Lura didn't like the place. She was sure she'd have trouble before the evening was out, but was down to her last few creds and had docking fees to pay. The loud, dirty bar was known to be a place to pick up 'quiet' work. She wouldn't do anything really illegal, but she was to the point she was willing to take on a job that was irregular. She had seven standard hours before her ship was over her credit limit on accumulated fees. If she didn't come up with half by then, it would be "locked."
She'd worked too hard to buy the battered old ship she'd named Cotton to lose her. She'd also put every credit she earned back into her. Cotton still looked like a battered old light cargo hauler, but she didn't run like one. Lura sat down at a table and used her last four creds to buy a sipper of Tasik brandy. Since she disliked it, she'd be able to nurse it several hours if necessary. She sat back and looked around.
The two young men at the end of the bar looked out of place. They also looked like they could handle anyone who mentioned it. They were both gorgeous. The smaller was almost pretty, but his movements suggested training and she had the feeling some of the 'pretty boy' was intentional deception, or even imposed. She wondered about that thought a bit when she had it, but not long. His shoulders were very wide and they gave her other thoughts. Men might see long auburn hair and necklaces and think womanish, but no woman would.
The big man was as interesting as his much smaller friend. He was massive and his open shirt showed thick dark gold curls and heavy muscle. She suddenly realized she'd looked too long at the pale streaks in his curly dark blond hair. He'd noticed her. Well, maybe they were looking for a ship captain. Her careful display of a docking disk clipped to her collar identified her as such.
Lura battled to get her surge of hope under control. Her wrist comp was flashing for permission to release standard info on her qualifications and Cotton's listed stats. She hadn't updated them in awhile. Arousing the curiosity of the big four corporations was dangerous. She preferred wondering where her next meal was coming from to accepting it from a corp, or else. Another request came immediately after she'd tapped approval. She approved it and wondered. She didn't see any but the two who looked like they might have any interest, or enough credit, to hire even a 'short run' ship like hers.
When the two men at the bar stood, she saw their true sizes. The smaller was probably a few cens shorter than her one hundred seventy-seven. The big one was near, or over, two meters. She allowed herself a smile when they headed toward her. It surprised her that she had to work to keep it non-committal.
As they walked toward her, she realized the half dozen necklaces the smaller one wore didn't move. They were attached to the shirt. The thought 'pretty' was imposed returned and it brought a great deal of curiosity with it. She had the feeling satisfying it was going to change her life, but caution lost the argument when the big man spoke.
"Hi, Tock Wain and Dollan. May we join you, Captain Lake?"
Lura nodded and they sat down on either side of her. The big man's voice had surprised her. It was soft and deep and she had a desire to sing with him. It had been a long time since she'd wanted to sing. She'd spent too many years earning a living and saving for a ship singing in port bars. She'd had her voice and her ability to convince people she was much older than she actually was when her 'guardian' had died. She'd been twelve. Her official biography said she was thirty-two. She was actually twenty-four.
"Please, be my guests."
"At the table, but we would like to provide the refreshment. Server, a decanter of Santy wine and three glasses, please."
"I've got a brandy, Tock."
"Which you don't like. You practically grimace when you take a sip. I know 'I may be here awhile and don't want to end up soused.' when I see it, Captain. We have a proposal for you. We want to work for you."
"You're just who we've been looking for. We need work, but we want to choose who we contract with. Pay the server, Dollan."
"I'm flattered, but I'm not in a position to hire anyone. Short runs are few and far between."
"We know, but we want you to contract us and it needs to be done in the next five minutes. After that, we go to the highest bidder. We're too valuable a resource to be allowed more time to look for work we want. The contract judging board gave us twelve hours. We've got four minutes left. We're a Selkade pair."
Lura sputtered in her wine. She'd never even heard of a male pair. A few male and female, but never two males. She made a guess and touched the smaller man. Tock jumped. She'd been right. He was the receptor. Dollan was the power. Dollan chuckled softly and she got goosebumps. When he spoke, she almost missed what he said. His voice was the richest, deepest, bass she'd ever heard. And it had been a double shock because he was barely in average height range. Every bass she knew of was tall.
