This little scene weighs in at just 450 words. It is typed on the reverse side of a mimeographed sheet titled, in English: VERB VOCABULARY ARRANGED BY CLASSES. The rest of the words on the sheet are in Cyrillic. Therefore, the scene was written sometime in that 1984/86 period when I was doing the secretary thing at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics at the University of Maryland undergrad campus in Catonsville. The two pages were held together by a standard silver-colored paperclip, which, yes, is starting to show some rust.
* * *
As always, the room was redolent of jasmine, awash with soft, butter colored light that stuck to the deep colors of the rugs, tapestries, bed silks. Cat had curled bonlelessly into a chaise by the fireplace and sat staring at the flames, sipping infrequently from a bowl of rare Darmarian brandy.
Daav moved soundlessly to the inlaid wooden bar and refreshed his own drink. She had heard. Answer would come when it came. Cat was never to be hurried. He found this eccentricity relaxing.
“You are leaving.” Merely a repetition of his message; Cat speaking to luxuriate in the sound of her own voice. No answer required.
Daav paused. Nothing in the history of their arrangement had taught him that she was capable of so unselfish a question.
“A matter,” he said gently, “of Clan and kin.”
Silence, then, while she sipped and stared.
“You will return?”
Further violation of the established mode between them. He drifted back to the fire; settled into his chair and tasted the brandy. Two serial queries regarding the well-being of a person other than herself. Disturbing. Cat was absolutely self-centered. She would enact him neither hysterics nor heroics. So he had thought. Well, and it was too late now to think again.
“I do not believe so. My contract at the University expires this term, in any case. It did not seem – useful – to renew it.”
He sipped, considering the play of light across her face. Lovely, lazy Cat.
“I had planned to leave soon; this matter merely shortens my stay by a twoweek.”
She turned her face to him; licked her lips with a pointed pink tongue.
“I have found our association – enjoyable.”
“As I have,” he responded, with complete truth.
She nodded. There were not many who would have found such a liaison otherwise. It was curious that she should be a realist. He found the trait relaxing.
“Will you see the one whose ring you wear?”
“I do not anticipate it.”
She sipped, considering his face out of half-closed aquamarine eyes.
“I have thought recently that I might enjoy travel,” she said.
He was silent.
Again, she nodded.
“When do you go?”
“You would honor me if you did not give a gift.”
Daav inclined his head.
“I regret. It has already been purchased.”
All at once, she laughed, throwing her head back and swirling her hair about her naked shoulders in a jubilation of tawny silk. Setting aside the bowl, she rose and extended a hand.
Smiling, he rose, took her hand, and went with her to the bed.
* * *
I like this little discovery scene for a bunch of reasons.
Way Back Then, Steve had the notion of a service and/or comfort franchise found mostly on spacestations in a universe other than the Liaden Universe®, called The Blue House – which attentive readers will recall is mentioned very briefly in The Tomorrow Log. The Blue House did not explicitly offer cat-girls or ferret boys. On the other hand, they did not explicitly not offer them. What they did do was offer pleasure, tailored to the customer’s particular fancies. They did this by keeping an inventory of personalities, and also an inventory of shells or donors, which they would mix ‘n match to order.
It would be rare to find a Blue House model out on her own, as Cat is, above. On the other hand, she is so very catlike that I can’t help but be persuaded that she owes. . . something. . .to The Blue House.
This scene is clearly set after Aelliana’s death – Daav is wearing her ring, as Cat points out for us – and he is a professor at the local university, which is not on Liad. It seems, in fact, that he has, previous to this piece, also heard the “whisper to all worlds” which motivated his removal from Delgado, and is on its account leaving his position early – as he does in the published “later.”
It’s also plain that, in this iteration, Aelliana is not sharing Daav’s head. She would not have allowed him to pursue quite so sterile a relationship – not, in fact, loving or even fond, but a business relationship that offers the bare minimum of comfort, and no real intimacy.
Also, I’ll admit to liking this little scene because of the feedback some readers gave us when we were writing Fledgling, where Daav – well, Aelliana – arranged for them to pursue an intimate, fond, comfortable, and intellectually equal relationship with a perfectly reasonable professor at Delgado. Those readers were not comfortable with the fact that Daav would have anyone “replace,” Aelliana, and were…unkind to him, claiming that he was merely “using” Kamele to his own ends. I can’t help wondering what they might have said, those readers, had they been presented, instead, with Cat.
* * *
If you liked this splinter, please consider showing your appreciation with a donation.
In the past, readers have indicated that a suggested donation would be helpful for them. For those readers, a donation of $2 is recommended.