A ship was headed across the length of human space, up the arm. It had been on its way for quite some time. There was only one man on it and he carried only two pieces of cargo. The ship was redirected. He was pleased. Bluegem was several days closer because it was straight ahead. He planned on the return trip being much shorter. He was detouring to the vast ship construction facilities orbiting Beverly. He'd already ordered a Dorimer drive.
He wasn't aware that the person he was going to see, now using the name Baine Sharif Dawson, had fought a hundred battles to free a world and then freed all who bore the title Starvan, but he had known, since asked to make the journey, that it was worth it.
Three ships converged on Bluegem. The Bronze Dragon arrived first and Gaelen Quatro got to use his flyer for the first time to take them to Angela's.
Angela heard the flyer and ran for the door. James was asleep so she was unencumbered, more or less. She knew she was going to be a surprise when they saw her, but was sure all would be pleased. This little one was a girl. Reef and his son both had a baby sister well on the way. Their expressions when they saw her were wonderful.
How does one woman get her arms around three men at once? The answer is it's impossible, but that doesn't stop her from doing it. Two of the three were also trying not to squish her. Gaelen was a great deal more experienced with the phenomena and wasn't particularly worried he would anyway. She was a bit bigger than he was to start with.
"Angela, I... You couldn't have messaged and I couldn't have come."
"No, Loran, and I've needed you, but I haven't needed you. Did that make sense?"
"Yes, and it worries me a bit. James?"
"Is napping and outgrowing things as fast as the new washes out. Reef, you're bigger again."
"Not much this time. I've slowed down and think I'm going to stop soon."
"Either he does or he's going to run out of atmosphere at his altitude. He needs a new bed. He hangs over the one in his room on the Dragon."
"How badly were you hurt, Gaelen?"
"Uh, how did you know I was hurt?"
"Because no one could have gotten Reef if you weren't very badly injured."
"His doctor published the record of his recovery."
"Thanks a lot, Loran. I'm fine now, Angela, and have been for quite some time. I'm actually a bit healthier than I was. I'm a bit stronger and faster and there are fewer kilometers on a few things."
"They stunned me and shot him with a blaster at close range."
"They stunned him three times before he stopped trying to get to me. I stayed alive to get to him and I'm still mad it took so long. We're all mad. Have you gotten a message from a clan ship?"
"I've gotten two messages from clan ships, but one of them wasn't from any of the clans."
"Someone who has been traveling almost three years is going to be here in two days. I'm not sure exactly who, but he's come a very long way and was headed for your clan holding. He was redirected here and given my name. I wasn't given a name, just a big smile and the message that the ship was a clan ship, though not of your clans, and he'd be here in two days. The other message was even more interesting. I was asked if I had any interesting lady friends. That ship will also be here in two days."
"That's my grandfather and why the clan gets nervous if he decides he wants to leave the clan holdings. Clan ship, but not of... One is coming here! He can't know about James! He's looking for Reef!"
"Who's looking for me, Father?"
"One of your mother's people. Damn, I'm glad you aren't married to that old woman. We could have had real trouble. They would not have liked it at all."
"They have some very strong opinions about age and marriage, Reef. They don't marry until at least thirty and not often then. They probably wouldn't consider a woman more than a century older a suitable bride for a young man of that age. The question would have been did you choose her yourself and marry her because you loved her. You're still a child by their standards, though they are legally adults at sixteen."
"It has to do with the difference in physical age and personal responsibility, Angela. Reef, you made the choice to be one of them when you chose to use your mother's name. They do know it. They would have known it since you got identification with it on it."
"No credential with the name of Dawson on it would have escaped their notice. It's been so long I'd forgotten what she said. I didn't even remember when I was protesting your marriage. A hillsman is coming, and I don't know why."
"Father, what is a hillsman?"
