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Her Instruments, Book 1
She stared at the screen, struggling to throttle a growing indignation. The man who appeared in the corner of her eye proved a distraction she couldn’t decide whether to be thankful for or send away.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Eddings? I’m Rick Barringer, the ward doctor.”
Reese looked up at him: human, blocky build, silvering hair at his temples on a honey-yellow complexion and a mild and pleasant face. She curbed her irritation and managed, “I’ve been better, thanks.”
Immediate concern tempered the doctor’s voice. “Any pain? Burning? Nausea?”
“No, no,” Reese said, waving a hand. “Money troubles, not bodily ones.”
“Your visit here’s been paid for—”
“It’s not about this visit,” Reese said. She forced a smile. “So are you the doctor I have to thank for the new highway down my throat?”
“The new—oh!” He laughed. “No, not at all. Your personal physician took care of it. You’re lucky to have such a talented surgeon for a doctor. That’s rather rare.”
“Are you trying to tell me Hirianthial literally did the surgery?” Reese said, staring at him. “I thought he brought me here and gave me to you people. You let some random man do your job for you?”
Barringer chuckled. “You make it sound like you don’t know the credentials your doctor’s carrying around.” When Reese didn’t stop staring at him, he said, “You don’t? You actually have a doctor you didn’t check out?”
“He’s a guest, not an employee,” Reese said. “I haven’t exactly read up on his medical records.”
The man whistled. “Well, I’d encourage you to do that. Suffice to say he was more than qualified to stitch you back together. In fact, the Head of Surgery’s been wooing him since they tucked you into the halo-arch to recover. He’d never seen a defter hand on a Medimage platform.”
“He fixed me? His own hands?” Reese asked, unsure whether to feel used or relieved.
“With more care than a maid embroidering her wedding gown,” the man said. “It was almost as if he could tell when he was hurting you.” A flash of a grin. “Though I guess if the stories are right, maybe he could, eh?”
Reese stared at him.
“Whatever the case, we’ll release you tomorrow morning. Until then, try to relax, Ms. Eddings. Your body’s been through a lot, even if you feel fine.”
“And hey, here he is!” Barringer said, and then respectfully, “Lord Sarel Jisiensire… good to see you back. Does this mean you’ll be staying or are you visiting Ms. Eddings here?”
“Just visiting, I’m afraid. Thank you, alet,” Hirianthial said. Sascha was standing just behind him, and Reese could just guess what part the tigraine had in the reappearance of her unwanted guest.
“I’ll leave you alone, then,” Barringer said. “Feel better soon, Ms. Eddings.”
As soon as the human doctor left, Reese grabbed her data tablet and threw it at Hirianthial. The Eldritch caught it but from the whack of it against his fingers it must have stung. She was glad. “What the hell is going on with your Queen? I’m not some mercenary to be bought in installments!”
“My pardon, lady?” Hirianthial asked, and she thought she saw surprise in his eyes.
“She sent me money. More money! I am not going to be indebted to her again. What, does she want to send me racing around after every little lost Eldritch she’s got? Or is this an allowance for keeping you around?”
“I have no idea,” Hirianthial said, glancing down at the data tablet. Reese wished she’d shut off the link. She didn’t like him knowing just how poor she was. “Are you certain it’s from her?”
“It’s from the exact same place as it was last time.”
“But without any note? Any request?”
He actually sounded puzzled. She frowned. “Nothing. Just the money. It’s not as much as it was last time. Just enough to cover the Well Drive repair.”
Hirianthial was reading the figures. She sighed. Damned nosy Eldritch. No, damned nosy men… she could tell Sascha was eyeballing it from behind Hirianthial. While they studied the columns, she picked at some fuzz on the blanket. It reminded her of Allacazam; she hoped someone was taking care of the Flitzbe in her absence, that someone had told him she was okay. He’d be worried.
The data tablet slid onto the bench beside her bed with more noise than Hirianthial’d made getting there to place it. “Never fear, my lady. That was no earnest against future services.”
“No?” Reese asked, suspicious. “What is it, then?”
A faint smile crossed his lips. “A patron gift.”
“A what?” Reese exclaimed. “Like… like in books, when a duke gives his vassal a bag of coins for good work?”
“You’re acquainted with the concept?” Hirianthial asked, brows lifted a little. “Yes, just so. You’ve pleased her and she is showing her appreciation.”
“Wow,” Sascha said. “Her way of saying thank you is dropping enough money on us to fix the Well Drive? Angels, Reese! Make her thank you more!”
“I don’t think so,” Reese said. “I had to work too hard for that first thank-you. Besides, there’s still all the rest of the ship to fix and I don’t know where we’re going to get the money for that. Particularly at Core prices.”
“Core prices?” Sascha asked.
“Oh, yeah, you missed that part,” Reese said, rubbing her forehead. “A Fleet captain came by for our data on the pirate hide-out. Apparently slavers get grumpy with ships last seen fleeing them if Fleet comes down on them afterwards. It’s been suggested we find a nice cozy place to wait for a season or two.”
“Wow,” Sascha said again. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Reese said. “We’ll talk it over when I get out of here.”
“I’d like to come with you,” Hirianthial said.
Reese eyed him. “I thought I told you to leave.”
He rested his hands on the edge of the bench and leaned on them. “Your health is of great concern to me, lady.”
“Particularly after you stuck your fingers in my throat and stitched things up yourself?” Reese asked. “Since when are you a surgeon, anyway?”
“Since I was licensed to be one in two different specialties,” Hirianthial said.
“And you just happened to have one in esophageal surgery,” Reese said.
“No,” Hirianthial said. “Just in human surgery.”
She waved her hands, exasperated. “Fine, okay. I can see that. But I absolutely can’t afford to feed you—”
“—he’s got money, boss,” Sascha said.
Reese pointed a finger at him. “You stay out of this. In fact, you go back to the ship right now and start asking people where we should go for four months to hide from slavers. Right now!”
“Okay,” Sascha said, then added, “But I’m voting for him to stick around.”
“This is not a democracy!”
“If you say so, boss.”
Turning from his disappearing tail, Reese glowered at Hirianthial, arms folded over her chest. His face remained serene, almost unreadable.
Almost. She thought she saw a trace of sorrow in his merlot eyes. How many years had it taken to incise the lines beneath them? When he laughed she could see wrinkles framing his cheeks that made it seem as if he’d laughed often, but she couldn’t find those lines now. How long had it been since he’d been that merry youth? Were those hidden lines what made him seem so sad?
“Let me guess,” Reese said. “You’ve got no other place to go.”
A flicker of a smile, then. It didn’t reach his eyes.
“Fine,” Reese said. “Just don’t make too much of this, okay? I’m giving you a place to stay until you figure out where you’re going next.”
“As you say, lady.”
“And it’s not lady, it’s captain.”
He bowed. “As you will.”
“I’m going to regret this,” Reese said, though she hadn’t planned on saying it out loud.
“I humbly hope not,” he said, and added, “Captain.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Reese said.
And that concludes Part 1 of the book! Tuesday we start Part 2! The kitty is currently empty, but I will keep you updated on donations and the extra posts they trigger. :)
Mirrored from MCAH Online.