“I hope everyone is ready to give their oral report,” Mr. Seldon said. “Morgan, you can go first.”
The skinny 14 year old collected her papers and strolled up to the front of the class. She looked awkward in her headgear and tennis shoes. She cleared her throat.
“I chose to do my report on the topic of ‘Our House.’ I live in a big house at the outskirts of Syracuse with my brother and sister. The house itself isn’t remarkable…it’s big, and it’s drafty. It looks a little like a medieval castle with a really nice porch that we like to play on.”
“Oh, and I mentioned siblings in my house. There’s my little sister Elizabeth, that everyone calls Bethy, and my baby brother Edgar, who we thought was going to suck his thumb until he reached adulthood. We kept telling him that his head would cave in if he didn't stop.”
The class chuckled.
“I also mentioned Mom and Dad. Mom is a direct descendant of the MacThomas clan in Scotland, and reminds us of this almost daily. She is a lawyer who handles malpractice cases, which explains why she wants to turn us all into competent doctors. She has Bethy sold on the idea, who is really anxious to operate on her dolls, but I have yet to cast a ‘yes’ vote to it.
“Dad works on laser borers that are used for mining on Mars; he has to make frequent trips there, and I’ve gone with him several times. Unfortunately, he and Mom don’t get along too well anymore, and he doesn’t live in the house with us. I do like to ride my bike to his shop, as I like to see the equipment he works with.
“The other member of the family I didn’t mention was Scipio, our Labrador Retriever. He got the name Scipio because Dad names all of his dogs after prominent Roman citizens - no one really knows why. Our dog was named after a famous father/son team of generals that fought Hannibal himself after he crossed the Alps. I don’t know how important all of that is, but he’s a really nice dog.”
“Finally, even though she’s not a member of the family, we have a governess named Edeera Yar from Mars. She’s a real Martian Matron, and she’ll tell you so. She is tough enough to tell you how a sand tiger can rip your belly open, and yet I’ve seen her calm Edgar down with just a few well-chosen words. I only wish I could go on a real hunt with her on the Red Planet someday.”
“Well, I’ve mentioned everyone else in my house except for me. I guess the best way to do that is to begin at the beginning. My name is Morgan Proctor - I can't say much about myself, except that my feet are too big, my legs are too long, and I'm typically too smart for my own good. I know this because people are quick to remind me of it.”
Conrad Proctor was tinkering around with a circuit board pulled from a laser mining machine when he heard a buzzing on his wrist-thingee. "Conrad here..."
It was his wife Blair, who was very pregnant. "Conrad, my water has broken and you need to get your butt down here. One of the robo-servants is checking me into St. Claudette."
"Kem-toong...I'll be right there."
"Conrad, could you please not use that Martian swear word with me; you know I hate that language anyway. Just get down here."
Conrad took his aged Kamov air-car the 8 kilometers to the hospital in Syracuse. Blair was already checked into a room, and her robot servant was there with her.
"It's about time you got here."
Conrad really knew almost nothing about the birth of a child. He expected it to be a quick affair, like in the 3D movies. In reality it was a slow, drawn-out process. Conrad found himself chatting with the nurse, which irritated Blair. The one comment that got to her was when he asked, "I wonder what's on the Late Tomorrow Show?"
Occasionally the pushing would begin. Then, the action would die off for a while. The whole process confused Conrad, who was hoping for a quick and happy resolution to this drama.
After a check with her wrist computer, the nurse addressed Conrad. "Mr. Proctor, she's dilating at 8...it's nearly show time."
Conrad forgot about the Late Tomorrow Show and joined in this final stage of the process. After a great deal of pain and pushing, the baby's head began to slowly emerge from the birth canal. A little while later, the entire baby was free from its mother's womb and ready to begin its life.
"Mr. Proctor," the nurse asked, "would you like to cut the cord?"
"Uh, no...I'll leave that up to you. You know what you're doing."
While the baby was being cleaned up, angry and crying, a bureaucrat came into the room.
Conrad chuckled. "You guys don't waste much time..."
She spoke in a thick West African accent. "Let me introduce myself. I am Monifa Oyibo, your bureaucratic representative. And who might this young lady here be?"
