Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Outbound of Liaden Space
Chapter the Fourteenth
Priscilla rounded the corner into the Captain’s Hall, sighing. Orbit had been broken smoothly and even now the Passage progressed toward the Jump-point, pliant under Vilobar’s experienced hands. Third Mate Gil Don Balatrin had the bridge-watch now, and would keep it until the moment of Jump, when he would return it to the Captain and First Mate.
The red-striped door appeared; she lay her hand against the annunciator. Without hesitation, the panel slid away before her: First Mate’s privilege.
“Good evening, Priscilla!”
Voice gay, pattern showing hard-edged joy, coupled with a tang of wild relief.
Escaped at last — and not a moment too soon! Another day on that planet’s surface and I would have presented myself to the Healers as severely impaired.”
“Not as bad as that, surely?”
He glanced up from an unruly printout strip, blunt fingers still tapping and straightening.
“At least as bad as that. Liadens do pale quickly, don’t you find?”
She perched on the arm of a visitor’s chair; expanded her attention slightly, so that she read nuance; tasted intensity.
“You’re Liaden,” she pointed out. “I don’t find that you’ve paled at all.”
He laughed and flung up a brown hand.
“Nor will, I wager! Will you drink, Priscilla? I’ll just get this together and join you at the sofa. I’ve seen enough of this desk today — and for days to come! Or at least until next on-shift. I’d appreciate a glass of the red, if you’re inclined to bring it.”
She went quietly to the bar, pouring a glass of white and one of red while papers continued to rustle at her back. Shan was a creature of bright delights and warm joys, each emotion sharply realized. Part of that was training, of course. An empath who cannot control her own emotions is hardly able to use her gift as the Goddess intended, for the succor of others.
But much of it was Shan himself, and the frenzied, cutting static was as much unlike him as lightless depression.
“Well,” he said behind her, “I think there’s finally an end to it! You wouldn’t think an individual of Mr. dea’Gauss’ personal reticence would be quite so voluble on-screen, would you?”
She picked up the glasses and took them to the comfortable cluster of sofa, table and chair.
“Do you have something from Mr. dea’Gauss already? We just left orbit!”
He dropped into the chair and took the glass of red from her.
“Thank you, my friend. Mr. dea’Gauss is constrained neither by time, nor by distance, nor by orbit. Godlike, he has reached out and deposited — what is the damn’ thing called, anyway? Aha! Cross-Linear Agreement of Fostering Between Line yos’Galan and Line Mendoza in the Instance of Gordon Finn Arbuthnot, Line Davis.”
He reverently placed the pile of printout on the table before her.
“I’ve taken the liberty of providing you with a hardcopy file for your Line’s records.”
She picked the papers up and riffled them. Twenty-one finely printed pages.
“This is seven pages longer than the lease I signed on my house.”
“Leasing a child is rather more complex than leasing a house, you know, Priscilla.”
“I suppose. Well, I’ll read it later, and –“
Shan cleared his throat.
“Forgive me, Priscilla. Mr. dea’Gauss requires a beamed confirmation from you before the Passage leaves Liaden space. Signed hardcopy verification may be sent by courier from our next port.”
“Before — He could have gotten this to me any time during the past month! Why wait until now, when it’s an imposition and a –“
“Mr. dea’Gauss gives me to understand that the unusual nature of the document caused much initial delay among Liaden contract-binders. Normally, you see, Nova would have been named as Gordy’s foster-mother, since the foster-father has not lifemated. However, since Katy-Rose expressed her preference that you stand as mother to her son. . .”
He raised his glass.
“There is a summary at the beginning. Two pages of Terran. I believe it to be an accurate representation of the document. And you can include any quibbles, questions or changes with the courier packet.”
She riffled the pages again; found the summer tucked between pages one and two of the actual document and began to read. The print was even finer than that of the contract, and Mr. dea’Gauss’ Terran ran to rolling periods, but she set the pages aside within five minutes and picked up her own glass.
