Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The Passage, the Town, and the Tradebar
Chapter the Fifteenth
The pool was deserted, Mich thought, as his first glance cataloged the area. He had dropped his coverup and was heading for the diving board before he saw his error.
Standing bent slightly forward on the edge of the pool, face showing an intensity of concentration worthy of the most knotty piloting proble, was the cabin boy, Gordy Arbuthnot.
Mich broke stride, watching quietly as the boy deliberately filled his lungs, brought his arms back, forward — and dove.
There was no showiness about it, nor even much grace, except that it failed of being a bellyflop; merely a dogged, businesslike entering of the pool, perfectly adequate of its type, and surely nothing to warrant such concentration?
Even as he thought so, the boy’s head broke water and he struck out without haste nor hesitation for the further side. Touching the wall, he executed a smooth roll and was on his way back. Mich came forward and sat crosslegged on the edge, awaiting his arrival.
Gordy touched the wall; looked up with a girn on his wet face and began to tread water.
“Good shift, young sir,” Mich replied in his slowly-improving Terran. “It is a fine time for a swim, when one first leaves duty.”
“I guess,” the boy said doubtfully. “I like to get it over with first thing, though. Makes everything else that happens during the day easy — even one of Ken Rik’s tongue-lashings.”
He paused, and evidently sober thought led him to a qualification.
“Well, nothing’ll make one of Ken Rik’s scolds easy. . .”
By this time somewhat acquainted with the Cargo Master’s powers of discourse, Mich smiled.
“I understand. But do I hear that the young sir does not enjoy the swim?”
“It’s not so bad,” Gordy said, though without much conviction. “The reason I do it, thought, is because Val Con made me promise I would swim every day — at least four laps.”
“Val Con?” Mich frowned, then inclined his head in recognition. “Nadelm Korval, this will be.”
“Yeah. . .” But there was more. “Priscilla says that four laps is OK at first, but once that starts to get easy, I should add another one, to make it a challenge again.”
“The First Mate is wise,” Mich murmured.
“Sure she is, that’s why she’s First Mate,” Gordy said. “But she was telling me as my foster-mother, see, so that makes it even worse.”
“Worse?” wondered Mich, controlling twitching lips with an effort.
“Worse,” Gordy confirmed gloomily.
“’cause four laps is starting to be a piece of cake, so I’m going to have to make it five. And pretty soon, five’ll be easy, so I’ll have to do to six. . .”
He glared at Mich, who held up his hands, showing them empty of threat.
“Val Con’s idea of a joke,” the boy finished, darkly.
“No doubt,” Mich returned, politely. “But, if the young sir would explain another point — I had understood that Shan yos’Galan speaks as your father.”
“He does,” said the boy matter-of-factly; “and Priscilla speaks as my mother. Mr. dea’Gauss drew up a contract, and everything.”
He glanced at hsi wrist and then back to Mich.
“I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve got to do some more laps and it’s getting late. . .”
Mich waved a dismissing hand.
“Pray do not wait upon me, sir.”
He watched the boy finish his laps, struggling with the implications. A joint fostering? And they two certainly lovers, but never lifemates. It was mad — against all tradition and sense. How could the child’s education be soundly charted, with the necessities of two Clans to heed? How if pleasure ended and nubiat’a given? Did the giver of the parting-gift take charge of the child, or the recipient?
Mich sighed in frustrated disapproval. Well and good to say that the dea’Gauss had written the contract — certainly no lesser could aspire to meet the task — but these were matters heavy with tradition —
His thoughts were interrupted by the splash of Gordy Arbuthnot coming out of the pool. He rose and bowed, received a bow in return, and watched the boy out of the pool-room.
Then, he strode down to the diving board, bounced twice and launched into a smooth arc, slicing the water like a knife.
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Clearly, this is not a complete chapter, though the title apparently thought it was going to be going places and doing things, and yet. . .this is the last we have. Gordy beginning his work shift, Mich ending his.
The business with the fostering shakes out some interesting details from Mich’s viewpoint as a Liaden, but — it’s in the wrong place, if he’s been aboard and working long enough to have become acquainted with Ken Rik in a Snit. Though I suppose that could have happened during their first meeting, Ken Rik being Ken Rik.
Many times during the unfolding of this fragment of a novel, people have asked that we “finish” it.
At this point, that’s really not very likely.
Not just because the plot doesn’t know where the heck it’s going, or that Shan’s working on my last nerve — well, that’s part of it, but not, maybe, for the reason you think — or even that the writing’s. . .a trifle gaumy* here and there.
We did, after all, have some idea of where we thought the story would be going, even if it’s a little bit of a puzzle how all the various pieces are going to snap together. That’s just what writing fiction is — building the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle before you know, exactly, what the finished picture will look like.
Back in 1986/88, for instance, we thought that (part of) this story would have to do with Priscilla becoming reconciled with her mother, whom she encounters when the Passage stops at the Galaxy’s Biggest Textile Market in order to do some shopping. A run-in, large or small, with the Juntavas, has clearly been called for in the material we’ve have before us, though whether Anmary Mendoza was dealing Gray, or was caught by chance in a Juntavas Manuever I don’t know, now — and likely didn’t know then, either.
And it remains a mystery, how Gordy’s swimming lessons figure into it all. No, wait! I’ve got an idea about that. . .
But, anyway, it’s not the fact that the 18,586 (19,531, if we count the outtake chapters) words of fiction we’ve just read are. . .inconclusive, or even the fact that there are 80,000ish words yet to write, or that we have books before it under contract.
The reason we probably won’t be writing this book is: Time
A decade has passed in-Universe between the end of Conflict of Honors and the beginning of Dragon in Exile. Shan and Priscilla have been together as a team for every one of those 10 years, though they only “officially” became lifemates during Plan B. (There’s an argument, in Carpe Diem, between Nova and Shan, regarding his desire to lifemate Priscilla, and the necessity of Korval-in-Trust to hold him free for contract marriage, should it come to pass that Val Con is no longer available to the Clan.)
While there are things that I regret not having had the opportunity to do — such as building the relationship between Priscilla and Shan’s powers, watching them forging their first links to each other, and growing into the team they now are — the existence of Alliance of Equals (coming to a bookstore near you July-ish 2016, and as an eArc about 3 months prior to that) would make carving that story out properly much more work than fun. We can retcon — we have retconned! — but there’s just not enough elbow room, as I’m eying things, to fit an early “discovery” novel for Shan and Priscilla into the space after Conflict.
So, now we’re at an end of it. Steve and I want to thank all of you for your attention, your comments, your support. It’s been fun, and interesting, for us — and we hope for you, too.
*(Maine dialect) also gaummy, gawmy, gohmey — clumsy, awkward; “gom” one who is clumsy or awkward. Possibly related to gorm[less].
August 1, 2015
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