"Their clans are older than ours, by several thousand years. They trace them back to Earth and almost to the development of written language. Names have changed over the millennia, or so your mother said. I'm trying to think of everything she said. You see, you were for our clan and we planned others for hers, so it was only when we were planning those others that we spoke of it. You were to be Toll-Reed and they were to be Dawson, but there weren't any more. You know you have hereditary titles from her people. As first born, you carried those, but the important ones would have gone to little brothers and sisters. They would have been Dawsons, but there weren't any more."
"You said that twice. Father, this is... Why don't you remember?"
"Because she told me so little. It wasn't essential that I know and they don't talk about their people. She told me just enough to understand why she set out to find me when my bride died, and then she was killed before you were sixty days old. I loved her so much I didn't want to talk when she was close. I saw her seven times. You know how it is, was. I had part of ten days with her the first time and never more than three after that. We sent hundreds of messages to each other, but they were filled with the trivia of our lives as she explored this part of space and I explored being a father. I had Shoran and you were coming."
"I think this hurts."
"Angela, I love you no less and know you far better."
"That's not what hurts, Loran. It hurts that you had so little time together. Like most, I don't think about the fact clansmen, widowers, don't get to share long periods of time with women they come to love. We all know they return to their clans to raise their sons, but we don't stop to think that the only time they see the women they love is when they leave the holdings and their sons in the care of others."
"That is changing somewhat, but the clans would change too much if every man did as I have."
"I don't see any of this worry as necessary. Reef didn't marry an old woman. You're here for his son. Angela is a fantastic mother and he's going to think you're all terrific and be very pleased about the changes in the clans. Boy or girl, Angela? I'm sure you asked."
"A girl. A baby girl like Marty and Elaine have. A little girl to read stories and... Oh, thank you."
"Well, so much for the worry you would wish baby was a boy. I knew you'd be happy, Loran, but I thought you might wish."
"Baby girls are miracles to clansmen, and none of us expect to have one to hold and love. My son, you have filled my life with joy since the day of your conception. Even when you ran away, you found a way to add to it. There has never been a man who has had more joy in his child, or been more proud of his child, than I am of you. You embody the spirit of love and it flourishes in your presence."
"Thank you, Father. I'm very proud to be your son and I'm a bit big to be cupid, but I have spent a lot of time... Uh, never mind."
"What were you going to say, Reef?"
"It's not important, Gaelen."
"It wasn't just that day. It was the entire time, from the time they took you on Starreach, and Darant and Mikel for five years. I ignored it. We all did. They didn't want to wear pirate booty. We didn't want to look at what that meant."
"Gaelen, you and Loran both look furious. What are you talking about?"
"He was bloody and naked when we got there, Angela. They'd been torturing him. I didn't even see it when he handed me his clothes to play "goods" to set up the trap for the ones who came for him. It made me angry, but I didn't see what it meant. I didn't want to see."
"We were easier to... hose down to clean without clothes."
"You weren't captives. You were naked slaves."
"Yes, Father. I wasn't being ransomed. I was being sold. You know that. We were valuable slaves; them because they kept the environment hospitable and the company from investigating, me because I was going to bring a high price. The pirates don't take captives. It was a rule imposed by the ones who supplied them, so they just killed everyone. That wasn't the intent of the rule, but that was its effect. Slaves aren't captives. It was a dodge to keep Darant and Mikel alive, but the pirates saw it as a way to keep me awhile. I was booty taken in a raid, not a person. It wasn't new to me. The people who viewed me as a person and not a commodity have been few since I was eight. The pirates were just more blunt about it. The ones before them would have protested against that truth."
"Why don't you hate them, Reef?"
"Because they didn't realize it, Father, and those who did see me as a person gave so much love. It wasn't just me, though it was extreme in my case. Sons are the property of the clan. They become members of it when they become adult. Children are the property of their parents. There are laws that protect them from abuse of that relationship, but it's there no matter how we define it legally. That's my son and he's huge."
"No, Reef, you're huge. He's just a big baby. Well, hello, bright eyes. You're supposed to nap awhile longer, but I'm sure... Reef, your son wants you to take him."
