Chapter 4: Beginnings, Part A

Djazin had met Liz thirteen years before, right after marrying Joran. Kissing cousin Joran, as Kyet called him. He’d joined her family on Alnos in 1672 to pursue his engineering education, thus setting into motion her unexpected journey into the heart of Alnese high society. Before Joran’s arrival, Djazin was following a most ordinary path for a Ven girl. Her family lived in the Ven quarter of the Alnese capital, Zyss, and sent her to a Ven primary school under the watchful eyes of her two older brothers, who were completing the same basic education in the boys’ wing.

The school had been cobbled together about thirty years before at what was then the edge of the quarter. Though the Alnese were perfectly happy to leave the Ven to their own devices as a general rule, they had taken an interest in the school. The Alnese tended to take an interest in anything that involved children. The Ven suspected a nefarious purpose, but began cautious informal conversations about their educational endeavors. They were proud of their school, despite its obvious poverty. And almost immediately, much to the Ven’s surprise, the Alnese had offered to support the school.

After loudly proclaiming the importance of maintaining their independence, the Ven accepted. And once Alnese funds had started to flow in and transform Zyss’ Ven school into something rivaling an Alnese academy, the Ven even accepted an Alnese proposal to enter into a series of regular cultural exchanges.

By the time Djazin had begun her schooling, pupils of the Ven school regularly attended Alnese sister academies and institutes, sometimes even in co-educational groups. Djazin attended a class sponsored by Zyss’ Music Academy when she turned eleven. The class was a revelation. Music felt as important as the blood coursing through her veins. She could not stop at the conclusion of the class. She had to find a way to continue.

As if in answer to her prayers, Joran arrived the next term. Djazin’s next-oldest brother was just concluding his ‘tenth’ at the Ven school and was set to begin his apprenticeship as a solar board mechanic. Her brother’s graduation left her parents in something of a quandary. They didn’t want Djazin to continue attending school on her own, but there weren’t any other Sotoros boys about the quarter to continue with the expected vigilance. Her father had immigrated to Alnos by himself, and so there were only a few cousins on her mother’s side in another town.

Djazin could tell that Joran was surprised by her parents’ ideas about girls and education. He knew how to hide it, keeping his own council as her parents debated whether or not to pull her out of school. But at a remarkably opportune moment, he pointed out how easy it would be for him to take her along once he began his engineering apprenticeship.

Djazin’s mother was reluctant at first. After all, tagging along with Joran meant leaving the Ven quarter and going deep into Alnese territory. True, her mother did that herself six times a week to go to her job as a cook in Zyss’ medical school, but that was different.
Wisely, Joran let Djazin’s father argue for the advantages of his proposal. “For the love of God, woman,” her father said, “you know Djazin has gotten only good marks in math. And Joran’s main sponsor is a woman. Let Djazin listen and watch and learn whatever she can. It’s better than to have her locked in here all day long. Or what do you propose to do? Take her along and turn her into an Alnese domestic as well? Send her to the Solar factory along with her brothers?”

Once her father had put it that way, her mother relented. She still had Djazin’s oldest brother accompany Joran and Djazin to Zyss’ engineering institute the first day. A bit miffed at having to miss half a day of work, her oldest brother had dutifully shown their parents around the halls and tutorial rooms of the institute with his handheld, gone through introductions with Joran’s main tutor and the other engineers, and then cut out.

At first, Djazin didn’t understand or appreciate her good fortune, but now she remembered that day with fondness. Her world expanded beyond Zyss’ Ven quarter, beyond her family and the little Ven school, and even offered her a way to pursue her passion. Joran’s main tutor sent Djazin to get assessed the next day, and ordered a course of studies once the result came in. Officially, Djazin studied the foundation subjects for systems engineering. But in Alnese fashion, the institute Counselor had consulted Djazin while working out her term plans, and added music studies alongside mathematics and physics.

Soon, Joran was absorbed by his own very demanding double major. He aimed not just to become a systems engineer, but to master structural and materials engineering, too. “Don’t you know I want to build bridges?” he’d joked with her once, and she had laughed at the image he’d evoked. Bridges made sense on Kobra, the planet where he was born and had grown up, but they made no sense at all on a planet without roads, like Alnos.

When Djazin understood the possibilities opened to her by Joran’s studies, she started to pay attention to what he and his tutors were doing. Often, when he’d sit to solve a programming puzzle or started to trouble-shoot an ailing system, she’d quietly follow along. And then one afternoon, Joran was working through matter-antimatter mechanics when she suddenly saw the phase scales he needed to understand to solve his practice problems. She grabbed the nearest light pencil and scribbled down a quick representation for herself.

