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Jelaza Kazone


“Hello, cat.”

Theo bent down to offer her finger to the feline in question—a plushy grey with four white feet, presently at full stretch on the window seat. She had to pull the sleeve up on her jacket, to get the cuff out of way.

The cat lifted her head and touched her nose to the tip of Theo’s finger, then looked up at her with squinched yellow eyes.

Theo smiled back, absurdly warmed by the simple welcome.

Not that she’d been made to feel unwelcome, here in Delm Korval’s house. She’d come at a bad time, which she’d known, but—necessity, as Father would say—as he had said, actually, and Delm Korval had agreed.

The first complexity, absent the several she’d brought with her, hoping that the Delm could help her: Delm Korval wasn’t one person, but two, a man and a woman, lifemated—a relationship Theo wasn’t really sure she had precisely straight and—the man . . .

“Allow me to make you known to my son, your brother,” Father had said, like it was perfectly natural. “Here is Val Con yos’Phelium, and his lifemate, your sister, Miri Robertson.”

A brother . . . Theo had blinked. She might also have gaped.

Jen Sar Kiladi had been Kamele’s onagrata for all of Theo’s life. He was her genetic father, which wasn’t always the case on Delgado, and he had never once mentioned that he’d been attached to another woman—before. At least, Theo thought, not to her.

Now that she thought about it, of course Father would have been someone else’s onagrata—even several someone else’s. Kamele had used to say that he was an “acquired taste,” in that half-joking, half-exasperated tone she used when he’d done something particularly out of the way. Despite that, Theo did know that Father had been approached by at least two highly placed scholars, who could, as her listening-at-doors best friend Lesset had said knowingly, afford to please themselves. He had—obviously—refused them. And Theo, silly kid that she’d been, had just assumed that he had always been with Kamele . . .

Yet here stood Val Con, a slender, brown-haired pilot somewhat her elder, who disputed Father not one whit, but merely inclined his head formally, and murmured, “Sister Theo. I am all joy to see you.”

“Kind of a shock, I know,” Miri had added, sympathetically. “Not too long ago, I didn’t have any kin at all. Now I got sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and who knows who through him,” she jerked her head at Val Con. “And more cousins than you can shake a survival blade at on the other side.” She grinned. “You’ll get used to it.”

Theo wasn’t so sure, and was immediately made even less sure by the interruption of the eight-foot Clutch Turtle, who had been watching the proceedings with interest, forgotten, if you could believe something so large standing in plain sight could be forgotten until the moment it—he—chose to speak.

“Sister of my brother and of my sister, I greet you! I am Twelfth Shell Fifth Hatched Knife Clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Speakmaker’s Den, The Edger. In the short form, I am called Edger. May I know your name?”

His big voice buffeted her like a sudden wind. Theo looked up—way up—into yellow eyes the size of her head, with slit vertical pupils, like a cat’s.

Her name? She’d dared to dart a look to Father, who looked back at her blandly, which meant that he thought she could figure it out for herself.

She cleared her throat.

“My name is Theo Waitley,” she said slowly, as she tried to remember the little bit she’d read about Clutch Turtles. Something about the shells—they kept growing, wasn’t that it? So that a Turtle with a largish shell, like this—like Edger—would be . . . older than she was, anyway. And the names, like the shells, kept getting bigger, as the person gathered achievements.

“I’m young,” she said, hoping that she wasn’t just about to be rude, “and just beginning my name.”

The big yellow eyes blinked, first one, then the other. Theo swallowed.

“It is well said,” Edger pronounced, “modest and seemly. I look forward to learning your name as it grows, Theo Waitley.”

“Thank you,” she managed, relief making her already shaky knees shakier.

“It is I who thank you,” he assured her, and about then Val Con suggested that she take a few moments’ rest in the morning room while he and Miri attended to some necessary business.

Father slipped his hand under her elbow and guided her into the house, down a hall and into this room, where there were handwiches laid out under cool covers, with pastries and fruits on outlying plates. Beverages included tea, coffee, fruit juice, water.

