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“You never hear anyone say, ‘Yeah, but it’s a dry cold.’”

—Charles A. Budreau

Kendra’s duties at the park changed as the seasons did. First came removal of tons of leaves, and insulated bowls for the more sensitive plants. Flags were planted along walkways to mark them under the snow. She learned how to do basic maintenance on the heating systems at the restrooms. Then the fountains were shut down, to turn into skating rinks. Additional rinks were laid out with timbers, to be filled with water when the temperature reliably dropped below freezing.

The merchants dwindled in number to a few die-hards selling souvenirs and the food vendors who never stopped. She inquired, and found out that various halls staged sales of assorted merchandise throughout the winter and some of the entrepreneurs were strictly seasonal. It seemed like a rather insecure way to make a living, but the overhead and operating costs were low.

It got cold, and she went shopping for appropriate clothing. There was an excellent selection of warm gear, from dirt ugly and cheap to very nice high-end stuff. Rob was digging into someone’s operation, so Marta went with her. Her first advice was, “Remember everything I told you about fashion? Ditch it. You’re trying to stay warm.”

It was good advice. She got two heavily quilted and waterproof coveralls and two sets of boots, one for regular wear, one for temperatures below -20, and Marta assured her they’d have them. She elected blaze orange for her parka, just for visibility. Gloves and a balaclava completed her shopping. There went another Cr800. She sighed and bundled the stuff home.

The first blizzard hit in early November—unlike the other time divisions, they’d kept the familiar month names. Ten months of five local weeks each, with no July or August. June to September was a change that would take getting used to, but she was grateful that the whole calendar hadn’t changed. There were too many things to learn now. Like this blizzard.

She wouldn’t have thought that a coastal plain on the East Coast could have a lot of snow, especially considering the overall climate. She was stunned when it hit. She opened her door one morning and there was thirty centimeters of snow there. Some of it trickled in, propelled by a chill blast. She exchanged her pants and tunic for a coverall, her jacket for a parka and her shoes for boots. Her cloak stayed home.

It took her longer to walk to work. The city did little snow removal. This was one case where the lack of state infrastructure did hurt. The retailers were busily shoveling, melting and pressure-throwing snow off their accessways. Some had coils installed underground and were simply brushing the surface aside as it melted underneath. A few either left it to compact under foot and wheel or didn’t open. The larger stores either had or contracted for plows, blowers and melters, which were simply road fusers set on low heat. The city did have a good drainage system at resident expense. It would have been impossible to live without one.

Traffic was heavier than she expected, because there was little automatic control to sequence it. Also, the thick clouds and wind had grounded all the flyers, which increased the traffic density tremendously. She had originally been amazed at the number of flying vehicles in this society and wondered why most people had dedicated ground cars also. Now she knew. The thought of a crash in midair or into a building in heavy snow was enough to make her skin tingle, and the sound of sirens some distance away added to her queasy feeling. She hoped most pilots were smarter than to risk it. Apparently, local streets and small neighborhoods either pooled funds or did without removal, hoping someone would drive by and clear the street in passing.

As soon as she got to the garage, she was sent out to help clear the surrounding streets, the maintenance access road and the main park walkways. Then she was called to plow some nearby housing complexes on contract. This was where City Parks made a substantial chunk of its revenue for the year. Hiroki called her and directed her to plow a few areas near the homes of disabled and elderly people. She found most of them had already been done by neighbors, and was again impressed by the Freeholders’ social responsibility. Something about still being in the process of taming the system, she surmised. Her final tasks were the areas around the smaller, outlying parks, then she headed back, cold despite the cab heater. Then they had to clean the vehicles. She’d worked an extra div and earned the gratitude of Hiroki and Karen.

It was already well toward sunset. It was amazing how fast the day changed with a 20-degree axial tilt. She walked through the park, heading north, and stopped to watch a group of artists. They were piling and compacting snow and carving it into sculptures. She could see a castle, a dragon—a whole scene from high fantasy. A couple were spraying water and fixative over the finished parts to preserve it for a time. “Hey, do you work here, lady?” one of them asked, guessing from her mode of dress.

