"Even if I had the creds for a cloning unit… If I could ever have gotten the boys to make more than a partial stim download, it would be ten years at least before Mahlon and Kilion's clones would be adults and capable of," Naomi made a little gesture with her fingers, which was such pure Naomi that it made Ruth's heart ache. "It's just a thing we have to live with. Our boys are gone."
Orpah started crying again. She'd barely stopped since Mahlon and Kilion died. She and Kilion had only been married two cycles and had just begun trying for a baby.
Ruth felt a fraud since the accident that had killed both their husbands. Naomi's sons. She grieved, but for a friend. Not lost love.
It hadn't been about passion or love with Mahlon. They'd been each other's cover for forbidden non-cis interests. Mahlon had gone on for hours sometimes about appearing pure enough to approach an arc. Whatever that meant.
Ruth said, "Here let me take care of that." She took the vex spanner out of Naomi's hands and got to adjusting the glycol drip on the hyper drive. The Ephriam had always had a twitchy drip timer. It was always getting out of sync.
"I don't know how I'll keep the ship flying without the two of you." Naomi looked around the engine room.
"You don't have to know, because you won't have to," said Ruth sturdily.
"Oh, but," Naomi pulled a clean wipe out of one of her many pockets. "You've got…. Grease. You. It's a thing. There." She flapped the wipe at Ruth. Then giving up, she wiped whatever mark Ruth had gotten on her face. Ruth sat very still as Naomi wrapped her other hand around Ruth's face. Ruth could hear her heart beating. She was careful not to look into Naomi's eyes. Stared at the little wrinkled fold in Naomi's jumpsuit.
When Naomi finally stopped, Ruth tried to pull herself together. "Thanks," Ruth's voice cracked, "Thank you." She shifted back, clutching the vex spanner as if it could supply her with some extra gravity.
Naomi sighed. "Listen to me. Both of you. Things are a good sight better back in the Israelite sector. I heard the latest Judge has gotten things organized. Run Midianite Corp straight out. The collectives are up and running again. Maybe I can make some sort of place for myself off the gleanings from the Combine collectives. It’s a little late for kinship redemption for me, but you girls. You're young. Your whole lives are in front of you. And well," she wobbled her head back and forth, "you remember how Elimelech could get about Moabites, and that's," she pursed her lips, "I'll be honest, the tribes of Israel can be real shistlefwips about folks here in the Moab sector. Way my parents always told it, Moabites marry their own clones, run their hyper drives with the blood of babies, and that was some of the nicest things I heard them say."
Orpah nodded. "Kilion mentioned when I suggested we visit his home sector for our honeymoon." She cried into several more wipes from Naomi. Orpah said, "I could move back in with my parents." She squeezed out a few more tears. "I'll, I'll write up some instructions on the hydroponics unit and you can keep my ivy plant. Her name is Phyllis."
Ruth went back to readjusting the glycol drip.
After Orpah left the engine room, Naomi sat next to Ruth, who stiffened. Naomi said, "You'll have to show me how to maintain the hyper drive. It looks like it's a whole thing."
"Sure." Ruth smiled brightly. "But I'm going with you."
"Didn't you hear what I said? Shistlefwips. It's a real thing." Naomi put her hand on Ruth's shoulder. Warm and kind, because of course, she thought of Ruth as her daughter. Or course.
Ruth clung onto that thought. As long as Naomi had no idea, she'd be fine. She told the frost forming on the Glycol chiller, "Stop telling me to leave you, because it's not going to happen. I'm not turning away from you. Wherever you're headed, I'm headed there too. Where you stay, I'll put down roots. The tribes of Israel will be my tribe. Your God will be my god. Because the only thing that'll keep me from you is Death, and even then, I'll be right there at your side."
"Oh," Naomi's voice was soft. Her hand on Ruth's shoulder a heavy wanted weight. She squeezed. "Okay. I," Ruth was gathered up in a hug. She breathed carefully. Held Naomi carefully. Tried to memorize every feeling. Now, of course, they cried.
It was fine. Naomi wouldn't know why.
Orpah packed up faster than Ruth would have expected. Not that Ruth minded. Ruth's Father thought she was nuts for going to Israelite space. He was full of all sorts of advice about how to avoid being arrested for being Moabite.
Her mother looked at her. "Oh, honey." Because her mom had bought a whole crate of clues long before the accident. "I hope you know what you're in for."
"That's what I said," crackled her Father over the transmission.
"Hush, Jerephs." Her mother made the sign of Chemosh.
Her father said, "We'll pray for you," which was typical. They knew she'd converted when she'd married the son of the laughing woman on the broken down foreign ship.
The flight to the Israelite sector wasn't without its bumps. Keeping the Ephriam together cross system kept both women busy. Meant that Naomi stopped thanking Ruth.
Naomi hadn't been lying about her people. First market Ruth went into in Bethlehem station with the trade goods they'd brought from Moab, a woman asked her, "Is this stolen?"
Naomi, who'd been selling some Moabite crystal batteries across the row, stopped her transaction and bounced over in Bethlehem's lower gravity. "What do you mean stolen? What about this woman says intersystem dried keva fruit thief?"