Blair smiled with pride. "Miss, I want you to meet Morgan Jane Proctor."
The nurse placed little Morgan on a paper-covered scale, which she promptly wet. "Well, at least we know the kidneys work," the nurse told them. This brought chuckles from all in the room.
The bureaucrat then went about her duties, filling out the paperwork and putting the baby's footprints on one of the papers. Both Conrad and Blair got to hold Morgan before she got whisked off for some medical tests. She would then spend the night in a nursery under the care of the medical staff. The bureaucrat chatted with them before leaving.
"Perhaps she can grow up to be one of us, no?"
Blair, tired from her ordeal, put a stop to that idea. "Over my dead body. She's going to med school as soon as she graduates. "
"No offence, ma'am, but I've got other plans for this baby. I know you people perform a needed function, but I'd rather see my daughter as a doctor on staff here at this hospital."
The bureaucrat chuckled. "I understand, Mrs. Proctor. Not everyone wants to be one of us, or is even cut out to be a bureaucrat. I wanted to make the offer just in case; I could get the child on the fast track to a career and help in any way that I could." She shook their hands. "You two enjoy your baby."
"We appreciate it," Conrad told her. "Thanks again for stopping by." Conrad then addressed his wife as soon as the woman left. "Blair, why did you slam her fingers in the door?"
"Can you believe that they pitch for the Bureaucracy before the baby is dried off? Of all the nerve. No child of mine is going to buzz around in one of those nerdy gray suits; they look like a cross between a waitress and a police officer."
"Conrad, I'm exhausted; you can rest in that chair if you want to...I'm grabbing some shut-eye."
Conrad got as comfortable as he could, with a make-shift blanket. Both parents were soon asleep.
One afternoon when Conrad pulled his air-car into the drive, a young Morgan Proctor was there to greet him.
"Hey, squirt-butt, how are you doing?"
The child just stood there with a stern look on her face. "Daddy, is it true?"
"Is what true, pumpkin?"
"Is it true that Uncle Donnie told Elizabeth that when the new baby comes, that she'll be given way?"
Conrad burst into that deep laughter of his. "Yep - that sounds like something my brother would do..."
Morgan got a pout on her face. "Well, it wasn't very nice...he made Elizabeth cry. I think that there should be some di...discipline handed out to him."
Again he laughed as he rubbed her hair. "Where did you learn that word?" He could see that Morgan wasn't going to let the matter drop. He went down on one knee so that he could talk to her on her level. "I tell you what; I'll see my brother later this week, and I'll give him a piece of my mind. Will that work?"
Morgan squeezed her eyes. "Well, okay."
"You're a good little disciplinarian, Morgan. Go on in and see if your mother needs any help with dinner."
He shook his head and laughed some more as his daughter went jogging into the house.
It was a rainy afternoon when Conrad Proctor got a message from Mrs. Bryant at the George Lucas Elementary School; the note was vague, but he knew he had to go right over. As he made his way to the school office, he wondered what his spirited daughter had done this time.
"Mrs. Bryant," he said, "if it's about the Martian curse words, I can explain..."
The woman held up her hand. "No, it's not that – not this time, anyway."
"Then what did she do?"
"I had to leave my class for a brief period this morning, and was surprised by what I saw when I returned."
"Oh...was she disrupting it?"
"Mr. Proctor, your daughter was teaching it. When asked for an explanation why, she told me that she felt that I wasn't doing a very good job teaching this morning's lesson. In all my years of teaching, I've never run into anything like this." They peered in at the 6th grader, with her braces and pig-tails, stewing in a chair. "I want you to take your daughter home for the day, and explain to her that I'm paid to do this. Make it clear to her who the teacher is, and who the student is. If she wants to be a teacher, we can help her out with that in a few years. I'll be damned if I'm going to let a student take over my job for me."
"Mrs. Bryant, I'll take care of this." As the teacher returned to her classroom, he retrieved Morgan. "Come on, squirt," he told her.
"Well Daddy, she wasn't doing a very..."
"Morgan, I don't want to hear it. You can explain it to your mother when we get home."