“Yes?” she replied.

“Where can we find a power hookup? I thought there was one over here, but . . .” he tapered off, indicating the snow.

She helped them dig for a connection and watched as they set up an outdoor lighting kit. They were prepared to work late, apparently. Another returned with food and drinks, and several passersby were gathering. The inevitable hat was getting stuffed with chits and someone brought beer. Kendra finally left, laughing. Any excuse for a party!

The winter was as long as the summer had been. Wind howled through the artificial canyons of the city, whipped across the bay and dumped occasional snow. Rob took her to a Winter Solstice ritual, a relaxed one. Marta went to one that was a much more frank celebration of fertility. It sounded interesting to see as an observer, but not the type of thing Kendra would participate in.

Long divs of work and short daylight was stressful. She and Rob had a few fights over stupid things and she spent more social time with Marta. The young woman had an incredible amount of energy, considerable disposable income for entertainment and was very generous. It took Kendra a while to realize that Mar enjoyed blowing money with her friends and was neither trying to show off nor create obligations.

Still, she had only the two friends and a handful of acquaintances. Cabin fever was a drain and the winter was two and a half months long, or a hundred twenty-five dull, gray, dark, blustery local days. Ice storms, blizzards, occasional freezing rain, broken branches, stuck vehicles, all the bad things she knew from home and for almost twice as long. She realized now why these people were such manic partiers in summer. They had plenty of pent-up energy from winter.

She accepted an invitation to dine with Marta’s family. Rob would meet her there, but she was traveling with Mar. The family home was on the west side, where development was still continuing, and surprised Kendra at first. She’d assumed from Marta’s spread that her family would have a huge mansion or sprawling ranch. Instead, it was a quite typical contemporary villa. It was modern enough, with variable-polarity solar windows, automatic climate control and a huge heat sink to go with the windows and vents and all the nice accessories that made maintenance simple. The house had good land area and would almost certainly appreciate well as the city grew, but was nothing spectacular like, say, Marta’s own monstrous digs.

She pondered the apparent modesty while being greeted and it finally came to her. To become a Citizen, Hernandez had had to achieve considerable wealth, then donate virtually all of it to the Freehold. Citizens wielded huge political power. They were not allowed economic means to go with it. That one tenet of society Kendra had never argued with, as it made perfect sense.

She looked at Hernandez again with new respect. Here was a man who had served in the military, independently made a fortune in the millions, then voluntarily gave most of it away to lead. He now had a textbook average middle-class existence and an equivalent income that was dependent upon the good graces of those he ruled. That said more about his integrity than any thousand campaign speeches back on Earth.

Marta’s mother was half Asian, half Caucasian, and that blend with her husband’s Hispanic looks had created the exotic beauty of their children. Kiki and Umberto, as they insisted on being called, introduced their other children, Kichan and Carlos. He was just now ten local years, tall and lean, and would be moving out shortly to pursue his own fortune. Marta’s older sister, Kichan, was an engineer out in a Halo habitat, home on vacation between projects. She was plain only by comparison to Marta. Rob arrived shortly, looking very good in a kilt in Kendra’s opinion. He’d brought wine and mead. Kendra had almost forgotten the local custom of gifts for every occasion and had remembered just in time to stop by a store for some imported Swiss chocolate. It was received enthusiastically.

The meal was good, being a cross between Thai and Southwest. It was something resembling quesadillas and burritos, but with plenty of meat and vegetables and not much in the way of beans or rice. She’d been told it was vat-raised meat and was quite grateful for that and for the fact that the spices were served as sides. The salsa was fresh and corrosive, the beer was Umberto’s own brew, crisp and refreshing. To make it even more pleasant, the company was cheerful and highly intelligent. That made sense. There were no stupid genes in this family. Kendra felt very welcome as the conversation swung from space to weather to business to politics, and to a comparison between the Freehold and the UN. Kendra discovered that the group was quite educated as to Earth, far more so than she was to the Freehold, even after more than a year of residency.

Somehow, crime came up. She knew that crime was far lower here, by several orders of magnitude, but the attitude about Earth, from people who had never been there, offended her. She politely said so.