The engineer saw her, linked their two notepads, glanced over Djazin’s notes, and forwarded them to her cousin. And then, the engineer forwarded Djazin more of Joran’s practice problems. Djazin solved them. Not perfectly, and not all correctly, but she solved them.

That day, Joran made them both a cup of choctea before heading back home. “So, you too are an engineer?” He observed, “A budding engineer. Or maybe a budding scientist? But my aunt and uncle haven’t noticed because you’re a girl. I hate to admit it, but at least on Kobra we’ve learned not to throw away half our talent. What do you think? Would it cause a scandal if I suggest that you should dedicate yourself to your studies and become a professional, like me?”

Predicting her parents’ reaction was difficult, and Djazin almost suggested that Joran leave well enough alone. She stared at her choctea and tried to formulate a safe, non-committal answer.

“Well, which of the two would you prefer?” Joran persisted.

And with a quick side-way glance in his direction, Djazin actually blurted out, “Music.”

Taken aback by her answer, Joran commented, “I thought your counselor just threw that in because the Alnese have this thing about art.” He was alluding to the fact that all Alnese studied creative arts and eventually adopted a creative endeavor as they transitioned into work. Making art was as natural as breathing to an Alnese, and any education plan included at least one form. “Do you play an instrument?”

Djazin shook her head and explained, “I just started. I like the lira, and keystrings, but you don’t want to hear me play.”

Joran laughed. Then he got serious again and admitted, “Yeah, it’s unlikely that my aunt and uncle would be thrilled with a future musician in the family.” His face turned pensive for a moment as he continued, “But you know, we engineers, we create things, too. My lead tutor’s just assigned me to go study the solars in your brothers’ factory because she wants me to apply what I’m studying about materials, how to design materials for multiple functions. I love that. I get such a charge out of working out better materials.”

Djazin tried to reflect a little of his enthusiasm back to him, knowing full well that her cousin had a finely tuned bullshit meter. With a little shrug, she said, “You know best. Engineering, then.”

Joran threw her a more probing look, then made a point to finish his choctea before telling her, “My mentor is very impressed with you. Why don’t you talk to her, ask her which forms of engineering come closest to music. You’re probably good at math because of your interest.”

A little later, Joran devised a plan to win her parents’ approval for Djazin’s professional training. He told them that Djazin was impressing his tutors, that the good daughter they had raised wasn’t wasting her mind on Alnese junk like multimedia games or participation-stories, but making real progress with her foundation courses. Joran ended his little speech by pointed out the folly of letting a great opportunity slip by, explaining, “You could get two for the price of one, you know. The Alnese don’t mind at all if she studies engineering as well.”

Two for the price of one. That convinced Djazin’s father, and thus her whole family. She started to shadow her cousin, though she narrowed down her choice to statistics and systems engineering and did not work on three fields at the same time, the way Joran did. Or not officially, in any case. No one in the Ven quarter knew how much time Djazin continued to devote to her music studies.

Joran was soon too busy to pay too close attention. His tutors turned into mentors and started taking him along to their work sites around Zyss, where he got to blend materials science and systems engineering to build and test the most advanced bio-technological systems on Alnos. For days on end, Djazin would only see him in the morning and the evening, on the way to and back from the Institute. Joran was practically radiating with happiness. He’d tell her about his most interesting challenges, and she’d listen and smile. Her systems work was adequate, her progress towards credentials steady, good enough for the kinds of jobs a Ven woman could expect after graduation.

Djazin enjoyed four years of Alnese education, four years with the freedom to explore the mathematical signatures of sounds. She turned into a musician with no one in the Ven Quarter the wiser. It was only when her cousin was about to conclude his three different apprenticeships that the jig was up. Djazin had just turned sixteen, too young to continue on her own, without her chaperone.

Djazin met with her institute counselor once more. They went over the remaining requirements she needed to complete her credentials. In less than a year, she’d be ready for an apprenticeship. She proceeded to her instrument lesson. While practicing her scales with her lira master, Djazin made up her mind to marry Joran.

About gfiezmont

Dune and The Left Hand of Darkness made a big impression before I went off to college. Once there, I discovered comparative literature an enriching journey that added magical realism and epic storytelling to my growth as a reader and a writer. A decade later, I had the great fortune of meeting Octavia Butler, whose work continues to inspire. Genre-blending speculative fiction has become my writing province; I hope you enjoy your visit with my Alnos Chronicles.
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