"Well, she wasn't..."
"Morgan...will you please just get along with your teacher, please? I've worked hard to keep you in a public school - your mother wants to send you off to some academy with weird uniforms and lots more rules. I know you're a bright girl, and you make good grades, but good God - this? Don't give the woman an excuse to boot you out of that school. You can do better than that."
As they rode home, Morgan began sifting through her father's paperwork in the air-car. "You're still having problems with that same laser borer."
"What, you're reading my paperwork now?" He glanced over at his daughter. "Well, none of it is secret. That particular unit is being sent off back to Mars as soon as I can get it patched up; it really needs replacement at this point. It’s up to me to convince them that it would be more cost efficient in the long run to buy a new one. Are you really interested in this?"
"Daddy, I want to see what this one looks like - inside, I mean."
"Well, the office is on the way...I can show you the unit, and we can get a chipped beef sandwich on the way home. How does that grab you?"
"Great! And can I get a red pop with it?"
"I don't see why not." He gave his daughter a stern look. "You realize that your mother is going to chew you out when we get home..."
Little Morgan continued leafing through the paperwork. "I had thought about that eventuality. You know, these papers could be sorted better."
Conrad chuckled. "Why don't you do that for me..."
As Morgan grew, she began to notice that her parent's marriage wasn't exactly a rock-solid structure. One day she and her brother and sister were playing on the front porch when their father got home. He didn't give them the warm greeting that they were used to; instead, he went right into the house where their mother Blair was ready to pounce. All they really heard either of them say was Blair shouting, "You were with that woman again!"
As the door shut, a battle broke out in the living room. Morgan, being the eldest, decided to shepherd her two siblings away from the house; this wasn't the first time that this had happened. The fights were never violent affairs, but they were loud and verbally bloody.
"Guys, let's play out in the yard."
Edgar, the youngest, complained. "But I don't want to."
"We're going to play out in the yard, and that's all there is too it. Move it. We can play Space Rangers - the oak tree can be our rocket ship. You too, Elizabeth - let's get going." She then pulled Edgar's hand away from his face. "And will you quit sucking your thumb - people will make fun of you."
The sister, being a bit older, asked an intelligent question. "Is it because of Mom and Dad?"
"They've just got some things to sort out...that's how big people do. Now take your brother out into the yard. We'll think of some fun game to play." She took one final look back at the large house they lived in; she would have gladly lived in one much smaller and more peaceful. She was determined to have a house of her own someday, with a loving husband and lots of happy children.
Two years later, as the leaves began to fall around the Proctor household, Morgan noticed a shiny new Kawanishi air-car pull up in the drive. The door swung open, and a man in a bureaucracy uniform stepped out. As he walked up to the front porch, Morgan kept a watchful eye on him as she continued a game with her brother and sister.
“It’s your turn,” Elizabeth told her.
“What?” asked Morgan as he watched the man like a hawk.
“Roll the dice, silly.”
Without looking, Morgan picked up the dice and rolled it.
Elizabeth finally took notice of the man, who was pulling papers out of his briefcase at the door. “Is that man doing business with Dad?”
Morgan answered without taking her eyes off of the man. “Yeah, he’s doing business with him alright. Now I know why Mom left to go to the store.”
Edgar continued to happily play with the board game. “Do I get extra points?”
“Sure Ed – you get extra points.”
Elizabeth wanted to press with questions. “Is this about…”
Morgan placed a finger to her mouth, and then pointed to Edgar. “We’ll talk to him later - I've got sort of a speech written up for him.”
As the bureaucrat went back to his car, Morgan knew that her parents’ marriage was over. She knew that her father would soon be out to talk with them about it, after he’d had something to drink. Her head slumped down, and she hid her quivering lip from her sister.
“Did I win the game?”
“Yeah Edgar…you won the game.”
After Conrad Proctor moved out of the house, he spent most of his time at work. Even though they were still well-to-do, Morgan's mother Blair decided to do work for her old law firm, taking most of her work home. With so much work coming in, she decided to hire a headmistress to tend the kids. After interviewing a couple of people, she finally met with a Martian woman. She looked this woman up one side and down the other as she glanced at her resume.
