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Runcible System

Daglyte Seam

Reports arrived . . . erratically, painting a picture of a communication system in severe disarray. Agents arrived, and were debriefed. Many more did not arrive, and that was . . . worrisome.


Commander of Agents sat in her office, telling over history and data points.

Department of Interior Prime Headquarters was gone, destroyed by Korval and the agents of Korval, the names and affiliations of whom had been noted by those who were left to shoulder duty and carry forward the Plan.

The Plan.

The Plan encompassed the breaking of Clan Korval. Break Korval and Liad wavered. Indeed, what had they of the Department accomplished, but precisely that? Korval was on its knees, banished from the homeworld, its power base destroyed.

As a result, the homeworld stumbled, and became more susceptible to manipulation. Agents of the Department who had long trained for this day were even now exploiting these new advantages.

It would seem then that the Department had realized a victory. However, the victory had cost more—considerably more—than Command had budgeted. The loss of Prime Headquarters, of the Commander’s predecessor, the arsenal—these losses were not by any count trivial.

But Clan Korval was, for the first time in the Department’s history, disadvantaged.


Unfortunately, they were not the only piece at risk on the board. Indeed, it was precisely as if the Department and Korval were engaged in a game of Mirror-Me.

If the Department must mend communications, as it surely did—so, too, must Korval.

If the Department must attach new allies, and construct a new base of power, so, too, must Korval.

If the Department must regain its strength . . .

. . .so, too, must Korval.

Commander of Agents drew a deliberate breath and closed her eyes.

Korval must not be allowed to regain even a tithe of its strength. If the Department wished to rid itself of this troublesome impediment to the Plan, then it must strike while Korval was most vulnerable.

It could be done. Commander of Agents had run the models; she had taken advice from those seniors who remained to her. There were those who believed that the Department must build its strength, that to do otherwise risked the eventual ascendancy of the Plan.

These arguments were not without merit. The Commander might herself have favored a period of quiet regrouping, had it not been for Korval’s place in the equation.

No, they must press their advantage, firmly. Immediately. Korval must be removed.

The Department therefore would move forward, under the Adjusted Plan.

There were three prongs to this Plan.

One: Prevent Korval from building a position of strength at its new base, while harrying those of, and those affiliated with, Korval wherever they were encountered.

Two: Strengthen the Department; mend the disrupted lines of communication, re-establish order, mend those gaps made by the Scouts, who were a-hunt, having tasted blood at Nev’Lorn. Purchase allies.

Three: Renew and intensify the search for operating Old Technology. Secondary Headquarters must be well defended. Impregnable.

The Department would prevail.

That was the Planned outcome.

- - - - -

From Denko to Gondola was four Jumps, but, unlike the mad race to Liad, the deadline allowed for some normal-space between Jumps. Which was probably, Theo thought, a healthier way to fly. She guessed she could push things, if she wanted, and she might, during the latter bit. Right now, though . . .

Right now, she had a couple of projects to address, besides researching Gondola to see if there was anything there worth logging extra dirt-time.

She tapped a key. The screens still showed Jump grey, countdown in the lower left corner of Number One. It was convenient, using the copilot’s station as her personal office; it kept her close to first board, so she could keep an eye on things. She’d programmed the ship’s clock with incremental reminders, so she didn’t forget to eat, or to exercise—or to sleep. It wasn’t quite the same thing as having another pilot sharing the shifts out. The trade was that she didn’t have to accommodate another person’s habits, and for the time being, at least, it was good to be alone.

Her first project was to see what the Toss had archived on Liaden language and culture—specifically melant’i, lifemating, and the office of the delm. Her goals were to be able to keep track of her own score, the next time she met Val Con, and she’d know exactly what kind of hold he and Miri had over Father.

Her second project was to access the information Father had given her. The tale of your genes, he’d said.

She pulled the data key out of her pocket, and caught her breath, recalling the house on Leafydale Place with a longing she hadn’t felt for years. Like it had just happened, she remembered Kamele holding out the Gigneri packet and speaking the ritual phrase: Here is the tale of those who went before.

. . .of course, on Delgado, that meant the maternal line. Father . . . she had the certificate, formalizing Jen Sar Kiladi as her paternal gene-donor. That was how they did things, on Delgado. If your father did happen to be Jen Sar Kiladi, you also got one of his sweetest smiles, and a soft, I am proud that you are my daughter.

Theo bit her lip. She’d thought—she’d known what that meant, to be Jen Sar Kiladi’s daughter.

What it might mean to be the daughter of—of Daav yos’Phelium Clan Korval . . . but surely he was the same person, whatever name he wore. Val Con’s father and hers—the same genes. The same man.


She fingered the key, eyes open now, automatically checking the screens before looking down at the comm.