It was rather obvious he did. He had both arms out and was leaning. They were all delighted when he then reached for Loran, and after him Gaelen, but he wanted to go back to Reef, not his mother. Reef also quickly discovered he did not intend to be put down. He would accept being held by Loran or Gaelen for awhile, but putting him down brought very loud complaint. If he fell asleep and was put down, he woke immediately.
Reef finally took a nap with him. That was fine, but he discovered he couldn't get up without him waking and complaining. He shouldn't have recognized Loran, let alone Reef and Gaelen, but all were sure he did. His preference for Reef was just too obvious. Mommy was mommy, of course, but she was always there. Daddies were not and he seemed to know he almost hadn't gotten two of them back.
Reef and Gaelen took James with them when they went shopping. They flew back to the ship and traded flyer for car, also Gaelen's. Reef really did need a bigger bed and some of his pants were a bit short. Telly and Danny met them for dinner and they told them what Cassa was doing and about her ship and captain. Reef and Gaelen refused to speak of what had happened to them. They said the memories were not pleasant and they preferred not to refresh them by talking about them. Telly said she thought Cassa's method of skipping university study was sneaky and just like her. She, of course, knew who to send them to for a custom bed for the ship. Reef wondered why he'd bothered to look when he knew he should have called her first. He'd found big enough, but none had been right for his room.
Reef and Gaelen found a back carry pack for James that worked better for them than the one Angela had given them. They could just change the straps when they took turns. Hunting for it, of course, took them to a children's store. Both admitted they had gone "a bit crazy" when they got back to Angela's. She just sat and giggled as they brought in load after load from the car and Loran happily organized it by when which baby would need what.
On one trip to take things to put away for much later, Loran leaned down and whispered it was a good thing the children's store hadn't carried prom dresses and tuxedoes. She giggled and said if they'd gone anywhere but Balen's he'd be storing clothes for middle school as well as primary, and sports equipment as well as toys. Both burst into laughter when Reef walked in carrying an armload of sports equipment right after she said it. James happily rode on his back through the entire process.
Reef wanted to do something and just didn't know if it was allowed or there was room for it. He talked to Angela about it while he fed James breakfast. She got more food out for James while she thought it over. Reef was wearing most of what she'd set out before.
"I think it's allowed, but I don't know if I want to take up that much of the grounds. I decided not to extend the flyer pad because it would. I'd like you to be able to land the Dragon here too, but grass and trees are important for children."
"What if we put it on the far end of the property? That's where the brush fire that destroyed one of your workshops began."
"That land is not flat and very close to the hills. It's more rock than soil and it was a brush fire because that's all that grows on it. You'd have to build a drive to get to it."
"True, and that would mean even less grass and trees."
"Not necessarily. Well, it would, but it could be quite useful and actually increase usable area."
"In what way, Loran?"
"A properly designed landing pad could serve as a firebreak, Angela. A drive would give access to an area which is, basically, wild land. I don't mean we should groom the land like a yard. I like it wild too, but it's not easy to get to for a nice walk through it to see the natural habitat. A long drive with carefully designed paths leading off it would allow us to take the children to see it and teach them about it. Sensors along the drive and around the pad could also warn of fire soon enough to get it under control before it reached any of the workshops. It might lower insurance costs if done properly, and I would really like to be able to get to those berry bushes without a two kilometer trek through heavy brush. I think it could be done without really damaging the habitat and might protect the bibbibs from tusker predation a bit. Tuskers just won't cross a permacrete surface and they're coming out of the hills right in the area Reef is talking about. He wouldn't have any difficulty landing the Dragon that close to them if we put in a wind sensor tower so he could compensate for it."
"Draw me up a plan of what you have in mind. You know my powers of visualization end with what a flyer will look like when I finish with it. I've been thinking of adding a greenhouse with play area on the back of the house. Reef and Gaelen have never been here in winter, but you have."
"Oh, yes. It goes from pleasant days and cool evenings to frigid overnight. They haven't really been here in summer either, when it goes from pleasant days and cool evenings to blistering overnight. Thankfully neither last long. My father will be here tomorrow. He's the builder of the family and Grandfather is the architect. Reef, what do you want your son to call you?"
