Sunnie left the empty packages on the one table and
then headed for the door. He would sleep just outside of it, he decided,
within calling distance if something frightening should confront him in
that alien place. It was better than committing yet another sin, breaking
yet another taboo.
Opening the door, Sunnie peered outside nervously. He
saw the empty hallway stretch down both sides of the door and curve at
the ends until he couldn't see any longer where they led to. Nothing frightening
so far, Sunnie thought, and felt some relief. He left the door slightly
open and sat down on the floor outside it.
Sunnie's stomach remained contented with his meal. Rested
and well now, he found himself thinking about what lay past the ends of
the hallway. He couldn't remember much of when they had boarded except
confusing levels of hallways that seemed to go on endlessly. They had
come down the right hallway, Sunnie recalled. It was hard to believe that
home didn't exist that way somewhere.
Sunnie swiveled around and found himself looking up
and up at a tall, dark skinned man. He was handsome; brown eyes soft and
concerned, mouth full and chiseled ebony, nose flared slightly at the
nostrils, and hair a cap of small, black braids on the top of his head.
He wore a long coat of deep crimson, a shirt of white silk with ruffles
at the collar and wrists, black pants, and low soft soled boots of black.
Rohan's one-piece suits had been an outrage on Geranto, this, the stranger
was wearing, was flamboyant vanity that enhanced his good looks. Sunnie
found himself staring dumbly.
The man was staring back with uncertain amusement. "Have
you been put out of your cabin for some reason?"
"No," Sunnie managed to say and then, becoming confused,
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't wish to be disrespectful."
"You're well spoken," the man replied. He held out his
hand. It had very long, fine fingers with several rings. The rings were
silver with clear blue stones. Sunnie was mesmerized by them. "I'm trying
to help you up," the man prompted. Sunnie came back to himself and took
the proffered hand. The man pulled him to his feet. Sunnie tried to disengage
his hand,then, but the man kept gripping it. His thumb rubbed along the
palm of Sunnie's hand.
"My name is Rhani Jhai, Dr. Rhani Jhai to be precise,"
the man introduced himself. "I'm traveling to Kevare." Sunnie said nothing.
Because of his small community, he wasn't used to people not knowing his
name. "And your name is?" the man wondered.
"Sunnie of Truheart clan," Sunnie replied, coming back
The man mouthed the syllables for a moment and then
made the attempt. "Sunny-a? Suh-nih-ee?"
It was a moment before Sunnie realized that the man
had pronounced it correctly. "Yes, that's it."
"Which?" Jhai wondered with a lifted eyebrow.
"The-The last," Sunnie clarified.
"Sunnie?" The man smiled again, saying it quicker and
with more confidence. "Odd accent. I've heard it before though. Are you
That took Sunnie another moment. He couldn't get used
to the past tense, the idea that he WASN'T on Geranto any longer. "Yes...
I am from Geranto."
The man nodded, suspicion confirmed. "I had to intern
on many outlying planets before I received my first position. Geranto
was a one month stint at the port city, but I still remember it being
Jhai seemed to be drinking in Sunnie's face, his soft,
brown eyes giving it minute scrutiny. Sunnie was staring at him as well.
The man had a sparkling jewel in one ear and a small spiral tattoo along
his strong neck. The man became aware of Sunnie's interest. He was pleased.
"Do you have brown men on Geranto?" Jhai wondered. "I
saw port personnel, but I never went into the outlands."
"Yes, but not- not like you," Sunnie replied.
"Not like me?" Jhai chuckled, not taking offense. "I
suppose not. I remember that your people were a boring lot who were inordinately
fond of brown clothing." He smiled engagingly at Sunnie to take out the
sting of criticism.
Sunnie had not smiled in some time. His misery had stifled
an expression that was as unconscious as breathing. Jhai was different,
but his manner was comforting and genial. The man's smile reignited Sunnei's.
He responded like a half dead plant suddenly given water.
Sunnie's smile broke across his face and it glowed warmly.