“It does seem like a lot of effort,” she commented. “I’ve said I’ll stand as mother to Gordy. What do my heirs and assignees have to do with it? Why would my ‘estate’ want to hold Gordy, should I return to the Goddess? What –“
“Liadens,” Shan broke in gently, “dearly love contracts, Priscilla. Consider how much easier it is to be honorable when all conditions and terms are spelled out and known by everyone ahead of time. Ambiguity leads to dispute. I don’t think you — or your estate! — plans anything nefarious regarding Gordy. Likely Mr. dea’Gauss doesn’t think so, either, but you can never be sure; the man has a devious mind. Better to have the contract filed and at hand as a reference. Then everyone can be easy. Especially people who have no tolerance for the unusual. Which brings us back to the vast majority of Liadens.”
“Which in turn brings up the subject of the Second Mate.”
She sat forward, glass cradled in long ivory fingers.
“Shan, I barely understand my duties! How can I train a Second Mate?”
“I suppose you will have to learn together, Priscilla. Good way to cement a positive working relationship. The man’s excellent, by the way. You reviewed his record?”
“Yes. He worked his way from apprentice pilot and junior mechanic into the command structure — almost as unusual as a promotion from Pet Librarian to First Mate. . .”
“I saw something else.”
“Yes? A propensity for snakes, perhaps? Send him to Ken Rik.”
She frowned into her glass.
“We met Rusty and Lina. Rusty hugged me and kissed my cheek, and the spike of shock I got from Mich — you’d have thought Rusty had struck me, Shan!”
Whiff of metal; glimpse of green, both quickly shielded.
“He is Liaden, Priscilla. That sort of thing’s bound to be a shock to him. If you find he’s less than flexible — but it’s your decision. Were the Captain’s advice solicited, I’d suggest giving him some time to find his feet and re-evaluate around mid-trip.”
She nodded and sipped, scanning as closely as she dared. The static had increased measurably. Of jealously, she could find no trace.
“Might I use your console?” she asked, rising. “I’ll just send my affirmation to Mr. dea’Gauss now.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I knew it was a Test!
Ahem. OK, leaving aside the objection that the Captain and the First Mate should have had this conversation Some Time Back, and that the First Mate ought to have been involved in the hiring of the Second Mate. . .
No, wait. . .
Yes. I can Actually sort-of handwave that away. Let’s see. . .
In Plan B, Ren Zel tells us that, in the absence of a First Mate (for instance, in a situation where the First Mate must rise to Captain), Second Mate rises to First; Third to Second; and the Captain names a new Third Mate from among the qualified crew. I believe (though I cannot at the moment prove) that Gil Don Balatrin, the Third Mate, refused the promotion to Second when it was offered to him in Conflict of Honors, on the grounds that he was not fit for the duty.
Now! Kayzin Ne’Zame was leaving the ship at the end of the last voyage, anyway, and Janice — Janice? — would have been expected to rise to First, since she had time in grade on the Passage, and was known to the crew — except Janice screwed up and Shan appointed Priscilla Second Mate, with instructions to Kayzin to groom her for First. This set of circumstances leaves the position of Second Mate open, and Shan — possibly with Kayzin’s input; in fact, he’d be crazy not to seek Kayzin’s advice, given how many years she had served the Passage — hires Mich.
None of this explains why Shan didn’t talk Mich over with Priscilla, too, but at least they’re talking now.
Speaking of a day late and a cantra short, Mr. dea’Gauss is being something of a nuisance. As things have shaken out in the Universe over the intervening years, the qe’andra both write and underwrite contracts, as well as serving as accountants — one has the notion that they account both financial matters and matters of Balance. In Mouse and Dragon, we see that Mr. dea’Gauss’ firm is quite large. Surely such an enterprise would have an underwriter on-staff. Of course, Mouse and Dragon was written many, many years after this fragment staring Shan and Priscilla, and I doubt we’d given much thought to the details of Mr. dea’Gauss’ vocation, or the size-and-shape of the business itself.
This is the penultimate chapter of this novel fragment. Next week, we’ll conclude our business here.
July 24, 2015
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