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Author: Sheri S. Tepper
Publisher: Doubleday Foundation, 1992
Bantam Spectra, 1992
Series: The Arbai Trilogy: Book 3

1. Grass
2. Raising the Stones
3. Sideshow

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Human Development
Avg Member Rating:
(33 reads / 19 ratings)


On the planet of Elsewhere, the Council had always enforced the governing of each province in the manner the people had chosen, so long as each respected its neighbors' local customs -- and so long as the people remained within their homelands. Generations later, inhabitants have begun to question this tradition. The Council has received mysterious messages and reports of strange manifestations across the planet.

Now, Enforcer Fringe Owldark has been sent with a small crew of seven, each possessing an unusual talent, to investigate their worst fear -- the arrival of the Hobbs Land gods. Free will and the reality of God are just too of the timeless issues this courageous band of humans must confront as they strive to decide if complete tolerance and leaving others alone is evil... and what they should do if it is.



Humanity was saved from certain destruction when, on their wedding night, Lek Korsyzczy informed his wife that their first child was to be a son. Certain intelligences (the Celerians, actually) established later that this was the event setting causation in motion. It happened at around one o'clock on an October Sunday morning during the 1990s, common era. Lek made the remark as Maria was about to get into bed with him, his voice slightly slurred from the wedding champagne, but with nothing tentative or doubtful in it to indicate that Marla had any choice in the matter.

Marla thought he sounded like a builder, like one of the customers at the lumberyard where she worked, matter-of-factly ordering framing timbers. She gave her new husband a thoughtful, rather troubled look. "Leksy, I think that just sort of happens how it happens, you know? Like my sister Judith, the one married to the plumber, she had our girls before she had Buddy."

Leksy shrugged. His heavy shoulders were covered with large orange freckles and a pelt of fine, red-blond hair. Marla had already decided he would have to wear something with sleeves when they made love, because his fur tickled. She was sure, ticklish as she was, they would start doing it and she'd start laughing, and laughter, so her sister Judith had informed her, was never a good idea then.

"They don't tell you how ridiculous it is," Judith had confided in the rest room, after five glasses of champagne at the wedding supper. "The nuns sure don't tell you. The priests don't tell you. They go on and on about sin, but nobody says how ridiculous it is. And then there you are, doing this silly thing--oh, don't get me wrong, it can be fun--and you start thinking what it must look like and you want to laugh, and let me tell you, don't! That's one time you do not want to laugh. You wouldn't believe how bent out of shape some men can get!"

So, now, looking at the tickly pelt of hairs on Leksy's shoulders and arms, almost to the wrists, Marla knew she'd have to take steps to avoid laughter. "I mean," she told him, "I wouldn't want you to get your heart set on a boy right away, or anything."

"You don' unnerstan'," he told her, hiccuping slightly as he slid completely under the influence of the multiple toasts he had drunk. "I got it all work' out with the Blessed Virgin."

"You what?"

"I got it all work' out." And with these words Leksy's eyes fell shut as his mouth opened to emit a tiny snore. It was only a raspy breath, a mere puppy gargle so far as snores went, but it was definitely a snore, not something else. Not lust, for example. Not passion.

Marla sat looking at him, not sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. It was kind of like a dirty joke, him falling asleep that way. "There was this guy, see, and he drank too much at his wedding and that night his new wife stayed in the bathroom a long time, so he fell asleep before anything happened, see...." Not that she'd been in the bathroom that long! On the other hand, his being asleep gave her a little time to think about what he'd said, that he'd worked it out with the Blessed Virgin. It didn't exactly surprise her. Well, it did, but then it didn't. Lots of things Leksy did seemed kind of surprising at first, but not after you thought about them. The whole Korsyzczy family was religious. No, pious. That was the word. Maybe a little more pious than was good for them. Who else did she know besides Leksy who had five sisters who were nuns and three older brothers in holy orders. Holiday dinner at their house was like a convocation! And they were all the time dragging religion into everything, like God was watching every breath you took! Like your whole life was bugged for holy!

