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Her Instruments, Book 1
“We’ve discussed our next stop,” Sascha said.
“Just like you told us to,” Irine added.
Reese paused on the threshold of the mess hall to eye them both. Bryer and Kis’eh’t seemed far more innocent, sitting in their usual corners. Someone had turned on the sun lamp for Allacazam.
Hirianthial was behind her, shadowing her steps. Sometime between their discussion and her release he’d had his camellia tunic cleaned and was once again wearing it.
“And no doubt you’ve come to some conclusion I won’t like,” Reese said.
“We want to go someplace warm,” Kis’eh’t said.
“Paradisaical,” said Irine.
“With good access to the parts needed to fix things,” Bryer said.
“And this magical place is?” Reese asked, wary.
The twins looked at one another, then at the others. It was Sascha who spoke with a shrug. “Harat-Sharii.”
Reese laughed. “You’re jesting.”
“No!” Irine said. “No, our family’s always asking about the people we work with. They’d be glad to put you up, and then you wouldn’t have to pay for lodging. There’s enough land nearby to set the Earthrise down. I’m sure our train will cook for you, and there’s a city nearby to scrounge up assignments or work or what will you. And it is warm, and it is paradise and I know you’d like it, Reese.”
“It’s full of Harat-Shar!” Reese exclaimed. “Two of you are bad enough. A planetful of you? I might choke.”
“Actually the city near home has a sizable offworlder population,” Sascha said. “It’s one of the few places that serves tourists and non-native residents, so it’s not quite as outrageous as the rest of the world.”
“Not quite as outrageous,” Reese repeated.
“It’s as close to wading into the shallow end of the pool as you can get on the planet,” Sascha said. “But Irine’s right, boss. If we want to cut costs, being able to get free housing and a few free meals a day is going to win over just about any other scenario. Any we could come up with anyway. Maybe you or Prince Charming have some insights we don’t.”
Except that Reese didn’t, something she’d been mulling while staring at the patterned ceiling in the Medplex. She glanced at Hirianthial, but the Eldritch said only, “I’ve never been to Harat-Sharii. I admit to curiosity.”
“They’ll love you there,” Irine said.
“I’m not sure he’ll enjoy that,” Reese said. “Look, Sascha, Irine… I admit the free bed and board is very enticing, but it’s a little presumptuous to assume that your family’s going to want to sleep and feed six people, plus Allacazam.”
“I already called,” Irine said. “Mamer said you must all come immediately. And Mamari agrees.”
Taken aback, Reese said, “Well, then. Umm…”
“We have an invitation,” Hirianthial said. “Can it hurt to take it?”
Reese eyed him. “Have you seriously lived with homeworld-bred Harat-Shar?”
He smiled. “I can’t say I’ve had that particular pleasure. I have worked with them.”
“We’re much more fun the longer you keep us around!” Irine said.
“No doubt,” Hirianthial said.
Reese tried to imagine the Eldritch surrounded by striped and spotted Harat-Shar in various states of undress, that unfathomable dignity assaulted by their eager offers. The picture was delightful. “Free room and board it is,” Reese said.
Irine squealed and leaped over to crush Reese in an arm-and-tail hug. “You’ll love it, Reese, I promise!”
“Right,” Reese said. “Let’s just get there before Fleet does their number on Inu-Case.”
“And for that we need the Well Drive fixed,” Sascha said.
“I’ve gotten some people to come do the work,” Reese said. “It shouldn’t take them long. They’re used to overhauling Fleet ships ten times our size, so squeezing us in wasn’t a problem. We should be out of here in a week.”
“A week?” Kis’eh’t said. “That’s luck!”
“That’s not all of our luck,” Reese said. “They did it for five hundred fin less than I thought they would… which means all of you have a hundred and twenty-five each to go shopping.”
All of them cheered. Even Bryer let out a trill.
“It’s not much, but enjoy it,” Reese said. “And make sure you’re here when we’re done with the refits. The sooner we flee the scene of the crime, the happier I’ll be.”