"We chose well. Few see it."
"I still don't have the creds to even enter a contract into record, Dollan."
"We do. Captain Lake, we're in demand. We're a novelty. We were mercenary marines in the fight for Selka. We didn't even know each other when we took cover in a small cave. We saw the chrysalis and tried to run. When we awoke, the war was over and the selk had chosen us as host. Contract us. We got twelve hours to look because our last bid contract was canceled. The bid winner was planning on selling holos of us to more than make up for the bid cost. He asked the wrong person to distribute them. She turned him in to the contracting judges. Captain, free us by hiring us. With a Selkade pair, you can use the slides. You won't be confined to short run. Decide now. We have no choices in two minutes."
Lura suddenly realized she WAS their only chance. The selk had made them a commodity when it chose them. Selkade pairs were wanted for their ability to sense the areas of spatial distortion that were known as slides. With a Selkade pair, a ship could 'slide' into another region of space. The slides were mapped, but without the mental powers of a pair one couldn't 'open the door.'
The war on Selka had been over who would control the selks. It had ended when the nymphs suddenly massed and flew into space. Two fleets had rushed to intercept the non-sentient nymphs, but they'd hit a slide before they could be stopped. When ships followed, they found no trace. The resource humans had coveted had flown away. And pairs had become too valuable to be free.
"Do it. You get ten percent of gross. All I can give, Dollan."
"Open table console keyin pad for personnel contract code entry. Code your ident, Captain."
"Close keypad and file contract."
"Well, Boss, you have us. Now we can help make us rich."
Lura expected the contract filing confirmation on the screen of the table comp. She didn't expect the screen to start scrolling.
"Damn. Dollan, you didn't give me any warning. I've just had... seventeen suits slapped against the contract."
"Don't worry. They can't justify it as a 'waste of limited resources.' You're a licensed captain with a good record and no one holds lien on your ship."
"For about six and a half hours. Talk to me, Dollan. Why all the suits? Selkade pairs aren't that rare."
Lura realized it had been a foolish thing to say as soon as she said it. They were both male. Years of minimal contact with other people, first going straight from rehearsal or performance to her room, then contracting for delivery of one cargo and pick-up of another from orbit to reduce the cost of time Cotton was on a pad, had put her out-of-touch, but she wouldn't have stayed out from under corp control if she'd been that naïve. It surprised her when Dollan answered the question in a way she didn't expect.
"The selk we host is. The chrysalis was almost three meters long. Most are about one. We were suspended for nearly a season. When we woke, we possessed memories of that time. Do you know how a pair is formed?"
"Just that it takes two to host and it's not a pretty process, nor always successful."
"The selk is a nymph for centuries, non-sentient. When it reaches a certain point in its life cycle, it folds its wing around itself and forms a chrysalis. The creature that emerges is a pasty-white worm. It seeks a pair of warm-blooded hosts. It hits them with a telepathic blast strong enough to cause unconsciousness and attaches itself to them. It feeds its chosen hosts as it invades their neural tissue. The process is complete when the worm body is consumed. Every cell of the hosts carries selk DNA. Every brain cell has a tiny extra nuclei. We destroyed the chrysalis, but couldn't prevent the tests from showing we were odd. We needed you, Captain. We can't let them find out how odd. Hosts are part of the selk reproductive cycle, but only one nymph per generation is fertile. Only one can't fly. Only one is sentient. Only one passes knowledge to its hosts."
"Well, now I know why two of those suits were filed by bio-labs, Dollan. They want you bad."
"They want us because they think we might be interesting. If they knew the truth, we'd be enslaved forever."
"That's a pretty strong term."
"Is it? Excuse me, please. Tock, you tell her."
Lura watched him leave the table and walk to the rest room. She couldn't drag her eyes back to Tock until he went in, but had NO difficulty focusing on him when she did. They were both about too beautiful to be real.
"He looked sick."
