Chapter Three

THE WRONG LANCE

@2020 Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Chapter Three

Surebleak

Jelaza Kazone

It sat, steaming gently, on the driveway, not much bigger, Miri thought, than the forty-eight-seat touring bus mothballed in the garage. There was no visible hatch, no visible instrumentation, or lights. No obvious identification.

Just a rock, that was all.

“Good landing,” Theo noted from beside her. “Didn’t even dimple the tarmac.”

That was a point in its favor, Miri allowed, but not enough to off-set her growing irritation.

She turned her head to address the man-high canister topped by a ball that was at the moment glowing palely orange.

“Jeeves, please ask Mr. Joyita to find out when our visitor intends to emerge. The delm of Korval awaits. Impatiently.”

“Transmitting the delm’s request,” Jeeves said agreeably.

There was a brief pause, followed by Joyita’s voice.

“The pilot thanks the delm of Korval for the gift of her time. She will emerge with all haste.”

A crack appeared in the rock’s pitted surface, and another. Soundlessly a hatch opened, and a figure, stooped, yet still taller than either Miri or Theo, emerged, moving awkwardly.

It achieved the surface of the drive and straightened–a very young Clutch, Miri saw, the shell no bigger than a field pack high up on the back. Pockets and bags depended from a vest woven from what seemed to be leather strips.

“I am called for the purpose of this mission, Emissary Twelve.” The voice was light; nowhere near Edger’s occasionally head-rattling boom. “I am charged by the Elders to deliver a message to the delm of Korval.”

Miri took a breath–and Val Con was there. She felt the full presence of him, like he was standing at her shoulder, regarding the Emissary gravely.

We are,” she said, in High Liaden, surprising herself, at least. “We are the delm of Korval. Our kinswoman and house security attend us. They may hear the words of the Elders, which we stand ready to receive.”

“I am to approach the delm of Korval in all their names and faces, and inform them that the Elders have been aware of a flaw in the fabric of the universe. They have accorded it long study as they sought to understand its nature and to formulate an appropriate response.”

Emissary Twelve paused to blink enormous eyes.

“The flaw has vanished; the fabric of the universe is healed.”

Well, thought Miri, it was nice to have corroboration, though she wouldn’t have predicted receiving it from this particular source. Clutch lived a really long time. That given, they didn’t tend to be quick to notice change.

“The state and energies of the universe are now what they were within the memory of the eldest of the Elders, who had scarcely been hatched when the anomaly occurred,” Emissary Twelve continued. She tipped her head slightly, maybe approximating a bow.

“The Elders ask if the delm of Korval and the Elder Tree which the delm serves is aware of this circumstance.”

“Yes,” Miri said, in unison with Val Con; “we are aware.”

There was a pause, not really that long, considering the source.

“If the answer to this query was in the affirmative, I was to ask further. Did the delm of Korval or the Elder Tree effect this healing?”

“The Tree assisted a clan member in the action,” Val Con said by himself while Miri was trying to figure out where this was going. If the Clutch Elders had been aware of the tear, wound, whatever, in the fabric of the universe–well, it couldn’t be a bad thing to save the universe. . .

Could it?

“The answers given are within tolerances,” Emissary Twelve stated. “The Elders would have the destroyer of the universe brought to them, so that an examination may go forth.”

OK, that definitely didn’t sound good.

Val Con bowed slightly, which meant she did, too. Beside them, Theo wasn’t saying anything at all, smart girl, standing alert and poised.

“I regret that the clan member responsible for preserving the universe that the Elders cohabit with the delm of Korval, the Tree, and countless other intelligences, is from home,” Val Con said tartly. “He and his lifemate were gravely injured, and there is some question whether either will fully recover what they have lost. They have placed themselves into the hands of the Healers, from whose care we will remove them for no reason less than the imminent extinction of another universe.”

“You should also know,” Miri said, keeping to High Liaden; “that he does not remember what happened. The details were already fading when he returned to us, after the mission was done.”

Eyes the size of soup tureens gazed at her mournfully.

“I apologize for my haste, which has caused you distress. The Elders have given me no instruction in the event of an imperfect memory.”