Marla was tired and just a little bit drunk herself, which meant queasy in the stomach, because she couldn't drink, not really. Whenever she tried, she either threw up or passed out. She decided to have a nice long hot bath and not worry about it. It wasn't romantic of Leksy to fall asleep that way, but their marriage would probably get off to a better start if he slept off the champagne. And she'd enjoy things more if her stomach was settled down. They'd both be better off for a little sleep. Leksy would probably wake up in an hour or two, and then they could do what he'd been self-righteously keeping them both from doing for the past six months since they'd gotten engaged.

The bath helped. Afterward she lay down beside him, expecting he'd wake up pretty soon. Several times during the night, she came out of a doze, thinking he was about to, but he only snored that same puppy snore and snuggled more deeply into the pillows. Along about four o'clock, she fell soundly asleep, and when he finally reached for her, around seven, she couldn't rouse herself and wasn't really aware how annoyed she was with him until she heard her own response.

"Don't," she said sharply. "I'm too sore." Judith had warned her about that.

"Sore?" he asked stupidly, looking at her bleary-eyed. "Sore?"

"I think you ought to have more consideration, Leksy," she said. "I'm not used to this, and four times is just too much all at once." And she turned over with a little secret smile and went on sleeping, leaving her husband to puzzle, then grin, then chortle as he got up and went in to take a shower. That small happening continued the chain of consequences that had begun with Lek's announcement and would culminate with the arrival of the Alien and the saving of the planet Earth, for, as Marla's eldest sister Sizzy had been fond of saying, you just never know.

That small happening also became a marital sandbag for Leksy, part of the accumulated grit any two people rub off each other that ends up reinforcing the family levees against the outside world. Marla didn't realize that's what it was. She had meant it as a joke, not a shibboleth, and she didn't think twice before sharing the story with her sister Judith. Sometime later, Judith told her husband about it, and a year or so after that, during a drunken party, her husband told a guy he worked with, and a couple of years after that, the man remembered it during a fishing trip and told someone else. The town was a small one on the U.S.--Canadian border, the kind of town where everyone knows everyone, and though the story wasn't one of those knee-slappers that move like wildfire, it was a sort of amusing anecdote that hung around in people's minds and got retold from time to time. It took almost seventeen years before it got back to Leksy.

Meantime, it was business as arranged for and sanctified, which, by the end of the honeymoon, had pretty much settled into the pattern it would occupy in their lives for the foreseeable future. Nothing fancy. Leksy had a horror of anything fancy. Fancy was stuff whores did. Fancy was stuff you could go to hell for or get AIDS doing. Mouths were for kissing only, and hands could be used discreetly at the beginning only, and the rest of it was up to the parts designed for the purpose, provided the one was securely inserted in the other before anything went bang. So said Father Jabowsky, and so Leksy believed because that's the way he had done it every time he'd done it, and he hadn't had any complaints. Of course, his mostly willing though often drunken partners hadn't been asked for critiques.

It never occurred to Leksy to inquire whether Father Jabowsky was giving him good advice. Father was father, so it was the right advice, necessarily. The priest was almost seventy-five; he firmly believed that Vatican II had been a hallucination; he still said Mass in Latin whenever he thought nobody was listening; and he had never, even as a boy, felt in himself the slightest sexual urge, a fact he mentioned from time to time during premarital counseling sessions with a kind of quiet pride. Father Jabowsky took marital sex on faith, the same way he took transubstantiation. The church said the sacrament was there, so it was there, even though Father couldn't see it, smell it, or taste it. You could tell it was there from the effects. Grace on the one hand. Babies on the other.

Marla rather wished Leksy had another confessor. She thought she knew a lot about sex, mostly from watching Oprah and Donahue, and though she found her relations with Leksy generally satisfying, she would have liked a little more variety. Maybe, she told herself, when Father Jabowsky died or retired, she could ask the new priest to talk to Leksy. Judith said some of the younger priests had actually studied about sex and were able to counsel about it intelligently. In the meantime, however, Marla amused herself by teasing Lek about "the way he did it on their wedding night." Whenever they made love, and he asked if she'd liked it, she said yes, but she wished he'd do it the way he'd done it on their wedding night.

Leksy couldn't admit he didn't remember. A few times he went so far as to say he couldn't remember he'd done it any different. To which Marla merely smiled an enigmatic smile that drove him crazy because he got to wondering what he'd done, and whether it had been something maybe, you know, perverted, only it couldn't have been because whatever it was, she'd liked it!

Copyright © 1992 by Sheri S. Tepper


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