“The delm will send for you when they are able to give you the attention you deserve,” Father had told her. “If a parent may suggest it, perhaps you might partake of the food on offer, and practice board-rest until you are called.”

Theo bit her lip against a sudden urge to cry. He was leaving her? She’d just found him!

“Won’t—will you stay?” she managed.

He shook his head, his smile regretful. “Alas. There is so much to do that even an indolent old man has been pressed into providing what poor service he might.” He touched her cheek. “I will see you again, before you leave, Theo. Rest now—and eat something.”

She’d eaten something—a nut-butter and jelly handwich, which tasted so good that she had another. After the second was gone, she was thirsty, so she’d drawn a glass of water—no more tea, she told herself firmly—and, too restless to attempt the nap she was starting to feel the need of, wandered over to the window . . . where she discovered the cat.

“Do you mind,” she asked, gently rubbing a pointed ear, “if I sit here with you? I promise not to take up too much room.”

The cat smiled again, which Theo took for a yes. Carefully, she curled into the corner, drawing her knees up onto the cushion. The window was open, one half swung out into the day, admitting a light breeze saturated with the scents of the flowers in their orderly beds along the lawns.

She settled her shoulder more comfortably into the corner and considered the view, trying to decide if it were better than the barely controlled growth of the inner garden she had just lately quit.

It was certainly, she thought, different. Like her present situation. If she’d taken time to analyze it, of the three problems she brought to Delm Korval, the one that was least likely to have been solved immediately was the puzzle of Father’s whereabouts.

Except, she reminded herself, that Father was Val Con’s father, too. Sleepily, she wondered after Val Con’s mother. She tried to work out whether she had a formal-to-Liadens relationship with the mother of her brother, but the sun and the breeze and her general state of exhaustion defeated her efforts.

Theo sighed, closed her eyes, and nodded off.

The cat stretched, rose lazily and ambled across her knees to her lap, where she matter-of-factly curled up, purred briefly, and resumed her nap.

- - - - -

Daav yos’Phelium Clan Korval, as he was once again named, entered the final data-string and sat back in the desk chair, waiting for what his inquiries might bring.

Many years ago, this room had been his office—as much his as anything else in a dwelling that had housed generations before him and, with a smile from the luck, generations after. It had, according to the note on the door, been tied down and cleared for transport. He opened the door, discovering thereby that the note was accurate; though it was but the work of moments to liberate desk and chair, and to bring the computer, still gratifyingly able to find the planet-net, online.

That same computer now chimed, requesting his attention. He leaned forward and touched a key to accept the queued files.

Theo’s license, of course, was an open book to one who was not only a Master Pilot, but who had the use of Korval’s access codes. The records of her ship, proud Arin’s Toss, even now resting at Solcintra Port . . . those were trickier.

Daav was no stranger to trickery, and he possessed what was very nearly a supernatural touch with a research line. Still, whoever had the ultimate keeping of Arin’s Toss had taken great care to be discreet, and he didn’t like to force the issue, when doing so might lose Theo her employment.

She came very quickly, commented the voice only he could hear. Did you expect her so soon, Daav?

“I hardly know that I expected her at all,” he answered. “A pilot new-come to first class surely has better things to do than to be wondering after the whereabouts of her aged father.”

Kamele must have written, Aelliana said, to tell her that Jen Sar had gone.

That, he conceded, was very probably how it had been, and what Kamele’s state of mind might be at this point in her relationship with Theo’s father, he found himself reluctant to imagine. As she was a woman of great good sense, it was likely that she wanted to murder him—for which he would blame her not at all.

Ought we to write? Aelliana asked.

“How would we begin to explain ourselves? We will seem either mad or craven.” He shook his head, frowning at the screen. “And truly, Aelliana, it seems a poor Balance, to involve Kamele in Korval’s little unpleasantness.”

There were those who wanted Korval—all of Korval—dead, or worse. There were those; their number and disposition as yet unknown. And Kamele, who had lived all of her life on a Safe World . . .

“Perhaps it’s best to let that connection die.”

How? Aelliana asked. Theo has found us.

There was that.

Daav sighed.

“I propose that we plunge our ship into a sun and have done.”

