easier to get them with so many men tied up in war.’
    Alldera tore at the grass with her hands. ‘Nenisi, is this going to be another tale of slavery?’ What she wanted to say, and could not bring herself to say, was Why did you hide my cub, and why did they say you mate with horses – Barvaran had said that too, once.
    ‘It’s all right, this story has a happy ending,’ Nenisi said softly. ‘The lab men didn’t want to have to work with all the traits of both a male and a female parent, so they fixed the women to make seed with a double set of traits. That way their offspring were daughters just like their mothers, and fertile – if they didn’t die right away of bad traits in double doses.’
    ‘I don’t understand,’ Alldera said. ‘How could they do that?’
    ‘Who knows?’ Nenisi sounded a little impatient. ‘No one denies that the men of those times were clever. It was the combination of their cleverness and their stupidity that caused the Wasting in the first place.
    ‘Now, in the lab, the change of trait-doubling was bred into the daughters, to be passed on ever since.’
    ‘To you.’
    ‘Yes. The daughters got together and figured out how to use the men’s information machines. They found out all about the Wasting, the wars and famines and plagues going on outside, and how the lab could be made self-sustaining if things outside collapsed completely. They laid plans of their own.
    ‘They got the information machines to give a false alarm warning of an attack in the offing and ordering the lab men to rush off to the Refuges and save themselves. The lab men believed the orders; they knew the leaders were already hidden in Refuges made for themselves and their helpers, and the lab men had high ideas of their own importance. So off they went with great speed and excitement.’
    She paused. Alldera thought, giving me time to take it in, treating me like some stupid hulk of a free fem. ‘Tell me the rest, please,’ she said, to show that she understood.
    Nenisi cleared her throat. ‘I’m used to talking about this with young girls just out of the pack. I hope it doesn’t sound childish to you.
    ‘Anyway, the first daughters sealed themselves up safely in the lab and using the information machines began to plan for after the Wasting. They took the lab animals and tried to breed them to be ready to live outside when the world was clean again. A lot of animals were let out too soon and died. The sharu were bred up from some tiny animals the men had been using to find out about ferocity, and once let out they flourished – an unhappy surprise, but not bad in the long run. Sharu have their place too.’
    Alldera had seen sharu tracks, the splintered bones of sharu kills, the torn-up areas which they had stripped even of grass roots in their voracity. They horrified her, and she could not imagine what sort of ‘place’ they could have.
    ‘There were horses at the lab for making medicines with their blood. Some of the lab men had also kept good horses of their own in the lab stables. But the horses’ chances were poor. They bred slowly, and they were delicate from living so many generations with humans to take care of them. The daughters made them tougher and faster-breeding without worrying about their looks, and the horses came out and flourished too – a happy surprise.’
    ‘And what did they do for themselves, these great witches,’ Alldera said, ‘so that they could breed without men?’
    ‘Not witches, but dedicated and intelligent women,’ Nenisi continued carefully, almost formally. ‘They perfected the changes the labs had bred into them so that no men were needed. Our seed, when ripe, will start growing without merging with male seed because it already has its full load of traits from the mother. The lab men used a certain fluid to start this growth. So do we.’
    Simple and clean, compared to rape in the Holdfast. No wonder jealousy drove the free fems to slander. ‘Nenisi, why

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