"He looked like he always does. You 'saw' what he'd never show. Did you 'see' how surprised he was when you touched him, I jumped and he laughed? Did you 'see' how surprised he was he liked your touch? He'd be the one they'd use to get what they want from me. Probably use direct brain stim. The selk are a gift. They were created long ago by a race that was disappearing. They carried the gene that had enabled that race to explore the universe. No other species had it. I'm the bearer of the gift. I'm the one who will add that gift to the human species. Every child I sire will carry it. The ones who created the selk didn't know it would be so long before a sentient, space-faring, race would be encountered. The selk are gone, Captain. Or what we called selk anyway. The queen found hosts not evolved on the world where she found them this time. It was the central criteria. Instead of searching for a female creature which could birth a nymph queen to start another generation, this one found us. When she did, the nymphs were no longer needed. They flew off to stop a war I hated. They were already dying. The race had received the gift. We needed you to... Dollan says you won't sell us."
"How much do you think someone would pay for our contract? Dollan trusts you not to sell us or let us be taken. I trust his judgment. I don't think you'll let them breed me. I'll find women to give the gift. Captain Lake, the war for control of the selks would be minor compared to the one that I could cause. Currently, I'm the single most valuable thing in this galaxy to humans. How long would I stay free if the corps learned it?"
"Holy... Tock, I'm scared silly, but I don't think anyone ever got a higher compliment. Now we need a job. I've got to have a contract to keep from having my ship locked."
"Two requests for info. I assume one was you."
"Yes. You're less shocked than I expected."
"Nah, just good at filing emotionally loaded input under think-now-yelp-later. That woman is headed this way, I think."
"She's nervous. I'll intercept Dollan and we'll go back to the bar."
Lura was sure the woman was nervous too. She worked to separate her feelings from what she was seeing. Her eyes told her the woman was business-like-but-casual. Her feelings told her she 'looked' hunted. She sighed, 'sat on' the piece of her mind yelling she was in over her head and watched the beautiful dark young woman walk toward her.
"Yes. Sit down. Now, what's the problem?"
"You're nervous enough to make ME jumpy. No, it doesn't show. I just realized I'm out of practice paying attention to what doesn't show, so I'm paying close attention. Nervous is problem and, since you're looking for me, you need a ship to solve it."
The woman's sudden smile was as pleasant as it was unexpected. It looked like it probably got more use than the near frown she'd been wearing. Lura decided she liked her.
"Captain Lake, you're very perceptive. I need a ship fast. I estimate four hours is all I have before someone notices I'm gone. Get me off this world."
"Whoa. What did you do?"
"Told my family I'd consider a marriage contract and ran. I've got adult status in this port, but outside the perimeter I'm the property of my family. Actually, I'm a corporate asset. The money I'll use to pay you is my own. It's been waiting in an account here since my father lost the custody battle for me. I'm Candid Tarollis-Forenan."
"Damn! Twice in one day."
"You're not the only one who needs 'Get me out of here fast.' Can you deposit twenty thou?"
"Yes, but why that much?
"Less would be questioned on a charter contract. Open table keypad for business contract entry. Vacation charter; first stop Belle, itinerary open, completion date open. Deposit twenty thou."
"Very good. It gives me an excuse to take a large sum with me as cred draft as well. On deposit."
"And... my wrist comp says received. Let's get you out of here. Tock! Dollan!"
"Who are they?"
"The two others who need out fast. Their contract is as employees. I'm sure you knew they were carefully not paying attention to us."
"Actually, I was working too hard not watching them to notice that."
"I understand that completely."
Lura led the way to the door. She didn't say anything more until they were outside. They'd already said one name too many in the bar. Neslan Port was the safest place she knew, but that didn't mean it was safe. It was Cotton's home port and the home of one of her two real friends, but she didn't mention they were friends. They wouldn't have been if she had.
"This is our passenger, Tock. First stop Belle. Cotton is on pad forty-three. Get your gear and get there. We need to move fast. The ones looking for her know what they're after."
"We know who she is too, Captain. We'll be there in about fifteen."
Lura pulled her attention back to Candid and smiled when she obviously had to work to reorient. Candid returned the smile.