“Only one way to find out,” she said, the sound of her own voice giving her a momentary startle.

Taking a deep breath, Theo slotted the key.

* * *

The data screen opened, and Theo felt another twist of homesickness at the familiar sight of the Scholar’s Tree. Every littlie on Delgado was taught that tree, as a game at first, until using it became second nature. A tree could be as simple or as complex as a given line of inquiry required, new branches added as connections were made; daughter trees assigned parallel paths of study, or speculation.

This tree was fairly simple. There was only one trunk—Family—with three branches. The branch marked yos’Phelium and the one marked yos’Galan were thick, heavy with data. The third—bel’Tarda—was thinner.

Soothed by the simple familiarity of the construct, Theo touched the main trunk.

Miri hadn’t been joking, she thought, sitting back in her chair some while later. In addition to herself and Val Con—her sister and brother—there were cousins. On the yos’Phelium branch, there was Pat Rin, and on the yos’Galan—Shan, Nova, and Anthora. In addition, Pat Rin, Shan and Anthora were also lifemated, which by Liaden reckoning brought Inas Bhar, Priscilla Mendoza and Ren Zel dea’Judan into Theo’s orbit.

But that wasn’t all. Pat Rin and Nova each had a son; Shan, a daughter; Anthora, twins. Quin, Syl Vor, Padi; Mik and Shindi. And of course Miri’s—Miri and Val Con’s—babe-on-the-way.

Theo rubbed her eyes, feeling slightly overwhelmed. These were already more people than had been on her Learning Team in Secondary School on Delgado! And she was related to them?

And just exactly what did it mean to be related to them, she wondered, opening her eyes as her stomach clenched. Did they have . . . did Val Con and Miri expect that they could just send a message and she’d drop everything she was doing to do whatever they wanted?

And all of these other . . . people! She hadn’t asked for cousins! She’d asked to have two very specific problems solved by the Delm of Korval!

Her stomach was getting upset. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes to frown at the tree on the screen. Each name was a leaf on their respective surname’s branch. Each one was limned in green, which indicated that there were levels of information available for each.

Not quite at random, she flicked Val Con’s name—and was very shortly in possession of the information that he was ten Standards her senior, and had graduated to delm within the current half-Standard. Before that—she flicked for more information—before that, he had been a Scout Commander, First-In. Piloting level, Scout, which the Guild regs translated to Master class.

Theo took a breath and looked deeper into the yos’Phelium branch, remembering the taunting of an Academy classmate, “Can’t nobody find any pilot time for Jen Sar Kiladi.” “Is that retired, or decertified?”

It had made her mad at the time, the implication that Father might have had his license removed, instead of willingly giving it up in order to pursue his scholarship. She might even have worried—a little—that it was true. But now, she had proof in her hands.

There it was, nestled just above Val Con—Theo flicked open the file labeled Daav.

Scout Captain. Scout Pilot. Recommissioned within the last half-Standard.

Before that, was a gap of years before a notation that Daav yos’Phelium had retired as delm.

There was no mention of his scholarship, or his honors, or his place as the Gallowglass Chair, or—

Jen Sar Kiladi will not be returning to Delgado, Father asserted from her memory.

Theo shook her head. This wasn’t . . . this wasn’t Jen Sar Kiladi’s record of life achievement, it was Daav yos’Phelium’s record.

Of course there had been no piloting stats on file for Jen Sar Kiladi—it was Daav yos’Phelium who was a Master Pilot. And who had never given up his right to fly at all. A Master, as the saying went, had wings forever.

The top entry glowed green, signaling further information available. She touched it.

Space bloomed in the screen. Space crowded with ships, a station, and a tangle of trajectories that had her forward in her seat before she fully understood that she was looking at a recording, that the station was under attack, and the system was littered with debris. Black corsairs and gunboats darted through the confusion, firing on the defenders, single-minded and deadly.

“. . . have returned fire and am hit.” The voice was faint. “Breath’s duty—notify my clan of our enemy. I have three hours of air, heavy pursuit and no Jump left . . .”

“Stand to or die!”

“. . . was destroyed. Have adequate munitions to continue search pattern . . .”

“This system is under the control of the Department of the Interior. The Scouts are declared outlaw, and all who oppose us will be destroyed!”

The messages were thick, overrunning each other, telling tales of disaster and blood. Theo watched ships engage; she watched ships die, so quick and yet the eye knew, and into the confusion of voices came another, well-known and utterly calm.

“Daav yos’Phelium, Scout Reserve Captain, copilot of packet boat Ride the Luck, requesting berthing information or assignment. Repeat . . .”

Berthing? Theo thought. In that? He’d be cut to shreds before he ever raised the station. If the—


“The Caylon’s ship!”