"Edeera Yar," Blair said, "you're from Mars."
"Yes ma'am, I am at that."
"I've found that Martians make very good governesses."
Edeera kept any sign of anger deep within herself; she'd learned this skill working around Earthers years ago. "Yes, ma'am - we're very skilled at this occupation." She chuckled a bit. "Like the old saying goes, a Martian on Earth is only good for being three things; being a cop, a priest or a criminal. And being a nanny to any number of Earther children, which makes four things."
"My ex-husband works quite a bit with Martians. He understands them quite well. My oldest daughter shares this interest...she even speaks a bit of Martian that she learned from her father."
"Bloody direct, eh?" Edeera thought. She was well aware of how much disrespect an Earther could dish at a Martian. They even had a racist name for them - they call them LGM's or little green men, a throwback to their entertainment movies filled with Martian death machines invading their precious blue planet with heat rays. "In spite of being an Earther, I like this woman."
Blair looked up from the resume. "I'd like to give you a chance; I think my kids will really like you."
"Thank you ma'am - I can be here tomorrow if you'd like." She must have seen something in me that she liked, she thought.
Late that next afternoon Morgan came home from a hard day at school to a visitor; she placed her book bag on the living room sofa. Seeing that she was Martian, she automatically assumed her to be little more than just hired help.
Morgan pointed to different parts of the house. "The cleaning droids are in the closet off of the hall, and the cleaning supplies are on the other side. I've had a hard day, and I'll be enjoying a red pop and a Shostakovich symphony on 3D-vid if you need anything."
Morgan looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "What? Do you need to be led by the hand? Do you speak English? Kannatta Engleeze?"
The small, plump Martian woman's eyes filled with fire; Martian men often joked about the "great sandstorm" coming when their wives were angry. "Do you think that just because I'm Martian that I am here to clean your bloody house? I haven't introduced myself yet. I am Edeera Yar, your new headmistress. You may address me as Miss Edeera if you’d like."
Morgan rolled her eyes. "Oh, great - Momma talked about doing this. I'll be in the Great Room if you need me."
"Stop right there - I haven't finished addressing you yet."
Morgan was angry as she turned around. "Kem-toong a baroom sha tas!"
Edeera's tiny plump hand reached out and grabbed Morgan's arm; as small as it was, it held the strength of a giant.
"Let go of me!"
"I can't believe that an Earther girl would address me that way! Do you have any idea what that means? Do you? A chieftain on my world would never address a Matron that way! And I am a Matron. He'd end up with a bone dagger in his ribcage by morning's light."
Morgan's eyes were as wide as saucers. Even at her young age, she knew what respect among the Martian people meant. She also knew what kind of trouble an offense like this could bring her down the road.
"Could you please let go of my arm?"
As the powerful hand released her arm, a wise Morgan decided to apologize...in Martian.
"Machee-kacheela, Matron." She added a tip of the head to make it official.
Edeera crossed her arms and smiled with satisfaction. "Now I know that you're more than just a bloody Earth tourist off to see Olympica Mons." She then shook her finger for emphasis as she place her other hand on her hip. "There is an old Martian proverb that says, 'Even the Demon Kings had a boss.' You're almost a teenager, but I can still paddle a behind with the best of them."
Morgan rubbed her sore arm. "Anyway, Edgar and Elizabeth are going to be home soon - you'll need to have supper ready for them." Morgan still saw that Martian fire in Edeera's eyes. "What?"
"Young lady, you're not getting it. I'm now your headmistress - I dispatch the orders."
Morgan now got choked up, as she saw her authoritative job being stripped from her. "I've led these kids for nearly a year...and I darn sure didn't need a 'headmistress' to do that. I think I’ve been doing a good job…"
Edeera again grabbed Morgan; this time she used more of a gentle grasp. "I realize that...and you've done a good job at it."
"But I've been their de-facto leader..."
"I understand that. Now you're going to have a different position - I'm going to need your help in raising them. You know them much better than I do. Don't you think the Demon Kings of my world depended on their advisors? Remember the Minor Lords in our plays?"