Jhai's smile dropped and his hand tightened on Sunnie's as his lips parted
in awe. Lost in Sunnie's sparkling, amber eyes, his heart constricted.
It was like being on fire, Jhai thought, no, struck by lightning. Something
overpowering was taking hold of him and it had to do with the smiling,
golden haired young man in front of him.
Sunnie felt Jhai's hand begin to sweat. His sudden silence
made him aware of their touching skin. He pulled away and hid his face
in embarrassment when he realized that and the fact that he was smiling.
It didn't matter that the man had initiated the touch or that he had smiled
first. It hadn't mattered with Rohan either. They were Godless men, after
"I'm sorry," Jhai quickly apologized. "I've said the
wrong thing, haven't I?"
Sunnie didn't know what to say to that. Jhai was older
than he was and clearly an elder. Elders didn't apologize. They weren't
supposed to be wrong.
Jhai tried to recover ground that he imagined he had
lost. He wasn't going to let Sunnie get away from him because of a misunderstanding.
"Instead of sitting out here, why don't you let me buy you something to
eat or drink? We can go to the upper dinning room. It's a small ship;
they only have basic menus for each world they have a port in, but I'm
sure they'll have something to your liking from Geranto."
Sunnie had the hunger of a young man and he was hungry
again. Jhai was easy to like and trust, even if he was Godless. Jhai also
had the automatic authority of an elder. Sunnie's only hesitation in obeying
Jhai was his fear of the ship itself.
"Sunnie?" Jhai prodded gently. "Come out from behind
your hands and tell me what's wrong."
Sunnie lowered his hands reluctantly, gripping them
together. "I'm afraid. This place is strange to me."
"But you still want to see it, don't you?" Jhai replied
as he leaned over and looked into Sunnie's bowed face. "You look a little
ill, Sunnie. Have you been ill?" Sunnie nodded. "We'll take it easy, I
promise you. There really isn't much to see on a ship like this. The people
themselves are the only excitement. They're very different from people
on Geranto, you'll find." When Sunnie said nothing, Jhai again became
afraid of losing his chance with the young man. He smiled engagingly again.
"Don't say no, Sunnie."
Sunnie tensed, hearing an order that Jhai hadn't meant.
He nodded respectfully, ready to obey. "Yes, Master Jhai."
Jhai, pleased, chuckled. "We don't have that honorific
out here, Sunnie. You can call me Dr. Jhai, if you like, but that's very
formal. I would much prefer that you simply call me Rhani, but I remember
how the young on your world are taught respect. Jhai is probably more
acceptable to you."
"Jhai, yes," Sunnie replied with relief. It bothered
him every time he called Rohan, Scott. He kept expecting a blow for being
"Come on then," Jhai prompted and led Sunnie through
the long hallways of the ship.
Sunnie kept close to the man and tried not to look at
anything. After a time, he realized that Jhai was right, there wasn't
anything to see. The workings of the ship were kept apart from the passenger
sections and machines were at a minimum. The hallways were blank and bland
and the people they passed... Sunnie found Jhai right once again. They
were very interesting and different.
It wasn't just their clothing or hairstyles, which could
border on the bizarre, Sunnie realized, it was the way they spoke in different
languages, their odd accents, and their way of moving and reacting to
things based on customs and habits completely different from Sunnie's.
He found it sinful at first and objectional, but Sunnie didn't see anyone
acting blasphemous or shamefully and, after only a little while, he began
to guiltily enjoy their differences. It excited him. That excitement,
usually punished by his elders at once, was, instead, looked on indulgently
They reached the dinning room. The hum of conversation
and the myriad people eating at tables everywhere took Sunnie back a little.
Sunnie stopped walking and stared. The person behind him, not expecting
a sudden roadblock, bumped into him. A feminine voice apologized. Sunnie
turned and went scarlet.