“Even if that were not so,” Val Con said in a tone that brooked no argument, “it is not for the Elders to decide for one of Korval. Korval decides for Korval, and our judgment is this: our wounded child will remain here, where he is shielded and safe, until he has recovered. . .so far as he might.”

Silence.

Blink.

“Yes,” said Emissary Twelve. “I ask if the Elder Tree recalls the event and the actions.”

Miri felt a flutter of green at the edge of her awareness. The Tree was paying attention, too. The Tree, she thought, might even be interested. That was unsettling.

“The Tree recalls the event with some amount of pride,” Val Con said. “It is willing to speak with you, and impart the particulars, so that you may carry its account to the Elders.”

Impossibly, Emissary Twelve’s big eyes got bigger.

“I! I am the emissary sent by the Elders. It is to the Elders the Tree must speak.”

“That’s gonna be tricky,” Miri said, in Terran.

Emissary Twelve closed her eyes.

Miri sighed.

Look,” she said; “Maybe the Elders can send somebody at a higher pay grade to take the Tree’s testimony and maybe talk to our clan member, when he’s in better shape,” she said. “Twelfth Shell Fifth Hatched Knife Clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spearmaker’s Den: The Edger might be a good choice. If he’s not available, then I’d suggest Seventh Shell Third Hatched Knife Clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spearmaker’s Den: The Sheather.”

Emissary Twelve opened her eyes.

“That is for the Elders to say. I have been provided with an option which may be adapted to this case. In the event that the Destroyer of Universes had died of his efforts, I was to bring Daav yos’Phelium to the Elders.”

“Daav yos’Phelium,” Val Con said carefully, “was not involved in the effort to preserve our universe.”

“Daav yos’Phelium gave his word to the Elders that he would answer their further questions, should any arise. Further questions have arisen.”

“That is unfortunate,” Val Con said. “Daav yos’Phelium has, in the time since the Elders received his word, died.”

Well, thought Miri, that was true, so far as it went. It was damn’ near an art form among Liadens, to see how close they could shave to the exact truth, and still mislead. As true-lies went, in fact, this one was almost unsubtle, but apparently Val Con was so determined to keep kin close he was willing to sacrifice style points.

Emissary Twelve was silent. Her chest was seen to rise–and fall.

“Surely Daav yos’Phelium would have left his unfulfilled promises in the care of a second,” she said. “I believe this is a Liaden custom.”

Score one for Emissary Twelve, Miri thought, even as she felt the sting of Val Con’s irritation.

“Jeeves,” she said; “would you please ask Kor Vid yos’Phelium and his partner to join us? Tell him the Clutch would like to speak with him.”

“Relaying message. He is at Lady Kareen’s house; it may be some time before he arrives.”

“Understood.” Miri looked to Emissary Twelve.

The kid was exhausted, she thought, and who wouldn’t be? She had to’ve strung a dozen Jumps or more together to get here so soon after Ren Zel’s little act of heroism. And now that she was arrived, the delm of Korval wasn’t sticking to the script.

“The house offers hospitality,” Val Con said, in her voice; “refreshment, and a quiet place to recover from your exertions until the pilots arrive.”

“The offer does the house honor,” Emissary Twelve said, and you’d’ve said she was squaring her shoulders, if she’d had shoulders in the proper way. “The order from the Elders was with all haste. Therefore, I will now speak with the Elder Tree.”

“Sure,” said Miri. “I’ll show you the way.”

She turned to Theo, who was looking like she was going to bite the kid’s head off, and maybe Miri’s, too.

“You wanna bring the pilots to the Tree if we’re not back by the time they get here?”

Give her credit, Theo’s face didn’t get any more sour.

“Yes,” she said.

“Thanks.” Miri stepped forward, feeling Val Con at her side, and beckoned to Emissary Twelve. “Right this way. With me, Jeeves–Oh, and Jeeves?”

“Yes, Miri?”

“You can bring house systems to normal, when you get time.”

“Yes, Miri.”

* * *

Theo watched as Miri and Jeeves–or maybe it was Miri, Val Con, and Jeeves–guided Emissary Twelve down the drive, toward the garden gate.