"Well, I thought," said the woman adjusting her jumpsuit.
"Let me stop you right there, because clearly that's a lie, and we both know the Lord God hates liars. So, I'm going to have to move away from you before the electrocutions start happening." Naomi pulled Ruth away. "I'm sorry that happened."
Ruth didn't tell her that she'd put up with a hundred women like that to stay near Naomi. She said, "It's nothing." Rewarded herself by looping her arm through Naomi's.
"Oh, look." Naomi pointed to an elderly man followed by a half dozen bots on the next level. "That's my husband's half-brother on his Mother's side. Or he might have been a quarter brother. Maybe an eighth. Elim's Gene Collective was always very splicy." She wiggled her fingers.
Ruth said, just as Naomi was about to say it, "It's a thing."
Naomi laughed. "You know me so well."
They looked at each other. Arms still looped together.
Naomi's dropped her eyes and cleared her throat. "Anyway, he's a potential kinsman-redeemer." Naomi said it like that was supposed to mean something to Ruth.
Ruth looked at him. "What does he redeem?"
"Oh, he, well." Naomi blushed. "It's a whole other thing. I, it's probably not important."
Ruth wanted to tease that blush, but that wouldn't be a daughterly thing to do. She kept her arm looped through Naomi's all the way back to the ship.
The collectives had tugged in some mineral rich asteroids from the belt. It was at least quarter cycle's work to process them. The Ephriam didn't have the equipment to blast and grind the rocks for ore. Their ship was just a little transport. But the big Harvesters were always leaving chunks behind. Naomi got permission from the foreman to do some gleaning with the promise that they wouldn't be in the way. Ruth wouldn't hear of Naomi suiting up. Brumble suits were bulky sweat boxes. Maneuverable. She didn't like to think of Naomi out alone in the vacuum with only a bit of cloth and plastic between her and nothing.
"You're so good to me. I'll see if I can make some creds shuttling between station pods."
Ruth set to work gleaning. She pulled her tug boxes for hours. She got some choice pickings.
It was a surprise around mid-day when she got a hail from the Harvester's owner. It was half or possibly eighth uncle-in-law, Boaz. He said, "Hey, been watching you work."
Ruth wondered where this was going.
"Don't um, don't go to any other vectors. The other Harvesting Collectives might," the tiny holo image of Boaz rolled his eyes, "Pretty young Moabite on her own. It might not, look they might… just follow my Harvester around and you can have as many gleanings as you can carry."
Metaphoric alarm bells were going off in Ruth's head. She did not want him to get the wrong impression. Although, what exactly was pretty about a woman in a Bumble suit, she couldn't have said, but… men. "I hope you don't think that interested in…"
"Let me stop you there, missy. I heard how you've stuck with Naomi. Coming here to be treated like, well, I'm impressed."
"Thanks. I'll get back to it then." Ruth's thoughts tumbled over each other like rats in a centrifugal ring.
That night, as they catalogued the gleanings, Ruth told Naomi about Boaz's holo. Ruth's heart sank at Naomi's satisfied expression.
But when she opened her mouth to protest, she stopped. The only explanation would be the truth. After the way Mahlon had gone on about the hard attitudes the Israelites had for those who loved their own gender. She couldn't lose what she had. Eating every meal with Naomi. Working to see her smile every day.
Ruth wasn't a fool though. She went back to Boaz's sector. He was clearly setting his bots to give her extra gleanings. They'd need the cred that came from the ore when all the asteroids were processed. It would be another cycle before the all the asteroid herders brought the next load in.
Things didn't get much better at the market. Store owners followed her around to make sure she didn't steal anything. Every other day, someone was sure to remark on the way she wore her air filtration unit, which was just basic safety, or the baby eating shape of her mouth. Course, it was almost worth it to see Naomi lighting into people. Ruth treasured every time.
They were getting by. Just about. Parts needed replacing the Ephriam. A short quarter cycle and the creds from their gleaning was all but gone.
They'd paid the next quarter cycle's docking fees, when Ruth came into the bridge to see Naomi just staring out into space with a bottle of some that really ghastly sugar wine that the Israelites drank. Even if Ruth lo… if she… well, she'd follow Naomi from this world into the next, but she wasn't drinking sugar wine.
She accepted a cup.
"Boaz likes you," said Naomi.
Ruth gulped her wine.
"He's your kinsman redeemer."
Ruth still wasn't sure what that meant, but she gulped her wine. It was still disgusting.
"He's going to be pulling an all nighter at the processing plant. If you get all gussied up at the end of the day, you could show up while he's sleeping, uncover his feet, and lie down at his feet."
"Like a…" Ruth cast around for the word, "what's the animal. It's a domestic animal. Like the pets the Egyptians are always going on about."
Naomi stared at her.
Ruth gulped her wine. It was really horrible. She pulled a face. "This is really vile."
"We don't have enough creds to pay for fuel for the Ephriam. Not after we had to replace the air filtration unit. Air. We really want air. I'm going to have to sell her and you need a place to stay. You need to be taken care of. I brought you all the way out here and I'm failing you."
