She was always a silent child, never quite fitting in, never enthused by anything. Any other child let loose in her father’s workshop would have played in the piles of sawdust, held out a piece of wood and ordered an animal to be whittled. She smiled and quietly stepped around the mess. He knew he’d never be able to hold on to her. He was a mere craftsman and Inara was a work of art. When she turned thirteen and he was asked by the council to send her to the great city for testing, he knew he could not say no.
They take one look at her, this budding girl, and they say yes. She is too beautiful for words, the ideal girl to train to be a Companion. She makes no response to their sales pitch. Only, “It is for my father to say.” They send her back with a letter of acceptance to the Academy on Bellavista. He cannot say no. He holds on to the fact that he has three more years with her. They fly by far too quickly for him. She leaves Sihnon, observing its beauty from the safety of an Alliance transport. It is an ocean of light. But you can drown in an ocean. You can be blinded by light. She is only comfortable in the dark.
She is surprised by the happiness she finds at the Academy, on Bellavista. She’s never known the feeling before. But it’s there, in the cool confidence with which she meets every test she’s given. Her hair is pulled tightly back to discover the curve of her hairline; a stream of water is trickled under her to test how high the arches of her slender feet are. The grain of her skin is studied, the shape of her eyes carefully noted. Her body chemistry is programmed into a computer that determines that dark scents like sandalwood are most suited for her; they will seem to emanate from her drowsy flesh. There is nothing that does not come naturally to her. They do not need to teach her to keep her voice pleasingly low, to hold her head at the angle denoting dignity and grace. She knows what jewels her dark hair will wear well, what rich fabrics to drape around her shapely form. She is the pride of the Academy.
It has been two years of security at the Academy, two years of friendships, two years of dutiful letters to a father yearning for word of her. She enters the room where she will take her final test for the guild. She kneels and says, “Pleasure is a discipline. Pleasure depends on discipline. Their pleasure will be in me. My pleasure will be in fulfilling the duty which has been entrusted to me.” They nod approvingly, and she is asked to sit and take tea. They watch her prepare and pour tea, her movements as fluid as the spiced drink. She sips delicately as she has been taught, she smiles sweetly over the rim of her cup. When the drugs take effect, they bring her to a medical bay. The procedure, perfected over centuries, performed only by guild physicians, is over quickly. She awakens in her own bedchamber in the Apprentice Hall.
It is not until a few years later that she learns what was done. She knows she was given medicines and herbs that reduced her flux from five days a month to two days every ten weeks, as all the apprentices were; there is little point, they were told, to a Companion who cannot work for at least two months of every year. She has never followed that logic through to its utmost end, though, as they have. What, after all, is the good of a Companion who can bear a child?
Continue: Part 17/21