"Big, all right. Let's move. You have essentials in that pack?"
"No, I have memories in it."
"Let's get your cred draft and get you luggage. We'll fill as we go."
As she led the way into the shopping area of the port at a very brisk walk, Lura wondered at herself. She didn't think of herself as the 'action' type, more the opposite. She'd stayed out from under corp control for twelve years by being extremely cautious and considering every possible consequence of an action first, but she'd made two spur-of-the-moment decisions in the space of five minutes and was implementing them as fast as she could. She noticed Candid had walked too much already and walked faster.
Lura pulled Candid into a shop, tossed things to the clerk to scan, handed her the armload of outfits and authed the clerk to bill her dock account. At the next shop she grabbed luggage and did the same. Candid was giggling by the time she pulled her into a super and punched the comp for hairbrush, toothbrush and toiletries. She dumped them into one of the bags. They had one still empty, but it wouldn't be long. She led Candid into Swain's and told him ten top and bottom for her and fast. Swain grinned and laid out ten sets of lacy undies. She stuffed them in the third bag, kissed him and authed billing.
The bank didn't want to auth the draft. Lura told Candid she wouldn't want to deal with anyone who argued with how she spent her money. She'd just take it all somewhere else and, if they argued about that, she'd report them to the central banking authority as illegally withholding the funds of an adult with valid identification due to suspected insolvency, because there wasn't any other reason. Candid took her entire balance in a very quickly authorized draft.
Lura smiled when an available auto cab 'just happened' to stop at the corner just as they reached it. She yelled and began tossing bags in it as soon as the door opened. 'Someone' had decided the short walk to Cotton was too long. The cab ride took just over a minute. Other traffic along the route was extremely light. It was nice to have friends.
"Candid, he was too obviously stalling. We need to get lifted fast. Your deposit for my contract probably caused an immediate call to your family. We need auth to lift, but Backo will give it no matter who's trying to stall. As long as his fees are paid, he's a sweetie. Cotton's the white one. Her insides are prettier."
"She's already the most beautiful ship I've ever seen. There are the two men."
Tock and Dollan ran for the cab and had the door open and the luggage out before Lura finished authing payment for the cab. She caught up with them before they got to the top of the ramp at the bridge hatch. She hadn't ordered the ramp. It was nice to have friends.
"Open up, Baby. Mama's home. Inside fast. We'll sort out after we lift. Welcome home, boys. Grab couches. Cotton calling port docking."
"Docking. You leaving, Lura?"
"Don't tease when I'm nervous, Backo."
"Lift, pretty girl. I've got a dozen people on hold who I need to tell they're too late. Tell the princess to visit Seabrook. There's a trading company there she should check out. Give the boys the message the comp registered their contract, but doesn't seem to have recorded who it was with. Odd that. Ramp clear. Lift in five. Take care of them all, Captain Beautiful. Four."
"I will. Three. Love you, Backo. Two. We'll drop notes. One. Take care. Lifting. Bye-bye."
"He is that, Candid. He's like a big spider that notices every breath of wind that brushes his web. Keep your bills paid and he's the best friend you've got. Don't and his bill is the first filed with the collections court. Now, you three decide how and where you're going to bunk and who's going to cook dinner. Candid, I posted for Belle, but it's a fly-by to collect credits owed. If you want to stick, I can get you to Seabrook. Your deposit will cover it. I've got to do course comps. Talk to you later."
Tock caught Candid's attention with a lifted finger and motioned her away from Lura, then spoke very softly.
"Don't bother her, Princess. Ten seconds of delay could cost a day's journey. I'm Tock. He's Dollan. Shall we explore Cotton and find somewhere besides the bridge for our things? Lounge, galley and cabins will be somewhere beyond this hatch."
"Please don't call me princess, Tock. My mother ran away from it and now I'm running."
"They were going to marry you off to finalize a contract?"
"That's why there are princesses. I was to be Harten Corp's seal on a fifty year trade contract with the Menvatta. The negotiations were complete. Me to the harem, my sons to the Menvatta, my daughters to Harten Corp and profitable trade for all. You two?"
