There were two messages on my PDA after dinner that evening. The first was from Gretchen. "That Magdy character tracked me down and asked me out on a date," it read. "I guess he likes girls who mock the crap out of him. I told him okay. Because he is kind of cute. Don't wait up." This made me smile.
The second was from Enzo, who had somehow managed to get my PDA's address; I suspect Gretchen might have had something to do with that. It was titled "A Poem to the Girl I Just Met, Specifically a Haiku, the Title of Which Is Now Substantially Longer Than the Poem Itself, Oh, the Irony," and it read:
Her name is Zoe
Smile like a summer breeze
Please don't have me cubed.
I laughed out loud at that one. Babar looked up at me and thumped his tail hopefully; I think he was thinking all this happiness would result in more food for him. I gave him a slice of leftover bacon. So I guess he was right about that. Smart dog, Babar.
After the Magellan departed from Phoenix Station, the colony leaders found out about the near-rumble in the common area, because I told them about it over dinner. John and Jane sort of looked at each other significantly and then changed the subject to something else. I guessed the problem of integrating ten completely different sets of people with ten completely different cultures had already come up in their discussions, and now they were getting the underage version of it as well.
I figured that they would find a way to deal with it, but I really wasn't prepared for their solution.
"Dodgeball," I said to Dad, over breakfast. "You're going to have all us kids play dodgeball."
"Not all of you," Dad said. "Just the ones of you who would otherwise be picking stupid and pointless fights out of boredom." He was nibbling on some coffee cake; Babar was standing by on crumb patrol. Jane and Savitri were out taking care of business; they were the brains of this particular setup. "You don't like dodgeball?" he asked.
"I like it just fine," I said. "I'm just not sure why you think it's an answer to this problem."
Dad set down his coffee cake, brushed off his hands, and started ticking off points with his fingers. "One, we have the equipment and it fits the space. We can't very well play football or cricket on the Magellan. Two, it's a team sport, so we can get big groups of kids involved. Three, it's not complicated, so we don't have to spend much time laying out the ground rules to everyone. Four, it's athletic and will give you guys a way to burn off some of your energy. Five, it's just violent enough to appeal to those idiot boys you were talking about yesterday, but not so violent that someone's actually going to get hurt."
"Any more points?" I asked.
"No," Dad said. "I've run out of fingers." He picked up his coffee cake again.
"It's just going to be that the boys are going to make teams with their friends," I said. "So you'll still have the problem of kids from one world staying with their own."
"I would agree with this, if not for the fact that I'm not a complete idiot," Dad said, "and neither is Jane. We have a plan for this."
The plan: Everyone who signed up to play was assigned to a team, rather than allowed to pick their own team. And I don't think the teams were entirely randomly assigned; when Gretchen and I looked over the team lists, Gretchen noted that almost none of the teams had more than one player from the same world; even Enzo and Magdy were put on different teams. The only kids who were on the same "team" were the Kyotoans; as Colonial Mennonites they avoided playing in competitive sports, so they asked to be the referees instead.
Gretchen and I didn't sign up for any teams; we appointed ourselves league managers and no one called us on it; apparently word of the intense mockery we laid on a wild pack of teenage boys had gotten around and we were feared and awed equally. "That makes me feel pretty," Gretchen said, once such a thing was told to her by one of her friends from Erie. We were watching the first game of the series, with the Leopards playing against the Mighty Red Balls, presumably named after the game equipment. I don't think I approved of the team name, myself.
"Speaking of which, how was your date last night?" I asked.
"It was a little grabby," Gretchen said.
"You want me to have Hickory and Dickory talk to him?" I asked.
"No, it was manageable," Gretchen said. "And besides which, your alien friends creep me out. No offense."
"None taken," I said. "They really are nice."
"They're your bodyguards," Gretchen said. "They're not supposed to be nice. They're supposed to scare the pee out of people. And they do. I'm just glad they don't follow you around all the time. No one would ever come talk to us."
In fact, I hadn't seen either Hickory or Dickory since the day before and our conversation about touring the Obin planets. I wondered if I had managed to hurt their feelings. I was going to have to check in on them to see how they were.
"Hey, your boyfriend just picked off one of the Leopards," Gretchen said. She pointed at Enzo, who was playing in the game.
"He's not my boyfriend, any more than Magdy is yours," I said.
"Is he as grabby as Magdy is?" Gretchen asked.
"What a question," I said. "How dare you ask. I'm madly offended."
"That's a yes, then," Gretchen said.
"No, it's not," I said. "He's been perfectly nice. He even sent me a poem."
"He did not," Gretchen said. I showed it to her on my PDA. She handed it back. "You get the poetry writer. I get the grabber. It's really not fair. You want to trade?"
"Not a chance," I said. "But he not's my boyfriend."
Gretchen nodded out to Enzo. "Have you asked him about that?"