“That makes six of us, I’m sure,” Kis’eh’t said, already up and lightly bouncing on her foot-pads.
“What are you waiting for?” Reese said. “Shoo!”
Hirianthial stepped aside as the four of them made for the door. He paused there. “Would you like lunch, lady?”
“You mean to go out to lunch?” Reese asked.
“There are good places nearby.”
It was tempting; how long had it been since she’d had other people prepare her food, serve it to her, do the dishes? But she wasn’t sure she wanted to spend that much time with Hirianthial, not before she’d had a chance to sort out her thoughts about him dropping into her life, changing it completely and then sewing up her bursting innards as an encore. Bad enough that she’d be stuck on the ship with him for the several weeks it would take to get back into the heart of Alliance space. Reese said, “Food sounds good, but I should really stay and oversee repairs.”
He nodded and left without another word, without trying to convince her to change her mind. She thought about being miffed. Then she realized she was hungry and she wasn’t sure if she had any dietary restrictions.
The man wasn’t in the hall.
“Curse it, how does he move so fast?” Reese muttered. “I guess it can wait.” She stopped by the sun lamp and crouched, running a hand along the shadowed lower half of Allacazam. “You full yet?”
The Flitzbe sent a contented, drowsy sensation, like napping in a pool of sunlight.
Reese grinned and snapped the light off. “I think that’s enough.”
A mournful bleat sounded in her head, like a broken set of bagpipes. “Oh, don’t be greedy,” Reese said, gathering him into her arms. “You can have more later. I need you with me while I wait for the contractors. You know how mind-numbing it is to sit at an airlock waiting for their version of “being on time.”
Drooping trees and gray skies. “Yes, that boring,” Reese said as she carried him toward the airlock. “Boring enough to kill trees.” A few leaves fell off the branches in the mental image. “Just like that.”
The small foyer outside their airlock was empty. Reese wondered how quickly her crew had rushed through it in their urge to enjoy the starbase’s amenities and grinned. “Well, at least they’re having fun,” she said.
“Is this the TMS Earthrise?”
Reese glanced up from Allacazam to find a young man in a tailored courier’s suit. A bag and a long case had been set at his feet. “I’m Captain Eddings of the Earthrise?”
“I’m delivering two pieces of luggage in care of your ship. Will you sign here for me?”
“I… sure,” Reese said, shifting Allacazam to her other arm and scribbling on the man’s tablet.
“Thanks,” he said and left.
Reese bent to examine the luggage and wasn’t even within range to touch them before she smelled the wisp of cologne. “I guess these are his,” she said, and Allacazam sent a trickle of blue and green agreement. The smaller bag looked like standard luggage for an Alliance citizen, a soft dark blue embroidered in bronze. The case, on the other hand… “Looks like an instrument case,” Reese said. “I wonder if he plays an instrument? I guess you would if you had centuries to develop new hobbies. I wonder what kind of instrument? Can you see him with a trumpet?” Allacazam painted a sparkling orange and gold amusement at the thought. “Nah, I don’t think so either. Should we look?”
The Flitzbe’s fur ruffled, turning dark gray.
“I guess that’s a no,” Reese said. “Ah well. We might as well deposit it in his room. You just roll along with me, okay?” The Flitzbe turned pink and she set him down before turning to the luggage. The bag’s strap she slung over one shoulder before turning to the case, thinking it looked unwieldy but otherwise not a problem. That was before she actually lifted it. “Blood and Freedom! If it’s a trumpet, it’s made of lead!”
Shaking her head, Reese climbed through the airlock and started down the hall. Halfway to the lift she switched hands on the case. That got her to the lift.
By the time she was outside Hirianthial’s new room she was dragging the case and both her arms hated her. She had no idea how Allacazam had managed to stay out of her way as she stumbled, tripped and pulled the weight of the case here. Getting the thing into his room took the last of her energy. Manhandling it onto his bunk was out of the question. Reese collapsed with her back to the wall and panted as Allacazam rolled in between her legs and bumped up against her stomach. The Flitzbe was bright orange with alarm.
