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Her Instruments, Book 1
“Only if I’m buying,” Hirianthial said.
“And if you tell me how long you’ve been following me.”
The tigraine folded his hands behind his back. “Since you left the Medplex.” He glanced up at Hirianthial. “I was sitting outside the comm station long enough to read half a magazine. Did that go well?”
“You are curious,” Hirianthial said. The maitre’d noted his party’s addition without so much as a change in expression and brought them to a table outside in the patio. The yellow stone tiles and the plain wooden beams had been shrouded with blooming tropical flowers. Hirianthial had passed through enough starbases not to be surprised by the simulation of nightfall, but the candles on the table were still a welcome touch.
“It’s not curiosity,” Sascha said, once they’d unfolded their napkins and requested something to drink. “I was hoping you weren’t about to get sent off somewhere else.”
“Why does this worry you?” Hirianthial asked. “Your mistress has made it clear that my business isn’t of any concern to her or her people any longer.”
“Well, that’s where she’s wrong and you’re wrong.” Sascha set his menu down with a wrinkled nose. “I hate menus without prices. You order for me.”
Hirianthial cocked a brow at him, but did as requested. With no more distractions, he folded his hands on the table and waited for the tigraine to elaborate.
“Look, we’re no challenge for Reese.”
“And she needs a challenge,” Hirianthial said.
Sascha nodded, cupping his hands around his cup of kerinne. Hirianthial had never developed a taste for the hot cinnamon drink, though he suspected it would be favorably received on his homeworld.
“Because…?” Hirianthial prompted.
“She’s not happy,” Sascha said simply.
“She’s not happy.”
“No,” the tigraine said. “She’s been doing this freighter thing for a while, and she’ll have you believe that she’s doing it for the money. And it’s true that she’s easier to be around when we’re not in debt… but then, who isn’t? But this thing with the Earthrise… it doesn’t make her happy. And we aren’t enough of a distraction from that.”
“And this role you want me to fill? Wouldn’t it be easier to suggest that she find another line of work?”
Sascha laughed. “You’ve known her long enough. You tell me if that would fly.”
Hirianthial considered it and smiled. “I suppose not. I’m still not certain where I come into this picture. My arrival wasn’t exactly auspicious.”
“Well, she was going to have that problem with her esophagus sooner or later, right?”
“Sooner, most probably,” Hirianthial said.
“So it’s not like you not being around could have prevented that. As it was you kept her alive. Not only that, but you kept her kicking.” The tigraine traced the rim of his cup. “This is kind of hard to explain. It’s more a feeling than anything I can point to directly. But it’s like having you around draws her out of herself. She’s more of everything on the outside, and less of it on the inside, where she can bottle it up.”
Which was the finest description of a common cause of physical ailment-inducing stress as Hirianthial had heard from a layman. “Granted that I make a good distraction, which I suppose I shan’t argue… there’s still the small matter of your captain not wanting me on her ship.”
“Oh, she didn’t mean that,” Sascha said with a wave of a hand. “She might have said it then but it was anger talking. If you come back she’ll still be angry but she’ll be more likely to keep you around. She’s fascinated by people who don’t go away. Besides, when you tell her that you don’t need her to pay you, she’ll have to relent.” The tigraine eyed him. “You don’t need to be paid, do you? You seem wealthy enough.”
“I can take care of my own needs,” Hirianthial said.
“So she won’t be able to object on those grounds,” Sascha said. “Plus we wouldn’t mind having a doctor around.”
“You’re certain you can convince your mistress to take me aboard?”
Sascha shook his head. “It’s not about me convincing her, me or anyone else. She didn’t really want to send you away. She never wants to do most of the things she forces herself to do by deciding them when she’s upset. It’s just that she feels trapped into following through on her promises. Even the stupid ones.”
The silent waiters arrived bearing a plate with a duck stuffed with rice, mushrooms and white broccoli in a blush wine sauce with cream and shallots. One of them carved the duck into pieces onto smaller dishes as the other poured Hirianthial his wine. They left after setting the plates before them, and though Hirianthial believed in Reese’s poverty he noted with interest that Sascha did not seem at all unaccustomed to being served.
