[- 2212 Unukalhai uprising]
[We barely heard the faintest news about it, on Paragon. At least, that’s what I thought later, when I started reading about history. At the time I was a child, and entirely uninterested in distant political unrest. But though the uprising was mentioned only briefly in official texts, there were ripples, if one thought about it, and looked carefully. With hindsight, one can see that the posters declaring “Earth for Humans” and “They Are Among Us” were signs of Unukalhai disaffection, even on Paragon, among that mutant-rich mix of people that should have led to tolerance and understanding.]
There is a long gap of years to cover, and memories of childhood can easily descend into hagiography, but some things are the foundation blocks of the people we became. Without the stones, there is no arch.
We had a ridiculously large number of people and machines looking after us as we grew, even when Mother insisted that we should go to school in Salamanca, and not be educated at home like our father had been. He objected. She won. He pointed out that there was no need to send us away from the safety of Chatsworth, driving to town and back every day, and we could even attend the Salamanca school virtually, and gain all the same benefits. She insisted that interaction with children our own age was more important than any data we might learn from the education programs. I am sure, to this day, that he did not fully agree, but he acquiesced. He did insist, however, that we should learn “proper sports” at home, and Mother felt there would be no harm in that.
I am happy to say that “proper sports” did not include cricket. Possibly only because that would have needed enough people to form a team, or even two – and who knows, perhaps he was thinking of perfecting some robots to play, because, after all, if Nemesis can build robots that shoot rifles, why wouldn’t it be possible to build robots to play cricket? We may have been saved by the fact that Father was usually too busy with work to spend enough time designing cricked-playing robots. However, “proper sports” did include horse riding, sailing (swimming was a prerequisite, for safety, but not considered important in itself), fencing, and shooting. I am remarkably well qualified to fight in a Napoleonic war…
The horses were right there. There were stables on the estate, and grooms, and riding instructors. Going out to play usually included going to or through the stables anyway, and we had been toddling our way around there since we learned to walk, so each of us in turn had a pony, and then a horse. Hasmita was the best of us three: yes, she was the eldest, so she had already been riding for a while when I started to learn, but she had a way with horses, and seemed always to understand what their behaviour meant; while they, in turn, seemed always to understand exactly what she wanted of them. Horatio, in contrast, was impatient and heavy-handed, and the horses did what they were required because they were trained to do so, but would try to get away with any small rebellions that bit and bridle might allow.
Put Horatio on a mechanical vehicle of any sort, though, and he was in his element. He barely used a tricycle at all, and went straight to a bicycle, doing things that terrified the staff (our parents, most of the time, were at work and didn’t see) like riding down the marble banisters from one terrace to the next, and jumping down from stair to stair. Hasmita could do dressage on a horse; Horatio could have done dressage on a bike, I swear, except that it would have been too slow for him. The minute he was allowed on powered vehicles – no, let’s be honest, he found ways to get on powered vehicles long before he was actually allowed to – that was where he wanted to be. As a teenager he raced ground-bikes around Perez Park because, by that point, the streets had been almost taken over by the Skulls and the Hellions, and they would chase him, and it amused him to dodge them and leave them behind. He rode a variety of hover-bikes around Terra Volta, making it his personal training ground and obstacle course. One time, he actually managed to get into the pilot seat of one of the ominous Black Helicopters that did the Rogue Islands crossing… Father had to pull a lot of strings to get The Little Horror out of serious trouble that time. Horatio was confined to quarters for a month, and of course managed to sneak out. Hasmita put on his clothes and the bandana he had snatched from a Hellion – his favourite headgear – and sat in his room to fool the camera, while I went looking for him. He was in Pocket D, of course. Too young to drink legally, and well beyond tipsy.
Back to “proper sports”: Hasmita was the best rider, Horatio was the best driver, but I was the best sailor… From the days of toy boats in the fountain in Perez Park (before everything went to pieces, when you could still go walking in the park without having to look out for little robots and sinister guys in green robes), to learning to row in the canals in Founders’ Falls, and then the little sailing dinghies from the beach in Salamanca, that was my favourite thing to do, if I had to be outside rather than inside, reading. Hasmita complained about getting cold and wet, and getting blisters on her hands. The Little Horror complained that it all took too long, and he’d be there in one tenth the time if we just let him add an engine. I wanted to sail round Paragon single-handed.
I never had the time or the opportunity for that. But I had hopes; so I started, when I was ten, with a full circuit of Independence Port, using oars only when I was in close where the docks cut the wind out; and later I sailed round Striga Island, estimating how close I could get before the War Wolves would wade out to chase my boat – fortunately, they never did learn to swim. The views of the volcano from the water were impressive, though it was clear there were fortifications part of the way up, and there should not have been. Then came the summer when I sailed all the way out to Peregrine Island, and around its minor islands too. I think that ranks close toHoratio’s Skull-racing, in terms of foolhardiness… I never did tell our parents what I saw on the islands, and I kept a safe distance, too. There was no telling whether those things would be able to swim, and I didn’t want to find out.
And there was shooting – we started with reproduction black powder muskets, to get the full Napoleonic experience. Hasmita suggested we should make our own gunpowder, too, but our parents decided that might be taking authenticity a little too far. We progressed to rifles, and on through the centuries, to contemporary weapons. I still like the smell of gunpowder, though.