“So is it true that your parents aren’t married to each other?”
Yasmin made a face, as Jehen watched the Karis cadets. Six of them ranged in a ragged half-circle in front of them, eyes avid.
“Is it true that your parents don’t sleep with each other?”
Her brother Ferenc balled his fists, and looked over at Yasmin.
“So you three all have the same parents?”
“You mean gene-parents?” Jehen asked. There were co-parents, and gene-parents’ sworn-siblings, as well as work-friends and lovers of all of the above. Yasmin didn’t think they were interested in the real answer.
“Parents are parents. And you don’t have clan-patrons.”
“The relative who sponsored your parents’ marriage,” Jehen said, as if she were in seminar. Yasmin knew that much, because she’d read about it on the Downlink.
“Gene-parents — that’s your mother and father?”
Jehen’s face remained neutral, but Yasmin had to make an effort not to roll her eyes. The aristos were just that stupid. Maybe they didn’t study basic biology before they came to the Academy.
“But are they married?”
“They’re elected,” Jehen said. “It’s not as if everybody goes around having children. The Dome can’t support that large a population.” Yasmin wasn’t sure she would have spelled it out, nor with Jehen’s calm that she could only envy. Better to let Jehen speak for them. Yasmin wasn’t going to say anything, because she would just lose her temper, and they weren’t going to be forgiving of a grubber who wheeled off and belted an aristo.
Especially if she could take them all in a fight.
Well, to be precise, she and Jehen and Ferenc could take them all in a fight, and probably kill some number of them. They’d all learned lethal techniques by age fourteen, and the whole escalation ladder that led up. If someone snapped, or some visitor went rogue, they could be taken down with minimal injury. But if it came to a question of the integrity of the Dome, down they went, by any means necessary.
On the other hand, this was idle verbal sparring, bored aristos picking a fight for no good reason. Well, other than that they had nothing better to do with their time, but that was the definition of an aristo, wasn’t it? And really, they were a big fat soft target with their Genetic Pantheon: imagine, mating with your dead ancestors! If that wasn’t perversion (not to mention dire for genetic diversity), she didn’t know what qualified. And the ringleader, that cadet who shared her name, Yasmin-the-Third, was supposedly a Full Clone of someone long dead.
“Our customs are different,” Jehen said. Flat, factual. It ought to have stopped the conversation.
“So you’re all bastards, then,” Yasmin-the-Third said with a smirk.
Ferenc looked at Jehen, and she shook her head. She was the oldest, so she called the shots.
“That’s an archaism,” Jehen said. “Could you explain what you mean?”
“Well, they don’t sleep with each other, so they’re not married. And if they have a child and they’re not married, that’s a bastard. So you’re all bastards, all you mine-monkeys.”
Jehen shrugged, and turned up her hands, palms full of sunlight. “You’re not making sense. The opposite of ‘bastard’ is ‘legitimate,’ is that correct?” A nod. “The community elects parents. Four gene-parents to make three gene-siblings, with maximal genetic diversity and minimal inbreeding. That’s what affinity-codes are for. Nothing more legitimate than full community approval, I’d think. You only have a single clan-patron.”
“But you don’t have clan-elders,” one of the others said.
“What of it?”
“And you don’t have aristos.”
“No, everybody works.” Jehen’s tone was perfectly neutral, but the wince said that she’d hit home.
“No administrators either.”
“We kicked them out in the Sarronny Revolt,” Yasmin wondered why they didn’t know a thing about it, since all the children of Sarronny, even the ones who’d never travel off-world, knew the history of Karis and the Settlement of the Inhabited Worlds.
“Bastards and anarchists,” he continued. “How do you not kill each other?”
“By settling things peaceably,” Yasmin broke in, “unlike fools who duel for fun.” She tugged on her sister’s uniform sleeve. “Come on, this is stupid. I have astronautics problems to finish.” And we don’t have the luxury of washing out, she didn’t need to add.
“So if your parents don’t sleep together, are brothers and sisters allowed to?”
“What?” Yasmin whirled and faced them, teeth bared. “Incest taboos are universal. Your clan-branches can’t intermarry.” She said, “And if it weren’t for unoffiical outcrossings, some of you would look even more like your own horses.” Ferenc smirked, and turned back-to-back with his sister. Jehen looked at them both disapprovingly, but moved into the third place in the defensive stance nonetheless.
The ringleader reached toward her sword-knot.
“Cultural inbreeding proceeds as the exponential of genetic inbreeding,” Yasmin said, as if she were making an academic observation. She took off her necklace and wrapped it around her knuckles.
“But your whole world is headless. The Karis great-clans are the crown of creation.”
“No, the crown of creation is the crown of bastards,” Jehen said. “Monocultures die fast. Now if you don’t mind, my gene-siblings and I have other matters to attend.”
They moved uphill to the North Tower and its library, back-to-back in the slow circle of the Crew’s Dance. Yasmin smiled, thinking sharp splintery thoughts about the faceted beads between her knuckles, and the aristos drifted off one by one.
Another fight averted, though no doubt the conversation would recur.
Answer to this week’s Flash Fiction challenge (Random Title!) from Chuck Wendig. Also the kick-start for another chapter of my ongoing novel-in-progress, Ship’s Heart.