Lady Rezalla Boynton-Chonderlee was often bemused and puzzled by her body-heir, Nimisha Boynton-Rondymense, as the child began to develop a personality. She was, indeed, all and more that a womb-mother could wish in her body-heir: beautiful, intelligent, healthy, and obedient in almost every matter. Lady Rezalla considered the infrequent displays of temper and minor rebellions against necessary protocol only to be expected in the very young. Nimisha was certainly not as wayward or overindulged as some of the children of her contemporaries.
However, as Nimisha grew past the nursery stage and started the formal tutorial lessons, she showed decided preferences that were unexpected. She loved to take first mechanical and then robotic units apart, a hobby that struck her womb-mother as unusual. Lady Rezalla consoled herself that at least Nimisha showed an aptitude for something that kept her occupied for hours. Lady Rezalla knew that some of her social peers had ... difficult ... children with tendencies to be violent or abusive as the very young often were. Even in the best families. She privately admitted to some anxiety that Nimisha's mechanical avocation might be considered "quaint" for someone in the most prestigious social level of Acclarke City on Vega III. On the positive side, the Boynton-Chonderlee-Rondymense connection was sufficiently powerful to permit much that might have been censored or condemned in a lesser Family.
"It's in the genes she inherited from me, Rezalla," Lord Tionel Rondymense-Erhardt remarked on one of his visits to see the daughter he had contracted to provide Lady Rezalla. Though he would have been perfectly willing to have had a much longercontract with the elegant Rezalla, she had never given him the least bit of encouragement for an extension. This disinterest both annoyed and intrigued him since he was much in demand as a sire in the best Acclarkian circles. Still, he enjoyed her company and excruciatingly accurate remarks about their society and peers. She was not averse to his visits since she felt that her body-heir by him was quite the best of the lot he had so far sired. She was less sanguine about the way he encouraged Nimisha in her whimsical bent, happily answering her questions or giving her a pointer when she seemed at a standstill in reassembling what she had taken apart.
"It has obviously escaped your attention, my dear Rezalla," he remarked one day after explaining to Nimisha the function of the tiny chips she had spread out on the floor, "that she invariably improves the design and function of whatever she's tinkering with. I find that most ingenious of her. Most ingenious. If she continues to develop this aptitude, why I might just leave her my shipyard. No one else I've sired shows the least bit of interest in spaceship design. Much less doing any work of any description. I have grave concern that what nine generations have built up in the Rondymense Ship Yard GmBH might decline and disappear in the next one."
"My body-heir," Lady Rezalla replied, rather more dismayed than pleased by Lord Tionel's remarks, "will have no need for unsuitable bequests, Lord Tionel."
"You were happy enough to find ten thousand shares of Rondymense stock in her birth-gift portfolio," he remarked. Then he went on in his softest, most persuasive voice, his blue eyes dancing, though his face had assumed a properly repentant expression. "Don't be angry with me, Rezie. There's nothing unsuitable about a firm that has been designing spaceships and in profit for over two hundred years. Surely the financier in you appreciates that!"
The point was well taken, Lady Rezalla had to admit in all fairness. She herself had increased her holdings and wealth due to a nearly infallible instinct for the profitability of new businesses. Tionel was not given to casual remarks. She knew very well that his body-heir, Vestrin, a decade older than her Nimisha, was a disgrace to his sire. He seemed to have no interest in anything that wasn't "thrilling, exciting, or totally new," which included dangerous hunts and rather nasty jokes on those who might be considered "close" friends. Tionel could do worse than sign the Rondymense Yard over to his girl child if he wished it to continue. Nimisha need not do anything in such a well-run establishment. Rezalla didn't know how much Tionel did in the administrative end of the business, but she was quite capable of instructing her daughter in the financial aspects sufficiently to keep the Yard in profit. Especially as many contracts from the Admiralty were awarded to Rondymense Ship Yard GmBH. It was always good to
be "in" with the Admiralty, especially as she had recently acquired the controlling interest in a small freighter company.