"We're why the cap can get you to Seabrook. The name didn't register because it's a very long way. We're a Selkade pair."
"But they're women! Oops."
"Most are. A few are mixed pairs. We're the only male pair we know of. We wandered into a cave just as a chrysalis cracked. We're still learning to live with it. We were running because we've got everyone from feelie producers to bio-labs bidding our contracts. We got to negotiate because the last neglected to mention he planned on making us holo-vid stars as well as slide navs."
"Ugh. Someone caught him and put him away for planning on doing it without your consent."
"No, it would have been perfectly legal if it was in the contract and our consent would have been irrelevant, but then it would have cost more and he didn't want to have to pay more. Backo gave us twelve hours on an old precedent established for spacers who wanted off a ship, but didn't want to jump. They got twelve hours to find someone who would buy their contracts or negotiate to end them. We got twelve hours to find someone who we wanted for our boss. We had twelve minutes left when Captain Lake walked into the place we'd decided was our last chance. The hatch just ahead on the left should be the lounge."
"I looked for a woman captain with honest on a recommendation. There were three. The others were of big ships and not likely to be willing to run with one passenger. Oh, it's lovely!"
"Nice room. She's put real work into this ship. Now, that door is to her quarters. It's a straight shot to the hatch we saw on the bridge. Hatches are airtight seals others are doors?"
"Yes, I know that one and that captain's quarters are connected to the bridge on one person ships."
"Her quarters will be more an apartment than just a bedroom and a pleasant area to sit, though it's unlikely she has a food prep area. The galley door is open for someone and there are emergency rations on the bridge."
"Because the hatch is on the other side of her quarters."
"Yes. The spacing of those five doors indicate the cabins are a nice size, each with a private bath. Usually there would be about eight around a passenger lounge area like this and a bath for passengers who got tired of sonic showers in a cubicle. From the arrangement of the doors, the cabins probably aren't all just alike."
"You choose first. I'm going to sit down, get my shoes off and play in the rug with my toes. Go on. This is going to be your home. I'm too delighted to be on this ship to be picky about which cabin I get."
"Thank you, Candid."
Dollan's voice surprised Candid just as it had Lura. His smile said he knew it. She speculated on the vagaries of fate while she eased her aching feet. She'd awakened that morning dreading the day. She was sure she wouldn't find any 'unclear' points in the contract to delay things. It would be spelled out down to how often the Menva of the Menvatta corp would call her to his chambers. She only had the right to refuse a contract if it wasn't complete. Her signature was a formality. Only the chairman and holder of the familial assets needed to sign it. When it was delivered, she'd been surprised he hadn't already signed it.
She wondered if it had all been intentional. The chairman was her great-grandfather and she'd once heard him tell her grandfather he didn't think marriage contracts and trade contracts should be discussed in the same room, and he certainly didn't think they should be part of the same document. She wondered if the way hadn't been cleared for her to have one chance to run.
The contract hadn't been signed. Her chaperone had been borrowed as governess for the day. The garden was being watered so no one was in it. The dogs were in the kennel pending the veterinarian's visit. The latch on her window still didn't lock and the alarm was out until it did. She'd grabbed a satchel, stuffed in a few personally important things, climbed out the window and run. It was eight k cross country to the port. She'd made it in less than an hour.
"Ow! Tock, get a basin of water. I'll find the aid locker. Candid, your feet are leaving tracks."
"Oh! I hadn't realized they were that dirty, Dollan."
"The dirt isn't what I meant."
"Found the locker too, Dollan. Just inside the galley door. Handy spot. Candid, the water is going to burn, but you need to get those blisters clean. Oh, baby, you rubbed holes in yourself."
"Ooh, it does burn. I really hadn't noticed. I hope I didn't stain the carpet. It's lovely."
"Candid, your feet are swollen and bloody. We worry about them first. The captain will have something for the... Your pack just mewed at me."
"I brought... I forgot to mention them, Tock. Do you think Captain Lake will be angry? I've been dropper feeding them. I couldn't just leave them."