The woman had very short brown hair. Her face was young
and her eyes were narrowed irritably. Barely coming to Sunnie's chest,
she put hands on hips and waited, as if she were expecting Sunnie to shout
at her. Sunnie didn't have any such intention. He was staring down at
her clothes. She wore a skin tight outfit made out of a material that,
though opaque, showed every line and bump on her body. Her breasts, especially,
were large, rounded globes with prominent nipples. Sunnie could just see
past them to the obvious cleft between her legs.
Sunnie felt a buzzing rush in his head. His skin burned
with shame even as his body began to respond to the visual stimulation.
Just as quickly, as had happened on his wedding day, the memory of lashing
pain across his groin brought Sunnie to flinching impotence. He bowed
over as if Jhas's cane had truly struck him, the memory that clear and
The woman thought that Sunnie was being gallant. She
smiled impishly and passed him by. Jhai saw the pain in Sunnie's face.
"What is it, Sunnie?" He asked, taking hold of Sunnie's elbow in concern.
With the woman gone, the pain receded. Sunnie breathed
again and slowly straightened. He looked at the floor to keep from seeing
another such sight. "Why...," Sunnie couldn't even form a question. Why
would a woman be allowed to walk about like that? He couldn't begin to
"Styles of dress differ," Jhai replied, guessing Sunnie's
distress. "She was wearing an outfit that was proper for where she comes
from. You'll see a lot worse than that, Sunnie." He added, "You're a young
man, though. You should be enjoying the free show." He said it with false
humor. In reality, the words were a veiled question.
Sunnie went as pale as a ghost now, staring at Jhai
in disbelief that an elder would suggest such a thing.
Jhai searched his memory and then looked contrite, even
as his heart sank. "Forgive me, Sunnie. Of course you wouldn't do such
a thing. You're people don't interact with anyone but your mother and
sisters until you're properly married, right? At your age, you must have
a wife and several children already."
Sunnie didn't think the pain that caused could be worse
than the last, but it was. He replied very quietly, so that Jhai had to
lean close to hear it. "No, I couldn't- I wasn't able to have a wife."
The shame of having to say it was intense, magnified by the crowd all
about them who might hear as well.
Jhai patted his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Sunnie. I keep
having to say that. We're not getting off to a good start." But at least
he knew he could start now, Jhai thought to himself with relief as he
guided Sunnie to the counter to order.
The smell of food was intense. Sunnie took a deep breath
and felt his stomach growl demandingly.
"Ask for something basic," Jhai told him as they faced
a bored looking man in a white apron behind the counter. "If you're traveling
far, you had best enjoy the fresh food now. They change to ration packs
pretty early on in the trip."
Sunnie thought of the food Rohan had served him. It
had been very good. He began to ask for that, but Jhai put a hand on his
sleeve and looked concerned. "That's a Terra dish. Are you used to eating
that sort of food? There are a lot of spices. I used to get native patients
on Geranto constantly who couldn't handle the port city food. Artificial
gravity can be a terror on your stomach as well."
Sunnie timidly ordered the Geranto staple foods; grain
and beans. It was already prepared. The man behind the counter quickly
brought him a plateful of it and directed him to a water dispenser. Jhai
ordered a white meat that looked strange to Sunnie and grain as well.
"Fish," Jhai told Sunnie as they sat down. "I'm from
a very warm world with water as far as you can see. Fish live in the water.
We catch them with nets. It's very good." He took a bite and then made
a face. "At least its supposed to be. Maybe I should stick to grain and
beans as well?"
Sunnie found himself smiling again as he ate his food.
It was plain and good. He wouldn't have had anything better at home. The
water, though, tasted flat and warm.
"I could order you a drink," Jhai suggested.
"No, sir," Sunnie replied quickly. "I'm not allowed
such things. It is only for elders."
"Sounds very wise," Jhai agreed. He was quiet as he
ate, but he kept glancing at Sunnie, drinking in his beauty, admiring
his shyness, and wondering how far to take things. "Tell me about yourself,
Sunnie," he said to gain time. "What brings you so far away from your
Sunnie took on the soulful, sad expression of a kicked
dog. He trembled, on the verge of tears. "Mr. Rohan brought me here."