"Uh, I hadn't thought about it, Father."
"I think about it every time you call me Father."
"I don't understand."
"You went from calling me Daddy to Father at the age of four. You've never called me Dad. Shoran always has, but you never did. Well, once in a great while, but it was always a chosen term in specific context. I've always wondered why. Now, we have a boy, more or less, between four of us."
"It hurts you that I don't call you Dad!"
"I didn't say that."
"No, but... Uncle Jerod told me Daddy was baby talk and I was old enough to show you the respect you deserved and to call you Father. I suppose I never called you Dad because I did respect you so much."
"One of these days I am going to beat the shit out of my big brother. I keep running into things like this. Yes, it hurt me when you stopped calling me Daddy and didn't call me Dad. I felt like you were looking for an emotional separation. Jerod was the one who wanted the separation and it worked. We were too close. He thought I was holding onto you too tightly because your mother had been killed. He actually thought it was unhealthy. I said I didn't want you dormered with the other boys at six when you were just a toddler. By the time you were six, I had realized I couldn't make you that different. You were already struggling to fit in with them. He talked me out of requesting to be a house father because of it."
"He loved us. He just didn't understand us like Tomas did, but I wouldn't have wanted Tomas to stay with us and Uncle Jerod to move to the new house with the little boys when I was nine. However, I do wish he'd have looked to see why I took my shoes off all the time. I didn't know my feet are shaped different, and none of my shoes fit right, until I bought my first pair of boots and the clerk at the store just started fixing them to fit me properly."
"I've got short toes, wide metatarsals and high arches. Every pair of shoes pinched and every arch support was too low and in the wrong place for me."
"Let me see your feet."
"Reef, you never took your shoes off when you were with me. Jerod complained you ran barefoot as a monkey, but you didn't do it in my quarters."
"I'd have been sent me to my bed after supper for ten days if I showed that much disrespect. You're a starvan."
"Damn! You didn't run away. You were driven out. Well, I'm Dad, dammit! And you can call me Loran if you prefer it, but Father is for times when you need to... make it different."
"Fa... Dad! Wait! Dad! Oh, hell! James, you're either done or I'm wearing enough. Angela, he calls me Reef and my father Daddy or Dad. Dad! Wait! Stop. Please."
"I'm sorry, Reef. I'm beginning to see what being a starvan has done to not just you and me, but all who are."
"I've always known it, but I wanted to be one nearly desperately, until they made me the youngest ever. Calling you Father gave me a way to express a special feeling of closeness when I needed it. You're no closer to your father, perhaps not as close. I've said I was pulled from the shelter of your loving arms and thrust into the world. I never doubted they were a loving shelter and always around me. You didn't go anywhere for very long. Other boys' fathers left on business, but mine didn't. In his way, Uncle Jerod was trying to protect me from their jealousy because my father was almost always there. I've also never doubted he loves me, just that he knew how to go about expressing it. He wanted what was best for me, Shoran and you. He had no son of his own to teach him how to really look for it."
"I'm still going to beat the shit out of my big brother one of these days. He set his opinion of your maturity against mine in the council chamber and I almost slugged him then."
"Uncle Jerod is of the opinion four pubic hairs is adolescent and enough to notice they're curly is adult. Two hairs on a chest is proof. He only has two."
Loran suddenly laughed and nodded. It was just too apt. His brother Jerod was adopted and his people evidently had little body hair. He saw telling him Reef's mother's people were legally adult at sixteen had confused him almost from the beginning, but he was still going to deck him the next time he saw him. He'd always known how lucky he'd been to have Ambrus as a house father. He just hadn't understood how different his life would have been if that wonderful old man hadn't decided to leave his council post and "raise one more crop" of boys. He'd raised his father's "crop" too.
Baine and Adran arrived early in the morning, very early. The sun wasn't up yet. Gaelen broke a large number of speed laws getting Loran and Reef to the spaceport. The clan ship was headed elsewhere and the shuttle which had brought them down was not going to be on the ground long. Loran ran right past his father and grandfather with a shout he'd be back. He had a sword to return and Valic, the clansman piloting the shuttle, was about to close the hatch. Things came to a roaring halt when Valic saw the sword Loran was waving. There was no mistaking a council general's sword. It had a blue and gold hilt.