"I have never faulted you on your business acumen, Ti," she replied, relenting as they both watched Nimisha's careful reassembly of a robotic toy, the gift of her Great Uncle Dahmison. While expressing appreciation for the gift, Lady Rezalla wondered if Uncle knew which sex the child was. But it was certainly the sort of thing Uncle would give: It made the most appalling noise. Children liked noise; Rezalla didn't. "You've always been lucky with your designers."
"My designers?" Lord Tionel looked insulted and gestured at Nimisha. "I'm my designer. I am responsible for all the innovations at the Yard. And half of what the Vegan Fleet uses."
It was Lady Rezalla's turn to be surprised, and despite her many years of schooling her expression to show only what she wished an audience to see, it was a full minute before she could respond with cool dignity.
"You never mentioned that, Tionel." It was as near a reprimand as she could bring herself to make. Members of the First Families had to set good examples to everyone, even their peers, but they delegated duties; they didn't do them.
"I thought everyone knew," Tionel replied with a properly cool indifference and a shrug of one shoulder. "Ah, very nice, Nimi," he said as his six-year-old offspring presented him with the repaired toy. He set it on the floor and pressed the activating stud. It began its series of acrobatics, making Nimi clap her hands. "What did you alter in its circuitry?"
"She's made it quiet!" Lady Rezalla said, her voice echoing her delight. So Nimisha had noticed her distaste for the sound it had made. "Such a dear child."
"Well done, Nimi, well done!" Lord Tionel clapped his hands and, without a glance at his former contractual spouse, held his arms out to the child. She promptly climbed into his lap and put her arms about his neck, a show of affection that caused Lady Rezalla to regard Lord Tionel with dismay. He noticed. "Nonsense, Rezie. I am her father and I like to cuddle my children."
"How ... how exceedingly ... old fashioned of you," Lady Rezalla said, seething with a variety of emotions, the most dominant being envy.
Nimisha would never have dared to climb onto her mother's lap. But then, Rezalla had never indicated that such a display would have been acceptable. Lady Rezalla did not like her exquisite self handled. What with Nimisha's preoccupation with mechanical things, her fingers and hands were rarely as clean as they should be, though Nurse did the best she could. Oddly enough, Nimisha did not have even a smudge of dirt on her clothing.
If Tionel wished to have his fashionable tunic and trousers marred by dirty fingers, that was his choice. He had always been a tactile person. If she had once found this trait of his charming, she did not think unessential personal contact dignified. Certainly not in their social sphere. At least Nimisha was still very much a child, so such a display could be condoned. She and her sire seemed to have established a bond that was not entirely due to the child's interest in taking things apart. It did the child no hard to receive paternal caresses--if not carried too far. Lady Rezalla was fair-minded. She thought she and Nimisha had an excellent relationship; certainly she enjoyed her daughter's company whenever she chose to take her anywhere. For the first time, Lady Rezalla realized how odd her own behavior might look to others. Very few of her social friends bothered to have their child-heirs accompany them as much as Lady Rezalla did. But she genuinely liked the child and thought her occasional observations
clever. Rezalla also thought herself quite broadminded in rearing Nimisha. The child's only flaw, as her mother saw it, was this fascination with dismantling and reassembling mechanical and chippy things.
She did remonstrate with Tionel when he started presenting Nimisha with birthday gifts of a construction nature; things to assemble even down to schematic drawings and instructions. To offset Tionel's influence, Lady Rezalla subtly began to emphasize the feminine instruction that all girls of their social level had to acquire and display suitably in Acclarkian society. She was quite successful in such tuition. By the time Nimisha was eight, she insisted on choosing her own apparel. As she displayed an innate good taste, as well as a sense of color and design, Lady Rezalla stopped fretting about he child's quaint preference for mucking about with greasy gears and engines and the chips she so enjoyed fooling with. What only Nimisha's Nurse knew was that her charge knew how to strike a balance that permitted her time to do what she really wanted--to examine things mechanical and improve them--and time to satisfy a mother whom she genuinely loved and respected, at least in matters of dress and deportment.
"Actually, good design is good design anywhere," Nimisha told Nurse after a shopping session with her mother. "And choosing clothing isn't much different from choosing the right chassis for a sleek skimmer."