I looked over to Enzo, who sure enough was sneaking looks my way while moving around the dodgeball field. He saw I was looking his way, smiled over at me and nodded, and as he was doing that he got nailed righteously hard in the ear by the dodgeball and went down with a thump.
I burst out laughing.
"Oh, nice," Gretchen said. "Laughing at your boyfriend's pain."
"I know! I'm so bad!" I said, and just about toppled over.
"You don't deserve him," Gretchen said, sourly. "You don't deserve his poem. Give them both to me."
"Not a chance," I said, and then looked up and saw Enzo there in front of me. I reflexively put my hand over my mouth.
"Too late," he said. Which of course made me laugh even more.
"She's mocking your pain," Gretchen said, to Enzo. "Mocking it, you hear me."
"Oh, God, I'm so sorry," I said, between laughs, and before I thought about what I was doing gave Enzo a hug.
"She's trying to distract you from her evil," Gretchen warned.
"It's working," Enzo said.
"Oh, fine," Gretchen said. "See if I warn you about her evil ways after this." She very dramatically focused back on the game, only occasionally glancing over and grinning at me.
I unhugged from Enzo. "I'm not actually evil," I said.
"No, just amused at the pain of others," Enzo said.
"You walked off the court," I said. "It can't have hurt that much."
"There's pain you can't see," Enzo said. "Existential pain."
"Oh, boy," I said. "If you're having existential pain from dodgeball, you're really just doing it wrong."
"I don't think you appreciate the philosophical subtleties of the sport," Enzo said. I started giggling again. "Stop it," Enzo said mildly. "I'm being serious here."
"I so hope you're not," I said, and giggled some more. "You want to get lunch?"
"Love to," Enzo said. "Just give me a minute to extract this dodgeball from my Eustachian tube."
It was the first time I had ever heard anyone use the phrase "Eustachian tube" in common conversation. I think I may have fallen a little bit in love with him right there.
"I haven't seen the two of you around much today," I said to Hickory and Dickory, in their quarters.
"We are aware that we make many of your fellow colonists uncomfortable," Hickory said. It and Dickory sat on stools that were designed to accommodate their body shape; otherwise their quarters were bare. The Obin may have gained consciousness and even recently tried their hand at storytelling, but the mysteries of interior decoration still clearly eluded them. "It was decided it would be best for us to stay out of the way."
"Decided by whom?" I asked.
"By Major Perry," Hickory said, and then, before I could open my mouth, "and we agree."
"You two are going to be living with us," I said. "With all of us. People need to get used to you."
"We agree, and they will have time," Hickory said. "But for now we think it's better to give your people time to get used to each other." I opened my mouth to respond, but then Hickory said, "Do you not benefit from our absence at the moment?"
I remembered Gretchen's comment earlier in the day about how the other teens would never come up to us if Hickory and Dickory were always hanging around, and felt a little bit ashamed. "I don't want you to think I don't want you around," I said.
"We do not believe that," Hickory said. "Please do not think that. When we are on Roanoke we will resume our roles. People will be more accepting of us because they will have had time to know you."
"I still don't want you to think you have to stay in here because of me," I said. "It would drive me crazy to be cooped up in here for a week."
"It is not difficult for us," Hickory said. "We disconnect our consciousnesses until we need them again. Time flies by that way."
"That was very close to a joke," I said.
"If you say so," Hickory said.
I smiled. "Still, if that's the only reason you stay in here - "
"I did not say it was the only reason," Hickory said, interrupting me, which it almost never did. "We are also spending this time preparing."
"For life on Roanoke?" I asked.
"Yes," Hickory said. "And how we will be of best service to you when we are there."
"I think by just doing what you do," I said.
"Possibly," Hickory said. "We think you might be underestimating how much different Roanoke will be from your life before, and what our responsibilities will be to you."
"I know it's going to be different," I said. "I know it's going to be harder in a lot of ways."
"We are glad to hear that," Hickory said. "It will be."
"Enough so that you're spending all this time planning?" I asked.
"Yes," Hickory said. I waited a second to hear if anything else was coming after that, but there wasn't.
"Is there anything you want me to do?" I asked Hickory. "To help you?"
Hickory took a second to respond. I watched it to see what I could sense from it; after this many years, I was pretty good at reading its moods. Nothing seemed unusual or out of place. It was just Hickory.
"No," Hickory said, finally. "We would have you do what you are doing. Meeting new people. Becoming friends with them. Enjoying your time now. When we arrive at Roanoke we do not expect you will have as much time for enjoyment."
"But you're missing out on all my fun," I said. "You're usually there to record it."
"This one time you can get along without us," Hickory said. Another near joke. I smiled again and gave them both a hug just as my PDA vibrated to life. It was Gretchen.
"Your boyfriend really sucks at dodgeball," she said. "He just took a hit square on his nose. He says to tell you the pain isn't nearly as enjoyable if you're not around to laugh at it. So come on down and ease the poor boy's pain. Or add to it. Either works."