serious vacation program and if you default it brings shame on the entire program, not to mention that your role could not be easily reassigned.  That, daughter, is the reason I waited until the last moment to appraise you of my decision.  Go and pack now, and no more arguing.  It is futile at this point.”

“I will never forgive you for this, Father… especially if this is as I suspect, another poor excuse for a matchmaking experience!”

“I did not arrange this through a matchmaker, daughter, but I would be lying if I said I did not hope that some worthy man would decide to claim your fancy.”

“It is not going to happen!” Pearly insisted, and then blurted, “When I return from this ridiculous farce of a vacation, I will be moving out, so prepare yourself for that!”  They had had this discussion before, and Pearly was fairly certain of what his answer would be before he gave it.

“You will not be moving anywhere unless it is with my permission, as well you know, and the only way you will obtain my permission is by accepting a man for your mate.”

Two pairs of flaming brown eyes met in a duel of wills, but Pearly was the first to back down lest she push her parent too far.  He was still allowing her her choice of mates, but that could change if he was furious enough with her to take matters into his own hands.  Still, she did not relish going away for the next thirty days.  She knew very little about Thanksgiving as it was no longer celebrated as it was a thousand or more years ago!  The only thing she recalled from her studies was that women did all the work while men sat on their backsides and watched ancient sports.  It did not sound like much of a vacation for her, and she did not relish the idea of catering to a man while he sat back and made demands upon her valuable time.

Pearly packed one small bag.  It contained her personal items, and also a few other items that she could use to contact the outside world or read or play games.  If the vacation was too boring, she would do her work from there.  She well knew her employer, and while her father called Hetter to put Pearly on vacation status, Hetter would permit her to work if he heard that she was willing.  The unit set off the house alarm, and Pearly grimly picked up her bag and headed for the door.  Her father was standing there to say goodbye, but she decided to ignore him.

“Do not leave angry, Pearly,” he cautioned her, his voice soft and persuasive.

“It is your fault that I am angry, Father,” she stated without emotion and left the house without glancing back to see if he still stood there.  Pearly hoped that he used the thirty days to think and regret his actions, but she would not hold her breath while waiting for him to do so.  Willard Baker was not known for changing his mind.

The unit was filled with people of all ages, both men and women.  There was even a family with a child and Pearly sensed the mother and daughter were as unhappy to be on this vacation as she was.  There was only one empty seat on the unit, and a man stood up to raise the storage bin lid so that she could put her bag inside.  Since Pearly was so short, he had to put his large hand on the bottom of her bag and boost it into the bin.  Pearly refused to thank him, or to return his smile.  If she had a choice in the matter, she would have picked another seat to sit in, but the one beside the large man was the last one available, and the unit would not move forward until she was seated and her restraining belt fastened tightly across her chest and shoulders.  Pearly sat, and clamped her lips in disapproval as the man appointed himself her ‘helper’ and reached over her to fasten the restraint.  The unit controller took that as his cue to set the unit in motion and they headed out of the city, much to Pearly’s dismay.

“My name is Booker Robertson,” the man next to her said quietly, and then when she failed to respond by giving her name, he asked, “And your name is…?”

“Must we have this conversation?  I am not pleased to be on this unit in case you failed to notice, and I have no intention of speaking to anyone, especially to you.”

“Are you always so caustic?” Booker asked, his dark eyes giving her to know that he was annoyed by her lack of manners.  Any child over the age of three knew it was proper protocol to give your name when asked.  Failure to do so was considered the worst sort of insult you could pay to anyone who was interested enough in getting to know you to ask for your name!

“I am not caustic, just completely honest.  This vacation was my father’s idea, not mine, and I refuse to do one thing that will imply that I am happy with his decision.”

“I see.  Did you consider his reason for desiring you leave his house for the next thirty days…?  Perhaps he is tired of your disposition and seeks peace and quiet to contemplate how he managed to raise such a rude child…?”  Booker was aware that he was making judgments that were not his to make, but something about the little redhead brought out his ire.  If she were related to him in any way he would ensure that she would not sit without extreme discomfort for at least a week. Instead of foisting her ill nature on other people, her father would have done well to keep her home and issue a thirty day punishment!

Pearly looked at the man with flashing brown eyes, and anyone who knew her well would be expecting a major tantrum!  “Perhaps he is like ALL men and cannot abide having his wishes thwarted?  You should understand that one since you are determined to make our time on this unit as unpleasant as possible.  Now leave me alone, merry andrew!”

“I am no clown, little terror, and you may be thankful that I am not your guardall.”

“Believe me, I am grateful as can be!” she slowly taunted.  Pearly suddenly realized that nearly everyone on the unit was privy to their squabble and she wished she had kept her mouth shut. All she needed was for someone to take offense and file a complaint with the authority; facing a judging committee again within this twelve month would earn her a serious chastisement!  She had barely escaped a serious punishment when she was brought before the judging committee three months ago, although she did not consider herself guilty of any wrongdoing.  Her father did defend her publicly, but privately he informed her that she would suffer the folly of her actions if there was ever a next time. He did not relish the embarrassment of having a daughter who had such a wild temper and threw tantrums on a whim. Pearly quickly closed her eyes, feigning sleep for the rest of the ride on the unit and willing herself to be calm.  She was entrapped in this Thanksgiving dream vacation and there was nothing she could do but take things one day at a time.  Perhaps the time apart from her parent would be beneficial to both of them. Surely he soon would tire of trying to find her an acceptable mate and greet her status as a working woman of free stature.  It was not as though she did not have several siblings who were mated and parents of their own children.  Why must she also do the expected and acceptable thing? Simply because she was born a female, Pearly reminded herself.

