The thing about growing up on Maraghai is that nobody can stay.
The Selvaurs own the world, and the big bipedal saurians like their world the way it is, wild and underpopulated (”like a giant hunting preserve”, Llannat’s mother complains, sometimes . . . but her mother can complain all she likes, because she earned her right of return back during the Magewar, crewing as a medic on one of the Maraghaite privateers that fought alongside Jos Metadi above Pleyver in the Battle of the Web.) The youngsters, both Selvaur and human, are required by law and custom to leave the homeworld as soon as they are grown, and make their lives and livelihoods in some other place.
Llannat’s father is not one of the human Maraghai-born, but a commercial trader on a regular long circuit that brings him around to his local family about one month in every Standard year. (He met Llannat’s mother when she brought some of her privateering loot to him for appraisal; Llannat overheard them laughing at the memory, late one night when they thought she was asleep. She finds it hard to imagine her mother, who is round and respectable and—thanks to her father’s regular visits—a mother-of-many, as having once been lawless and romantic.)
The day after she finishes her secondary schooling, her mother and father sit down with her in the family dining room. She’s fortunate, she thinks, that her father’s trading circuit brought him back to Maraghai at this time. Her mother is always easier to deal when he’s here, softer and more readily satisfied.
Her mother and father sit together on one side of the dining table, and she sits opposite them. Her brothers and sisters are undoubtedly eavesdropping on the other side of the closed door. She is the oldest, the first to come to her young-wandering-time, and what is said to her today will be said on other days to all of them in turn.
“Llannat,” her mother says. “You know the law. You can’t stay on Maraghai, and there’s no point in dragging things out to the last minute.”
Her father smiles at her. “What your mother means to say is, we’re not kicking you off-world with nothing but a change of clothes in your carry-bag. You have options.”
“Options?” she says. She has her own ideas about leaving home—nobody, human or Selvaur, could grow up on Maraghai without them—but she’s curious about what her parents see as good opportunities for the Llannat Hyfid they know, whom she has always suspected is not quite the same as the one she lives with inside her own head.
“You can go off-world for further schooling, if you want,” her mother says. “We have the money.”
Llannat nods. “I’ve thought about that. But it wouldn’t put me any nearer to earning my right to return.”
“Not everyone who goes, comes back again,” her father says. “From what I hear, the wrinkleskins these days are stingier than ever about granting returns.”
Llannat is a kindhearted person. She doesn’t tell him what every youngster on Maraghai knows—that the Selvauran elders are making certain that the rise in births that followed the Magewar doesn’t overcrowd the planet. Instead, she waits, and in a little while he continues.
“If you don’t like the idea of school, my consortium keeps a certain number of apprentice berths open for candidates sponsored by its members. You could do well in trade.”
She would go mad with boredom, Llannat thinks, if she worked in trade. “I don’t think I’m suited for it,” she says.
“What, then?” her mother says. “You have to do something, after all, and you can’t stay here.”
“I know,” she says. Now that she’s listened to her mother’s ideas, and to her father’s, it’s time to bring out her own. She says to her mother, “I want to be a medic, like you were in the Magewar,” and she says to her father, “but I don’t want to take any money or favors from the family to do it, not when I’ve got four — maybe five, soon — brothers and sisters coming after me who might need help more than I do.”
Her mother looks flattered and a little tearful (she’d never said anything about wanting Llannat to follow in her footsteps, but Llannat has always known that there are some things her mother thinks about but does not say); her father looks pleased, as if she has done something clever and unexpected, and says, “How to you plan to handle it, then?”
“I’m going to join the Space Force,” Llannat says. “They’ll pay for the training, if I agree to serve in the Medical Corps afterward.”
It was a good plan, she thought, and not just because her mother and father were made happy by it, and her siblings had their own wanderings made easier. She didn’t know yet exactly where she was going, but when she closed her eyes she could see the future unwinding before her like a skein of shining silver, some of it straight and some of it tangled, but all of it leading home.