“So you think she’ll change her mind,” Hirianthial said when they were alone. “You haven’t told me why I should do this.”
“I didn’t think I had to, Healer,” Sascha said. His yellow eyes flicked up to meet Hirianthial’s, and then demurely lowered again to his plate.
For a moment Hirianthial couldn’t move. Then he relented and laughed, low. “Why does she need me when she has you?”
“I may see clearly sometimes, but I’m still Harat-Shariin in my heart,” Sascha says. “I can’t see why she won’t do the things she should to make her happy because… well, I would in her place. I can’t help her. I can’t offer her solutions that she’d be willing to do.” He smiled without humor. “The humans wanted to create aliens when they made the Pelted and for the most part they failed… but I think the Harat-Shar actually are different enough from the rest of the Alliance to cause problems. We don’t love the way you love.”
“And you know something about how Eldritch love,” Hirianthial said.
“No, but I can guess,” Sascha said. “And I imagine a society that doesn’t even look fondly on doctors touching their patients isn’t all that conducive to the kind of love I would espouse.”
Hirianthial let that pass. “You’ve been with the Earthrise for some time now. Tell me how the days are spent there.”
Sascha spoke at length about the adventures of trading cargo and playing special courier to the occasional client; about the games Reese played with the thermostat to keep him and Irine from surprising her with their amorous interludes and their secret (if rather cramped) solution to that problem; how Kis’eh’t and Bryer’s arrival had changed the tenor of their workplace; and most of all about Reese, about Reese’s stubborn determination in the face of debt and disaster, her tendency to worry, her unexpected and clumsy displays of affection. It made a fine counterpoint to the meal. Hirianthial wasn’t certain when between stories Sascha found time to eat but the tigraine finished his meal around the same time Hirianthial set down his own fork.
As they waited for the server to return with the final bill, Sascha leaned forward. “So, did it work?”
Hirianthial finished the wine and printed the okay on the bill. He folded his napkin and set it on the table. “Let’s go talk to your mistress.”
Sascha beamed and scrambled to his feet.
Though the data tablet Irine had left her was supposed to have the information Reese had requested several times throughout their conversation about repairs, it was well over three hours before Reese could bring herself to pick it up and spread the file. Even after opening it, she didn’t look at the totals. Instead, she scanned the itemized list of things broken, things broken off, and things burned to bits with a growing sense of horror.
Then she glanced at the total.
Reese put the data tablet aside with a shaking hand and lay back on the bed. The ceiling above her had spiral patterns, lighter blue on cobalt. She traced them with her eyes, wondering who’d had the notion of painting the things there. Or was it a wallpaper? On the ceiling? Ceilingpaper? Maybe this was what insanity was like… a constant need to stare at inconsequential things and worry at their significance.
No, this was what denial was like.
Reese sighed and rubbed her forehead, dragged her hand over her nose and lips. The last time she’d been in debt this badly she’d had to accept a stranger’s money or admit that her venture had failed. She simply couldn’t accept that she could fail. No evidence would convince her that she wasn’t any good at merchanting… especially if it meant limping back home to her mother and grandmother and enduring their censure for using up her inheritance on her misguided determination to break free of the pattern of their lives. Their plan for her had involved her staying on Mars and continuing the Eddings clan with another anonymously-donated batch of sperm. That she’d had other plans had broken her mother’s heart and angered her grandmother, her aunts… even her nieces had found her outrageous.
She couldn’t go back. She’d have to find a way to pay for the repairs. Reese linked to her existing funds, scanning for the cheapest repair she could afford that would get her hobbling out of dock.
The Well Drive. She could repair that—
The Well Drive? Last she’d checked, she’d had enough money to buy protein bars and chalk tablets, not fin for one of the more expensive repairs on her list. Where had the money come from? Perplexed, Reese tagged the deposit and spread the note attached to it.
Glowing blue letters: Wire from account 0002178942 at station Terra Firma. Amount, 7500 fin.
The same account from the same place as the first anonymous donation she’d received.
Uh-oh… what could it mean!
We are $10 away from a Saturday post, as well as having had this one paid for… thank you all for keeping us rolling along! :)
Mirrored from MCAH Online.