"There are three. I put their little box in my bag. I fed them as soon as I got to the port, but it's obviously meal time again."
Lura walked through the door Tock had said was to her quarters and Candid saw the 'living room' beyond was done in shades of teal darker and richer than the soft sea blue-greens of the lounge. It made her more eager to see how the five cabins had been decorated. Lura noticed she was looking, smiled and swung the door wider.
"Thank you. We're on our way. Five days is best I could do. That's not bad. Nasty. I saw you were nearly hobbling, but didn't think we had time to stop."
"I really didn't notice, Captain. Dollan noticed I was making a mess on the carpet. I'm sorry."
"I noticed she was bleeding on it. Tock noticed her pack mews."
"Their mama was hurt and can't feed them, and I couldn't leave them."
Candid pulled two liter containers of yellow white fluid out of her large pack and laid them on the floor. She spread the top widely and lifted a box out, obviously being careful not to tip it. Lura noted the box had holes around the side and was watching closely when Candid got it on her lap and lifted the lid off.
"Kittens! They haven't even got their eyes open yet."
"Well, the black one had one open this morning. See? One open. They should probably all be open by tomorrow or the next day."
"May I hold one?"
"It's so soft. Oh, I know what it's looking for. Nuzzle, nuzzle, dinner time."
"That's Blackjack. The black and white one is Dapper Dan. The orange one is Lucky Louise. A tetah lizard dropped her when the gardener hit it with a compost rake. He was pretty broken up. Mama kitty is his. The vet thinks she'll make it, but she can't take care of these little ones."
"The lizard got some kittens?"
"No, Captain. There were only four and the gardener has one."
Lura watched Dollan softly smile and smoothly take over the job of bandaging Candid's blistered feet. Tock was enraptured by the tiny thing that fit easily into his big hand. She wondered where he was from, where they were both from. Tock looked like a vid caster's dream of the perfect male lead for a holo and Dollan was somehow very exotic, even though his fair skin and light auburn hair weren't really that unusual. Dollan finished and Candid thanked him. He smiled and carried the basin to the galley. Lura followed.
"Why don't you talk much?"
"I sound strange to myself. My voice changed."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'm fifteen."
"What? How did you... The war on Selka was over more than a year ago."
"Adult is twelve on Mindao. My contract was purchased on my birthday. That's not as bad as it sounds. Mindaon years are longer."
"Not that much longer, I don't think. You were late maturing?"
"I don't really know, but Tock said it's not uncommon."
"Selling a contract on majority date is, even on Mindao. Again, qualified with I think."
"I was a problem. They didn't want me. I learned not to argue my first day of training. The sergeant showed me my contract. I was designated as cannon fodder. My contract price was twenty credits. It was for life. When we walked into Selka port, Tock commed and reported two MIAs had wandered in surprised the war was over. He asked Vendo Corp how much accumulated pay we had coming. They sold him our contracts for what they owed us. We had to tell what we were to get off Selka. Our contracts were ours, but we had to trade them for training. We aren't allowed to not work. We aren't allowed to hold our own contracts. Backo found us a way to control them for twelve hours and choose our owner."
"Ugh. Don't use that word, Dollan. All worlds aren't Mindao. To most people, a contract is this many pigs for that much corn and employment contracts are for the length of the job. Life contracts aren't common, at least not in this sector. Where's Tock from?"
"He was why the queen found us suitable. He was one of ten who were contracted to Vendo for ten years as settlement of a suit over a satellite Vegas shot down. They handed them ten orphans aged ten. The settlement hadn't specified adults, just high psi. He's nineteen."
"You both look older."
"I think somehow we are. I know I matured more than I should have in about a hundred days. He says he's taller. You're the one I chose to own us. You may not like the word, but it's the truth. We'll never be free, but you won't treat us like possessions, or sell us to the highest bidder. You're our captain. You should read contracts before you auth them. We signed for life."
"For... life. I think I need to sit down. Dollan, why? Why me?"
"Because you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen and..."
"You had about ten minutes left."