Such a remark merely proved to Nurse that her charge was cleverer than Lady Rezalla realized, a fact that Nurse proudly ascribed to her own careful nurturing of her charge.
Because Nimisha's sire did who a marked interest in her--and the guidance counselors admitted that a friendly paternal regard generally contributed to the stability of a child, male or female--Lady Rezalla permitted Lord Tionel to take Nimisha on trips to the Rondymense Ship Yard. Since Nurse was agoraphobic and bluntly refused to leave the solid surface of Vega III even for Nimisha's sake, Lady Rezalla sent to the employment agency she patronized for a suitable female attendant who had experience in space travel. Five candidates were offered by the agency, and their prospective employer subjected each to a long and searching interrogation.
Lady Rezalla settled on twenty-one-year-old Jeska Mlan because of her family's long and illustrious record as military and naval personnel. Mlan had trained and applied for Service as well, but sadly she was one centimeter too short and a half kilo too light to be eligible. So she had registered as a bodyguard. All her credentials were in order, her intelligence was above average, her manner pleasant, and her accent that of an educated Acclarkian (acceptable in any social circle). It was important that Nimisha did not pick up any "common habits." Lady Rezalla deplored the latest fad in her society--of using certain cant terms or resorting to archaic language and expletives that mystified her.
The young woman certainly didn't look like a bodyguard. Though not traditionally pretty, Jeska was attractive, her face showing good character, and she knew enough about dressing herself to enhance her appearance. She would look well in Lady Rezalla's stylish personal livery. But the telling factor was Jeska's interest in things mechanical.
"My father and brothers taught me how to keep a skimmer serviced, Lady Rezalla," she said, and then added with a slight smile, "and other equipment that I hope I shall not have to use."
"Then you are familiar with stunners?"
"I have been checked out by the Acclarkian Peace Guardians on hand weapons and carry permits for personal defense implements," Jeska replied.
"Do you have a current valid permit with the APG?"
"Not at the moment, ma'am, but my training has been registered with them."
"I shall apply for the necessary permit immediately. Do you generally carry two knives, Mlan?"
"Yes, m'lady," Jeska said without apology. The security arch on the main entrance had disclosed that the girl carried one sheathed between her shoulders and another in her right boot, a slender blade that the Residence Manager termed a "stiletto."
Lady Rezalla could approve of the quiet dignity of that response: consonant with her training, certainly, and a basic precaution for an attractive young female. There were parts of Acclarke where personal weapons would undoubtedly be required, though Mlan's address was not in one of those insalubrious areas.
While Jeska's primary duty was to accompany Nimisha on any excursions outside the Boynton-Chonderlee compound, she was also enjoined by Lady Rezalla to keep the girl physically fit. Mlan's resume had included a list of the awards that she had received for gymnastic events. Rezalla herself used daily dance and an aerobics routine to keep supple, in addition to weekly sessions with a trainer. So many of her contemporaries resorted to surgical methods to maintain their figures, a practice that Rezalla found abhorrent and which she intended to eschew. Though one of her close personal friends, Lord Naves, specialized in body sculpture, she did not intend to use his skills. Good physical habits in childhood would result in a firm adult body that would need no surgical interference.
"So many children these days are content to have everything done for them," Lady Rezalla said, leading her new employee to meet her daughter. "I do not care to see my daughter become languorous and ineffectual. You will see that she is kept in top physical condition."
As Lady Rezalla did not specify what physical fitness program she wished her daughter to learn, Jeska passed on more of what she herself had been taught by older brothers and sisters in the services. Gymnastics provided a solid base from which to start. When Jeska saw how beautiful her young charge was, she included general self-defense moves in the exercise program. As Nimisha grew in height, weight, and strength, Jeska added offensive tactics, including the use of daggers, stunners, and hunting weapons, and how to turn seemingly innocuous objects into weapons in an emergency. While Jeska knew that many members of the First Families were ardent hunters and enjoyed pursuing very dangerous prey on those preserves set aside for such sport, Nimisha was uncharacteristically--for her social rank--devoid of any interest in the hunt. She ignored those of her peers who boasted of killing this animal or that predatory avian and waved aside details of such prowess. She was vitally interested in how the flitters, skimme
rs, and ground vehicles worked. And how to improve their performance--an interest that Jeska was certainly delighted to foster.