Morgan opened her mouth, and remained silent. If there was one thing she knew well, it was Martian history. "You really view me that way? As one of the Minor Lords? Like in the stories of Vari Benn?"
Edeera gently laughed. "You do know of us, Earther girl. Are you ready to respect me as the Martian Matron? I can see that you know of our ways. Learn from me, girl - I can teach you many things. Maybe someday you can write your own history stories like Vari Benn, no?"
A fire of anger still burned in Morgan's heart, but she now respected this woman. And she was right - even the greatest leaders in history depended on their advisors. "Miss Edeera, I'll show you to the kitchen; I'll show you what Bethy and Edgar like to eat."
"Little Miss Morgan," Edeera told her, "you'll make a fine Matron someday."
She spun around. “Do you really think so?”
"You'll make a good Martian Matron...I'll see to it. I'll make it my duty."
As Morgan opened up the food cabinets, she had a smile of satisfaction on her face. She wasn't being shoved to the back of the bus as she'd feared; she now had a new role to play, which seemed fair. In the end, everything needed to be fair.
Several days later, Morgan found herself spending most of a Saturday at her father's shop. His head buried in a laser borer, he reached out a hand. "Squirt, I'm going to need a 3/15 intensifier."
The little 12 year old had the tiny part in his hand in short order. "Pop, you got a call from a Mr. Stapleton - he says that he has two more units that need fixing."
"Did you tell him I'd call him back?"
"I hope you don't mind - I took the liberty of scheduling him in for an appointment in the computer. I could see that you weren't going to be too bogged down on Tuesday."
He shrugged his shoulders in the machine. "That'll work."
Conrad recognized the voice of the headmistress. "Miss Edeera."
"Must you put this child to work? The state of New York has labor laws..."
"Put her to work? I can't keep her out of here."
She gave Morgan a sarcastic look. "Well, before she becomes a businesswoman, she's going to be a scholar. Has she studied this morning?"
Morgan answered that one. "Yes matron, I have."
"Everything? Your Martian language? Your Martian history?"
"Who was our greatest philosopher? I mean after the Great Sandstorm?"
Morgan gave her an evil grin. "I thought you were going to make it hard. The great Ni'macha, of course. Also known as the 'philosopher-jester' in the high courts."
Edeera grinned back. "Okay, smarty. What is the Martian noun for a deep, intense discussion?"
Edeera pulled out a Martian pearapple from her purse and tossed it to Morgan, who took a bite from it. "I got that from the market this morning. Mr. P, I'm stealing your daughter for a few errands, and I'll have her back this afternoon."
Conrad looked at his daughter with pride. "See you in a bit, kiddo."
As the two walked out of the shop, they sang a Martian song together. Edeera corrected her on a word, and they continued to sing.
Two weeks later, after she had finished her homework, Morgan Proctor was summoned to her mother’s office. Blair looked into Edeera’s eyes and told her, “I’ll speak with her alone first.
“Yes, ma’am.” Edeera waited outside.
“Morgan, am I to understand that you went home with Riley Ferguson?”
“Yes…he’s a nice boy.”
“You rode home on his air-bike.”
“Yes…he just gave me a ride home.”
“You know how I feel about air-bikes – they’re not safe. Do you remember what happened to the Clagg Brothers?”
Morgan rolled her eyes in typical teen fashion and answered in a musical tone. “I know, I know – one of them got their head cut off.”
“Morgan, how could you? How could you even speak that way? I knew the parents – I was at the calling.”
“Mother, he’s careful…”
“Just the same, I don’t care for it. And one more thing – I don’t want you spending so much time over at your father’s shop. You’re going to medical school…you’re not going to be a grease monkey somewhere.”
Morgan took a defensive stance. “I don’t intend to be a doctor; I want to be a businesswoman. Hospitals are little better than just corporate businesses anyway.”
Blair Proctor studied her daughter’s eyes. “You’ve got your father’s rebel streak in you. Maybe he was right when he called you his ‘little stubborn Leo girl.’”
Morgan’s eyes winced into anger. “If he’s such a terrible monster, then why did you marry him?”