“Okay, so maybe that was more exertion than I should have been doing fresh out of the Medplex,” she said, petting him. “But I got it here and I’m no worse for the wear.”
An image of a bent-up trumpet flashed in her mind and she winced. “Right. Let’s hope I did no damage.”
The thought entered her mind then, that she should check: not Allacazam, but her own rebellious curiosity. She honestly did want to make sure she hadn’t destroyed whatever important thing Hirianthial was carrying with him, but the curiosity remained foremost. She leaned forward over Allacazam’s body and examined the catches on the case. There were no locks; no adornment save for the tag from the luggage company. Reese flipped it over and paled at the name and shield stamped on it. She’d heard of the company, but never had anything valuable enough to warrant their prices for storage.
“Okay. Maybe I shouldn’t look,” she said.
Allacazam was silent.
But something Hirianthial cared enough about to have stored in secure and guarded lockers was important enough for her to ensure she hadn’t damaged it. Before she could talk herself out of it, Reese reached out and flipped one of the catches open.
No locks. No stops. If he cared so much about it, why didn’t he lock the case? Would she ever understand the man?
“All right,” Reese said. “Let’s just get it over with. A quick peek, just to make sure it’s okay.”
Allacazam turned a soft silvery gray. Reese ignored the reproach and flipped the second and third catches. She opened the lid and dropped it at the sight of the contents, rattling them. Of all the things she’d been expecting Hirianthial to be toting, weapons were not among them. Embarrassed, Reese said, “Well, at least they’re okay.”
The Flitzbe sounded a few bells in her mind. Reese couldn’t resist another look. This time she didn’t fumble the lid.
Not just any weapon, but bladed weapons. And not just one but four. She remembered pictures from her reading. The smallest one was a dagger, polished steel with a bronze hilt wrapped in burgundy cords. It had inset opals, winking like blue fire. The two pieces above it were too long to be daggers but too short to be swords; Reese had no idea what she’d call them, but she spent several minutes staring at her hazy reflection in the steel.
The blade above them was responsible for the unwieldy length of the case and most of its weight. Reese had never actually seen a sword in person; the cover illustrations she’d seen had made them look big, but she’d expected them to be exaggerations, like the extravagant length of hair they put on the maidens. This one had a wider tongue and a longer hilt, too… she could fit two of her hands on the hilt with room to spare. She couldn’t imagine lifting the thing.
But it wasn’t just that it was a sword, and the first sword she’d ever seen in person. It was the sense of use to the thing. She trailed her fingers over the wine-colored cords wrapping the hilt and they chafed… age had frayed them into patterns that suggested the grasp of a man’s hand. And the designs on the hilt and worked into the crossguards had worn away in places, making it unclear exactly what they were—ivy leaves? Random designs? Was that blue-tinged bronze a facing on something harder, or was the hilt actually made of it? And the opals… she’d never seen an opal quite the size of the one below the sword’s crossguards, and the setting holding it had been mashed where it met the cords.
“Blood above,” Reese whispered. “Real swords. Swords that someone uses.”
Allacazam’s gray-lilac agreement was so muted she almost didn’t sense it.
The crushed velvet that cushioned the weapons was a beautiful wine color, like Hirianthial’s eyes, and shiny in places where it had been pressed against the grain and flattened there. The inside of the lid had some sort of crest: a rearing hippogriff with forked tongue in bronze and burgundy, and below it a smaller mark, a unicorn in blue and silver.
“Not my business,” Reese said, closing the lid and securing the catches again. “Definitely not my business.”
Allacazam’s fur ruffled purple with worry, but in her mind she heard the tingle-chimes of his agreement.
“Now let’s see if we can’t get this thing on his bunk now that I’ve had a chance to rest.”
We have started Part 2 by going through someone else’s luggage! For shame, Reese. You should never ask questions you don’t want answers to. >.>
Oh, and the sword! Pictured here:
Mirrored from MCAH Online.