Like most scions in her rank of society, Nimisha was tutored at home, her mother deciding what subjects she should study. Languages, of course, and mathematics featured very early on, as well as a foundation in economics. She was also tutored at the appropriate age in astrography, galactic history, various branches of the physical sciences, the workings of the Vegan civic administrational structure, and basic legal precepts.
"Which means when to put in a hurry-up call to the family legal advisers," Nimisha said to Jeska with a droll grin. At ten she was far more aware of civic responsibilities than Jeska had ever been.
Jeska was quite willing to improve her own education, especially in useful areas like mathematics, legal codes, and statutes. So, since she had no duties during the morning tutorial sessions, she took to sitting quietly in the back of the room, acquiring knowledge that had not been available in the general curriculum of her school. Like any member of a serving family, she had acquired phrases and words of many different languages, but not necessarily those appropriate for the ears of a First Family scion, so she was pleased to become acquainted with more socially correct usage. She was delighted when Nimisha emphasized more and more engineering concepts with the science tutor who was only hired to give her a basic general understanding of the profession.
Nimisha regretted that the schoolroom computer system did not have a tri-d display device sophisticated enough to allow her to design something more satisfying than gowns or interior decorations or the other programs available to a First Family scion of the female sex. However, her tutor did find a manual for a professional design unit and privately sighed over its seemingly unlimited virtual display factors. Although Lady Rezalla allowed her body-heir a great deal of leeway, Nimisha knew when discretion was required. It was enough to have Jeska permitted to join the lessons.
"It's much easier to review lessons with someone," Nimisha had confided in Jeska. "I'm glad you're not bored."
"That's highly unlikely in your company, Nimisha," Jeska replied with a grin. She had quickly grown fond of the bright, cheerful child in her care, and if she bent a few rules for Nimisha, the girl did the same for her.
As Nimisha grew older, she was invited on more frequent excursions with her sire, and these Jeska enjoyed almost as much as her charge.
The Rondymense Ship Yard occupied an area on the outskirts of the primary Vegan Fleet Space Yard, where new vessels were built and older ones underwent maintenance and refitting. While Lord Tionel never said anything to the point, Jeska Mlan was quick to realize that Rondymense was in such proximity to the big Fleet installation because it supplied the Fleet with a great many of its improvements, most of which originated in Lord Tionel's fertile mind. Jeska was thrilled: She might not have made the Service, but she became privy to a lot that her serving relatives would never know. Since discretion had been a facet of her early childhood training in an active service family, she had no trouble keeping what she saw and heard to herself. On her infrequent visits home, she often had occasion to smile quietly as she listened to her siblings raving about this or that improvement to the Vegan Spaceship 7890B, or the brand new VSS 8650C--innovations she had watched from the design stage onward. She was also alert to
the fact that Nimisha was equally discreet, though Lord Tionel had frequently discussed technical aspects that Jeska knew to be very top secret. But discretion was subtly inbred in any child of the First Families.
It didn't take Lord Tionel long to realize that his daughter's bodyguard was as eager to learn as Nimisha. So he equipped them both with tools and gave them projects to complete, all deftly geared to augment the larger educational program he now had in mind for Nimisha. When she appeared to have stopped growing, he had them both measured for space suits so they could accompany him and his crews on exterior investigations. Of course, they knew as well as he did that Lady Rezalla would have instantly curtailed these visits had she known that they'd accompanied Lord Tionel into the vacuum of space. But he had undertaken their instruction himself, been satisfied that they appreciated the risks, and he would adhere to the precautions. They were always safely linked to experienced EVA personnel.
Early on, Lord Tionel tested Jeska's piloting skills in a space skimmer as well as a ground vehicle and rated her competence equal to that of many pilots. He also taught Nimisha how to drive, pre