“I don’t have to answer a question like that from you…”
Morgan responded in a calm voice. “He’s my father…and you’re my mother – you do have to answer that question...or at least you should.”
Blair turned her gaze away and pondered. “You’re too young…when you’re older, you’ll understand that adults do strange things for love. I was crazy about him. I really thought I could change him, tame him.” She turned to face her daughter. “There’s a side to Conrad that has a heart of gold; he’s really a good-hearted person. But then there’s that other side, that side that can’t be tamed. It’s that side that stands out like an un-made bed. It’s the side that will drop your heart and smash it like a piece of glass, like a clumsy oaf. I can’t live with that anymore.”
Blair reached out and touched Morgan’s face with her fingers. “I know that all of you kids have had a bumpy ride of it lately. And I’m going to need you to be that strong leader of a girl that I’ve been counting on. I’ve been hearing such good things from Edeera…”
In a rare moment of affection, mother and daughter embraced. Morgan looked up at her. “At least you answered my question.” With that, she turned and left the office.
Edeera watched her leave, and walked in to speak with Blair. “The young sand tiger showed some claw, eh?”
“What do you think, Edeera? Am I going to lose control of her at some point? Will she go off into the wilderness like her father did?”
“There is an old Martian proverb that tells us that, ‘it takes bitter medicine to bring good healing.’ She’s had a lot of adjustments to make in her life lately, but she’s a good child. You’ve got to be firm, but you must allow that healing to take place.”
Blair bit her finger. “Edeera, just out of curiosity, what would Morgan be doing at her age if she were a Martian child?”
This brought out a deep laugh from the headmistress. “Mrs. Proctor, if she were a Martian child, she would have already slain a sand tiger and turned its skin into a coat.”
One sunny afternoon at the Proctor household, Morgan and Edeera were stalking around the shrubs at the edge of the yard. Young Morgan was armed with a tree branch which she wielded like a spear. Edeera supervised the hunt, whispering advice to the young girl. "Keep your eyes open - there's probably a sand tiger stalking you right now."
Suddenly, out of one of the bushes, Edgar came leaping out with his hands extended like claws, roaring. Morgan used her weapon, pretending to plunge it deep into Edgar's chest. Playing the part to its fullest, Edgar gave a death performance that would have made Shakespeare proud.
"That's it, Earther girl - you've bagged your first sand tiger. Every Martian Matron must go out on the hunt." She produced a long black pointed object from her pocket. "Someday you will have one of these, no?"
Morgan gasped in wonder. "A real sand tiger claw. And you hunted this one yourself?"
Edeera smiled with pride. "Yes - my mother made a nice winter coat out of its hide. Our people use most of the kill; almost nothing is wasted. And I got bragging rights over my patunka brothers for weeks."
Edgar then opened one eye. "Can I come back to life now, Miss Edeera?"
"Was I a good sand tiger?"
She gave the boy a playful rub on his hair. "You were the best of sand tigers."
Bethy came out into the yard to confront the hunting party. "Mom says that when you guys are done killing Edgar that dinner is on the table."
As the kids jogged up to the house, they didn't notice Edeera coughing at the edge of the yard.
At fifteen Morgan was taught to drive by Edeera, mostly because her mother never had the time (or courage), and Conrad was always working. Morgan was scared senseless.
“Aren’t we going to use a 3D computer simulator?”
“Never believed in ‘em.” Edeera placed her chubby thumb on an electronic pad, and the engine hummed to life. “The toughest swords are forged in the hottest fires – old Martian proverb.”
“That was never a Martian proverb…”
“Well, it should have been. Let’s get going.”
“I can’t do this – I’m not ready yet.”
Edeera dug through her purse. “Tsk, tsk…what a shame. I had these symphony tickets – I guess I’ll have to give these away.”
“I hate you – you are so mean. You are deliberately baiting me like an animal.” Morgan’s hand hovered over the boat-type throttle as she dug deep inside of herself for the needed courage. Bait or not, she wanted those symphony tickets.