Hope leached into the storm of messages. Several ships rallied, as if the arrival of a single vessel could make a difference in the battle’s outcome.

“Freighter Luck—” a corsair, Theo found it in the screen—“you are to stand by for boarding by the Department of the Interior; you are under our weapon! Repeat—”

“I have conflicting orders!” came Father’s voice, demanding, but—what? Berthing was—assignment. Theo took a breath. The station needed to acknowledge him, to sanction his actions, whatever they—

“Freighter Luck, you are under arrest by the Department of the Interior. You are to agree to boarding or we will open fire.”

As if to punctuate that threat, a beam leapt from the corsair, raking a courier class vessel from stern to stem.

Ride the Luck,” came a new voice, “this is Nev’Lorn Headquarters. Captain yos’Phelium, you are on roster for Berth 56A. You are authorized to aid and assist in transit . . .”

“This system is under the direct supervision of the Department of the Interior!” The ship that had fired on the courier was moving now, and Theo realized she was seeing the melee from the vantage of Ride the Luck’s copilot. “Nev’Lorn Headquarters has been disbanded; the Scouts are declared pirates. Stand to, Ride the Luck, or we fire!”

The dying courier boat seemed to blossom then, as the pilot launched what must be her remaining missiles at the oncoming Department ship. They scattered, and began maneuvering.

“Department,” Father demanded, “please advise best course?”

“Stand to, and await boarding,” came the answer.

Theo heard Father sigh, then the Department’s ship fractured with the first of The Luck’s missiles.

* * *

Theo watched Father fire on the enemy. Fire and fire again, until the ship was nothing more than debris tumbling in expanding gasses. She watched that much, then she pulled the key out, and threw it into the catch-drawer under the copilot’s board.

She’d seen space battle vids; she’d done sims; she’d practiced against targets with hot guns. She knew—she’d been taught, sometimes a pilot needed to fight, for her ship and for her passengers. She’d been told to—disable an attacking ship, and call in rescue for the survivors on the Jump out.

What she’d just seen . . . Father had never intended that there be any survivors on that ship. He had . . . deliberately destroyed it, knowingly ended lives.

It was the action of a stranger. Jen Sar Kiladi could not—would never—have held life so cheap. Delgado’s emphasis on safety and consensus might—did!—chafe him, but he would . . . never . . .

Theo sagged suddenly in the copilot’s chair, remembering something else. The Guild cafe on Volmer, the loud pilot—Casey Vitale, that was her name—shouting to the whole room: Aelliana Caylon is back! They say she came busting in from Galaxy Nowhere with guns blazing and blew apart battleships with her little courier ship.

Like it was . . . heroism. Something to celebrate.

Theo shuddered, pushed herself to her feet and went to take a shower.

- - - - -

“See, now, Conrad’s been good for bidness,” Jeefer objected, and had himself a swig o’ brew.

“Conrad’s been, yeah.” That was Pastil, shaking her head until the bells on her braids chimed. “These others comin’ in though, followin’ the Road. No sayin’ what they’re gonna be doin’. Disruptin’ things, looks like to me. Drivin’ up the cost o’ goods. You know Mithil got throwed outta his place? Some bunny with stardust still on ’er boots offers twice what he’s been paying, housekeeper took it, and give ’im notice. Might be good for housekeeper’s bidness, but not so much for Mithil.”

“That’s it,” Otts said, giving her a grin. “The stardusters’re comin’ in on the tail of this new Road Boss. What’s he gonna do? Well, he’s gonna do what a Boss does and take care o’ his turf first an’ best.”

“Road’s his turf, ’swhat it says in the Booster.” Jeefer held his empty mug up high so the ’keeper could see he was in need. “Bein’ paid to hold it open, end on end, so’s all the turfs can have a chance at the Port and the new trade.”

“Trade?” Pastil snorted. “What you got to trade, Jeef? C’mon, now, empty out your pockets so’s we can see what a fortune looks like.”

“Gonna be hirin’ too,” Jeefer insisted. “Wages ain’t to sneeze at.”

“You think they gonna be hirin’ us?” Otts asked.

“I do. Conrad did.”

“Conrad didn’t come in but with McFarland an’ the insurance.”

“All he needed, wasn’t it?” That was Mickie, arrived with the pitcher. She refilled Jeefer’s mug, topped off Pastil and Otts.

“You wanna know what I think?” she said. “I think it’s too late to be grousing about things changing. They’re already shook up good and hard.”

“That might be so,” said Otts. “But it don’t mean we can’t make our opinions known.”

Mickie shoved a straggle of hair behind an ear.

“Yeah?” she said. “How’re you gonna do that?”

“Well!” said Otts, giving her a nod and a grin. “Happens I know a guy, see?”

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