Valic took the sword Loran presented with a deep bow and bowed in return. His eyes widened when Loran explained whose it was and how he came to have it. Toll-Reed had been embarrassed by the nobility of the general of the council of Willard-Soames and he knew it. One of their own had been in desperate straits and they hadn't even sent word they would aid if needed. That the one who might have needed was both starvan and on the Tablet of Merit, made it far worse. Loran smiled when he said he knew he could have called on Toll-Reed to aid, but the pledge of Willard-Soames had been a great honor. Valic wasn't as polite.
"We flat ignored the fact he was in trouble and you might have needed help. He hadn't given us what we wanted to start with and even the plan he sent wasn't enough to make us take a good look at our petty attitude about it. I'm going to plant this sword right in the middle of the council and request a full honor guard to return it."
"Valic, he couldn't marry and knew it."
"He was trading in forty-six identities. He used forty-five of them to control the damage he did trading in his own name. He said he knew the agony he suffered from the drug in the Tea of Acceptance was a trick because he knew it was not God's will that he destroy the economic structure of human space and cause billions hardship and possible starvation. That is the mark of a true starvan. And try this one on. He broke an addiction to shaker, took the place of two young men who had been raped and tortured for five years to free them of it, was used much more heavily and was a bloody naked mess with a blaster in each hand when we got to him. He broke free of a torture rack as our ships came down to keep an assemblage of about fifty pirates from cutting us down as we came out of the ships. He didn't know there were twenty-eight of us, just his friend, who he'd seen shot down with a blaster at close range, and six women. He killed more than we did. That is my son and he will give our clan no sons because it doesn't fucking deserve them, and he's going to have a lot of sons. Nearly every woman who gets to know him at all well asks for his child. We succeeded. We bred the ultimate human leader for peace and war and drove him out. We're done too. I won't be back and neither will my father and grandfather. Learn well from this and be very careful with my cousin's son. He will be the only starvan Toll-Reed has. It's too bad he's not of the direct descent of Toll and Reed, but he's worthy and you can start over with him. We have decided being a person is more important than being a starvan, and the clan will never treat another of our children as a commodity to be traded. Recording?"
"I got every word. Thank you. This is what we needed to change the council. By the way, it was Ander-Vaile, Logan-Morris and Willard-Soames who put your son's name on the Tablet of Merit first. We wanted to, but the council dithered, though they were very pleased to do so when they did it. They're too old and they've held their positions too long. Medis has been on the council over a hundred years. Only Goric has been on it less than fifty and he's over two hundred. The tradition of waiting until a council member chooses to retire or dies is no longer reasonable. We don't have a starvan on ours and now we won't for at least a hundred more years. Mathis-Ganetti is the only other clan which doesn't and they will soon."
"They aren't starvans and have forgotten what it means, Valic. They've come to think of it as meaning someone who is really good at making money, and of money and the power it brings as being the most important part of it when they do remember. Tell them my son's definition of starvan is warlord on all fields of battle and he's absolutely correct. Oh, I'm going to be a father again, at least once that I know of. My son just doesn't have time for all the women who want his children."
"Oh, keep going. You know I'm enjoying this."
"I expect my father and grandfather will be a great deal of help as well. The friend he trained so well he kept his burned heart going until help arrived and stayed alive, because no one else knew where my son had been taken, is also a very popular second choice as sire. I have never seen greater love between two men and it stirs women unbelievably. That is the lesson of the names of our clans and my son had no best friend as a boy. He was deliberately isolated and distanced from me. See that my son Shoran knows where I am and that he has an invitation to visit, Valic. I have missed you. Give me a hug, but do lower the sword first. The general probably would be upset if it came back with my blood on it."
"Is there enemy blood on it?"
"You know Carras of Willard-Soames. He's very practical, but also very knowledgeable."