"Mr. Rohan?" Jhai's hand tensed on his fork. "Who is
That was a strange question and very difficult to answer.
Sunnie struggled with it as he tried to regain control of his grief. "He
is like you, a foreigner."
"That's not saying much," Jhai said in surprise. "Don't
you know anything else about him? How did you come to be with him?
Sunnie looked down at his half finished beans and grain.
He suddenly dropped his fork and covered his face with his hands.
Jhai raised eyebrows in exasperation. "Sunnie, please
tell me something."
Sunnie said from behind his hands, his shame completely
overwhelming him. "When I committed a s-sin, I was given into his care
"A sin? What sin?"
"I-I don't know. I wasn't told," Sunnie explained in
anguish. He stood, expecting Jhai to reject him now. "May I- May I return
"Wait!" Jhai said and stood up as well. When Sunnie
obediently stood still, Jhai took a breath and gave the room a self conscious,
darting glance. "Why do you have to go now? Is this Rohan so strict? Is
he - Is he your Legal Companion?"
There, he had asked it. Jhai's heart went into his throat
as he waited for Sunnie's reply. The boy lowered his hands, confused.
His amber eyes were full of tears. He looked very young just then and
"You don't know what that is, do you?" Jhai guessed.
He reached out and pushed Sunnie back into his chair. "Sit down. Don't
make everyone gawk at us."
Sunnie sat stiffly and Jhai reclaimed his seat as well.
His hands were tense on the chair arms as he leaned toward's Sunnie and
re-worded his question. "Are you mates? Paired? Lovers?"
"I don't understand," Sunnie replied.
He didn't, Jhai could see it. He felt beads of sweat
on his dark brow. There was only one other way to ask his question. He
made a circle with the slender fingers of one hand and then held a finger
straight out with his other. He pushed the stiffened finger through the
Sunnie went bloodless. He recognized the gesture from
Jhas's demonstration of what a man did with a woman. How could the man
have made such a terrible mistake? "Mr. Rohan is an elder! He isn't a
Jhai curled up his fingers in his lap, dumbfounded.
He thought that he had read the boy right. Now, he was as confused as
Sunnie. The only other explanation was that the boy was an innocent. That
wasn't so hard to believe.
"Of course, Sunnie," Jhai apologized yet again. "Foolish
of me, wasn't it? You've already told me that...you can't do that with
women. Mr. Rohan is your guardian then?"
"My elder, yes," Sunnie replied, but he was turning
red with shame again and he was beginning to feel worn to the bone from
stress. He didn't reaffirm what Jhai wanted to hear. It wasn't right to
be speaking of it at all. "May I go, Jhai? Mr. Rohan will be angry if
he doesn't find me when he wakes."
"Where is he taking you?" Jhai persisted. "Why did he
take you at all?"
"To Kevare, he said," Sunnie replied. "I was given to
him," he repeated.
"For committing a sin," Jhai finished. "By why this
"He was from the Godless places," Sunnie replied and
he wanted to weep again. "I was being sent there because of the sin."
"Convenient," Jhai muttered suspiciously and then asked,
"Why was he in your village to begin with?"
"I don't know," Sunnie replied and found himself standing
again. Jhai had made him happy and relaxed for a time, almost forgetting
his troubles. Now the man was tormenting him with sinful conversation
and questions that were for Rohan, not a man as young as himself. He bowed
respectfully to Jhai, an automatic plea to not take offense at his next
words. "Please, speak with Mr. Rohan. He is my elder. I am too young to
hear your words or to know what you are asking."
"Do you think that I am so old?" Jhai retorted, but
he wasn't angry, only sad. The situation was complicated now and Sunnie
had become too much of an unknown. Still, he was going to Kevare as well.
There was ample time to stalk his quarry, find out more about him, and
maybe discover more about the mysterious Mr. Rohan as well. An irrepressible
optimist, Jhai wasn't willing to give up just yet.