“Theo? What troubles you?” Bechimo’s voice was inside her head, in the place she thought of as bond-space; where she and Bechimo shared math and piloting approaches; where she was able to see ship’s systems as Bechimo did, and the coruscating fabrics of space.

“Val Con,” she said quietly. “He was here. With Miri. Sharing Miri.”

“Joyita’s research indicates that such abilities may often be found among what the literature signifies as true lifematings, or wizard’s matches.”

Theo blinked.

“Why is Joyita researching lifemates?” she asked, but she had a feeling that she already knew the answer to that question.

“When your brother Val Con was on this vessel, seeking information on which to build his field judgment, he asked if we–you and I–were lifemated. I of course said that we were not.”

Her brother Val Con had been a scout, and their shared parent had been a scout. She’d always considered it part of Father’s personality–part of what made him Father–that he asked so many questions–and none of them idle.

Possibly, she thought now, it was a scout thing–something they had been trained in, like Father’s specialty in Cultural Genetics.

Or maybe only particularly nosy people became scouts.

“Theo?”

“So, why is Joyita researching this and not you?”

“I am not researching the question, because I know the answer,” Bechimo answered, bad-temperedly. “You and I–the captain and the ship– are bonded, as the Builders intended, in order to make a more perfect partnership which protects and sustains the crew and the route; the captain and the ship.

“Joyita, however, has decided to indulge in mischief.”

That was a little sharp, Theo thought–and also. . .unfair.

“But maybe it’s not mischief. My brother asked me the same question–and I told him the same thing you did, that we’re bonded. But, that–“

She waved in the direction that the Clutch had been escorted.

“We already knew that Miri and Val Con each know where the other is — can feel where the other one is–even when they’re out of sight. And we just saw him. . .join her to talk to Emissary Twelve, even though he’s at the Port office.

“Val Con’s really alert to details, patterns–and he makes connections. When you and I talk in bond-space, it must look enough like what he and Miri do that he–made the match. It’s an interesting connection; I can see why Joyita’s intrigued. Please ask him to keep me informed on the progress of his research.”

There was silence in bond-space. Maybe even petulant silence. Before Theo could decide, she heard the sound of a door opening behind her. She turned around as Kara stepped out of the house, Hevelin perched on her shoulder.

“Trouble?”

Kara made a wry face.

“Insistence. Ambassador Hevelin has a great need to visit with the Elder Tree and also to associate with the pilot who just arrived in that– ” she used her chin to the point at the boulder in the driveway– “to find whom she knows.”

She sighed, and showed Theo empty hands palm-up, and the suggestion of a shrug.

“Once the shields were dropped, it was far easier to bring him, than to argue.”

Theo shifted her attention to the oh-so-innocent norbear on Kara’s shoulder, and frowned, hard.

“You’re getting to be a nuisance,” she told him. “And a bully.”

She caught a flutter of distress; Hevelin was sorry she was upset, and his good friend Kara, too.

The distress morphed into something harder; Theo glimpsed a sort of glittery grey rock, and raised her eyebrows.

“But?” she prompted.

“Ah,” said Kara; “this approach is familiar. He is about to plead his melant’i.”

Indeed, a series of images flowed to Theo: Hevelin curled against a plump white norbear with a black spot before each ear. Hevelin conversing with a rangy woman with knowing eyes and short-cropped brown hair. Hevelin sitting on Clarence’s lap, surveying the board. Hevelin meeting Grakow. Hevelin disciplining Stost. Hevelin holding a gun, safety off, nose pointed toward the decking.

Theo blinked, and murmured for Kara’s benefit: “I’m getting Sinaya and Guild Master Constince from Velaskiz Rotundo; Clarence maybe running through board drills; Stost getting yelled at; Grakow; and his, um, quick reactions to the loose gun on Minot Station.”

She glanced at Kara.

“Is that the sequence you got?”

“Very exactly.”

“Well, it’s persuasive,” Theo said; “but what’re we supposed to be persuaded of?”

“I believe the narrative has to do with Hevelin’s obligations and accomplishments as an ambassador for his race, and an operative for the Pilot’s Guild. It is, one understands, nothing less than his duty to expand the net of his acquaintance.”

“He’s got a point, there,” Theo said. “That’s what the Guild set him up to do.”

