Back | Next


Arin’s Toss

Solcintra Port


“Would you like some tea?” Theo asked, leading the way up the hall toward the heart of Arin’s Toss.

“Thank you,” Father said from behind her, “Tea would be most welcome.”

She nodded and swung into the galley, waving at him to go on up to the pilot’s chamber.

Tea quick, she told him in hand-talk. Be easy on my ship.

“Thank you,” Father said again. He passed on, leaving Theo to wonder what she’d done that had made his eyebrow quirk.

The tea was brewing before she considered the security aspects. To give an unaffiliated pilot access to the bridge of her employer’s ship, unmonitored and unescorted—that was—it wasn’t proper ship security. She had a feeling that, to Uncle’s way of thinking, it went double.

On the other hand, this particular unaffiliated pilot was Father.

Father wouldn’t—

Leave his classes in the middle of the term? she asked herself. Walk away from Kamele and the cats and his house—his car—with no warning and no word of explanation?

Her stomach cramped. Father was—Father had been . . . a rock. A stickler. He didn’t tolerate lies, or excuses, or—or sneaking behavior. He—

The teapot tweeted. Theo swallowed, and took a deep breath. Inner calm, she told herself.

Carefully, she got the mugs down, and poured. There was an explanation for what Father had—why he had left in such . . . disorder. A perfectly rational, perfectly understandable reason. All she had to do was ask him, which she fully intended to do, not only for her own peace of mind, but for Kamele’s.

In the meantime, she told herself firmly, picking up the mugs and slipping out of the galley, she refused to believe that he would sabotage her ship.

Father was standing in the center of the small bridge, hands tucked into the pockets of his jacket. If he was considering the board and the arrangement of the drowsing screens, it was no more than any pilot would do—from professional curiosity, if no other reason. He turned, quick and neat, when she entered, and smiled.

“Please,” Theo said, relief making her formal, “take the copilot’s chair.”

Father’s eyebrow twitched again, but he only inclined his head, matching her formality.

“Thank you,” he said, and seated himself gracefully, keeping his hands specifically away from the board. Theo handed him a mug and settled into the pilot’s seat.

They savored the first sip in silence, then Father looked about him.

“She seems well cared-for. How do you find her spirit?”

Theo had another sip of tea, considering.

“Willing,” she said. “We’ve only had this one job together—a rush, like I said. There wasn’t anything I asked from her that she didn’t give.”

“And in return asked much of her pilot,” Father murmured, meaning that she’d arrived in port just yesterday strung out and wobbly from too many Jumps taken too close together.

“Pilot’s choice,” she pointed out. “The ship can only fly the course the pilot lays in.”

Father inclined his head. “True. Though some ships make the pilot’s choice too easy.” He sipped his tea and sighed gently. “An excellent blend.” He looked up, black eyes sharp.

“I wonder,” he said, “do you trust her?”

Theo blinked. “The Toss? Why wouldn’t I?”

“No reason,” he answered. “And it is perhaps impertinent of me to ask. The relationship between a pilot and her ship is, of course, very personal.”

Theo considered the last ship she’d served on. Rig Tranza had loved Primadonna better than air itself. She had respected the ship; she supposed their relationship had been . . . cordial. And trusting, yes. She had trusted Primadonna, because she’d trusted Rig Tranza.

Arin’s Toss, though . . .

“Too soon to know,” she decided at last, looking into Father’s face. “Though I don’t distrust her.”

“Fairly said. I wonder, do you trust your employer?”

Did she trust Uncle? Theo bit her lip, her fingers itching for needle and thread, as they seldom did of late. Lace-making helped her think, and to sort her feelings out. Recently, though, she’d been too busy to relax into the old habit.

“Too soon to tell about him, too,” she said, slowly. “We have . . . aligned purposes, so I trust him . . . to a point.” She paused. “Val Con said he doesn’t. Trust Uncle.”

“You must hold him excused,” Father murmured. “There is a long history between Korval and the Uncle—and it is Val Con’s duty to be suspicious on behalf of kin and clan.”

Theo sipped her tea, then set the mug into the chair-arm cup holder, and looked up decisively.

As if he had not only seen her decisiveness, but divined her purpose, Father sighed, and slotted his mug as well.