The unit finally came to a halt and Pearly hurried to unfasten her restraint.  She wished to evade the aggravating man as much as possible, and if she were lucky, and there was even a bit of justice in this whole Thanksgiving dream vacation travesty, she would not have to see him at all for the next month. 

Booker opened the storage bin and retrieved their bags and without a word of warning he thrust the redhead’s bag in her arms, clearly expecting her to be grateful.  The fact that she failed to thank him for the simple gesture was not lost on him, and once again he thanked his lucky stars that he was not responsible for the brat’s actions.

“You will all follow me to the temporary shelter we have set up for the orientation and distribution.”  The man seemed prepared to dislike all of them on sight, and Pearly shook her head and rolled her eyes.  This place was going to be like a public incarceration facility!  After they hiked up a well-worn path to the tent they found several rustic benches for them to sit upon.  Pearly wondered if they would all get splinters in their backsides, and she carefully chose her spot to sit.  As was the style of the day, she wore slacks that were made to her body’s shape and form, and they fit her like a second skin.  Her tunic gave note to her station in life since it was made of a quality fabric and stitched with thread that only the wealthy could afford.  It was a deep green in color, accented with the gold thread in a swirling design on the bodice, which was modestly cut.  The rich fabric fell from where it was gathered below her breasts and covered her nearly to her knees. Pearly took comfort in knowing that she was covered and not showing off her backside as those less wealthy and poor had to do because they could not afford the extra-long tunic.  What was surprising to her was that the others on this ‘dream vacation’ were not especially wealthy.

“Please take your seats so that we may begin.” A clean shaven man stood at the front of the tent and asked for their attention.  Pearly found herself staring at him because he was so unusual.  He had no hair at all on his head; even his eyebrows were shaven!  If that was not strange enough, the man was wearing the clothes of a hunter!  It was against the societal norm to hunt for sport, but if you were wealthy enough, you could join private clubs where game was grown for the express purpose of hunting.  Of course, those places were considered illegal and were constantly moving from one place to another.  “I am Gorman and I am the official here for this Thanksgiving dream vacation.  If you have problems, complaints, or questions, I am the one you will address them to.  I am positive there will be few problems if you heed the instructions in the booklet James is passing out now.  I am sure you have noticed that one copy is blue and another copy is pink.  We were not trying to be cute; the blue one is for the men in the group, and the pink is for the females.  You will each have specific duties assigned to you, and it is your responsibility to perform those duties.  Failure due to laziness or contrariness is punishable.”  Pearly was positive Gorman was looking directly at her when he said that, and once again she felt her temper starting to soar!

“Excuse me; if this is a dream vacation, then why do we have any responsibilities at all?  I thought we were paying you for a vacation, and on vacation I certainly do not have responsibilities.”  Pearly was positive that she had made a valid point, but it was met with shocked stares by her traveling companions and barely concealed anger by Gorman.

“I can see that you especially need the lessons this vacation service is designed to impart.  If you still have questions about your place in all of this, it will be explained in great detail to you by your house guardall.  Now we will continue with our orientation.”

Pearly felt as though she had been slapped down like a pesky gnat and she once again vowed to get even with her father by never speaking to him again!  In fact, she would never spend another night under his roof, not if this was any indication of how little he loved her!  If she already was not shocked enough, Pearly almost fell off the bench when she realized that they were to form into traditional households as existed in the past.  They would be doing without any of the conveniences they had known for their entire lives and be required to hunt for their food as well as prepare it by cooking, which was unheard of these days!  Food was made in packaging plants and shipped out to households through a procurer of such products.  How on earth was she to prepare food for the next thirty days?  Pearly had no desire to do something so disgusting, so ancient!  Even back in ancient times the wealthy hired others to cook and serve their food!  She did not consider having her station in life lowered to the lowest to be a ‘dream vacation’.

“Excuse me!” Pearly simply could not resist interrupting Gorman again.  When he looked at her she did her best to remain calm and sound reasonable and intelligent, and not on the verge of a childish temper fit.  “My father signed me up for this Thanksgiving dream vacation, and it does not fit in with my idea of something I would choose to do.  Is there any way I can be returned to the city and someone else called upon to take my reservation?  I am positive that for another woman, this whole month would be a blessing, but not for me.  I wish to leave as soon as is possible.”

“You will leave when the rest of this group leaves, Maiden Baker.  There is no compromise available to you.” 

“How can this be?  If my father paid for this vacation, then surely I should be able to cancel my involvement!”

“Your father signed a contract and he was made aware of the terms before doing so.  He insists that you remain with us and learn from the experience.  Please reseat yourself so that I may continue.  There is much to do today.”

Pearly sank to her seat in utter disbelief.  How dare they think they could keep her here against her will?  She would find a way to leave just as soon as this stupid meeting was over!  And then she would find a way to make her father regret his behavior!  Pearly half-listened to the rest of the instructions; she had no intention of staying here, so what did it matter?

“Now we will give out the ‘family’ assignments.  Please stand up when I call your names.”  He called out, “Booker Robertson.”  The man from the unit stood up.  “You will be the guardall of your household, with all of the responsibility that entails. Your helpmate is Maiden Pearly Baker.”  When Pearly shook her head back and forth and refused to stand, Gorman reached the end of his patience.  Mister Booker, this young female is your responsibility; you need to see to her compliance immediately.


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