Inside his head, Aelliana laughed. That never works.

His lips twisted toward a smile, then straightened as the door opened.

“Father,” Val Con said from the threshold, “may I come in?”

“By all means! I have here for your perusal Pilot Waitley’s tale thus far. The ship’s is murkier, and I hesitate to push my point.”

“How murky, I wonder?” Val Con asked, coming cat-foot to the desk.

Daav spun the screen, watching his son’s face as he took in the data. One eyebrow twitched; he hitched a hip onto the edge of the desk and leaned to touch the scroll bar.

“The pilot is . . . conservative,” he murmured. “That hardly seems like us.”

“The pilot was taught young to distrust herself and to set the good of the many before her own necessities.”

“Hm,” said Val Con, touching a key. “Hugglelans Galactica, second to Pilot Rig Tranza”—he looked up—“who appears also to have been conservative, and unwilling to push the pilot beyond her comfort. An odd sort of care, from elder pilot to junior.”

Daav tipped his head.

“Yes?” Val Con murmured.

“Pilot Waitley was . . . let us say, rusticated from Anlingdin Piloting Academy. I believe the phrase was ‘nexus of violence.’ ”

Val Con smiled. “Now that,” he said, “sounds more the thing.”

“Yes,” Daav said earnestly, “but recall that she was gently raised—unlike yourself—and taught to honor safety above sense. Such a dismissal, and in such terms—it would not be wonderful if the pilot had entered a period of . . . overcompensation.”

“Thus requiring a deft touch of Pilot Tranza.” Val Con looked back to the screen and touched the scroll bar. “Yes, it might be read that way. Well.”

He was silent for a moment of study.

Arin’s Toss, out of Waymart, as all good ships must be out of Waymart. Owned by . . .” He paused, then looked to Daav, his face exquisitely bland. “Crystal Energy Consultants?”

“Thus my reluctance to probe further.”

“I understand. Perhaps the pilot will be forthcoming.”

“If a father may say it, she is rarely elsewise. Speaking of whom—has she broken the furniture from boredom yet?”

“When I stopped in the morning parlor just now, she was asleep on the window seat, with Merlin’s assistance.”

“Excellent,” Daav said, feeling not only his relief, but Aelliana’s.

“Indeed. Now.” Val Con straightened, and gave Daav a stern look from vivid green eyes. “What odds that the pilot’s sole reason for arriving here is yourself?”

“Low,” Daav returned promptly. “She had said whatever trouble she carries is complicated—and she is a truthful child. Her father vanishing from the arrangement she has known all her life is fairly straightforward, however distressing.”

“As I have cause to know.” Val Con sighed. “What part, if any, does the delm play in those matters that might lie between Theo Waitley and her father?”

“None at all. Theo and I shall deal between us, as we have always done.”

“Ah. And Theo’s mother?”

Daav glanced slightly aside.

“Your mother and I had just been discussing that.”

“That’s fortunate. I don’t suppose you’ve achieved a solving?”

“Alas,” Daav answered, and met Val Con’s eyes. “We were not, you know, a very good delm.”

“Yes, so I read in the Diaries, and so did Uncle Er Thom instruct me,” his son returned, with a certain amount of acid.

Seated, Daav bowed, allowing irony to be seen.

“If Theo should petition the delm for her father’s return?” Val Con asked after a moment.

“Korval does not command Kiladi,” Daav answered.

Val Con shook his head.

“No, that will not do! Should she ask, it will be in terms of her father, which leaves no room for melant’i games—and is precisely what I would ask, myself, were our positions reversed.”

Daav sighed. “If the delm will humor us—remand all questions and demands that Theo may put forth regarding her father to me. It is true that we have left some untidiness behind and would make what amends we might—but those difficulties are outside of the clan.”

There was a pause—a very long pause, as Daav reckoned it—before Val Con inclined his head.

“Unless and until the matter is brought specifically to the delm’s attention, you and Mother may pursue your own Balance,” he said. “But, mark me, Father; if it comes to Korval, it will be solved—and fully.”

“Of course,” Daav said, and smiled.

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