“I haven’t long before I must find my ship and lift,” he said quietly. “You had best ask it, Theo.”

Like there was only one question to ask, when she had a dozen—Why did you leave? Why didn’t you tell Kamele? Why didn’t you tell me? What happened? When—

“When are you going home?” As soon as she said the words, she knew it was the wrong question.

Father, however, tipped his head, as if considering it seriously, despite its obvious flaws, then raised his eyes to hers: “Jen Sar Kiladi,” he said gently, “will not be returning to Delgado. The house on Leafydale Place, and all the rest of his possessions, have passed into your mother’s keeping.”

“She wrote to let me know that—and that you’d gone, without a word to her—without even a letter, after you—after you’d come to safe port.” Theo swallowed. “Father—no matter what . . . obligations you have to Delm Korval, you’ve got to at least write to her.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s wise, Theo.”

“Not wise?” She stared at him. “Do you know how angry Kamele is?”

“I can make an estimation; certainly she has cause to be very angry, indeed.”

“But you think it’s not wise to write to her—or visit—and tell her why you—what was so important that you left your classes, your research; committed—Father, you’ll never find another post! And your work . . .”

“Kiladi’s work is solid,” he interrupted. “If duty called him suddenly away, it will not be the first time in the history of scholarship that such a thing has happened. More, his students continue what he has begun, as they in their turn teach those who come after, while those who become scholars build upon and solidify his research. Balance is achieved.”

Theo sat back, suddenly cold, and studied his face. He looked calm—sad, maybe—and entirely sane. But—

“You’re talking about Kiladi like he’s not you,” she said carefully.

“Ah.” He leaned forward slightly, one hand out, the silver puzzle ring he always wore gleaming on his smallest finger.

Theo slipped her hand into his, felt the warmth of his fingers, and for a moment, she was a littlie again, and Housefather Kiladi was promising that he wouldn’t let her fall. And she hadn’t, she realized; she hadn’t ever once fallen while she was holding Father’s hand.

“Theo, please look at me,” he said now. She raised her eyes to his.

“Good. My birth name is Daav yos’Phelium Clan Korval. Jen Sar Kiladi is . . . something more than a fabrication, but very much less than an actuality.”

She blinked, her stomach fluttering like she’d stepped from one gravity state to another.

“You lied,” she said, her voice unsteady. “You lied to Kamele.” And to me . . .

He bowed his head, his fingers still warm around hers.

“In short, yes. I lied to Kamele, to you, to my colleagues, my students and everyone to whom I spoke across the last twenty Standards. Necessity existed.”

Necessity?” That was a Liaden thing, and very serious; she knew that—had known it from a child. Even if she hadn’t known that you never lied to Father about necessity, she would have learned it at Anlingdin, from Kara, who joked about many Liaden customs, but not about necessity—and never about Balance.

“It was not, I admit,” Father said, “Kamele’s necessity. Or your own.” He paused, then continued in that soft way he sometimes had—like Val Con! Theo thought—“I will add that Balance would have faltered, without Kamele, and, later, yourself.”

Theo took a hard breath, trying to swallow her—anger, was it? or sadness?—trying to think, even if she couldn’t precisely at this moment understand.

“Father—whatever your name is here—you were Jen Sar Kiladi. Mother—Kamele—deserves an explanation.”

He tipped his head. “Perhaps you are right. However, I am not the one to give it to her,” he said softly.

Anger flared again. Theo snatched her hand away from his.

“If you won’t write to her, I will!” she snapped.

His mouth tightened, and he leaned back in the copilot’s chair.

“You will naturally do as you think right,” he said. “If you do send, I will ask that you send the truth.”

“Of course I’ll tell Kamele the truth!”

“Then hear it.” His voice was nearly grim, not a tone she was accustomed to hearing from Father.

Theo forced herself to sit back in the pilot’s chair, and picked up her tea. She sipped, glad that the mug had kept the liquid warm, and sipped again. Inner calm, she told herself, and put the mug aside.

“All right,” she said. “What’s the truth?”

“It is, as I believe the phrase goes, complicated. In short, because time flies, and soon we must, as well . . .” He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.

“Very well,” he said, opening his eyes.