“You keep forgetting, little one – I have your number. Come on child, I’m getting older by the minute. Today is your day.” Edeera continued to prod. “When I was your age, I used to careen down the canals on an ice rigger at 75 kilometers an hour. You can do this.”
Edeera’s older Kuznetsov air-car was not only difficult to fly, but all the instruments were marked in the Russian alphabet. She had a plastic figurine of one of the old Demon Kings of Mars on her instrument panel, as did most Martians, and the old green leather seats smelled funny to her.
“Okay, move your throttle forward, give us some power. Check your traffic area; check your traffic area.”
Morgan searched high and low, and saw no approaching traffic. She got the jitters as the ancient green car leapt up into the air; she now had the palm of her left hand resting up against the ceiling of the car’s cabin as the vehicle hovered in place.
“Morgan, you can quit holding up the roof now. Put your thrust lever forward and let’s get moving before someone comes along. Again, check your traffic area.”
Slowly, awkwardly, the beast began to move forward. Morgan was practically cursing her mentor under her breath for choosing a windy, bumpy day to do this. Edeera continued to teach her with patience as the car bounced around. She put her hand out over the instrument panel and pointed at the landscape over the vehicle's hood.
“Always think ahead of the car; look ahead of the car.”
“I hate this bucket of bolts; it drives like a troop carrier.”
“I call her Miranna; she’s solid, sturdy. Now pull back on the yoke, and take us up to 400 meters. That’s it, put the edge of the hood up against the horizon as you climb out.” The skinny, nervous teenager complied as Edeera scanned for traffic. “Now we’re going to try a gentle turn to the left – lean into the turn, like you were on an air-bike. Don't be nervous about it.”
Morgan clenched her teeth. "You would have to mention an air-bike..."
Edeera smiled. "I know you still ride with that boy...now, check for traffic as you turn."
Within a few minutes, the car was soaring over Onondaga Lake, west of Syracuse; Morgan was still shaky, but she was actually flying an air-car.
"I told you that today was your day. We Martians say that every man has his day. This is yours." Edeera pulled the tickets out of her purse. "You've earned these."
"What is the orchestra playing?"
"Beethoven, Popov, and a Martian ballet by Jiara Sarn."
Morgan pumped her arm. "Yesss!"
"Keep scanning for traffic...think ahead of the car...I want to get back on the ground in one piece."
When Morgan finally got her driver’s license, Edeera had her do errands in her aging air-car. She never did like this vehicle too much, but it was great having the freedom to drive.
“Morgan – make an approach to land over here at the hospital. That’s it…decrease your airspeed. Don’t let the nose dip down too low.”
“Why are we landing at the hospital?”
“I need to pick up some medical paperwork…I’ll only be a few minutes. Check your traffic area…”
This brought an expected sigh from the teen, but she glanced in all directions.
When Edeera went into the clinic area of the hospital, Dr. Rashid took her back to a small room. “Kem-toong” she quietly whispered under her breath – she knew the news wasn’t going to be good.
When Edeera came back out to the car, her face betrayed no sign of trouble. When she closed the door, she gave Morgan one of her stern looks.
"Miss Morgan," she said, "what is the first duty of a Martian Matron?"
"The first duty of a Martian Matron is to shepherd the younglings under her charge. Why do you ask?"
"Young one, I won't be around for very much longer. You must be strong."
"You aren't leaving us? Edgar is still going to need you. You've done a good job with us. Look - I'll talk it over with Mom and you can stay as long as you want."
Edeera smiled. "You and your siblings are getting older, no? You will take over as Matron of them someday, eh? I know you will do a good job as well. All things change, little one. Everything changes."
On a rainy Thursday afternoon in September, Conrad arrived at Syracuse North High School to pick Morgan up.
“What’s this about?” she asked her father. "The teacher took me out of a quiz."
“Morgan, we need to get going – I’ll explain on the way.”
Morgan knew it was going to be bad news when she saw the hospital water tower loom into view. She began to shake with anxiety, as she could hear her heart pound. “Mom?”
“No, it’s not Mom. She is there, by the way.” Conrad parked his air-car in the visitor’s lot, and shut the motor down. He turned to address his daughter. “Morgan, Edeera passed away very suddenly this morning.”
