Marianne Arcadia expected to marry Jeremiah and raise a family.
Edsen Balm had no more hope than to stay close to Marianne.
Jameel Singh intended to travel home to Terra to meet his fiancée’s parents.
Hanaka Moon meant to oversee the next generation of ship-born and pass the mantle of healer to her daughters.
Meera Singh wanted to prove herself as the brightest new diamond in Mother Shiva’s crown.
Cornelia Conti hoped to get her embroidery done and to find a shampoo that didn’t contain Stay-colour.
All their plans crash-landed with the starship Elysian Dawn but that, as they say, was just the beginning.
Marianne Arcadia glowered at the numbers on the screen. They showed a clear gain of two centimetres since the last time she’d checked in to be gauged.
“Glaring at it won’t change the numbers, Marianne,” Healer Moon said in her brisk voice.
Moon ignored Marianne’s grumbling and stated the obvious. “You are a hundred and sixty-five centimetres tall, and you weigh fifty-five kilos.”
“If looks could kill,” Marianne muttered between her teeth.
“If looks could kill, that gauge would be shattered,” Moon agreed. She fixed the slides and looked steadily at her patient. “Why do you see this as a problem, Marianne? You’re not abnormally tall and, though slight, you’re nicely proportioned.” She eyed the figures and calculated. “You’re about average height for a girl of your race and age. You’re the same height as your cousins.”
“I’m three months older than them.”
“Why’s that relevant?”
Marianne huffed. “Mia and Olivia stopped growing when they were fifteen. I’ve grown four centimetres since then. I’m a freak.”
“You’re inside the normal parameters. Don’t forget you hit puberty a bit later than average.”
“Fifteen-and-a-half is not a bit late. It’s geriatric,” Marianne said.
“It’s still inside the—”
“If you say, normal parameters once more, I’ll…” Marianne broke off and took several deep breaths to calm her exasperation. “Look, Moon. Tell me straight. When am I going to stop growing?”
Moon turned out her hands, palms upward. “Most women taper off when menstruation becomes regular, and given your age and stage, I’d say you will definitely have stopped by the time you’re eighteen.” She caught her patient’s eye and added, “You might end up a centimetre or two taller than the twins, but that’s all. Why are you so bothered? You don’t seriously think you’re a freak.”
Marianne lifted a shoulder. “Jeremiah and I are waiting to be married.”
Moon smiled. “I know. I did your gene charts, remember? One of the best matches I’ve seen.”
“Anya says I can’t possibly be married until I’m mature,” Marianne said.
“Technically nothing, Moon. Mature adults don’t grow. I have seriously got to stop.”
“You will. Just give it time.”
“Yes, but Jem’s twenty-three. His brothers are younger than him, and they have babies already. It’s…it’s undignified to make him wait until his fiancée stops growing.” She glowered at the healer’s smooth face. “Can’t you give me something?”
“I wouldn’t do that, even if I could. Interfering with nature when it’s not necessary is not a good idea. You will stop in the next few months, and until then there’s nothing to worry about. You’re normal. You’re as healthy as a horse.”
“Huh,” Marianne said. There were horses in tanks in the hold. They were all metabolically slowed to the point where they aged no more than a day for every year they spent in hibernation. Marianne had seen them as blurred shapes suspended in a thick, goopy liquid, but she had never thought of them as healthy.
Healthy was a relative term to the Elysian Dawn community. Everyone was healthy, but without access to a natural Terran-dwelling control, none of the ship-born had ever seen anyone who wasn’t. She sighed. She hadn’t really believed Moon would fix her problem. “Are horses healthy then?” she asked.
Moon lifted one shoulder in an elegant shrug. “I suppose so. It’s just a saying.” She collected herself. “The ones on board must be in excellent health. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been selected to travel.” She grinned at Marianne. “I can say the same about you. Clean gene chart going back three generations. No dangerous recessives. Not a sniffle except when you fell over and skinned your knee, and that was an expression of pain rather than disease.”
Marianne raised an eyebrow. It was something she had practised to impress Jeremiah. “Disease? Is that something to do with ease? Against ease?”
Moon said, “I spent years on old Terra studying medicine, so I could treat disease. Almost everything I learned is redundant in this community. I haven’t seen a case of the flu, let alone a serious infection, in over seventeen years. No sniffles, no chest infections, no rashes…you haven’t the least idea what I’m talking about, have you, Marianne?”
“Not really.” There was no point, her mother always said, in knowing something that could never affect one. Maybe that was why Marianne, besides her practical studies, liked to stuff her head with myths, ancient customs, and obscure texts—the more obscure, the better. “Have you ever seen one awake? A horse, I mean?”
“Yes. I’ve ridden one too. I was twenty-three when we left Terra. I packed in as much experience as I could even before I made the selection cut.”
“Huh,” Marianne said again. Like Hanaka Moon, her parents were Terra-born, as were all the other adults in the Elysian community. Some of them had been small children when they left Terra, but they were mature adults now. At seventeen and four months, Marianne herself was the eldest of the ship-born, although her cousins Olivia and Mia used to dispute that. There could be no doubt Marianne had been conceived on Terra—or at least in orbit around Terra—since she was born as a full-term baby, seven-and-a-half months into the voyage. The twins used to claim that put her in an anomalous position.
“Do you think something went wrong with my metabolism when the FeTtL drive kicked in? I was only a few cells then, but maybe they got scrambled. Time dilation effect? Am I younger than I should be?”
Moon didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “It’s technically possible FeTtL drive could affect a growing embryo, and that was one reason we were all warned not to embark if there was the slightest chance of pregnancy. Somehow your mother slipped through the net. To be fair, at that stage she would not have been aware of her condition, but she should not—”
“I’m a freak.”