“Some years ago,” he said slowly, “Daav yos’Phelium, then an apprentice Scout, accepted a wager, the terms of which had him create and maintain an alternate persona, which was to remain active in the world until it was discovered to be a deception. That persona was Jen Sar Kiladi, and he was only once, until now, exposed.

“In the fullness of time, the Ring fell to Daav yos’Phelium, and he took up the melant’i and the duties of the Delm of Korval. A few years after that, he and his true lifemate were joined. Together they steered the clan as best as they were able.” He paused. “Do you understand what I mean, Theo, when I say ‘lifemate’?”

She cleared her throat. “Val Con said that they—he and Miri—share thoughts, feelings and memories.” She shuddered.

“It sounds—” horrifying, she’d been about to say, swallowing the word only to have her fingers shape the phrase not regular.

“So I considered it, at first.” Father inclined his head. “You will find that human beings can accommodate themselves to all manner of odd conditions, if there is joy involved.”

Theo nodded. “Val Con said that it felt perfectly natural, now,” she admitted.

“And so I came to find it. Understand that, because of . . . a trauma visited upon my lifemate in her early life, ours was a less . . . complete sharing than that which Val Con and Miri enjoy. This was later found to be fortunate, for some value of fortune.

“However damaged, our link sufficed us. My lady ran courier, and I sat her second. When she discovered the existence of Jen Sar Kiladi, she insisted that his scholarship continue, and that he be allowed to teach. She schemed with me to insure that these things came about, and that no one put Daav yos’Phelium and Jen Sar Kiladi together.”

He sighed, reached for his mug and drank while Theo recruited herself to wait.

Placing the mug back in the holder, he threw her a knowing black glance. “I will contrive to make more haste, and thank you for your patience. So!

“In due time, Val Con was born. My lady and I continued as delm, taking work as couriers when other duties allowed. Kiladi taught the odd seminar, while turning most of his energies to research.”

Father closed his eyes.

“When Aelliana was murdered, our link was not—quite—robust enough to ensure that I also died of her wounds. I . . . survived. And thus it was left to me to Balance her death.”

He opened his eyes, but Theo didn’t think he was seeing her.

“Say for today that ignorance killed her and that Jen Sar Kiladi was uniquely placed to sow the seeds of enlightened thought. In a passion of grief, Daav yos’Phelium Jumped his lifemate’s ship into a star, leaving his small son and his clan in the hands of his brother and his brother’s lifemate.

“At about that time, in a different location, Jen Sar Kiladi decided to reenter the classroom and spread the truth of cultural genetics. He eventually came to Delgado as the Gallowglass Chair. There he met and came to love Kamele Waitley, with whom he had a daughter, now a pilot in her own right, and of whom he is rather unbecomingly proud.”

He spread his hands; the silver ring flashed.

“The rest is quickly told—Clan Korval fell into desperate trouble, which you know from the news feeds, and I—I received information which led me to fear that Delgado might not be safe for either of my personas. Worse, by continuing as I had been, I might actively endanger Kamele Waitley, who surely deserved far better of me.”

He inclined his head.

“There you have the truth.”

Yes, it is complicated, Theo Waitley. Val Con’s voice echoed in her head. Congratulations. Truly, you are of the Line. Theo hiccuped, not sure if she was going to laugh, cry, or yell when she opened her mouth.


She shook her head. “I can’t tell Kamele that.”

Father sighed. “Nor can I.”

“For one thing, I’m not sure I believe it.”

“Certainly, it is not believable, unless one has the direct experience,” he said, overpolitely.

He rose then, fingers dancing out the signs for duty calls; ship must lift.

Theo stood; Father reached into an inner jacket pocket and withdrew a data key, which he put on the lip of the copilot’s board.

“The tale of your genes,” he murmured, “as well as other information which you might find of interest.”

“Thank you,” she said, feeling the weight of his story on her, torn between the habit of believing him and the sheer . . . improbability of what he had said.

She walked with him to the hatch, and triggered the lock. He stepped out onto the gantry, and turned to face her.

“Theo, I hope—” he paused, as if he were at a loss for words, but Father was never at a loss for words.

“I hope that you will come to us, on Surebleak,” he said after a moment, “when you are able. And I hope that you will . . . find it possible to forgive me.” He bowed, the brief, affectionate bow she remembered from her childhood.

“Good lift, Pilot,” he said.