"No," Ruth took Naomi's hands in hers. "No. You could never." She looked in Naomi's dear face and it might have been the wine. The years. The aching hole where her heart was beating. She gently kissed Naomi.
Naomi froze. She didn't move. She didn't respond.
Ruth pulled away. She wanted a black hole to appear beneath her. Her own personal black hole to crush her down to the smallest molecule. She stumbled out of the bridge. The Ephriam wasn't a big ship. She couldn't stay there. Not after she'd ruined everything.
But she had the power to fix things. She cleaned herself up in a lav unit. Cleaned the worst stains on her jumpsuit. Caught a transport to the refinery before she could change her mind.
Boaz was conked out on a cot in a corner of the vast room. Bots were whirling about refining down minerals. Ruth glared at him. Feeling like an idiot, she flipped the blanket off his feet, which she wasn't even certain what that was about and lay down at his feet and it was kind of killing her that she couldn’t remember the name of the animal that did that. It was definitely Egyptian. Or maybe something the Ugaritic people did.
She didn't sleep. She was glaring at the ceiling when Boaz groggily twitched awake. "Who is there? What? My feet are cold. Why?"
"It's Ruth. I, um… Naomi sent me to you because you're our kinsman redeemer, whatever that means."
Boaz blinked at her. He had strands of grey hair sticking up all over the place. He blinked. "I am not having this conversation without a cup of stim." He looked at her. "Two cups, maybe."
They went to the mini-galley up three levels. After he'd inhaled a steaming cup of stim, he said, very slowly, "I thought, you and Naomi," he paired his two index fingers together. Curled them around each other. "No offense, but when I've seen the two of you in the market. She clearly dotes on you and you… followed her," he waved in the general direction of space, "here."
"I," Ruth let out a sigh. An explosive sigh. "I do, but she," she shrugged. "She doesn't see me like that."
"Right." He pursed his lips. "Do you know what a kinsman-redeemer is?"
"No. As people remind me every day around here, I'm a Moabite." Ruth was feeling tired and desperate and her jumpsuit really was grubby from sitting on the floor.
"Ah," said Boaz. "Okay, here's what's going to happen. You have one kinsman-redeemer that's closer in priority. I'm going to clear things with him. Once that's all settled, I'll send for you."
"I don't want to marry you," blurted Ruth.
"I think we already established where your affections are. Although, um… not everyone is as," he sighed. "It's an arc thing. Which you're not a Levite, so, whatever. Now shoo. I've got some negotiating to do."
She left, not really sure what any of that had meant.
Ruth bounced from café to café at the space port. She didn't have any creds. She couldn't go back to the Ephriam. She had three separate women tell her they didn't like her kind there. She was swallowing tears when Naomi appeared out of nowhere.
"You don't like good, kind, sweet, wonderful people. Good to know. Come on, Ruth." Naomi put her arm through Ruth's, just like always, and pulled her into a holo booth. "I've been looking everywhere for you. After you ran off like that."
"I'm sorry I ruined things," was as far as Ruth got, before Naomi stood on her toes and kissed her.
It was wonderful. Delightful. Better than delightful. Some higher state of something. Naomi finally pulled away. "Why didn't you tell me that you were in love with me?"
"I followed you here. I promised to follow you into death."
"Okay, point." Naomi shook her head. "Boaz contacted me. He's arranged everything."
"But… the kiss. I already married once for… reasons other than love."
Naomi frowned. "I think Elim may have garbled something when he explained our religious practices to the boys. They were quite young when we left Isrealite space. I mean, we're not Levites. It doesn't matter if we're impure or not. We're not getting with a parsec of the Arc of the Covenant to do its maintenance." At Ruth's confused expression, she said, "It's a thing. It doesn't matter. It means, I can love you and that's all that matters." She stood straighter. "You're not marrying, Boaz." Then after a long moment. "What do you think a kinsman-redeemer is?"
"I don't know!" shouted Ruth.
"Oh, I wish you'd have said something. It's a sort of. A kinsman-redeemer is someone who owes a share of their genetic material. To make a child. To carry on family bloodlines and once you're part of a family collective, you have a share in their resources. A place to stay in the family units. Credit lines for business ventures. It's a good thing."
"But wouldn't I have to," Ruth gestured.
Naomi laughed. "Goodness no. The child will be cooked up in a lab. But that's why I wanted you to put on your best outfit. Boaz already knows you've got good hardworking genes. I wanted him to see that any child with your genetic material will be a looker too."
"Part Moabite," added Ruth.
Naomi shrugged. "It's all family in the end." She bit her lower lip and smiled. "I was also thinking that some of my genetics could be in that child." She brushed her thumbs down Ruth's shoulders. "Our child."
All the blood rushed in and out of Ruth's head. All she could say was, "Yes," wipe at happy tears and kiss her best beloved.
When the time came for the baby to be born, Ruth was happy to see that Boaz understood that Naomi should be the first person to hold little Obed.
It wasn't how Ruth had expected life to be when she'd left Moab. Standing close to Naomi, their baby in her arms, it was infinitely better.