When Morgan entered the hospital, the scene was surreal. She was taken to a room next to the chapel. A hospital priest was there, as was her mother. An old acquaintance of Edeera’s, a Martian named Darias Tay, was there as well. She looked up into her mother’s eyes. “What happened?” she asked.
“Oh baby…she was sick for some time, and kept it hidden from us. We had no idea.”
Morgan clenched her fists as the tears began to pour down her cheeks. She shook her head from side to side. “Why…why is everything taken from me? Why? Anything good that I ever find is always taken away from me…”
The young priest walked over to her. “You must be Morgan…”
“Spare me. I don’t want to hear about how she’s much happier in heaven. I don’t want to hear you say that ‘God meant for this to happen.’ All I want is an honest answer…why did this have to happen? You’ve studied this God stuff all of your life. Can you give me a straight answer?”
“Morgan, you look like a young woman who is just searching for some honesty. And I’ve studied quite a bit of God stuff, as well as all the right things to say at a moment like this. Honestly, I can’t answer the ‘why’ question; that’s up to someone with a much higher paygrade than me. And I’m not going use all that good stuff I learned to say at a time like this; I can see that you’re smarter than that.”
She looked up with wet eyes. “At least you’re honest; I can respect that. All I really want is some honesty.”
The priest continued. “In all honesty, I can tell you that it was darned unfair.”
Darias interrupted. “Father, can I speak with her?”
“My child, I knew Edeera for a great many years.”
She looked at him, tears still streaming down her face. “What happened here today?”
He looked at her with pleading eyes. “She’s gone to be with her ancestors, child.”
Morgan was filled with a flood of new of emotion. “What does that mean? What does all that mean?”
He didn’t know how to soften the blow, so he decided to speak to her frankly. “You can’t beat death…it’s like a great southern sandstorm on our world. You can’t outrun it, and you can’t stand against it. Edeera herself understood this.”
Morgan just stood there and cried. Both adults had been as honest as they could be, and that was all she really wanted. Darias let her vent some emotion before speaking again.
“Open your hand, child.” When she did, he placed a long black object into it. She was surprised to see what it was.
“This is her sand tiger claw – I can’t take this. This was her tiger that she hunted…”
“She had no children…you were the closest thing to a daughter she had. She taught you to be a Matron, and a strong one at that.” He glanced over at the priest. “I think that if I could tell you one thing, and I’m sure the priest here would agree, it’s that you will have to carry on with what she left you. She saw great potential in you – you wanted you to learn the ways of a Martian Matron. She felt you worthy of this, as do I.”
Morgan was still lost as the emotion flowed from her, but she realized that she had been left with some important things that she would carry with her all of her life.
The priest addressed her before he left. “Morgan, would you be willing to say a few words at her memorial service? It is one thing that you could do for her. I’d like to have Darias here help us as well...she really has no family here on Earth.”
Conrad started to intervene, but Blair gently grabbed his arm.
She answered by shaking her head in agreement. “I’ll talk with Edgar and Bethy when they get home, if you don’t mind. I kind of know all that stuff I need to tell them.”
Darias was impressed. “My friend was right; you would make a good Matron. She told me that you took good care of your brother and sister.”
Morgan looked at him with teary eyes. “Yeah…I guess I’m the Matron now.”
"Exactly," said the Martian.
She looked back into his eyes. "She tried to tell me...everything changes, she said. Everything changes."
The memorial service for Miss Edeera Yar was held in the wake chapel of St. Claudette’s church. She wasn't a Christian, not even close, but she was given a warm send-off anyway. There weren’t many people there, but most of it focused on sharing stories of Edeera’s life. Many of the stories were humorous, and there were some chuckles – Edeera would have had it no other way. And, of course, it was inevitable that some of those Martian proverbs that she used to bat around were shared. Morgan did cry at the end of it, but she did share a few words for her headmistress. She would have anyway, but it was also considered an honor and a necessity of a Matron of Mars to do so. She came to realize two things that day: that her youth was coming to a close, and that she would carry on with what had been given her. She was determined to become the woman that would have made Edeera Yar proud.