Bear in mind that Agent of Change was written – that is written – in 1984. This little (1,070 words) Splinter was written between 1984 and 1987. The reason I can pinpoint the date of writing so nearly, given that Past Me very rarely deigned to date her flights and sketches, is that the Splinter is typed (via typewriter) on the back of a mimeographed French language quiz (a mimeograph was a duplicating machine, a pre-cut master stencil was affixed to a large roller, and copies were literally printed off, in a distinctive blurry blue type). For those who do not understand the significance of this – I was employed as a secretary at the Modern Languages and Linguistics Department of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County between 1984 and 1987. By time-honored tradition, ruined and leftover pages were the spoils of the secretarial staff.
* * *
He woke and shifted onto an elbow, careful not to wake her, and stayed so, gazing into her face, the slightest of smiles on his own.
After a time, he leaned down, placing his lips softly on hers.
“Hmmm,” not so much a word as a purr, and her mouth was awake on his, her arms lifting, hands running through his hair.
He seemed pleased with this response; finished the kiss leisurely and moved his lips to her cheek, her chin, nibbling down the line of her throat.
Purring now in earnest, she pushed his hair aside and stuck her tongue in his ear. He laughed softly, kissed her breast, and moved downward.
She laughed, shivering, and his mouth was suddenly on hers, light as a breath, moving to the corner of her eye, her forehead, her ear, and back to her mouth, harder now.
Her arms came tightly around his neck, and she pressed herself along the length of him, holding him as close as she could, closer – and closer still.
When they had pleased each other fully, and lay in a tangled puppy-heap under the blankets, warm and drowsy, she murmured something into his shoulder.
“What?” He lifted a hand, and began to excavate gently, through the tumbled red hair. This process eventually discovered his lover, who rolled very slightly away from her snuggle against him to murmur, with eyes half-closed, “I said, you smell nice.”
“Thank you,” he said gravely. “You do, too. As well, you taste good.”
In order that there would be no doubt on this point, he borrowed into the cloud of her hair, until he found the soft curve of her shoulder, and ran his tongue over her skin.
She laughed, breathless, and bumped him in the chin as she jack-knifed and began to tickle him.
There came a knock at the door.
They froze in the midst of their play, listening.
The knock came again.
The woman sat up.
“Jeremiah,” she said, darkly.
“It isn’t time for rehearsal yet.”
He slid out of bed and pulled on a pair of faded blue slacks.
A third knock came, with feeling.
“Just a moment,” he called, snagging his shirt from the chair as he went by. He pulled it on and buttoned it between bedroom and parlor, but didn’t bother with boots. Doubtless it was Jeremiah, with a new riff he had to play for them right now. But, still, the knife was in his left hand when he opened the door.
After all, it was not Jeremiah. Rather, it was a tall, whip-thin woman with a hawk-nosed face, and blonde hair going grey. She bowed slightly and her smile did not warm the pale ice of her eyes.
“Val Con yos’Phelium?” she asked.
Behind his eye, a flicker; almost, it seemed, a number. He shook his head, to banish it and to deny her.
“You have the wrong apartment.”
“I think not,” she said. “You should know that I am sent by Twelfth Shell Fifth Hatched Knife Clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spearmakers Den: The Edger.”
She paused, studying his face. He gazed back at her, waiting.
She sighed. “I was told to say to you that Edger did not see the youngest of his sisters after you left him in Econsey and that he was happy for this, for clan members should not lie to each other.”
He sighed, stepping back and pulling the door with him.
“Come in, then,” he said, with ill grace.
She stepped inside and he closed the door behind her. Moving past her into the room, he waved her toward the only chair, while he leaned against the side of the battered piano, arms folded across his chest.
His visitor did not take the chair, but remained on her feet.
“I am Doreen Kilganik,” she said. “Edger dispatched Watcher and myself to find you…” She paused and turned her head as Miri drifted in from the bedroom, dressed like him, in faded pants and a loose white shirt. Her long red hair was combed over her right shoulder, and she was casually weaving it into a single braid.
She nodded to Doreen Kilganik as she walked past, and took a seat on the piano bench.
Doreen Kilganik was seen to sigh.
“It is our task,” she said, taking up her narrative once more, “to find Val Con yos’Phelium and Miri Robertson and return them to – civilization. Edger has negotiated with the Juntavas. Your safety is assured.”
Miri finished her braid, put a knot in the end, and flipped it over her shoulder. She met his eyes.
“I don’t think I want to go back to civilization,” she told him.
He raised an eyebrow.
“But you said that you could conceive of nothing worse than being stuck on some podunk–”
She cut him off. “I changed my mind. We’re safe here.”
“We were safe here,” he corrected, and nodded at the blonde woman, waiting quietly, and watching intently. “Doreen Kilganik and Watcher have found us. That not only means that others can likewise find us, but it increases the chance of them doing so.” He paused, seeing the numbers quite clearly inside his head. “According to available data,” he murmured, “we now have a ninety percent chance of being found by my former employers before the planetary year is out.”
She leapt to her feet, face white.
“Miri?” He was away from the piano, moving toward her, one eye on Doreen Kilganik, who was watching with interest, but displaying no threat.
“Is that all it takes?” Miri’s voice stretched thin. “One person – one threat – and it’s all back?” She shook her head.
He stopped, extended his hands, palms up.
“Cha’trez,” he murmured, “ilania poztro ayaffa…“
She shook her head, and he dared another step, extending his right hand.
She closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath.
“Yes,” he said, watching her closely, hand still extended.
“Must we?” Her eyes were open again; she was studying his face.
He took a deep breath and put his attention briefly on the numbers that danced inside his head.
“It would,” he said reluctantly, “be wise.”
She moved then, toward him, and slid her hand into his.
“OK,” she said, and he heard the strain in her voice, even as she squeezed his fingers. “We’ll be wise.”
* * *
Dear me, what an awkward little sex scene. Well. Enthusiasm counts.
That aside, this is a very interesting Splinter. It seems that I was sending out feelers in the direction of the story that would become Carpe Diem.
Here, we find that Miri and Val Con have indeed landed on that promising third planet, and they have – joined a band. Which isn’t so far off from what eventually really did happen. I’m no longer certain who Jeremiah is, except apparently a pain in Val Con’s neck. It may be that Val Con’s appreciation of enthusiasm is limited.
We also find that it is not Val Con’s kin who have acted, but Edger, who has taken the … interesting step of hiring Doreen Kilganik, a – private detective? bounty hunter? warrior nun? – and teaming her up with Watcher – where is Watcher, anyway? Well, OK, an eight foot turtle walking down the street on an interdicted world – maybe not a good idea. So, Watcher’s with the ship, I guess.
While Miri’s feelings regarding the Loop are no surprise – and are, in fact, perfectly consistent with Miri’s feelings about the Loop elsewhere in the Liaden Universe® – it’s interesting that she’s the one arguing for sticking tight, and staying safe. Nor does Val Con raise what must be his most compelling point for leaving – which is to protect his clan and his kin from his former employers.
I’d really like to know what that Liaden phrase means. And I’m glad that Steve and I made the artistic decision not to have characters spontaneously bursting into Liaden – or song – and instead merely tag the language they’re speaking in the narrative.
So, I’m not sure – it’s an odd angle to have taken, but any road that produces insight is a good road.
* * *
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