“I do not dispute it. It is the contention that his point carries all others before it that I question.”

“Well, it can’t.” Theo considered the norbear, receiving once more the impression of stone. “Emissary Twelve, who just landed, has urgent business with the Tree, and with a pilot who’s been called to the house to deal with her. Your business has to wait on hers, and it might be that she doesn’t have any time for you. She seemed kind of rushed, and under a lot of pressure. You’ve got to expect that, sometimes at least, somebody else’s duty takes precedence.”

Hevelin granted her argument, graciously, and repeated his necessity, with the assurance that he would be very quick, and seek only a few key connections, to establish a point from which to dream further.

“That is very handsome of you,” Kara said, having apparently caught that bit fair. “However, Theo’s case stands; no matter your necessity, it is possible that you will not be permitted to speak with Emissary Twelve. In this case, her duties carry more weight than yours.”

Hevelin begged leave to doubt this.

Kara tapped her foot, and looked to Theo.

“Permission to tutor Ambassador Hevelin on the workings of melant’i, especially with regard to relative necessity.”

Theo stared at her.

Relative necessity?” she repeated. “I thought necessity was absolute.”

“In many applications, it may seem so,” Kara said. “However, given two necessities–the example my grandmother relished was–the necessity to put out a fire in the garage before it reaches the flammables, and the necessity to arrive at a formal dinner on time–the necessity which produces the more immediate consequences has precedence.”

She gave Theo a droll look.

“The necessity of not blowing up the garage, the house, and the neighborhood clearly bears the greatest weight in the example, even should an important alliance be strained or lost by a tardy arrival at the table.”

“Maybe you ought to tutor me, too,” Theo said, ruefully.

“It will be my pleasure to mark out the pertinent paragraphs in the Code for you to sleep-learn, and to discuss them with you, after.”

“I have the references in the Liaden Code of Proper Conduct, Theo,” Bechimo said in bond-space. “They are tagged and you may refer to them at need.”

“Thank you,” Theo answered. “Talking the nuances over with Kara will help me really know the material, rather than having it on file.”

“As you will.” Bechimo said shortly–and withdrew.

Theo blinked back to the driveway in time to see Kara frowning at her.

Bechimo was letting me know that he had marked out the passages for me and put them in a reference file,” Theo explained.

“Ah,” Kara answered, her voice absolutely even. “And you said?”

“I said that your plan–sleep-learning bolstered by discussion–would insure that I’d really learn the material, rather than needing to look it up every time there was need.”

“Just so,” Kara said.

It seemed like she was about to say something else–then decided against. She turned away, Hevelin on her shoulder, and walked over to the boulder-ship sitting on the driveway, its hatch still up.

It had, Theo saw, stopped steaming, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was cool.

“This is a very strange vessel,” Kara said. “A rock? Where is the drive? Where are the coils?”

She took another step closer, and Theo moved toward her, ready to snatch her back, if anything. . .untoward happened.

Nothing did happen, though, other than Kara pausing at a respectful distance from the open hatch, and twisting interestingly, in an attempt to see inside.

“The Clutch use the Electron Substitution Drive,” Theo reminded her.

“As we learned at school,” Kara agreed. “I don’t recall much more detail than that–certainly nothing about engines, or coils, or fuel.”

Theo frowned.

“Clutch travel through dense space, by choice,” she said, trying to remember the textbook on drives and motivation protocols. Surprisingly, though this was exactly the sort of thing that interested Bechimo, bond-space was empty of his presence; empty of any sudden manifestation of an article or schematic. . .

“I recall that,” Kara said. “And also the assertion that the drive produces an effect where the ship simultaneously exists at the beginning of its route, and the end.”

“There was something about entanglement, too,” Theo said, and shook her head. “I’d have to look it up.”

“And I. But even granted the lack of coils or Struven units, it must propel itself in some manner!”

She began a slow walk around the boulder, and Theo let her go, straining in her turn to see inside the ship, and getting an impression of smooth rock walls, and lighting that was both dim, and subtly off. The shelf she glimpsed opposite the hatch might have been a board.

Or, she allowed, it might have just been a shelf carved out of the rock.

Bechimo,” she said, in bond-space.

“Yes, Captain?”

Theo sighed quietly. Apparently she was in disgrace. Well, she’d sort it out later.

“Would you please do a complete scan of this ship? It’s going to bother Kara for the rest of her life if she can’t figure out how it flies.”

“Certainly, Captain,” Bechimo said, and withdrew.

Definitely in disgrace. She wondered what she’d done, then put it out of her mind as the sound of the gate working brought her about.

A car swept up the drive, and pulled over. The back doors opened, and two pilots exited.

Two young pilots exited.

Theo bit her lip, remembering that Kara and Hevelin were witnesses. These two pilots therefore were not her father and Val Con’s mother, but young cousins, come to Surebleak, to throw their luck in with the rest of Clan Korval.

Kor Vid yos’Phelium and Daaneka tey’Doshi, Theo told herself, her stomach tight. Kor Vid yos’Phelium and–

Behind her, Hevelin screamed.

* * *

Daav had the door open before the car had fairly stopped. Aelliana was out nearly as quickly, pausing until he reached her side.

He could scarcely blame her for hesitating, for it was a strange scene, indeed, that confronted them.

In the foreground was Theo, looking as ill-tempered as he had ever seen her. Directly behind her was what was surely a Clutch ship with its hatch up. Its resemblance to the ship in which Edger had transported them to their meeting with the Clutch Elders was meager: While Edger’s ship could have easily been mistaken for a small moon on holiday, this present object appeared to be the merest asteroid, unaccountably come to rest in the center of Korval’s drive.

There were no Clutch persons immediately evident, which was, Daav admitted to himself, something of a relief. Theo had obviously been left to guide them, and perhaps to impart something approaching information.

There was a flicker of movement as another pilot came ’round the far side of the rocky vessel and moved toward Theo.

Daav, Aelliana said inside his head. That norbear. Is–

The driveway morphed into a narrow alley, dark air glittering with icy flakes, the footing treacherous, snow-covered, and before them an angry mob, voices rough with fear and rage. There–Aelliana pelting directly into the thick of it, skidding as she gained the side of the pilot crouching low, his voice broken and pleading–pushing him back and swinging ’round to confront the throng.

A stone arced out of the crowd, and Daav heard his own voice, in the mode of Command, ordering–

“Enough! Hevelin, you’re going to deafen the whole house!”

The images blew away like so many snowflakes. Daav shook his head, found that he had hold of Aelliana’s hand–or she, of his–and that the order had come from Theo, who held the norbear in her arms, while the other pilot had a hand to her head.

“Enough!” Theo repeated. “You hurt Kara, is that what you wanted to do?”

There came a sense of contrition, much muted, and a scent perhaps of mint, to soothe abused heads.

So much, I fear, for secrecy, Aelliana said, stepping forward.

We may yet come about, Daav answered, keeping pace with her.

“Well met, Cousin Theo,” he called. “May one inquire? Does the pilot require aid?”

“Kara?” Theo put the norbear down and turned to the other, her posture eloquent of distress. “Do you want a ‘doc?”

Kara drew a shaky breath, and lifted her head.

“What was that?” she asked, somewhat faintly.

Theo put an arm around her waist.

“Hevelin,” she started. . .

“It would seem that the norbear believes he knows us,” Aelliana said, glaring down at the norbear in question, who was now at her feet, standing tall on his back legs and stretching toward her, clearly wishing to be picked up.

“He thinks he knows a lot of people,” Kara said, sounding somewhat less breathless, though she did not seem disposed to shake off Theo’s support. “I have never heard him–scream. And the–” she shook her head and focused on Aelliana.

“Forgive me, pilot, but he must know you. That memory. . .”

“Yes, well.” Aelliana sighed and tucked her hands into her belt, shaking her head at her furry supplicant.

“No, rogue; I will not take you up. We are called by the delm; and that business has precedence.”

“Yes!” Kara said, with shaky enthusiasm. “Do you see, Hevelin? Your necessities are not the most important, always.”

Daav hunkered down on his heels, the better to look into dark norbear eyes.

Hevelin turned from Aelliana, and put a hand on Daav’s wrist. A sequence formed behind his eyes–not the mob this time, thank the gods, but the bridge of Ride the Luck, a considerably less-grey Hevelin climbing out of the case to confront Aelliana, her face a mixture of laughing disbelief and anger that her ship had been placed in danger. . .

“Yes, I quite see,” he said, softly, but loud enough for Theo and Kara, too, to hear him. “Assuredly, we must dream together. But dreaming must wait upon our delm’s desires. That is reality, my friend. If reality moves in such a way that we meet again after the delm has done with us, then will we three dream.”

“In the meanwhile,” Aelliana added, sternly; “you would do well to refrain from deafening your comrades, and perhaps show them a little care.”

Hevelin sighed, and dropped to all four feet. Another wave of contrition spread out from him, and another cooling breath of mint.

Daav came to his feet. Kara had stepped out of Theo’s embrace, her brows pulled together, as she looked from Hevelin to Aelliana–to him.

“The delm sent?” Daav prompted Theo.

“She did, yes.”

Theo motioned toward the rock-ship.

“Emissary Twelve arrived, in haste. She says she’s from the Clutch Elders.”

She paused.

“It seems like she’s under strain. Not only the Jumps, but–I got the idea that maybe the Elders aren’t easy to work for. She has questions and she needs answers.”

“And it is assumed that I have answers,” he said lightly, looking to Aelliana. “What a treat for us, Pilot.”

“Indeed.”

He turned back to Theo.

“The delm and Emissary Twelve are where, just now?”

“In the garden. Emissary Twelve thought maybe she’d take the Tree to the Elders. I think Miri–the delm–is letting her see for herself how much of a problem that could be.”

“Very wise,” Aelliana said gravely, and gave him a nod. “We to the Tree Court and the delm, Pilot.”

“So it would seem. Thank you, Cousin. Pilot Kara, forgive us, please, for our part in your distress.”

Kara shook her head.

“There is nothing to forgive,” she said, and dropped her gaze to Hevelin, who was sitting calmly on the drive, listening avidly, so Daav greatly feared.

“It so strange,” Kara continued, looking to Theo. “It’s not like him to make such an error.”

“He does make errors of kind, sometimes,” Theo said carefully. “He showed the Pathfinders my father, after they’d given him a–what was it? An M-soldier?”

Kara sighed, brows still tight, clearly unconvinced.

Aelliana bowed.

“Pilot Kara, I am Daaneka tey’Doshi, and this my co-pilot is Kor Vid yos’Phelium. We are at your service.”

Kara bowed.

“Kara ven’Arith, Pilots. I am pleased to meet you.”

A breeze flowed, quick and green, over them, where a moment before the day had been windless.

“We are wanted,” Daav said to Aelliana.

“So I see. No, Cousin Theo, we know the way. Please, care for your comrades.”

She strode off, Daav at her side; the green breeze harrying them along.

When they were passed through the garden gate, out of sight and presumably out of earshot, Kara turned back to Theo, her brows drawn in a deep frown.

“Hevelin does not make those kinds of mistakes,” she said, flatly.

Theo looked at the norbear, who was sitting on the driveway, apparently deep in thought. Nothing came to her from him–no commentary, no sense of participation. . .nothing. He might’ve been just some random furry creature that had wandered out of the garden and onto the drive.

“Theo?” Kara said.

Theo sighed, and turned to meet Kara’s eyes.

“No,” she said. “Hevelin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes. He did meet those pilots before–and I can’t tell you anything else, because it’s. . .family business, and not mine to tell.”

She expected temper–Kara had a temper, though she was ‘way better than Theo was about keeping it under control. Still–she’d been assaulted by a norbear; lied to by pilots; and gotten worse than no explanation for any of it from her friend and her captain. It was enough to make anybody angry, in Theo’s opinion.

Kara, though. . .

Kara. . .actually seemed. . .relieved. Her face relaxed, and she sighed.

“If it is in the clan, then of course you must keep it so,” she said.

That seemed to be a match-up with Kara’s opinion that Val Con and Miri were Theo’s delm–which they weren’t–and Theo was about to take that on again when it occurred to her that she didn’t have an explanation other than “clan secret,” or “Delm’s Word” that wasn’t an outright lie.