"Yes, but I was positive you were the right choice, not the last chance. Being told you're beautiful makes you uncomfortable. It shouldn't. It's true."
"I know, but it's not something I did and it's not a blessing. I spent years fighting off drunks who told me I was beautiful."
"It is something you did. Pretty is inherited. Beautiful is not. You're beautiful because of what's inside."
Dollan turned to the storage locker and opened the lid. Lura just watched him. He was a living work of art, even from the back. She smiled at herself when she realized she was watching the muscles of his gorgeous ass as he rummaged through the locker trying to find four of something.
"Dinner is stew?"
"Suits me. I throw whatever's on top in the storage locker into the hydra-cooker and punch the buttons as directed. Bet she gives him that kitten?"
"No bet. You going to let him keep it?"
"Might as well. I collected every other kitten in need of shelter I ran into today, but just one, Doll."
"Sorry. Slipped out."
"No one's ever called me that."
"I'm probably going to about half the time, unless you remind me not to. Dollan is conducive to being shortened. What's the rest, Dollan? Tock Wain and Dollan what?"
"Nothing. I'm, quote, 'Male. Meets minimum genetic standards for state contribution. Code D O two L four A N.' So, Dollan. One of tens of thousands whose parents hand them over at birth. I was raised in a state nursery. So was Tock, but it was a very different place. Vegas didn't cheat, really. Tock's parents were premmies. They were killed along with twenty-odd other premier talents in a lab explosion. Premiere testing can't be done until maturity, but Tock tested well in preliminaries. Vegas has reasons for being iconoclastic. Most of the settlers were running from the purism movement of about four hundred years ago. Mental powers were classified as mutations. Mutants were to be exterminated for the good of the race. It was the third time in a thousand years they'd been hunted. It could happen again."
"I can't deny the possibility. I've seen too many people make warding signs when a blosian walked by. They're bio-engineered, not mutants, but most people don't know that."
"They need nictating membranes and thick skins to protect them from sudden dust storms. Blosia is in Ponder sector. It's marginally habitable, but so rich in minerals it's worth the struggle. Most Blosians are quite wealthy and the corps haven't been able to figure out a way to get a handle on them. You're stuck with Doll. I won't call anyone a code. Even without the numbers. Dinner's done. I'll carry two. We eat out there. That way she won't hobble in here. How bad were they?"
"They hadn't been blisters for several kilometers."
"Large holes. They'll be lots smaller by morning. You have a well stocked aid cabinet, but it's now short a hyper-heal patch."
"I've got more in storage. She's got courage and determination."
"And a soft spot for kittens. Reminds me of you."
"Thanks, I think."
Dollan pulled two bowls from the hyda-cooker and handed them to Lura. Candid was tucking the last kitten in the box when she carried them from the cozy galley she'd planned for the comfort of one to four to the lounge she'd planned for two to six. It had never actully had occupants before. She'd never had a passenger before. She'd never planned on a crew.
"Dinner is stew. It was on top. Here, Candid. Oops, I forgot spoons."
"I didn't. Stew, Tock, and spoons all around."
The evening was pleasant. Tock chose a cabin for Candid and carried her to it. The night was uneventful and the next day Candid sat and chatted with Lura on the bridge while Tock and Dollan familiarized themselves with Cotton's systems.
They found her slide nest and went to work on it. They didn't have a great deal of experience, but they knew what they'd need. It didn't take long. They laid the sensor helms on the cushioned floor and closed the hatch. They were very pleased. The walls were opaque and no cams were mounted inside. On the two ships they'd worked previously, the nest had been transparent and cams had been a 'safety precaution.'
Selkade pairs at work were usually listed as entertainment features on passenger ships. The receptor searched, but the power guided. It was a physical act. The receptor felt every touch on the power. One of their instructors had demonstrated on Dollan. Tock had knocked him cold. When he awoke, he apologized and told him a little warning would be a good idea the next time. He never demonstrated on Dollan again.
Dollan watched Candid and Tock happily over the next two days. He was delighted they were having a good time together. He wasn't prepared for what happened the fourth night out. He didn't understand it and it scared him.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
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