"He carried two blasters into battle, but the sword has been blooded, in one way or another."
"In one way or another. I think, between us now, he touched it to the ashes of the, over one hundred forty, pirates. My son had been leaving a locked room and diminishing their numbers quite efficiently."
"Give me the story. The smile is very proud."
Loran quickly told of the toilet tissue and injector and Reef's night forays, then gave the man who had been his best friend as a boy a hug and told him he had best plan on staying long enough to play with his children the next time he came to Bluegem. Valic smiled and told him he most definitely would. Loran walked back to his father, grandfather, son and Gaelen. There were times he was sure a bit of divine aid was given at the right moment. Valic was the best one to whom he could have given the sword and told the story. His protests of council decisions had made him practically a messenger boy. They didn't want him around when they made one. He'd been very far away when Reef had been declared of an age to marry.
"You handed him a nice stick to stir the hornet's nest."
"Yes, Grandfather, I certainly did. He seems to have the hornets waiting for the stir. Sure you wouldn't like to go back and take a seat on the council?"
"Loran, some of your jokes are not funny. I'm officially Baine Adran Loran now and I don't intend to have to carry around the other two anymore."
"Thank you, Grandfather."
"Seemed fair. You kept mine."
"I kept both of your names, Loran Adran Baine."
"And I'm using Adran Loran Sharif. Dad said he'd thump me if I used his. Ow! He also said he'd thump me if I called him Dad."
"Same goes for you, boy. I'm Baine and I'll get a crew of twenty to help me redden your ass if you Great-grandfather me."
"Yes, Gr... Baine."
"It's just not practical. I don't want to have you trying to get the whole thing out if you're yelling duck along with it. If we can get used to calling you Reef, you can get used to calling me Baine and him Adran. Besides, I don't want every lovely lady I meet adding generations and guessing at my age."
"You were right, Dad. Gaelen and I are going to spend a great deal of time keeping them out of trouble. Or, more likely, getting them out of it. Keeping them out may be impossible."
"Plan on it, Reef. I've had the whole damn council making sure I didn't have any fun since Adran was born. He's had them making sure he didn't since Loran was born. You have a tendency to find the wrong kind. We're going to keep you too busy to find it."
"Ooh, we are going to have fun, Baine."
"Oh, help. I'm going to have three of them seeing how much trouble of the fun kind they can find."
"Don't worry, Reef, we'll see you find lots of it too."
"Oh, that's not necessary, Adran. Reef has to move fast or wade through women. Do we go back to the house or have breakfast somewhere and wait for the other ship?"
"Someone from Reef's mother's people is coming and due today, Gr... Baine."
"He is getting better, Adran."
"I told you he'd grow out of being staid eventually, Dad. Ow!"
"If your skull wasn't so thick, I wouldn't have to thump it so often. We've got what we're carrying. In these two bags are weapons and musical instruments. Since Loran looks to be the only one whose clothes either of us could borrow, we need some, and we want a great deal more brief on why you yelled for us."
"Breakfast, brief and shopping?"
"Sounds good, Reef. Got a portable communicator?"
"We'll have a relay set up at the restaurant and buy one as soon as the stores open."
"Reef shops like no one you have ever seen. It's the second thing the ladies he wades through taught him to do. He's currently learning to feed babies. Yesterday's lessons kept the laundry cycler busy most of the day. James is not going to be pleased he's not there to feed him this morning, but he'll probably get quite a bit more to eat."
Reef changed their minds about breakfast. He decided they were going to the Bronze Dragon for it. It was close and weapons and musical instruments did not need to be carried around in Gaelen's car on Bluegem. Besides which, the two huge bags wouldn't both fit in the luggage compartment, and the car was crowded with them in it.
Baine and Adran whooped when they saw the beautiful old ship and Reef grinned. They were in for a very big surprise. He had the Stellar Room on polarized clear and they were going to get to it at just about dawn. He was working on it. He told them to put their bags in the lift and gave them a tour from the bottom up. Gaelen and Loran had both figured out what he was doing by then and were both grinning.