Half-truth, then, she thought; compromise, if we can’t have consensus.

“Now, then, sir!”

Kara strolled over to where Hevelin sat, still and shuttered. She knelt on the drive facing him and, after a moment, Theo joined her.

“Hevelin,” Kara said softly; “the pilots had pressing business; their delm had called them to duty.”

There was a stir; perhaps even a sigh.

In the space right behind her eyes, Theo saw, illuminated as if by a sun, the two pilots–very nearly the first “dream” Hevelin shared with everyone he met.

Two pilots, male and female, dark and light, sardonic and sweet-faced; each standing well within the other’s personal space, clearly partners, comfortable with themselves and their arrangement.

An old memory, since the dark pilot was Father before he had come to Delgado to take the Gallowglass Chair. An old memory, and Father a young man–yet still older than the pilot who, with his partner, had just passed down the drive on their way to the Tree Court and their delm.

She felt a sort of a light pinch near her ear, drawing her attention back to the dream of the two pilots.

“Yes,” she said, carefully. “That is Daav yos’Phelium, who was also Jen Sar Kiladi. He’s my father, and he’s Val Con’s father. The other pilot is Aelliana Caylon, Val Con’s mother.”

Beside her, she heard Kara draw a sharp breath.

The brilliant memory faded, leaving behind an impression like chilly fog. Out of it, another dream formed–of the two pilots who had just left them: male and female, dark and light, sardonic and sweet; each standing well within the other’s personal space, clearly partners, comfortable with themselves and their arrangement.

“Yes,” Theo said, even more carefully. “The best I can tell you is what they told you themselves. Those are Kor Vid yos’Phelium and Daaneka tey’Doshi.” She took a breath.

“You heard me tell Kara that anything else is Clan Korval business.”

There was a burst of protest at that. Hevelin was not a wet-eared kit; he could keep a secret! He had many secrets.

“We all have secrets,” Theo said. “But, see, this secret isn’t mine, and it isn’t yours. It’s their secret, and they’re the only ones who can decide to share it — and with who.”

There was a long pause, then a very specific sending of the corner of Theo’s apartment, where Mr. pel’Kana had set up the comfortable little nest.

“It’s been a long shift,” Theo agreed.

She rolled to her feet, and held a hand down to Kara.

“Something tells me I’d better check in with the crew.”

Kara accepted the hand and the boost to her feet.

“Possibly Clarence will have some small interest in events,” she said dryly.

Theo laughed, and bent down to hoist Hevelin to her shoulder.

“Yeah,” she said. “Maybe he will.”

They crossed the drive in companionable silence; the door opening as they approached.

“Thank you, Jeeves,” Theo said, turning toward the stairway.

“You are welcome. There is an urgent message from Joyita waiting.”

Theo stopped, and blinked.

“Urgent?” she repeated, suddenly recalling Bechimo’s uncharacteristic silence on a subject he found fascinating. But, he’d have said something, if there’d been a problem. Wouldn’t he?

“If this message is urgent–” she began, as Kara lifted Hevelin to her own shoulder.

“It has only just arrived,” Jeeves told her. “Will you hear it?”

“Yes.”

“Captain,” Joyita’s voice carried an unaccustomed edge of irritation. “Surebleak Portmaster requests your presence in her office immediately, regarding the drones we set in Surebleak orbit.” There was a short pause. “She did not sound happy.”

Theo looked at Kara.

Kara looked at Theo.

Theo sighed.

“Jeeves, please ask Tommy if he’s available to drive me to the port. Also, may I speak to Joyita?”

“Certainly,” Jeeves said. “Joyita, Captain Waitley wishes to speak with you.”

“Captain?”

Theo sighed again, and closed her eyes.

“Please tell Surebleak Portmaster that I have received her message and will be with her as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Joyita, followed by a subtle click, as if he had closed a connection.

Kara shifted.

“Shall I come with you, as crew representative?” Kara asked. “The entire ship had agreed on–“

Theo shook her head.

“The portmaster will take it as given that the captain speaks for the ship.” she said. “You and Hevelin bring the crew up to date. I should be back soon.”

She produced a slight grin.

“How long can it take to pay a fine, after all?”

* * *

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