“Safe landing.” She gave the proper response mechanically, but Father was already gone, moving silent as a shadow down the ramp.

Theo triggered the hatch, locked it, and leaned her head against the cold metal.

When she was certain that she wasn’t going to cry, she straightened, and went back to the bridge to begin the process of waking up her ship.

* * *

Bringing the Toss online, running the checks, negotiating with Tower for the quickest lift out—the routine soothed her. There was no room for anger or confusion, or that faint, frightening sense of loss. She was a pilot, and her ship needed her.

The bottom left-hand screen showed traffic moving at an unprecedented rate. The sky, if she bothered to change the view, would be black with ships. She left the visualizer up while she did her research, finding to her chagrin that Val Con’s suggestion of an orbit beyond Outyard Eight was her best option for a quick departure. That wasn’t surprising—Val Con was a pilot, after all, and this was his home port—but she would have rather found another easily acquired, acceptable orbit to wait for Uncle’s next instructions. It probably wasn’t, she thought, a good idea for Val Con to catch the notion that he was boss of her.

General band was on full audio, for company—and to fill the chinks in her backbrain not occupied by caring for her ship. She would think about what Father had told her; she would think about it objectively, and advertently. She would. But not now. Now, her ship was ready to lift, as soon as Tower got back to her with a heading.

Visible in her top right screen was the Clutch asteroid, Clan Korval’s transport, moving deliberately down the sky. It was, predictably, the number one topic of conversation across the band.

“Two holes in the planet, as the Dragon’s parting gift,” someone near at hand commented.

“Lose a house, gain a lake,” someone else answered.

“What of Trealla Fantrol?” asked a third. “The vector’s wrong for a pickup there.”

“Haven’t you seen the news feeds? The dramliz unmade Trealla Fantrol; there’s nothing but a stretch of meadowland on the satellite images, surrounded by the formal gardens.”

Trealla Fantrol? Theo frowned. The name was familiar, but she—right. Jeeves had been built as the butler for Trealla Fantrol, then reassigned to Jelaza Kazone—

Because Trealla Fantrol wasn’t going to make the journey to Surebleak.

She glanced at the top right screen. The asteroid was perceptibly closer to the horizon. Her fingers tapped on the pad imbedded into the board, making a note to research dramliz and unmade.

Arin’s Toss!” Tower was sounding rushed and bad-tempered.

Theo flicked the toggle.

Arin’s Toss here,” she said, keeping her voice cool and businesslike. “Theo Waitley, pilot.”

“You are in-queue for lift to orbit beyond Stationary Repair Yard Number Eight. Acknowledge.”

Theo threw a glance at the board countdown, and felt a thrill of adrenaline. Going in less than five minutes. She touched a button, pulling up the lift queue, lips pursed in a silent whistle. Tower was tossing ships into the air like handfuls of pebbles. Every pilot had better be sharp; the tolerance for error was slightly less than whisker-thick.

“Acknowledge receipt of departure time and route,” Theo said, her fingers feeding in the coords.

“Wait for my mark, Arin’s Toss,” Tower snapped.

Ride the Luck acknowledges,” a deep, achingly familiar voice came across the ship band. “Daav yos’Phelium sitting second.”

Theo swallowed in a suddenly tight throat, opened a local insert in the bottom left screen and tapped a query. The image zoomed, showing a Class A Jump with high, showy lines, and—Theo zoomed the image again—Yes! Whatever yard had added her guns was good; the work was subtle, not arrogant. Ride the Luck didn’t invite a fight, but she would finish anything that was forced on her.

She tapped the ship’s name for more info, found the confirm for Daav yos’Phelium sitting second, pilot-owner . . .

Aelliana Caylon. Theo stared at the name, feeling kind of gone in the stomach. Aelliana Caylon—the genius who had revised the ven’Tura Piloting Tables and made space safe again for pilotkind.

Val Con’s mother had been one of the foremost mathematicians of—of the last Standard Century.

Arin’s Toss, on my mark!” Tower snarled.

“Ready!” Theo put her attention on the board.


She gave the Toss her office, hurtling upward like there was no such thing as gravity, keeping tight to the course.

In the insert at the bottom of the left-hand screen, she saw Ride the Luck leap into the sky a heartbeat behind her, then all of her attention was claimed by flight.

Back | Next