A Fine Balancing Line

Another scene for the Patreon story.

I’m not going to post ALL of them on FB, because, y’know, then there’d be no incentive for people to sign up to my Patreon. But expect most of this first story, and then teasers to follow….

I would REALLY LIKE to be the kind of writer who writes a story a week. I don’t want to set myself up for failure, but I also know that I find deadlines highly motivating. It’s a fine balancing line. A story every two weeks? Hmm…


Selah was grateful for the row of cubicles in the dance studio, all with their own force shield for privacy. She hurriedly changed into dance clothes – more university-supplied gear, this time a simple tunic and loose knee-length pants, still in the omnipresent pale blue, which she was already starting to get tired of. Upperclassmen got more options, taking on the colors of their major fields, but as an undeclared first-year, she was going to be wearing this shade of blue for the next several months.

A bigger problem was the fit – after living her life on ship, where form-fitting knits were the rule, so as to not accidentally have stray fabric catching on something and breaking it, she found it unnerving to have anything drapey and loose around her body. She’d practiced with the sari until she was reasonably comfortable with it (and a host of pins held it in place, just in case), but she hadn’t thought to practice with the dance clothes. They were the right size, of course, made to her measurements, but they just felt weird.

The dancers were stepping out of the cubicles now, and Selah joined them on the wide wooden floor. More wood – beautiful, polished to a high sheen, but treated with something that kept it from being too slippery to dance on. Nice. The other students were already bending into stretches, some of them moving with an ease and familiarity that showed years of practice. Her legs did not bend that way! Selah had learned the basic stretches as a child, though, and she moved into a sun salutation sequence. She looked all right, she thought.

“Jeez, you’d think she’d never worked in gravity before.”

Selah’s face flushed. She wasn’t meant to hear the Salassian’s remark, she was pretty sure. But one mod everyone on ship was born with was enhanced hearing – it could mean life or death, if something went wrong with the air circulators, or with one of the other subtle ship mechanisms that kept fifty-seven fragile bodies alive in space. Space that was constantly trying to kill them, in its brutally impartial way.

The Salassian was twisting into coils with the snake-like dexterity of its species, something no human could hope to achieve. But the young man he talked to was human, and said quietly, “She moves like someone from one of those family ships, you know? They keep the gravity light a lot of the time, so when they’re dealing with something Earth normal, or close to it, they thump around like elephants.”

The Salassian laughed. “Inbred elephants! Do you think they’re all screwing each other? That’s what I heard. It’s surprising she doesn’t have two heads…”

The human replied, “Now come on, some of the nicest people have two heads. Haven’t you ever met a Jornan? Two heads, two hearts, four legs – that’s a species built for redundancy!”

Selah slid down to the floor, in the best approximation of a split she could manage, leaning forward to press her hot cheek against the cool wood. She’d known there were prejudices against families like hers, that people made all kinds of horrible assumptions. But she hadn’t expected to have to confront them on the first day. It was true that some of the crew were partnered, had children together, but they were all very conscientious about checking the gene maps before procreating, cleaning out any potential hazards. Some people were just…awful.

The class just got worse from there. As Selah had feared, she was by far the worst in the class. At one point, Professor Grant just looked at Selah, after she’d attempted a jeté, and said, “I guess you weren’t admitted for your dance skills.” Which was pretty mean for a professor to say, even if she was equally mean to everyone else. It seemed to be her mode.

Professor Grant thumped her cane on the ground, punctuating every exercise, pushing them all mercilessly until the humans, at least, were dripping with sweat, their light blue tunics stained dark. Selah wasn’t sure what the other species did instead of sweating, but she was sure they were being pushed just as hard.

At the end of class, Professor Grant said, “Selah, please wait for a moment and speak to me.”

Selah wanted to slump to the grounds and disappear into the floorboards, melting away like the mythical Ancients – some people claimed they were shapeshifters. But she held herself straight instead, waiting for the rush of students to exit the class, and the door to iris shut behind them.

The professor’s eyes seemed a little kinder now that they were alone, but her voice was no less firm. “Selah, you know the requirements for attendance at Kaveri – you have to at least pass competency first year in all the major arts disciplines, including dance.”

“Yes, professor.”

“Don’t look at me like that. I’m not going to ship you right back to your ship, not today. You can get to competency – I’ve seen hundreds of students with your background make it through. But it’s going to be tougher for you than for most of the students here. You’ll have to work twice as hard. And at the end of it, you’re not going to be a good dancer – you’ll be just barely passable, possibly good enough to dance background in a not very good troupe. So you have to ask yourself — is it really worth all that work?”

Did Professor Grant want an answer right now? Selah’s tongue felt tied in knots, and her head was aching. All of her muscles were sore, and she thought she might have twisted something in her right ankle.

The professor sighed and waved her cane at her. “Go, go. Take a sonic shower, child, get yourself cleaned up, get to your next class. Hopefully it’s something you’re actually good at. I’ll see you in two days.”

Selah bowed her head and left the room as quickly as she could manage.


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