Kichan was quite vocal. “I wasn’t trying to offend you personally, Kendra, but don’t you admit to being much safer here?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But the mindset on Earth is different. We aren’t as bothered by most petty crimes.”

“‘Petty crime’?” Kichan asked, a tone of irony in her voice. “I’m guessing you mean shoplifting or larceny? I suppose I see that, if you’re used to it as a common occurrence. It’s just hard to think of having your property violated and not having any way to recover it as ‘petty.’”

“We regard property as expendable. That’s what insurance is for,” Kendra explained. “Of course, it’s hard to put a dollar value on sentimental items. But that’s not even really petty crime, that’s just human nature at work, taking things.”

“It’s not your nature, is it?”

“Well, no,” Kendra admitted. “But it’s quite common for poor people.”

“Not here,” Rob observed. “But if that’s not what you mean by petty crime, what do you mean?” he asked, leaning forward with his wine.

“Oh, basic assault, vehicle theft, rape, burglary, strong-arm robbery,” Kendra said. “As long as you aren’t seriously hurt, it’s just like any other accident.”

There was silence. She realized that some boundary had been crossed, but couldn’t place it.

“Rape is a ‘petty’ crime?” Marta asked, looking very bothered.

“Well, it’s painful and embarrassing short term,” Kendra replied, “but not really debilitating. After the first couple, you get used to it, just like muggings.”

The whole table was staring at her. She struggled with the horrified looks. Were they that naive about crime? Had none of them ever thought about what it was like? At all?

Kichan put her fork down, breathed deeply and stood. “If you’ll all excuse me for a moment, please?” she said, and left the table. She was hurrying as she reached the hall.

Into the awkward silence, Rob and Marta both began to speak. He deferred to her.

“So, has anyone heard about Vermilion’s new recording? I’m posing for the cover,” she said.

Everyone, including Kendra, gratefully embraced the subject change. “Great!” her mother said. “Any details?”

“Not really, Mom. They are doing most of the background with both classic oil and electronic art, so it’ll be a very surrealistic holo. Apparently it involves a dragon and some kind of alien creature. I’m spread out and writhing and having a really intense orgasm.”

“Oh, that’ll be good for business,” her brother commented.

“Exactly,” Marta nodded. “The rate was okay, but what I didn’t get in percentage I’ll more than get in advertising. Maybe even some outsystem orders for pics or some visiting muckymuck. Who knows? The art director loved it, said I looked delish, so I may even get some more orders that way, too.”

Kendra nodded. She had found out that Mar also sold pictures, would do custom videos, modeled for several exoticwear manufacturers and did bit parts of acting. Rob had taken over as her agent and she had a net programmer on contract to keep her files from being hacked. She had a small sample site that could be accessed for free and would sell images gladly, but expected a fee for every viewing. She kept the code updated so they couldn’t be downloaded or copied without approval and had filed several suits against secondary dealers who had swiped files.

Kichan returned, looking better, and the conversation drifted to camping, sports and eventually to Kendra’s park work. No one seemed bothered by the earlier incident and they stayed quite late.

As they headed home, she asked her friends, “Okay, I’m confused. Crime is a taboo subject, but you can discuss your publicly displayed orgasms? I don’t get it.”

Rob and Mar exchanged glances and thoughtful looks. Finally, he spoke. “Crime is a violation of a person’s self or property. Sex is a matter of human nature, and in this case, art.”

“I guess,” she replied. “Back home, we talk about our attacks and how we managed. Sort of a release, I suppose. It’s also kind of a bragging rights thing or just a story type of thing. Hard to explain. But sex is very private.”

“I think,” said Marta, “that sex in that context reveals too much of your feelings to strangers. It’s a protective measure. The crime is superficial to you, so that’s an okay subject.”

“Which is exactly backwards,” Rob said. “I don’t know how you got into that mindset as a society, but it’s guaranteed to destroy it.”

“I think it’s just another difference,” Kendra insisted defensively. “I don’t see Earth disappearing anywhere after all this time.”

The others were silent. She joined them.

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