The two got a demonstration of the stage and dance floor becoming handball court and swimming pool. They were shown the garden where the ticky bugs lived. Both had heard the stories about them and had surmised Reef had been the clansman who was the leading character when Loran had stayed on Bluegem. They toured the suite and were delighted to put their bags in the gorgeous rooms which Reef told them were theirs, and they walked into the Stellar Room just as the sun rose, hit the crystal and threw rainbow spots all over the room.
"Play the prelude to the Dawn Chorale, Reef."
"Yes, Gr... Baine. I will get it. It's just going to take a couple days."
"I hope so. I don't really want to explain why you growl before you say my name to everyone, and quit being so damn respectful. The answer should have been 'All right.' Or, 'Now?' You're captain of this lovely lady and I'll call you Captain for a year to remind you if necessary."
Reef laughed, sat down at the piano and played the beautiful piece of music his great-grandfather had requested. It was so perfect for the moment that he hadn't had to ask which chorale by what composer. There were several, but Lahnkoffer's third was obvious. It was also the one he had worked very hard to learn to play for the first recital Baine, Adran and Loran had all attended. It warmed him deeply that it had been remembered and requested.
Reef finished the piece and they sat down to breakfast. Loran called Angela and told her what was happening and that he was sure they wouldn't be all day because there was a limit to how long the two would do other things before they decided no ship was as important as meeting James. She said James was not pleased she was feeding him breakfast and she thought it might be because she insisted the food went in his mouth, not on everything in a two meter diameter circle.
The two got their brief at breakfast and Adran said he knew he didn't have digestion problems, so the hard burn in his middle was pure mad. Baine thanked him and said he'd been wondering if he was getting old. Reef looked into Adran's hazel eyes and Baine's blue ones and saw fury and pain in both. He smiled gently and told them he and Gaelen were both alive, the Shadow Syndic was going to die and he'd thought they might like to help kill it. Baine told him he'd designed a new hand weapon and was going to enjoy using it a great deal on people who spread filth and corruption across the many worlds.
Only Adran didn't look surprised. He'd helped his father build it. He hadn't trusted anyone else, even in the clan, to aid him. He hadn't trusted anyone else with it period. They'd been working on the theory and design more than twenty years. They'd finished building the first when the message to get to Bluegem had arrived. They had parts for three more with them.
Reef wanted to get his car out too. It might not be needed, but he wanted to drive it. He'd already called Cora and told her he wanted two more very hot scoots. She'd surprised him completely when she told him one was done and the other would be ready in three days.
When they got down to the "garage," Adran went straight for the scoots and Reef smiled. Baine was caught. He couldn't decide if he wanted to look at the car or the scoots most. He said they'd be taking the car and Baine grinned and went to look over the scoots. Reef watched him fall in love with his scoot and sighed. It wasn't both. It was that one. Adran liked both.
"I asked the woman who built them for two more. They'll be ready day after tomorrow. Baine, I do know love when I see it. That one is yours."
"Reef, this is your sweet thing. I know love too."
"Actually, my flyer and car are about tied for that, though I do really like that scoot. I also know I'll really like the ones Cora is building and Terek is painting. I won't offer Gaelen's to Adran because it's his and I'd tell him not to be an idiot if he did. He's in love with that green machine. I'll register and comm code another Jackie and you can figure out what you want on that one."
Reef told them about shopping with Telly and the story behind the name, then he told them about his date. He suddenly realized he had a place to start. Telly had told him the boy he'd caught dumping a drug in the punch had nearly died of overdose and had finally gotten straightened out. She'd seen him recently and he'd told her that Reef had made an impression, but he hadn't been able to stop. He'd said the lecture he'd given had penetrated enough that he'd never even offered to find something for another person, or shared, since then. If he'd just stopped, he'd know someone who sold drugs. If that person wasn't connected with the Shadow Syndic, then the person who sold to that person might be. If not, the next up and so on. It hit him that Bluegem was the first world he wanted to clean of Shadow and he smiled.
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved